The Beatles were an historical anomaly. They were a pop culture phenomenon that challenged the status quo and pushed things along at a time when times were a-changin' at a radically fast clip. The fact that they were actually pretty good underneath those haircuts and the publicity blitz just made it all the easier to sell them to a mass audience. And it's the reason we're still talking about them all these years later.
Business issues and lawyer talk have seen to it that everything in Beatle-land takes forever to happen. So this September 9, the entire Beatle catalog finally gets a sonic overhaul after all these decades of crappy sounding CDs. Not such a big deal for those of us who hung on to our vinyl, but pretty absurd to think that there are millions of people who have been stuck with inferior sounding CDs for their entire lives.
I haven't heard the new CDs yet. And I'm one of those weirdoes who grew up on the "Fake Stereo--add another gallon of reverb please" American releases where all the wrong songs appear on the wrong albums. So what can any of us do?
Well, for starters, we can continue to re-write history, keeping as much actual "truth" in there as might have shown up the first time it got written. To celebrate the Beatles and their fine achievements, I've thrown together 25 pivotal moments in their career, moments that had they gone another way surely would have led to a different outcome for them and their millions of fans.
I'm doing this in rough chronological order since "importance" is really subjective here.
John Lennon Meets Paul McCartney In Liverpool: In order for there to be a Beatles they need to meet each other and no friendship was more key to the group's future success than John Lennon meeting up with Paul McCartney. Other people joined Lennon's group the Quarrymen and went on to forever regret not sticking with it. McCartney was not one of them.
24) They Let Little George Harrison Tag Along: There's only about three years difference in age between Lennon and Harrison, but in teenaged years it's like hanging out with another generation. You've got your driver's license and you're wondering if this other kid has ever even seen a dirty picture.
22) Pete Best And Mom Run The Casbah: It sounds so weird these days, The kid who plays drums in your band has a mom who runs a music club out of his house? Where are the zoning laws? The complaints from the neighbors? You mean people were encouraging teenagers to exist?
20) Brian Epstein Walks Into The Cavern: Every band needs a manager who loves them. Brian Epstein found his own personal nirvana when he found that cellar full of boys at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. Then he went to work to make other people like them as well.
18) Epstein Convinces George Martin To Sign Them To Parlophone: Decca didn't want them since bands with guitars were on their way out. Which was probably a reasonable assumption to make in 1962. The guitar had a good run and it probably seemed time for the accordion to resume its rightful spot at the top of the pops, but Epstein wasn't about to take "No" for a final answer and he finally convinced George Martin at Parlophone to take a big chance on the band and release a few records.
Ringo Starr: The first thing George Martin does is ruin Pete Best's life. He tells the group in so many words, your drummer sucks. So they do the right thing and can him and hire Ringo Starr who many other people believe isn't much better. In technical terms, this may be true. But not to anyone with ears.
16) Lennon and McCartney Write "Please Please Me" To Replace "How Do You Do It?": After their first single, "Love Me Do," doesn't exactly suggest these guys have more than six months of fleeting fame in their future, George Martin suggests a song called "How Do You Do It?" for their second single. Lennon and McCartney balk and say they want a chance to write the next single. Martin agrees if they can write something better than "How Do You Do It?" then he'll let them. They show up with "Please Please Me" and suddenly this likable if unspectacular band from Liverpool have a new future ahead of them--and Lennon and McCartney begin their journey as the greatest pop songwriting team of a generation.
14) Epstein Sends Them To The US To play On Ed Sullivan: Conquering Britain was nice, but if these guys had any hopes of a long term care plan, they needed to invade the US and take over at least 26 of the 50 states. By appearing on the Ed Sullivan show, the Beatles create a lifetime moment that is more important than any single concert they will play for the rest of the lives. The Beatles were never a jam band, that's for sure.
12) Meet Bob Dylan: The Beatles met a lot of people in their day, most of whom they didn't want or need to know, but Bob Dylan was important because he supposedly turned them on to some botanical substances and gave them new ideas on how songs could be written, which Lennon and McCartney would immediately put to the test as "Norwegian Wood" would surely prove.
10) Dentist Puts LSD In drink: Most dentists are pretty conservative even with the nitrous oxide, never mind slipping LSD into your coffee or tea. But the Beatles hung out with some unusual people and what better way to experience LSD for the first time than unknowingly on your way out the door into the London nightclub night?
8) Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: They did stop touring so they could record music they knew they'd never be able to replicate on stage. No more Larry Williams covers! Someone break out the mellotron! The most overrated album in the history of pop music--they left "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" off the album--Sgt. Pepper's represented a new way of recording and even thinking about music. It inspired some great music and some lousy stuff and these days most people say they like the "White Album" better. Ingrates! Revisionists!
6) Magical Mystery Tour--Their First Failure: The Beatles never had an actual flop on their hands. The worst that ever happened is "Strawberry Fields Forever" only went to #2. But now with Magical Mystery Tour, the first big foray into film without the usual handlers making sure they didn't self-indulge, the band flopped big time. Starting what would be pretty much a tradition of musicians making horrible, self-indulgent films--stand up and be counted Frank Zappa and Neil Young--the Beatles set the low bar for lousiness with Magical Mystery Tour. At least the music was still pretty good!
Yoko Ono: John met Yoko Ono sometime in 1966, and once Brian Esptein dies and touring is done, Lennon has plenty of time on his hands to get weird. All he needs is willing partner who can even show him a few things. Once he and Yoko start their relationship, all other Lennon relationships feel the strain and he isn't interested in the outcome.
4) The White Album: After Sgt. Pepper's and Magical Mystery Tour, the Beatles decided to simplify their sound and it became apparent that they were now less of a group than backing musicians for each other's solo work. Sure, they'd collaborate and enhance each other's stuff, but each of them had grown to be an individual and no longer wanted to be one part of a greater ONE. It's like they were becoming self-assertive teenagers once more.
2) Allen Klein: Every band needs a manager to screw them. Or who creates enough lawsuits to keep them so busy that music hardly has any place in the conversation. The band's final manager, agreed to by everyone but McCartney, keeps them so busy filing legal paperwork that they barely record anything and when they do it's as a solo act and the results sound like "He's So Fine."