Feature by: Megan Weireter
Posted on: 01 September 2009
September 9, 2009 is a day that legions of Beatles fans have been waiting for. It’s the release date of the complete Beatles catalog in two brand new, digitally remastered formats—one in stereo, and one in mono, as most of the albums were originally engineered to be heard. (The release of The Beatles Rock Band game on the same day is a tremendous bonus—we’ll not only get to listen to the music as it deserves to be heard, we can also have a go at playing it ourselves.) But clearly it’s not just the hardcore fans who are so desperate to buy the material they most likely already own in other formats. As I write this, the complete stereo box set is #1 on Amazon’s music bestseller list at $179.99; the mono set seems to have sold out.
But why? Why do the Beatles still matter, such that even in a recession, remastered versions of songs you probably already own in some other format continue to outsell everything else?
I’ve always thought that all the reasons the Beatles matter are right there in the songs themselves. Something about this band really is different from any other band in recent memory—whether your tastes run toward melodic hooks, danceable beats, interesting lyrics, virtuosic instrumental performances, or tight musicianship, the Beatles will wow you. Their best songs sound like they could not have been written by a human—they sound as though they have always been with us.
Yet though the mythology of the Beatles began with the songs, it was on film that their myth gelled. Everyone knew they liked this band’s songs, but who were they? A Hard Day’s Night was the world’s introduction to four charismatic, hilarious young men who just happened to be performing the most exciting music around. As the years progressed and youth culture evolved, the songs became more and more sophisticated; clearly, the Beatles were at the forefront of a scene that was to transform pop music into art music, teenage dance music into music that just might change the world. And as the significance of the Beatles’ music grew, so too did the personas reflected onscreen. In A Hard Day’s Night, the Beatles are like the friends we always wished we had, unspeakably cool but totally relatable. By Yellow Submarine, they’re cartoon superheroes who don’t even seem to belong to our world anymore.
Over the course of their five movies, from 1964 to 1970, the Beatles changed along with pop culture, such that by the time Let It Be flashed its ambivalent “The End” on screen, something even greater seemed to have ended. This is true even if you weren’t there to live it, as I wasn’t. Arguably, the five movies work as a whole to tell the story of the Beatles as well as any book or documentary. That’s why, to count down the days until 9/9/09 – a day the Beatles will once again briefly reign over pop culture – I’m examining the five Beatles movies in order of release. Like the music, the movies continue to be relevant, signifiers as they are of our own relationship with the rock band that we can’t seem to ever let be.