This is why I owe the late Sir George Martin (and the Beatles) a small and personal debt of gratitude.
When I started this blog in the summer of 2009, one of the first things I needed to do was give it a name. My previous blog hadn’t been called anything, it was just an extension of my MySpace account (yeah, I know…), so it really wasn’t a subject that I’d ever given any serious thought to. I spent several afternoons scrolling through the hours and hours of music on my laptop, hoping to hit upon a song title or a lyric that would fit in with what I was trying to express with this smart new blog I was so excited about.
Eventually, I gave up in frustration and just let the music play (as a wise lady once sang) while I got on with my work. I admit that I wasn’t really paying attention by the time the Beatles’ Revolver began playing – my mind had wandered off elsewhere, as it is wont to do. It would be true to say that I’m not the world’s biggest Beatles fan full stop (in fact, my views on them could well be considered somewhat…. iconoclastic, perhaps), but I do love Revolver. It’s the perfect transitional album between the ‘pop’ Beatles and the ‘psychedelic’ Beatles, effortlessly picking up where Rubber Soul left off, and it is arguably some of George Martin’s finest work.
Suddenly, that lovely, upbeat almost Motown-style brass opening of ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ kicked into my headphones and Paul McCartney began to sing:
I was alone, I took a ride, I didn’t know what I would find there/Another road where maybe I could see another kind of mind there
I instantly sat bolt upright in my chair. That. Was. It. Another kind of mind – it was perfect. It was me. As someone of an imaginative bent who has also had experience of mental illness, I guess I’ve always felt like I do have another kind of mind. It just sounded right. Much later on, I discovered McCartney had written the song about his early experiences with cannabis, and that also amused me no end. It really was the perfect name for this blog then, and it still is today.
So, thank you George Martin – without your genius, the Beatles might never have made Revolver, and this Another Kind Of Mind would have been very different (and probably nowhere near as much fun)…
Enough about the Beatles already! Yes, they were probably the most influential British band of all time, yes, they wrote some absolutely brilliant tunes (and yes, I nicked the name of my blog from one of their songs – nobody has figured out which one yet!), but am I the only one who is getting thoroughly fed up with the continued and unquestioning deification of a bunch of very ordinary Liverpudlian lads who just happened to capture the zeitgeist of forty-odd years ago?
If it wasn’t them, if Paul McCartney hadn’t gone to see the Quarrymen at Woolton church fete in July 1957, it could have so easily have been someone else. Seriously. In the late 1950s and 1960s, there were enough young men with an obsessive passion for American rhythm and blues music across Britain for some other, some equally popular and influential band to have emerged instead – the sheer number of British ‘beat groups’ who played the strip clubs of Hamburg’s Reeperbahn around the same time that the early Beatles did is clear testament to this. But we did get the Beatles, and – fine musicians and cultural innovators though they were – it’s about time that their musical legacy was left alone to speak for itself.
I am very aware that there are music fans out there in cyberspace who would happily lynch me for saying all that, or, at the very least, accuse me of knowing nothing about music. I could very easily be accused of being too young to really understand the cultural context of their genius, having not even been born when they split in 1970. But, like most of my generation, the Beatles have been a part of my musical education almost as long as I’ve been aware of the very existence of music – and I am definitely a fan, particularly of the later, weird, druggy, political stuff (in fact, I was discussing the notorious Helter Skelter with a friend on Facebook only last night).
Admittedly, some of my views on the Beatles aren’t exactly conventional; I prefer the quirky half-pop, half-druggy Revolver to the near-universally adored Sgt Pepper’s, considering the latter only half a good album and not to have dated at all well – and I think John Lennon was a massively talented songwriter and an interesting political activist but mainly a thoroughly unpleasant and very damaged man (please don’t throw stuff at me, Lennon worshippers…!). Oh, and I firmly believe that George Harrison is still an unjustly underrated guitarist and songwriter – it wasn’t all just Lennon and McCartney you know….
I also don’t get why the entire Beatles back catalogue has just been ‘remastered’ and re-released on CD (plus there’s the mono versions which have just come out too), it’s just not necessary. The initial CD releases make some kind of sense since the original albums were on vinyl, but once the CDs are out there in the first place why do they need to be released again, only in a very slightly different form? Those who wanted the albums anyway will already own them on CD (and possibly also vinyl), and the original CD issues are still in the shops for any new Beatles fans wanting to discover their classic albums for themselves. Digital remasters tend to sound pretty rubbish anyway, mainly because the original source material was recorded with analogue equipment; digitising such music detracts from the lovely, essential warmth and depth of analogue sound (see the Led Zeppelin remasters albums released in the early 1990s for an obvious example of this – awesome, awesome songs, but the sound absolutely stinks compared to the original analogue releases).
In some ways, the rationale behind these re-releases is really very obvious. It’s a greedy record company lusting after profits again, especially in this era of major label panics over torrent streaming and free downloads. This must be a particular concern for EMI/Capitol as the Beatles’ back catalogue is yet to appear on iTunes. The surviving Beatles don’t really need the money (although Paul McCartney might, having been taken to the cleaners in the divorce courts by Heather Mills, which may possibly explain why he agreed to the re-releases!), so, when it comes right down to it, this move really does smack of greed and desperation for profit from the music industry, because it is they who make the money from releasing music, not the artists. The profit motive is also the only possible explanation for the recent Beatles Rock Band* computer game, however much the band and their families say they’ve approved it – and it’s obvious that the album re-releases are a classic and cynical way of cashing in on the inevitable popularity of this game: however good the game is, it doesn’t justify what is essentially a lazy attempt to make even more money out of Beatles fans (the sensible fans will have already concluded that they don’t need to buy a complete set of the albums – again. Possibly for the third time, in some cases). And I honestly doubt I’m the only commentator to point this out.
As far as I’m concerned, all this just makes a mockery of the incredible musical legacy the Beatles left us. It speaks for itself, as evidenced by the fact that generation after generation of music lovers have discovered the music of John, Paul, George and Ringo in the four decades since the band split – but the constant stream of ‘special edition’ albums and books and movies and computer games related to the Beatles and released during that time really just detract from this legacy (as good as some of these cultural artefacts are). Please, please me, and get back to the music.
*As an aside, it is interesting to note that these new ‘musician’ games can cause controversy in other ways – there may be legal action taken against the makers of Guitar Hero by Courtney Love and the surviving members of Nirvana, who are all angry about the way that Kurt Cobain’s image is being used in the latest edition of the game, seemingly without the relevant permissions. I now have this indelible image in my head of Kurt wielding a Guitar Hero controller, attempting to get an Eddie Van Halen solo right while Courtney yells at him for beating her all-time high score….
“That’s what it’s all about. That’s why we’ll be the best band in the world, because I fuckin’ hate that twat there. I fuckin’ hate him. And I hope one day there’s a release where I can smash fuck out of him, with a fuckin’ Rickenbacker, right on his nose, and then he does the same to me, ‘cos I think we’re stepping right up to it now. There’s a fuckin’ line there and we’re right on the edge of it” – Liam on Noel, Wibbling Rivalry, 1994
“I don’t think I’ve ever said anything that’s nasty” – Liam, 2008.
You know, I think I would care more about Noel Gallagher quitting Oasis if he were actually leaving a half decent band. No, really. I mean it. It’s not like they’re even anything special these days – they started out as a halfway fun and definitely second-rate bunch of Beatles copyists, and have ended up as a fourth-rate, washed-up parody of themselves, as postmodern as that sounds.
Admittedly, I remain rather fond of their first two albums, Definitely Maybe and (What’s The Story) Morning Glory, mainly because they remind me of a long ago and far away period of my life when I was young and naive and British pop music ruled the world (again). These days, however, I would argue that ‘Britpop’ is a distinctly lazy descriptive; the only commonalities shared by the bands lumped together in that scene were that they were all guitar bands of some sort and that they were all… er… British. Unlike most bona fide music scenes, none of the first generation of Britpop bands actually sounded anything much like each other, or even really came from a common set of influences. In fact, most of them didn’t even sound like the swingin’ sixties pop scene the media supposed they were emulating.
But Oasis had clearly grown up on a steady diet of The Beatles and punk, and this showed in the swagger and arrogance of their unfeasibly tuneful early releases. They may have been spectacularly ripping off Lennon and McCartney via the Pistols, but they had the balls and vicious charisma enough for that not to matter. And the regular and very public punch-ups between Noel and Liam made the band all the more attractive to the media right from the very start.
It is common knowledge that feuds and tensions between fellow band members can produce some remarkable results. Faith No More spent most of their career hating each other, and are, in fact, widely acknowledged to have produced some of their greatest material during the period when they had both a gay man and a somewhat homophobic redneck among their line-up, with all the unpleasant tensions that naturally entailed. Brothers Ray and Dave Davies of the quintessentially English and truly god-like British Invasion band The Kinks spent much of the sixties and seventies utterly despising each other (to the point of physical violence) – yet this was the period that produced some of the band’s most enduringly classic and influential songs. Mark E. Smith of Peel favourites The Fall has fallen out with an almost countless number of different musicians over the band’s thirty-three year history (most fans have given up counting, anyway), but The Fall remain a vital and visceral presence on the British music scene. And that’s just three examples from an industry that seems to thrive on antagonism and antipathy.
It was always different with the Gallaghers, though. The chaotic lifestyles of the brothers (and the rest of Oasis) alongside the notoriety spawned by the constant brotherly bickering actually distracted from the music, which rapidly deteriorated and soon took second place to the scandal and bad behaviour in the eyes of the band as a coherent entity, as well as in both the tabloid and the music media. And there was always a slightly cynical element of class about it all. Now as then, the music media in this country, in particular, is predominantly southern, very middle class and almost entirely male, and the countless articles recounting the antagonistic fraternal squabbles between these two working class Mancunian siblings were always shot through with a patronising amusement. Watching the Gallaghers slug it out was, it seems, inherently funny in a way that the equally stupid bullshit spouted by the likes of Damon Albarn wasn’t – which probably accounts for Fierce Panda’s release on vinyl of Wibbling Rivalry; a recording of a 1994 interview by the journalist John Harris with the Gallaghers, which almost immediately deteriorates into a huge, fiery and very, very sweary argument between the brothers (see the quote above).
All this leaves me thoroughly unsurprised that Noel has jumped ship – after all, he’s threatened to quit on numerous occasions in the past. And his reasons for leaving are even less surprising. In a statement released on Friday, Noel describes how things had finally come to a head, and that “the level of verbal and violent intimidation towards me, my family, friends and comrades has become intolerable.” This comes as no shock when one realises that rather unpleasant stories of Liam publicly questioning the legitimacy of his niece Anais (Noel and ex-wife Meg Matthews’ young daughter), and very deliberately not inviting his older brother to his wedding, have been circulating for a number of years now. This long dysfunctional relationship between the two brothers seems to have finally broken down, which is certainly sad for them on a personal level – but it may yet mean the end of Oasis, something which should have happened years ago. The band should have retired gracefully when they had the chance, leaving behind an at least partially valuable musical legacy instead of finally imploding like the last great Britpop joke.