Meeting the Beatles for the Non-Believer

The Beatles Later YearsAnyone interested in parting with roughly $190 US for the new Oasis deluxe box set? Me neither. Nor is my fellow blogger at everyrecordtellsastory.com. He has issued a Vinyl Challenge to see how else he might spend the equivalent in British pounds. He’s set out to build the best record collection he can for a friend who needs to get hooked on vinyl. Check out his last few posts to see how he’s accomplishing this. If you haven’t shopped for vinyl in a while — or say 20 years — you’ll be surprised at how things have changed.

Every Record Tells a Story has inspired me. I’m not in the market for an Oasis deluxe box set, either, so I’ve thought about what else I could do with the money… some way that I could help out a friend… some way that I could build a package of the best the world of music has to offer. And, coincidentally, you could say it was inspired by Oasis in reverse.

But really it was motivated by an incident that took place a few weeks ago at a party we hosted. There I learned that one of our guests does not like the Beatles. Like most people who say this, he seemed to imply that the band is overrated.

A shrug for the Beatles? This is quite curable.

With people one knows well, the remedy can be achieved over time and a paced series of recommendations. But in the case of a person one sees occasionally and at social events that primarily revolve around their children’s school, it’s a bit trickier as people aren’t so receptive when one dominates the conversation with talk about bands. (Trust me, I’ve been down that road before.)

So the challenge I have undertaken is this — find a way to budget the $190.00 to develop my own “box set” that provides the critical education necessary for enlightenment and enhanced musical pleasure, because, after all, life is so much better when you have the Beatles around to enjoy.

You might ask, “Can’t you just download some hits from iTunes and be done with it?”

The key here, though, is context. My friend probably has already heard most, if not all, of the Beatles chart-toppers and a handful of B-sides. Somewhere along the line, their brilliance was not absorbed. (In fact, I argue that the prevalence of things like The Beatles 1, etc., does more to inhibit understanding of the Beatles than develop it.)

Like the Oasis box set, my collection includes more than just music. In order to appreciate the Beatles, a person needs to understand their role in the development of the rock and popular music canon, how they transcended boundaries — the disappearance of which we take for granted, and the foundation they established for the artists who emerged with them and afterwards.

I don’t know said friend well enough to spend $190 on him, regardless of how life-changing this gift would be, so this is fact-based but fictitious. So, let me introduce to you…

THE GENXATMIDLIFE.COM BEATLES ENLIGHTENMENT BOX SET

IMG_2083Hard Days Write ($9.98 at Barnes & Noble) — The Beatles were prolific. Maybe it was the 10,000 hours of practice, the intensity of Hamburg, the early years spent in hotel rooms sheltered from mobs of teenage girls bent on plucking the hairs from their growth follicles — but few bands (or none) have produced so much, so good in such a limited amount of time. It probably helped that they didn’t tour after 1965 — more time for songwriting and working in the studio.

This book does a great job of illustrating the bridge between the Beatles’ early years — simpler songs, “innocent” subjects — and the more sophisticated compositions of their later years. These guys could write about anything… from pets to prostitutes… and make it awesome. In fact, if they were sitting in my house right now, they could probably craft a Top 10 hit about how much I’d like new granite in my kitchen.


revolver

Rubber Soul ($19.99 on amazon.com) and Revolver ($19.99 on amazon.com) on vinyl. Post Hard Days Night the title for “the Beatles’ Best Album” is up for grabs. Is there really a consensus? Each has it merits, but in my opinion, these two are the most important for the non-believer, as they are likely the ones they don’t know that well. (This observation is based only on conversations I’ve had with said people and is in no way quantifiable or scientific.)

You can’t have one without the other. The transition began before Rubber Soul, but it’s at this point that it is fully emerged. With Revolver, it is fully realized, and there is no turning back (even with the stripped-down efforts of Let It Be). By this time, the Beatles had obviously matured significantly as musicians, songwriters and observers of the world.

This is one case where I insist on vinyl. There is something about the act of placing the needle on the record, the shiny outer strip that marks the anticipation of the first notes, that prepares the listener for the power of what they are about to hear. It’s like a ritual, paying homage to those first listeners who slid the vinyl disc from its dust cover, delicately securing its edges between the pads of their middle fingers and thumbs, placing the hole on the center spindle, setting the speed to 33 1/3 and switching on the turntable. If my friend is going to really listen to these albums for the first time, this is how it needs to be done. (And if they don’t have a working turntable, they can come to our house where we will be happy to provide educational commentary between sides.)

Rubber Soul ($12.99 on amazon.com) and Revolver ($13.88 on amazon.com) on CD. For practical reasons.

Let It Be RooftopAbbey Road ($12.99), Let It Be ($16.29), The White Album ($19.88), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band ($13.88), Magical Mystery Tour($13.88), Help! ($16.29) on CD from amazon.com*. Why CDs and not iTunes? Each of these need to be understood as a collection. On iTunes, it is too easy to perceive each song as a single, and that is no way to consider the works of the Beatles. You need to hear “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” roll into “A Day in the Life. You need to witness the range of “Rocky Racoon,” “Glass Onion” and “Julia” within a single (double) album. Worst of all is how iTunes severs The Medley.

With a CD, you can open the jewel case, check out the cover, hold the evolution in your hand. On iTunes, it’s too easy for very special music to get lost among the shuffle of Ratt’s first album, the Timberlake stuff you have for parties and that Edwin McCain song you downloaded for your friend at 12:03 a.m. last Saturday night after that second appletini.

If I had more money to work with — or was a better bargain shopper — I’d buy all the way back to Meet the Beatles. But given the limitations of my imaginary budget and, most likely, my friend’s willingness to listen, I can’t push it. Anyway, I want to leave something for the “new” Beatles fan to discover, so they can come back to me again and again and tell me how right I was.

IMG_2089Hard Days Night” DVD ($18.99 at Laurie’s Planet of Sound) — It’s easy to think of a band that recorded, “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” as dismissible in the post-60s musical era. In fact, this is the song people (though they are few) bring up when I express my shock that they don’t care for the Beatles. These people need to be reminded that the Beatles had a lot of work to do before they could unleash “A Day in the Life,” and even “Help,” on the world. They had to chip away at the barriers of convention that dominated popular music.

In the movie, “A Hard Days Night,” the world was introduced to four young men from Liverpool, of all places, whom you could see right away had a kind of humor and humanity that gave hint to their staying power. After seeing this, how would anyone be able to resist?

Without tax*, I have spent $189.03, just shy of my $190.00 goal. Converting a non-believer for less than $200.00? As Master Card would say — Priceless.

* I know that shopping at markets and independent record stores is much more fun. But with Amazon Prime, shipping is free, it comes in two days and I don’t pay tax, which I have conveniently left off the B&N and Laurie’s “purchases.” Plus, it’s a bit cheaper than our local indy shop.

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My once and future favorites

Who could resist this album art? It is a post unto itself!

Who could resist this album art? It is a post unto itself!

I knew lyrics to Beatles songs before I could understand them. When I was three years old, I was weaned on a steady musical diet of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The songs on this album are the soundtrack of some of my life’s first memories (along with “I Think I Love You” and “Sugar, Sugar”), and I believe that my views of the world were formed, in part, by what I heard in the music and lyrics.

I distinctly remember being three or four and cycling the lyrics to “She’s Leaving Home” through my mind, which was not at all prepared to understand the meaning of the song. I stumbled over the line, “She breaks down and cries to her husband, ‘Daddy, our baby’s gone.’” I wondered what in the world a husband-daddy was, and when it became too complex to imagine, I gave up and just sang along. I was probably ten before I reconsidered those words and then understood. That was about the time my interest in The Beatles was reignited and being mature enough to comprehend what they were saying was akin to finding hidden treasure under my swing set… it was always there but just waiting for the right moment.

The Beatles exposed my young mind to all kinds of other questions, such as:

  • Why would a banker wear a guy named Mac when it rains?
  • What spooky things were going on at that benefit for Mr. Kite?
  • Why did Eleanor Rigby wear a mask? I muddled this with Halloween and trick-or-treating and came up with a very odd image that perhaps I’ll share with Tim Burton if I ever meet him.

Early exposure to The Beatles is a beautiful thing. I can think of no collection of modern artists more appropriate to provide a lifelong love of popular music. When my children were born, I picked songs for each of them from the Lennon & McCartney collection, In My Life,” and “Here, There and Everywhere”.

They will always be my favorite band.