The Long and Winding Road: Introduction

On June 17 last year — the eve of Paul McCartney’s 76th birthday — the entire Beatles catalogue was uploaded to YouTube for the first time. There had been, of course, thirty or so songs available on the official channel — and hundreds, if not thousands, of cover versions, all proclaiming themselves to be the ORIGINAL version. (Bah.) But this was the first time the catalogue had been spotted on YouTube in its entirety, and millions of fans around the world (or at least, in regions where it was available — Hong Kong, sadly, was not one of them) immediately abandoned their Spotify and iTunes accounts, and turn to YouTube for their Beatle-related entertainment.

Now, this sounds like a lot of exaggeration on my part, and to be fair it probably is. But whenever I surreptitiously turn on my Australian VPN to find a Beatles song, I am faced with an astonishing fact: ALL these old 60s songs, in the space of just half a year, have already managed to rack up millions of hits. (And in the case of “Help!”: almost 15 million.)

I first remember discovering this catalogue just as I was packing up to return to Hong Kong later that month, and dear God, that opened the floodgates. Over the past five months I’ve been gripped by Beatlemania, and though I haven’t danced round the house screaming my head off at the genius of Harrison and Lennon-McCartney (much), I still find it amazing that the Fab Four, even half a century on, can still resonate with and thrill people around the world.

And of course this has gotten me interested. What is it that makes the Beatles so irresistible? Sure, they were innovators throughout all their albums and they were at the cutting edge of music for all of the 1960s. They ARE 1960s music. But plenty of other people can lay claim to that: Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, the Beach Boys. Some of these other artists have been able to capture the revolutionary recklessness and courageous exploration of that decade too. And — much closer to the point — their music has also been as good as the Beatles. In the Beach Boys’ case, occasionally even better.

But to be honest, it doesn’t really matter. They were the ones who sold the most, who were the most consistent in their quality, and most importantly, captured the most hearts of the era. It’s a bit like Shakespeare’s place in the modern era: a lot of us like to knock him off his pedestal, but at the same time we can’t help but say we admire so many things about him.

I think the Beatles can be like that too. Although there are some weird cuts from the albums, I still think that they have that special something about them that endears us. And by taking you all through the Fab Four’s discography, I hope to discover what makes all 14 albums special in their own right, and allowed the band an eternal place in history. And I hope that, after 15 days of listening to me witter on about these albums, you will also come to see why they’re just so brilliant.

See you all tomorrow for Please Please Me!

Technical stuff

If you’ve managed to get past that header, then well done you! The following is a bit of an explanation of the technical bits: how it’s gonna run, what albums will be involved, etc.

Articles will be released every other day from today through to 22 February. (This normally inevitably means I break it off after a few days, overwhelmed by the amount of official stuff I have to write. Where? We shall see — as of today I’m frantically writing the piece for Sgt. Pepper, so I think I can make it past most of them.) My original plan was to write song-by-song analyses for all 214 songs released by the Beatles between 1962 and 1996, album by album, and track by track. After writing the articles for Please Please Me and With the Beatles I realized how idiotic this was: for one thing, I can’t even describe 14 songs in entirely different ways, let alone 214. Also: there are a LOT of similar songs, so analyses were gonna be the same whatever I write.

And so I have a new approach: I will be writing letters to each of the thirteen albums the Beatles released, plus the “Past Masters” compilation (though for this one I’m skipping all the ones which are just different versions of songs in the canon), and the two “Anthology” songs. (If anyone is interested in the editions I’m using, they’re the 2009 remasters, and despite the recent releases of better remasters/remixes for Sgt. Pepper and the White Album, I’ll be sticking to the 2009 versions for the sake of unity.)

In these letters, I’ll be pouring out my thoughts upon one (1) complete listen of the album. I realize that I’ve already listened to some songs thousands of times (I’m looking at you, “Here, There and Everywhere”) but hopefully a complete listen of all the songs in context help me decide how I feel towards one album.

And finally, the normal disclaimer: I am not a music critic, so do NOT expect musical analyses of the albums. I may be dipping into musical stuff once in a while, but these’ll be few and far between and I’m more interested in discovering how we might feel towards their music (or how I feel, at least). If you’re interested, musicologist Alan Pollack has written tons of articles analysing each and every song through an eleven-year period, which I am very grateful for. I, however, do not have eleven years to waste (I’m already planning a second series on the Beach Boys for the autumn WHEEEEEE) so superficial impressions will have to do for now. Sorry.

And yes, this is mostly a speedwriting exercise. I’ll try my best to also provide quality though.

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