What could I possibly write about The Beatles that has not been written before? Or that could easily be bettered with a few of my readers' mouse clicks? There you go...nothing!
Suffice to say that I came to The Beatles via Harry Nilsson. My family spent a weekend (somewhere around 1978) with some friends in Hemel Hempstead and their son, Paul, spent hours playing me Beatles singles in his bedroom. He was astonished that I couldn't even identify 'She Loves You' from the drum intro and that I'd never heard of the vast majority of the songs at all! (Come to think of it that IS pretty ignorant...its not as if you could - then or now - go very far without encountering Beatles music!) I was very impressed with his box set of all the singles with their apple logos and picture covers, though. On my return home I sent him a tape of Nilsson's cover of 'You Can't Do That' - he was NOT impressed!
But I suppose I thought I ought to make some sort of effort to get to know this group (I already knew John and Paul had referred to Nilsson as 'their favourite band') so I went to my local library in Bedlington and got out the 'Red Album' (left). It didn't take long...
The first track to really capture my attention was 'All My Loving'. I played it over and over but the whole double album rarely left my turntable for a long time. I taped it (of course) before taking it back then borrowed 'Blue' - it didn't sound like the same group...but by the time I went on my next summer holidays those two cassettes were my staple listening diet.
I began to draw pictures of the group, copying pictures from LP sleeves and books as pencil drawings - especially John Lennon, whose 'persona' had interested me most. I took out a Beatles reference book from the library too 'An Illustrated Record' - and, using it as my track by track guide I studied The Beatles like I'd never studied anything before, quickly building an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things Beatle! Sadly, when I returned the book to the library I left all my drawings in it and they were thrown away by the time I realised! I still have a copy of that book and it is often a good resource (although bettered now by several other books especially Mark Lewissohn's tomes! I also find it very biased against George for some reason.
Then I learned to play the songs painstaking chord by chord from the 'Beatles Complete' that I bought with birthday money in Eldon Square, Newcastle - getting more and more frustrated by Yesterday being in the key of F! I didn't know chords like F and Bb for goodness sake...but I soon did! When my mum's rudimentary guitar knowledge had been exhausted I bought 'The Guitar Case Chord Book' and taught myself.
As time went by John Lennon remained my favourite Beatle. I queued up round the corner to buy 'Double Fantasy' when it was released and almost wore it out in a week. By the time I went to college in September 1981 not only did I own all the group's albums but I also had almost all the solo LPs as well - and that is a LOT of LPs (I still have a total collection of some 3,000 LPs today!)
It was a pleasant and creative addiction - and, although I don't listen much nowadays to the original albums - I'm much more likely to listen to my massive collection of Beatles bootlegs including the wonderful and better sounding vinyl transfers by Doctor Ebbetts and Mirror Spock, DTS mixes done by various internet Remixers groups* - the whole catalogue is with me all the time anyway - for I can internalise almost every song and 'hear' it in my head whenever I like. Who needs an mp3 player?
All the Beatles bootlegs I have were obtained via trades with other fans and with NO MONEY ever passing hands (take note EMI please - you are not being ripped off a penny - I don't think I've ever met an online trader who doesn't already own at least one copy of everything ever released legitimately!) I haven't bought a bootleg since 1981 on Portobello Road market! These discs have proved to be by far the most exciting part of being a Beatles fan over the last ten years or so. I recall buying an LP called 'Northern Songs' - it was an unknown group trying to sound a bit like The Beatles and recording all the songs the group gave to other artists in the 1960s - many years ago and dreaming that one day I might be able to hear recordings of The Beatles singing these songs. I remember reading in a national newspaper that 'complete tracks' existed in the EMI vaults of songs with titles like 'Please Leave My Kitten Alone' and 'What's the News Mary Jane' (sic) and I wondered if this were true...
The first rare recordings I ever heard were part of the Abbey Road exhibition - I got to hear the famous version of 'How Do You Do It' there as well as alternate versions of 'Strawberry Fields' etc. - but I didn't really think they would one day be 'readily available to buy' on official releases! I was wrong! There are still a few 'Holy Grails' remaining for Beatles collectors to find although the last decade or so has seen the 'vault' opened more than we could have once dreamed - the Anthology releases have been a wonderful addition to the standard catalogue, as have been 'Let It be Naked', 'Live at the BBC' and other releases up to and including 'Love' of course. Rumours still abound about the fabled 20 minute version of 'Helter Skelter' and I would love to hear the last few original demos for those songs 'given away' in the 1960s such as 'World Without Love' but when you consider I have literally hundreds of CDs containing (amongst much more) every note recorded for the 'Let It Be' album sessions, over an hour of music chronicling the evolution of 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and many, many alternate versions of songs found on most of the released LPs I have more than I could have ever wished for already.
In the 1960s Lennon and McCartney were called the best songwriters since Schubert. (I've always been quite fond of classical music - although I hate the incorrect term 'classical' - but, personally, I've never 'got' what all the fuss about Schubert was!) Pop music is 'come and go' music - look at the charts from twenty years ago; how many songs can you still recall? If I play pop from a couple of months ago in my classroom the kids want it switched off - it's 'old', it's 'naff'...it's last week's! While I believe that the music of many pop artists will pass the test of time - and already has - I wonder how many of my 'musical heroes' will still be being listened to a century from now?
Not many, I'd guess...but I am 100% sure The Beatles will!
*These are stunningly good CDs. Using various electronic techniques (such as OOPS-ing) to isolate individual instruments, effects and vocal lines then they are all mixed back together and assembled as 5:1 or DTS discs. I am just amazed as to how they manage to do it! I can upmix ordinary CDs to DTS myself - but this is little more than extending the existing stereo mix into 6 speakers - these discs are as good as I could imagine new mixes from the original master tapes could be! I have Sgt Pepper, White Album, Rubber Soul, Revolver and Abbey Road - mostly mixes done by Two Of Us Productions - or TOUP.
John Lennon tribute