The Fab Four has been in the news several times in the past few weeks—Paul and Ringo reunited onstage, Paul will be headlining the Los Angeles music festival Coachella this weekend and The Beatles’ own edition of the video game Rock Band is going to be released in September. However, possibly the biggest news for all The Beatles nerds was last week’s announcement that The Beatles’ catalog is being remastered and released in its entirety for the first time in almost 22 years.
The Beatles are understood by many to be the greatest band in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, having topped lists by VH1, Spin Magazine and Rolling Stone. With the new game and albums being cleverly released on September 9, 2009 (09/09/09), their music could potentially reach new, younger audiences and be heard in ways the songs have never been experienced before. However, the nature of the Rock Band video games and the dying marketability of CDs could limit the ability of these releases to attract new fans.
When inducting The Clash into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Edge of U2 declared the British punk band to be the greatest rock band of all time next to The Rolling Stones, but he had to qualify the statement by clarifying that The Beatles were “obviously pop.” The four lads from Liverpool are often categorized as a pop band, far from rock and roll and anything remotely resembling the image of the guitar-smashing, rabble-rousing genre.
So why are they getting their very own edition of Rock Band, a video game more associated with the likes of heavy metal band Guns N’ Roses and alternative rockers Soundgarden? Although the game will allow the music to be experienced in a new way, it is unclear whether or not the avid fans of previous versions of Rock Band will be impressed.
Even Glenn Gass, Professor of Music at Indiana University and the teacher of a course called “The Music of The Beatles,” acknowledged that The Beatles are an interesting choice for a game more likely to feature songs by hard-rockers Kiss or Black Sabbath.
“I can’t imagine ‘Day Tripper’ being very interesting,” Gass said. “They didn’t do five-minute heavy metal guitar solos.”
The Beatles, however, cannot be completely dismissed as just a pop group. Before becoming the band we know and love today, they played loud, rocking music in clubs, calling themselves the Quarrymen. Gass referred to them as a “savage band before they started recording music.”
In the 1960s, The Beatles also recorded several heavier tracks that appeared on their albums and singles but not necessarily on the radio. Their guitar-heavy tracks include “Hey Jude” B-side “Revolution,” “Helter Skelter” off of their self-titled White Album and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” from Abbey Road.
Weinberg freshman Todd Levine said The Beatles played pop music but that this is nothing to be looked down upon.
“I think The Beatles were first and foremost a pop group, but I think there’s a negative connotation with the word ‘pop’ that shouldn’t be there,” said Levine, a Beatles fan who owns the band’s albums on vinyl. “To say they’re a pop group, that’s not to say they weren’t innovators or masters of what they were doing.”
As the pop-rock debate continues, Gass, who has two children at the video game-playing ages of 11 and 14, hopes something interesting is done for the video game.
“I hope it’s not just a glorified karaoke,” he said.
The Album — A Dying Art Form
For a Beatles fanatic like Gass, the new Beatles albums will be a blessing. Their catalog, including masterpieces Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road, has not been re-released since 1987, when CD technology was relatively new. On September 9, they will be available as individual CDs and in two different box sets, mono and stereo. Gass compared the upcoming reissues to the cleaning of the Sistine Chapel.
“Compared to some CDs, the Beatles albums sound pretty crummy,” he said. “It’s an embarrassment that we’re still living with mid-80s CD technology when any band worth anything has been remastered.”
The September date will mark the first complete remastering of the catalog since the initial releases, but this will not be the first time their music has been reissued on CD. One of the first efforts to remaster the Beatles’ music after the 1980s was the Yellow Submarine Songtrack, a 1999 release featuring remixes of songs from the animated film Yellow Submarine.
“You heard things you never heard before,” Gass said of the clarity of the songtrack. “We’re seeing color and detail in a way we haven’t seen in a lifetime.”
Although some might be struggling to contain their excitement over the new reissues, many college students are not going to pay the money for music they already have or just plain don’t care about. The CDs are unlikely to impress in an age in which someone is more expected to download low-quality files than buy an album on vinyl or CD.
McCormick freshman Sam Kaufman said she will probably not buy the new reissues. However, Kaufman said she listens to The Beatles’ full albums, citing The Beatles and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as the two she listens to the most.
“I already have the music, so I don’t feel the need to buy it again if it’s just different quality,” she said.
Although it is uncertain how many people will actually buy the CDs when they are finally released, it is still safe to say future generations will continue to listen to their music.
“I think it’s neat how they could appeal to so many different age groups and types of peoples,” Kaufman said.
Songs like “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Yesterday” are known by virtually everyone, and their influence can be seen from the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds to Nirvana.
“They were revolutionary,” said Weinberg freshman Corey Berg. “They had the courage to try something new that hadn’t been really tried before. They did what sounded good and went with it.”
Beatles-loving parents might not be interested in playing a silly video game, and their children might not want to spend ever-scarce money on buying reissues, but the fact that we are even talking about 09/09/09 speaks to the legacy and power of The Beatles to keep their songs resonating for years to come.