October 14, 2009

Revolution 9

I’ve been thinking about the Beatles lately. Honestly, I could probably write about the Beatles exclusively for a year or two, but the recent reissue of the band’s remastered catalogue and their appearance on the “Rock Band” video game have ignited my most recent meditations.

I went to ear X-tacy on Sept. 9 to pick up a couple of the new discs. I had my son, Oden, with me. It didn’t feel like it should have been such a big deal, but the arrival of 15 likely best-selling new releases had to be good news for the music business, and it seemed to inspire a flurry of activity at Louisville’s favorite record store. For one day only, the discs were discounted to $9.99, and they had a big-screen television set up where shoppers could try out the “Rock Band” game.

There weren’t that many people poking around; rush hour was in full force outside. I’m sure most good workers were doing something more ordinarily important than shopping for Beatles music. We discovered that there was to be a “Rock Band” contest that evening, and there weren’t many entrants signed up. Oden, age 9, happily tested his skills on “Yellow Submarine” and “Octopus’s Garden” and made it clear he wanted to stay to compete. I really couldn’t say no.

I remember getting excited about Beatles music as a kid. When I was in eighth grade, I borrowed a few of their albums from the library. Having them in hand, I’d play them over and over, trying to commit them to memory. I remember dubbing copies of some of them with a little portable cassette recorder with an external microphone. The sound quality of those tapes was beyond atrocious.

Over the years I have purchased four and five different copies of some of the same Beatles records. As a teenager, I saved my money and bought all of the original domestic albums on vinyl, in the chronological sequence of their release. In the mid-to-late 1980s, I bought the entire catalogue of vinyl re-issues, which restored the original British song sequences. In the 1990s, I bought CD copies as I found them in used bins, and I picked up several of the new remasters last month.

Still, one of my favorite Beatles experiences is a compilation tape I made in college. Spending more than a healthy amount of time with my book of Beatles lyrics, I noticed that there were more Beatles songs that started with the letter “I” than any other, so I put them all on a 90-minute tape in alphabetical order. The program includes a brilliant variety of over-played masterpieces (“I Am the Walrus” and “In My Life”) and compelling oddities (“The Inner Light”). Unlike any official Beatles album, George Harrison is represented almost equally with Lennon and McCartney.

The early years are heavily favored, with 11 of the 34 tracks coming from the Beatlemania years. Then there are three tracks each from the folky albums Beatles For Sale, Help! and Rubber Soul. There are two tracks each from Revolver, The Beatles (aka The White Album) and Let It Be. Two albums, Abbey Road and Magical Mystery Tour, are represented by only one track, but those are monsters: “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and “I Am the Walrus.”

If you were to put the same list of songs together, you might actually come up with a different sequence. The list I was working from overlooked spaces between the words in the various song titles, so “I Me Mine” was between “I’m Down” and “I’m Happy Just to Dance with You,” and the final sequence (“I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “I Want to Tell You,” “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and “I Will”) comes well after “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” for instance. (If you’d like a copy of my list and maybe some additional notes, send me an e-mail.)

Hanging out at ear X-tacy, thinking about how this music will likely continue to be important to my son and subsequent generations, I couldn’t regret, for the moment, that I had spent so much time dwelling on all this nonsense. Oden won some music lessons at Mom’s Music for coming in second … of two.

No homework this week. I know you’re gonna be busy going to see “Where the Wild Things Are.” Don’t forget to take a hankie.