If you wanted to find me outside of classes during my freshman year of college, there’s a pretty good chance it would be in my room playing records. And in that particular year, 1989-90, there’s a pretty good chance the record was from the Beatles. Never one to be caught up with current music, I had a case of Beatlemania 25 years too late.
I drove my roommates crazy with repeated listens to Revolver, Rubber Soul, Magical Mystery Tour and The White Album, and I especially liked singing along with these records with a fellow Beatle Geek named Josh who lived in my dorm. He would be Paul (better, higher voice) and I would be John. He would harmonize on top of my lines and we’d trade Fab Four trivia in between cuts.
It’s a snapshot from that time in my life I’ll always treasure.
Another 25 years have passed since my days in the dorm, and once again, Beatlemania is in the air. This Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the group’s debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. The lead up to this event has been hard to avoid in the media because of the Beatle Juggernaut that cranks up every 5 years or so.
Beatles on the cover of Rolling Stone!
Paul and Ringo at the Grammys!
Classic Rock stations plan Top 500 Orgasmo Beatles RockBlock Weekend!
Whoa. From the perspective of the young and uninitiated, these “Beatles” must be a REALLY BIG DEAL. My God! You must put on their music and be transported to a Magical Mystery Strawberry Field where we Come All Together Now in a giant Yellow Diamond Submarine!!
For me-- to quote George Harrison-- It’s All Too Much.
Don’t get me wrong. I know the band, the Sullivan appearance, the dawning of the 60s, and the cultural-political-sexual revolution that followed are significant. Huge. And all of it must resonate even more if you were a person growing up in that era. If you were getting your mind blown by the Beatles every time they put out an LP, that music will always hold a fond place in your heart.
But 50 years is a long time. And many things don’t hold up after a decade, not to mention five. Movies. Books. Fashion. Music. Some stuff still seems relevant and some doesn’t. And it pains me to say, but a lot of the Beatles catalog falls into the latter category.
I know-- I must feel like pissing off some baby boomers today, right?
“Question the Greatness of The Beatles?? HOW DARE YOU, SIR!”
But that’s just it. The Beatles legend has been so built up and reinforced over the years that it’s impossible for the music itself to live up to the hype. It’s ironic that The Beatles were a significant part of 60s counter culture which was largely built on youth empowerment and questioning authority; yet now, The Beatles have been anointed so many times as THE GREATEST ROCK BAND EVER it feels like we have to rebel against their de facto superiority.
In a recent email exchange with music loving peers, this generational rift was exposed. My friends, by and large, never really “got” the Beatles. And they confessed it almost sheepishly. As if they knew they were “supposed” to like the Beatles, but they just didn’t.
What makes Beatles Bombast a little hard to swallow is that it’s greased by capitalism. What once was a driving force of 60s rebellion and flower power has now been neatly packaged up in “limited editions” and fawning TV specials. There’s always something for sale to go along with these periodic tributes and celebrations.
The Complete Ed Sullivan Performances! ($27.95 on Amazon)
All Their Albums Reissued on Vinyl! (an absurd $319)
A few years back, there was a boatload of Beatles ballyhoo that their music would (Finally! For the first time EVER! ) be available on iTunes. I remember reading that one of the negotiation points (on the band’s side) was that Beatles music would have its own distinct section on iTunes where you could only find Beatle songs, cordoned off from all the “other” music.
Maybe that’s when things started to turn for me. I mean, really? Your own section? Like your music deserves its own gilded, digital palace where I get the privilege to purchase Abbey Road for the 14th time? Please.
There comes a point when proclamations of how Massively Awesome a band is cross the line between well deserved reverence, and an echo chamber of sycophants.
Ok, ok: they’re great. We get it! Now can you just shut up about it for a minute?
By no means are the Beatles the only ones to over glorify themselves. Pink Floyd must have issued 4000 “special editions” of Dark Side of the Moon by now. And tickets to recent Stones concerts have required a home equity loan. But the Beatles are best at revving up the ol’ nostalgia cash machine, which is pretty remarkable for a band that hasn’t put out music in over 40 years.
Blame it on Ringo? Maybe he needs the cash.
Blame it on Paul? Maybe he needs an ego boost.
Blame it on Capitol Records? Apple? The estate of Ed Sullivan?
Maybe we should blame it on Yoko again.
I don’t know who to blame for Beatle Hype. I just know that back when I was singing along to Rubber Soul in my dorm, I didn’t need marketing to think the Beatles were cool. The music itself convinced me.