Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Baby, You're A Rich Man

It's 09.09.09, and that means one thing will dominate the news cycle: The Beatles.
EMI is re-releasing the entire Beatles catalogue in two versions: as recorded (meaning the earliest albums are in monoaural) and one digitally remastered in stereo. Nearly every fawning review has mentioned the beauty of the new recordings.
In addition, The Beatles: Rock Band videogame is being released. Again, the reviews are almost saccharine. 
Now, I love The Beatles. When Sir Paul was at Citifield in July, I sat second row. I mourn every December 8 and November 29, despite the proximity of the dates. And Ringo is Ringo.
I have all the albums on vinyl and all the original releases of the CDs.
So please don't take the tone of this column as being curmudgeonly, altho I am certainly known for that. This is not about hating The Beatles.
This is about hating the money-making machine around them and the dilution of the artistry that is The Beatles.
According to the press releases and reviews, the intent of the dual-release was to capture a whole new market of fans for Beatles music: Millenials who might not have known Beatles' music. The idea is, play the game, buy the catalogue.
The catalogue has been remastered and from all accounts, the sound has been sharpened and honed to a finer edge.
And there's my beef.
Those original "records" were played by kids on "turntables" that were barely moving at 45 rpm (the speed of a single for you youngsters out there), with "needles"...yes, they touched the "record"...usually weighed down with a nickle (or a few pence for my Brit readers). Or we'd listen on an "AM radio" in monoaural with all kinds of static and cross-signal interference, and would lose the station in a car passing under a bridge.
My point being, the way we heard these records was not in soaped-up distinct digital form, but in sloppy ugly tinny crappy boxes and cans.
And we went nuts! I remember standing in front of a mirror for hours, mimicking Paul and John's playing style, and George's solos, trying to get John's singing posture...a turtle on his hind legs is the closest short description...or Paul's goofy smile and whipping of his head and hair just right.
I knew the lyrics to every Beatle song from With The Beatles to Revolver within a week of getting my hands on the album. After that, I was so blown away by the artistry of Sgt. Pepper's or Magical Mystery Tour or The White Album that it took a little longer.
All on crappy Denon turntables and Tandy cassette players and Westinghouse radios!
To release these albums completely remastered without that part of the experience, actually trying to hear the music, work out the chords, follow the baseline, is to deprive the listener of the thrill of discovery. Yes, maybe that squeak of the piano seat at the end of A Day In The Life now blasts thru the earbuds at full volume with so much detail you hear the farts of McCartney, but that treat on the vinyl was buried in the track that signaled the record player to pick up the needle! What a joy it was to find!
And I don't need to hear Paul's fingers slide down the neck of his Hohner to appreciate the baseline in Taxman.
This event, this stunt, speaks to me more of milking a cash cow, like the Anthology release of twelve or so years ago, than of bringing this music to a whole new audience. Which, by the way, was represented very nicely at the concert in July. At least the Anthology had the charm of bringing us two new Beatles songs, albeit in a really creepy fashion.
But this, this is pure piracy on the part of EMI.
So I guess I have to go buy it. But not Rock Band. I don't have room for a four piece band...