Is this an event which unites youth in a way that hasn't happened since June 1967? Is it an exercise in money grabbing?
I am referring to the "new" Beatles album entitled "Love". No doubt you've read about it elsewhere so I'm not going to delve into the background too much. I've known about the record for the past few weeks, a bit earlier than the general public here, who only became aware after last Saturday's tv weekly news roundup devoted a few minutes to the subject. By that time I had already downloaded a few songs which had been streamed by an Australian paper, and I was getting to know the material.
I thought that it would be instructive to see what other people had been writing about this album first before essaying my thoughts. I was really surprised: a large number of people were moaning about how the Beatles see this record as another way of milking the public; many were annoyed at how "new" tracks had been created and most of the opinions that I read were against the record.
I might have a few reservations, but I think that George Martin didn't go far enough in creating new tracks by mixing and mashing the old. One person was complaining that he bought the 45 rpm record of "Strawberry Fields" in 1967, and so he knows "what the correct version is". Is he unaware that the version to which he was referring was actually created from two different versions? For those who still don't know this, the invisible seam is at the 1:00 mark. Maybe it's because I spend much of my time creating music electronically, cutting and pasting bits and pieces from different songs and matching them up that I'm not horrified by this concept.
I may be a pathetic anorak, but one of my favourite Beatles cd contains only different versions and instrumental tracks of "Strawberry Fields". This was the first ever mash, and the "new" version revealed here is simply the "original" with yet another different first verse put on the front. To me, the differing versions reveal differing aspects of the music, and the new mixes enable one to hear things which were originally buried.
SFF was the first Beatles song which ever won sufficient respect to require a remake; often they were working to a schedule which didn't allow second thoughts. People have become so used to bands making a record once a year, or once every two years or even once every three years that they don't remember that in the sixties, bands were required to make two albums a year! Recording budgets were miniscule and recording techniques were caveman-like. For some reason, EMI issued an edict that the Beatles' tapes were never to be interfered with; as a result of George Martin's using two track recording to record two separate tracks as opposed to one stereo recording, recordings had been issued with all the instruments on one side and vocals on the other side - and he wasn't allowed to fix them! So even if there were no mashing done on "Love", the chance to remix the original recordings (as much as those recording allow remixing) is one not to be taken lightly.
These days, artists record a song. They make several mixes, maybe with different instrumentation, and have the time and luxury to choose the one which they think sounds best. Sometimes a mix will sound dated after a few years and sometimes the artists may choose to replace the original mix with a different version. Sometimes an artist will have second thoughts: I know that mentioning my music in the same breath as the Beatles' is pure sacrilege, but I'd like to give an example of my own.
As I've written before, I recorded The Band's "Whispering Pines" not so long ago. My original version had piano and organ on it, similar to The Band's version. After a while, I decided to remove the piano and organ, but kept the vocal. A few weeks later, I decided to change the music once again. Another week went by and I recorded a new vocal. I have four, maybe five, complete and different versions on my hard disk. Had I been pressed for time like the Beatles were, at least until "Sergeant Pepper", that first version would have been the one everyone would have heard. Now it's the fourth (or fifth) version that people can hear at The Band's site, the "Late October" mix.
Shouldn't The Beatles be awarded the chance to correct minor mistakes and have their music sound contemporary?
Regarding the mashing, some of it is amazing (especially "Drive my car" or "Within Without You"), some is interesting (SFF, "While my gently weeps") and some just is. But the "unadulturated" songs sound anaemic by comparion; one is always waiting for something new to happen and nothing does. But even a song which supposedly has been "left alone" can sound different - "I am the walrus" finally has a true stereo mix, and in the fadeout, the different vocal lines are much more apparent.
If anyone complains about the price - $18 list - I saw that Amazon were selling it at nearly 50% discount, but I imagine that most people will, ahem, acquire the album at no cost at all. It's not as if the Beatles need more money.....
Incidentally, if one studies their history, it wasn't until they broke up that they really started earning money (the story of many a band). Their original contract with EMI was miserly at best, and Brian Epstein let a lot of money slip through their fingers, not really because of mismanagement, but because they were the first and no one really knew how to handle their business. George Martin too had a raw deal with EMI and didn't make much money at the beginning, although by the time of "Abbey Road" he was probably getting a percentage.
I suppose that compared to most people, I am a Beatles freak, although I wouldn't consider myself a fanatic. I have studied their music both with my own ears and other people's commentary, and I've read their history. I did live through it, although I was too young at the time to go to their concerts. As a result, I hear this album in what is probably a completely different way from someone uneducated about the Beatles; but somehow I doubt that some unsuspecting purchaser is going to believe that these are the canonical versions.