The Beatles remain untouchable
At first it smells mightily of flogging a dead horse, the doubly offensive thing being that this particular corpse has been buried for 40 years. In a move that no doubt caused major fanboy Noel Gallagher to poop his Fruit of the Looms, EMI Records—in conjunction with Apple Corps. Ltd—reissued the entire Beatles catalogue on September 9.
The cynics among us can be forgiven for screaming “Cash grab!” After all, completists have already ponied up for all 12 albums on CD, not to mention on vinyl, cassette, and, most fabulously retro of all, 8-track tape. The big selling point this time is that each record has been slavishly remastered and packaged with replicated original UK album art, extensive liner notes, and rare pictures. None of which changes the fact that Beatlemaniacs are being asked—yet again—to buy something that they already own in multiple formats. To the chagrin of that gold digger who geared down for Die Freuden der Liebe, Sir Paul McCartney is about to get a whole lot richer.
You don’t have to be the third coming of Albert Einstein to realize why EMI and Apple spent four years working exhaustively on these reissues. The only people buying records these days are six-figure-income baby boomers. Seeing how that demographic doesn’t know Lady Gaga from Lady Diana, the only way major-label executives are keeping themselves from landing in front of the fry bins at Rotten Ronnie’s is to serve up the tried and tested. And things don’t get much more proven than the biggest-selling band of all time.
What’s amazing about this project, though, is that it’s got something more to offer than a nostalgic look at an act that, in theory, no one but your great grandparents should care about. If the lovingly assembled reissues pile-drive one message home, it’s that the Beatles remain, without question, the most untouchably brilliant band in the history of rock ’n’ roll.
Seriously, it’s nothing less than insane how, in the space of seven short years, a band could shift gears from the guitar-driven proto-power-pop of Please Please Me to the flat-out fucked-up experimentalism of Abbey Road. Equally implausible is the rate at which the band worked, often cranking out two LPs a year. Seriously, as if 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band wasn’t enough of a career-defining mind-blower, the Beatles managed to follow it up six months later with the lysergic wonder known as Magical Mystery Tour.
These days, you get jackasses like Axl Rose spending a decade-and-a-half squeezing out turds like Chinese Democracy. As for modern superstars of pop music like Coldplay and Green Day, an album every three years or so is considered a breakneck pace. And as much as they’ve trumpeted albums like Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends and 21st Century Breakdown as radical reinventions, they’ve yet to produce anything half as twisted and fantastically messed up as “I Am the Walrus”. Which, incidentally, sounds here, on the remastered Magical Mystery Tour, twice as awesomely stoned as the original recording.
More than a cash grab, the great Beatles reissues of ’09 will be remembered as the final cementing of an already unassailable legacy.
The Beatles are a rarity in that they never ruined things with a reunion, which is more than that Country Life butter salesman who sings for the Sex Pistols can say. Every rock star starts out subscribing to Neil Young’s theory that it’s better to burn out than to fade away. Few have the balls to do it, especially when they are at the top of their game.
The Beatles did. And if anything good came out of the deaths of founders John Lennon and George Harrison, it’s that we get to remember them as they were, whether it’s the clean-cut mop-tops depicted on With the Beatles or the beardos-before-there-were-beardos we see on the cover of Let It Be. The Beatles might have died too young—but, man, did they leave a fantastic-looking corpse.