Sunday, November 28, 2010

Glad I Got 'Em Into My Life

I've been having to work a lot of overtime at my job lately, which I can't say is much fun. But it feels like some kind of compensation that the Beatles are finally on iTunes. I'm adding their music to my iPod and it's really helping me get through the workday.

Prior to this, I'd had some Beatles music in my collection: Sergeant Pepper, The White Album, Abbey Road, and Let it Be, which I had ripped from CDs in my parents' music collection. But they don't own CDs of the other Beatles albums, and I hate buying physical CDs because I think that wastes natural resources, and I don't believe in illegally downloading stuff (and don't care if that marks me as hopelessly uncool [though if I were really concerned with legality, I wouldn't have ripped these four CDs in the first place]). I longed for the day when I could finally have the rest of my favorite Beatles songs in my collection, legally and conveniently.

Moreover, I had recently come to realize that I was unfamiliar with a good portion of the Beatles' output. OK, I was by no means as unaware as a friend of mine who claimed that she didn't recognize "Hey Jude" when the rest of us were singing it at karaoke last year. But, for instance, I don't think I'd heard "Got To Get You Into My Life" until this past spring -- when I heard someone sing it at karaoke. Or, I recall a post of Mead Hunter's from June, where he discussed the Oregon weather, and linked to a video of the Beatles singing "Rain." I was floored: here was a terrific mid-period Beatles song, with gorgeous harmonies and lyrics that indeed touched my Oregonian soul, that I had never heard before.

Yes, though I was raised by baby-boomer parents who introduced me to the Beatles at a young age, there were still great songs I had yet to discover. (I remember my mom giving me Beatles 101 lessons, teaching me how to tell the difference between "a John song" and "a Paul song," and schooling me in the "Paul is Dead" mythos.) My lack of exposure to Rubber Soul and Revolver struck me as particularly problematic. So those were the first two albums I downloaded when the Beatles came on iTunes, plus a few of my favorite individual songs: "Rain" and "Ticket to Ride." I don't know why, but I am obsessed with "Ticket to Ride" -- it's become my favorite song to listen to at the start of a workday. And one night last week, when I left my office at around 6:30 PM, and outdoors it was dark and rainy, I turned my iPod back on and listened to "Rain" loud as I splashed through the puddles. Nothing could have been more exhilarating.

One thing that's been interesting to see on iTunes is which Beatles songs and albums are most frequently downloaded. It seems like uplifting ballads and late-period songs/albums are what's most popular with customers. So, at the time I'm writing this, the most frequently downloaded Beatles song is "Here Comes the Sun," followed by "Let it Be," "In My Life," "Come Together," and "Blackbird." IMO, the top three are excellent choices (and isn't it nice that it's a ballad apiece from George, Paul, and John), but there are lots of Beatles songs that are better than "Come Together," and "Blackbird" is sentimental drivel. Moreover, the Beatles made some of the most exuberant and joyful pop music that's ever been created, yet none of the top five songs really evoke that -- so this list gives a skewed sense of what the group could do. The most frequently downloaded albums are Abbey Road, Sergeant Pepper, and The White Album, followed by two greatest-hits compilations.

Again, you can't really argue against the greatness of those three late albums, and yet, I feel compelled to stick up for the mid-period Beatles, the ones I have been enjoying the most lately, on Rubber Soul and Revolver. I get the sense that people think it's cooler to like late-period Beatles, when their lyrics were oblique and psychedelic and their music rocked harder and heavier. But The White Album is so fragmented and full of novelty songs, and Abbey Road has a kind of darkness to it... you can tell that these are products of a troubled band. So I'm throwing in my lot with the mid-60s Beatles, when they had started writing about subjects other than romantic love, and were experimenting with different instruments and production techniques, but were still a cohesive and tight group that loved making music together. To me, this is when the Beatles achieve the sublime (what can I say, I'm a sucker for great harmonies).

I've been excitedly touting the Beatles to my friends this past week, and I feel a little weird doing that. First, doesn't everyone already know that the Beatles are the greatest rock group of all time -- don't I look like a bit of an idiot for talking about how great they are? Second, doesn't it make me sound pathetic to be talking about a group that split up forty years ago -- that my parents listened to in their youth? Shouldn't I be seeking out hip new indie music from 2010?

But the Beatles are classic, and they still crop up everywhere. Last night, I finally got around to seeing The Social Network -- one of the first major Hollywood movies to deal with my generation, Generation Y, and our attitudes toward class and gender and friendship and business and the Internet. And what song did David Fincher choose to play over the final moments of his film that attempts to hit the Zeitgeist sweet spot, to define those of us who came of age during the mid-2000s?

"Baby, You're a Rich Man." The Beatles, 1967.

Somehow, I felt vindicated.

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