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The Beatles On The Rooftop

Well then.

It seems that I have inadvertently taken the summer off from posting to my own blog. I’d apologize for this, of course, except that I think I’ve taken way too much space in previous posts apologizing for my lapses in discipline. Therefore, we’ll just assume that I’m taking a whole paragraph to acknowledge my absence of over three months and beg your forgiveness simultaneously….and we’ll just get back to it.

Today I’d like to talk about The Beatles….which, in my estimation, is a fabulous topic to discuss no matter who you happen to be in the company of. Hell, even if you’re all by yourself, it’s still a pretty damn good topic.

I have been listening to a whole lot of Pandora Radio lately, and, before I go any further, I will now briefly and quickly cover what Pandora is in case there are some among you who have never heard of it.

Pandora is an internet-based radio station where you go, create an account for yourself, and then pick an artist you like to create a station that is tailored just for you. For example, let’s say I choose Steely Dan (which, I will confess, is one of my personal stations). So I pick Steely Dan, and Pandora immediately starts off by playing me a Steely Dan song. Cool, right? It gets cooler.

So Pandora has thousands and thousands of songs in its database, and each one has been classified and tagged with different keywords like “fast” or “jazz” or “sad” or “icantbelieveyoureactuallylisteningtojustinbieber.” (Actually, I made that last one up. Sorry.) They classify things like tempo, melody, harmony, instrumentation, rhythm, vocals, lyrics….it’s all part of what they call the “Music Genome Project.” Once they have each song analyzed six different ways from Sunday (what the heck does that phrase even mean, anyway?), then they throw it in the musical hopper for public consumption.

So let’s say I’m listening to my Steely Dan track, and it’s a mid-tempo song that features piano prominently and contains lyrics about love. So Pandora looks for other songs that are mid-tempo, feature piano, and have lyrics about love, and then starts feeding me those tunes. Every so often they’ll circle back to a Steely Dan track, or maybe play me a Donald Fagen solo track. Regardless, I now have my own “Steely Dan” radio station that plays me not only Steely Dan songs, but also songs that are in a similar vein. This lets you hear a lot of music you already like, but also introduces you to other songs that you may never have heard of before that are stylistically close to the songs you love. This, undoubtedly, is a gross oversimplification of how Pandora works, but I think you get the idea….

Anyway, back to the story. So I’ve been listening to a lot of Pandora lately, and The Beatles come into the rotation now and again. When they do, what’s nice is that I don’t necessarily get the usual top 10 hits kind of stuff…..I’ll get a few songs from the “Love” soundtrack that was put together for Cirque du Soleil Moon Frye (sorry, couldn’t resist), an older track or two from the early days (including a song I really had never heard before, “That Means A Lot,” which was written for the “Help” soundtrack but was left off), and some stuff from the “Anthology” series that was put out in the mid-1990s. It’s this latter category I’d like to focus on, as it contains the point of my whole entry today.

The “Anthology” series was great (if you’re a Beatles fan) because it gave the public a bunch of previously unreleased tracks (for the most part, anyway); lots of demos, studio chatter, and stuff that had only been available on bootleg recordings to this point. But the huge payoff for a lot of people were the NEW Beatles tracks. The remaining members of The Beatles had wanted to contribute some new music to the “Anthology” project, and had thought they might just record some incidental music as a trio. However, they soon decided that they would like to do something on a bit of a grander scale.

Therefore, Paul McCartney reached out to Yoko Ono and asked for any unfinished John Lennon compositions that the remaining three might add their voices and instruments to in order to make finished “Beatles” songs. Yoko gave Paul a cassette tape with four songs that John had left uncompleted, and the group got to work. (Apparently McCartney told Yoko and her son Sean Lennon that if they didn’t like what the remaining Beatles came up with, that they could veto the tracks. George and Ringo’s rumored reaction: “What? What if we love it??”)

The resulting tracks from this Beatles “reunion” were the two songs “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love”. These songs come up on my Pandora rotation quite often, and I was struck the other day as I listened by just how….how BEATLES they are. I mean, really….they sound like they could have been composed and recorded while the group was still together in the 1970s. The quality is solid, the songwriting is solid, the playing is solid, the harmonies are solid…’s just…..SOLID. It’s quite amazing.

Some groups reunite and probably shouldn’t….some when they don’t even have half their original members left! (Don’t get me started on the Motown “reunions” that are nothing but a farce….how many original Temptations are left? What, ONE out of FIVE? Then THERE ARE NO MORE TEMPTATIONS TO REUNITE!!!! Ahem.) They need the money, or want to relive the glory days. Some of them end up putting out inferior material and ultimately tarnish the catalog that made them so popular and famous in the first place by adding God-awful tripe to their canon.

But a few groups? A few groups get it right. They are reluctant to reunite, to do anything that might damage the flowers that they have planted in the garden of history. But if they finally do come together (no pun intended), they make sure that they give it their all…..that the quality is first rate. The Beatles reunion of the mid-1990s is such a moment in time: a crack in the universe through which three lads from Liverpool stepped backwards two and a half decades to embrace a lost friend and recreate that old, familiar magic one last time.

And I am surely not the only one who is grateful.

As a side note before I go, I would like to quickly say a word about an upcoming project all Beatles lovers should check out. (I spend so much time talking about music history, I should really highlight some stuff happening in this current decade, huh?) There is a very talented artist who goes by the name “AG” who I just recently became aware of. As the story on her website goes, her publishing company ended up somehow with the rights to the only six Beatles songs not owned by Sony. Therefore, AG found herself in the unique position to record these tunes, and, from what I’ve heard so far, has quite ably and wonderfully turned them a bit sideways. Covers, yes….but even more like reverent reimaginings. She has redone Lennon and McCartney’s “I Wanna Be Your Man” in a drastically different way than you’re used to hearing it….but it’s AMAZING. (And I’m not just saying that because I’m a sucker for awesome harmonies….although that certainly doesn’t hurt. Sidebar: if you’d like to hear The Beatles version just to compare, here’s that link. I’d listen to the original first and then AG’s version to fully understand the depth of creativity involved in the cover version.) I’d recommend at least one listen if I were you (which, by the way, I’m totally not).

“The Beatles” by AG will be released on John Lennon’s birthday, October 9th. Check it out, and I’ll see you next week! (Hopefully….;))

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