Thursday, 10 September 2009


They only came out yesterday but already the indications are that the mass Beatles re-indoctrination programme isn’t quite taking the grip on the public’s imagination that various vested interests would have liked. In the midweek album chart Abbey Road and Pepper are in the lower half of the top ten; Revolver, Rubber Soul and the catch-all box set are scattered between #11-15, the White Album is in the top 30 and the practical (and practically unheralded) 2CD remaster of the Past Masters compilation of non-album tracks has sneaked into the lower end of the Top 40. Hardly the monopoly that some were predicting, and there is a rich irony in the fact that all of the Beatles material is being comfortably outsold by Dame Vera Lynn (and only Jamie T currently stands between her and total chart conquest). Is this the final rebuke to fifty years of otherness or merely this decade’s Josef Locke?

I can’t say my heart was racing at the thought of yet another anniversarial/keep the cash registers tinkling repackaging of the Fab catalogue, and on fairly cursory inspection of the new issues cardiac arrhythmia was not achieved. Whether the aesthetic totality is actually heightened by the fact that you can now hear the sixteenth tambourine on “Hey Jude” I will leave for others to debate. The packaging is pretty reasonable and attractive in a standard Rhino reissue programme fashion, but it doesn’t exactly scream out “BUY ME!”

Worst of all is the complete non-taking of the opportunity to make these albums more complete by adding on any bonus tracks. So you still have to fork out eleven quid for half an hour of music (with the early albums) without anything extra other than a poky-looking DVD “mini-documentary” on the making of each of them. There doesn’t seem to have been much effort made to make these issues different. The Pepper cutouts appear on a page in the booklet but can’t actually be cut out. The photos are good but not mindblowing. Personally, with Pepper for instance I would have done a 2CD package with the original album on one disc and all the other 1967 sides (including the Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine tracks) on the other. Plus “Carnival Of Light.” I would have missed lunch for a week to get that! Who wouldn’t?

Nor do I approve of the belated kowtowing of the NME, a generation after they termed Pepper an “Exocet to the very heart of pop.” The current edition is fairly nauseating, full of “if you can’t be as good as Lennon and McCartney, FUCK OFF”-type corporate cheerleading. In other words, the usual admonitory cane which reappears to swish every successive and successful generation – no matter how good you think you are, you’ll NEVER be as good as this. That’s some encouragement to give today’s pop kids. Beat them over the head with a sharp, Fifty-Year-Old Fifty Quid Man stick.

The biggest irony of all this is that I myself have been “rediscovering” the Beatles through Then Play Long; without being told by any snake oil salesman to do so, I have found my own way back into them, and moreover done it the old way, through (largely) my ancient, battered vinyl originals. Sure, they may sound “cleaner” and “fuller” now, but their maximal impact came when they were blasted out on tinny Dansettes or prehistoric Bush radiograms; that’s how they were designed, and that’s still how they work best. Listen to That Opening Chord on the original A Hard Day’s Night album and I can still be blasted back into tomorrow; listening to it on the remaster suggests….the Twang! Or Kasabian! Surely that wasn’t what was intended.

My re-exploration of the Beatles’ work – at a time when lazy journalists still claim there’s Nothing New To Say About Pepper Etc. – has been a revelation and a self re-education; it’s clear how great they were and it’s fascinating to see how they fit in with their times, or made their times fit in with them, but it’s equally clear to me that they should stop being put in the path of today like a stern Customs officer. My stance was the hardest one; try listening to these albums as though I were listening to them for the first time. Maybe that will be the true legacy of the current reissue programme; that kids wondering what all the fuss was about will find out (and I do envy their genuine first time listens). But the evidence at the moment seems to be: people want to find their own paths to music, and the Beatles are good but they’ll find out for themselves, in their own good time.

(Envoi: Lena watched Help! on TV with me for the first time on Saturday and was astounded that it’s had so much bad press. It still looks as though it were made in 1995, not 1965!)