Monday, March 03, 2008

The Beatles Were A Terrible Band!

Hah, no, just kidding. They were a wonderful band.

I feel guilty writing about the Beatles. Like almost everybody else who has written a word about them, I feel as if I can't say anything about them that hasn't been said. I am compelled to, however, because I very recently watched the film "Across The Universe" and I did not like it. At all. It's a movie that takes all of those wonderful, wonderful Beatles songs we all know and love and uses them to string together a hackneyed, boring plot about a Liverpudlian named Jude (HURR) moving to America, becoming friends with a frat boy named Max (well's silver hammer HURR) and his phoned-in love-interest sister Lucy (in the sky with diamonds HURRRRR) while they encounter a vast array of broad 60's cliches (Max is drafted! Lucy joins up with violent revolutionaries! Jude goes on a psychedelic drug trip with Bono!!). They all pontificate their feelings by singing Beatles songs to themselves at random intervals, mostly by slowing them down to make them real emotional and heartfelt and all that shit. Once the Asian lesbian cheerleader named Prudence (HAHRUARUAURHRR) shows up and locks herself in a closet (GUESS WHICH SONG THEY SING?), you start to realize that you're basically watching "Rent" with Beatles songs thrown in.

This has been a sad trend in recent years - cover a bunch of Beatles songs in a "cool", "modern" way and see the cash roll in. There was that shitty indie tribute to Rubber Soul, or the entire I Am Sam soundtrack, or that crappy John Lennon musical. I'm willing to give the Instant Karma compilation a free pass, since it's for a good cause and all that, and it's just John Lennon's solo stuff, but the music is still terrible (Black Eyed Peas doing "Power to the People", AWESOME) and it promotes the whole "peace and love" Beatles image that just comes across as fake-hippie bullshit nowadays. I guess I can also give a pass to Love because it comes straight from the source, but it still feels like a wasted opportunity to me. Honestly, George Martin and his cohorts are probably the ONLY people in the world who would have a chance to remix the Beatles LEGALLY, without any contest, and given this huge fucking opportunity they barely did anything with the music except for a really cool mix of "Drive My Car" and "What You're Doing." Also the album's for Cirque du Soleil, so again the Beatles are lent to overblown theatricality.

It's a trap, though! If you ever register your disgust in some half-assed Beatles "tribute" you'll always have people saying, "Well, jeez, it's the BEATLES! You love the Beatles, right? Then you must like it!" It's a bargaining chip. No matter how shitty a Beatles tribute is, it still has Beatles music in it, so I'm guilted into liking it on some level. But it just doesn't work that way - anything can be ruined, even the most wonderful music in the world. It depends on the circumstances; if I hear a bunch of shitty musicians singing "Across the Universe" at the Grammys, I'm probably going to think about it whenever I listen to the original song and it will just... hurt.

Is it a personal thing? Well, yes. I love the Beatles. I got into them when I was 16 after listening to my parents' copy of "Beatles 1", and I never looked back. It was kind of a weird time for me - see, I'd recently stopped attending church, and I had this fear about what was going to happen to me when I died. I feared Hell, if it existed, and I didn't want to go there. I don't know why I felt this way - my church wasn't a very dogmatic one, and I hadn't been much of a dedicated Christian for years, but I was very unsure of what was out there. Listening to the Beatles, though, made me feel good, like I had nothing to be afraid of. Songs like "Hey Jude" and "Let It Be" made me cry just to hear them, and they still do. They fuckin' changed my life, no doubt about it. Without them I would not love music half as much as I do now. I mean, there have been many many bands that I have fallen in love with over the years, but none of them have affected me quite like the Beatles did - no matter how much of a cynical jackass I have become, my love for them has never waned.

I mean, the fact that the Beatles are still so universally beloved and revered almost half a century later is a testament to how great they were. Their songs are so good that almost everybody loves them, cherishes them; I can talk the Beatles with my parents, and I barely ever talk music - period - with my parents. But it's a double-edged sword; since it's so accessible and beloved, everybody is open to use the Beatles' music for whatever means they wish, which leads to a lot of shitty tributes and lame misinterpretations of "I Am The Walrus" (THE SONG IS A FUCKING JOKE SONG, LENNON WAS MAKING FUN OF BOB DYLAN, STOP THINKING IT'S SOME COOL PSYCHEDELIC MESSAGE). And no matter how crappy they are, there will always be an audience of Beatles faithful willing to lap it up. I guess I have to accept that fact that, since there are so many goddamn Beatles fans out there, a lot of them love the Beatles for completely different reasons than myself. Hell, there are still people who think the Beatles didn't recorded anything good until "Revolver" - can you believe that shit?!

But I guess it can't be all bad. Yeah, I hated the "Across the Universe" movie, but watching it did spur me to listen to "Please Please Me" and "With The Beatles", the only two Beatles albums I hadn't heard yet. No matter how many lame Beatles tributes come out over the years, they will always lead me back to the real thing, and I guess I can't complain about that. As the years wear on, I will grow with the Beatles' rich body of work, discovering more and more little gems that I will grow to love even more - on my own terms. And ain't that what great music is all about?

So, in the end... the love you take is equal to the love you make. All you need is love. I guess I truly am mother nature's son. Maybe I should just hide my love away? No, no - I'll get by with a little help from my friends, The Beatles, and I'll always remember them when I'm sixty-four. We can work it out once we all come together - here, there, and everywhere. So I guess I can just... let it be.

Good Night, Mr. Moonlight.

(Wait, that song kinda sucked.)


Luke said...

Normally, I'm with you and try to avoid shitty Beatles covers like the plague, but there is one exception that I think you should know about. I can't remember if I ever told you about this, or made you listen to it, or if I did any of the above recently, but I'll mention Laibach and "Let It Be" once more. It's possibly the greatest reinterpretation of any songs by any band I've ever heard. You have a Slovenian industrial-rock band re-recording the entire "Let It Be" album (sans the title track, oddly enough) without really worrying if they get the exact lyrics, melodies and beats of the Beatles. The track listing on the album cover isn't even in the roght order. Despite its greatness, it really starts to fall apart towards the end, when it mostly seems to be live recordings of Slovenian folksongs and the like, but there are a few gems on it. I swear to god, the version of "Get Back" they open up with scares the shit out of some of my friends in Pittsburgh, but it's all the more glorious for that. And I'm not sure how they managed it, but their cover of "Across the Universe" is possibly even better than the original. I know that it's probably sacrilege to say such a thing, especially given your post, but they still did it. It's the only non-growly, freaky song on the album, which makes it even weirder when it comes on. There's pretty much nothing but a choir singing (with a little quiet organ, one of the only such instances in rock history), so it makes for a very stripped down and simple version that's just so goddamn pretty.

Anyway, you should go listen to it now. I kind of feel like doing that myself after writing so much about it.

Adam said...

Well said, Sean. I actually think I might watch "Across the Universe" tonight just to see for myself. I honestly can't quite think of a film that has so evenly and dramatically polarized people, so it'll be interesting. Of course, you and I tend to agree on these sorts of matters...

I disagree with you on some of the specific tributes though. Despite the good intentions, I feel like the Instant Karma tribute was pretty godawful. Flaming Lips or not, it had Avril Lavigne trying to add some insight to "Imagine" and Christina Aguilera committing musical murder by sucking every bit of pain out of "Mother." And let's not start on Green Day's "Working Class Hero." Just the fact that two of these covers were nominated for Grammys... oh wait, I forgot, no one gives a shit about the Grammys. Sorry.

On the contrary, the I Am Sam soundtrack wasn't that bad at all. I like Eddie Vedder's version of "You Can't Hide Your Love Away," and it's got Nick Cave doing "Let It Be" (and he also recorded a version of "Here Comes the Sun" which didn't make it onto the CD). Of course, lately I have begun to suck Nick Cave's cock pretty relentlessly (but it's only cause I respect the man and his work; I am not gay).

I'll also randomly add that I really like Elliott Smith's version of "Because" (used in the end credits of American Beauty). The multi-tracked vocals are very pretty.

I'm kinda surprised you hadn't heard "Please Please Me" or "With the Beatles" before this, honestly. There are some great songs on those albums.

And I'm also very curious to hear that album that Luke just described.

That's all. Good Day, Sunshine ;-)

Sean Rose said...

Luke: Yeah, you've played Laibach for me before. It is very strange, but it is also very wonderful. I'll have to borrow it from you sometime... it's just one of those things you'll never find anywhere else.

Yeah, so that's exempt from my "all Beatles tributes suck" diatribe.

Adam: You're right, I was going to mention that the I Am Sam soundtrack wasn't all that bad. The covers were all pretty respectable, at least from what I've heard. I still think it's part of the whole "re-record Beatles songs and make money" trend, but at least the songs are OK.

And yeah, I like Elliot Smith's "Because" too.

Jeez, I really soften up a lot in these comments, don't it?

Luke said...

There's also the fact that the producers of "I Am Sam" wanted to use the original songs but couldn't get the rights, forcing them to commission covers for the soundtrack. Not only that, according to Allmusic, but they had to make sure the covers were the exact same tempo as the originals to match up with the editing. Just figured I'd throw that out there.

Adam said...

I feel compelled to add on to my previous comment from over a year ago:

"Mr. Moonlight" is a great song.