Dhani Harrison, son of Beatle George Harrison, appeared on the Conan O’Brien TV show. He was promoting the The Beatles’ Rock Band Video Game, whatever that might be. It seems that young Dhani, a musician like his dad, also designs video games and this is one of his collaborations and an instant hit on the video game market. What struck one while watching him be interviewed was how much he looked like his father. As the Brits say, it was uncanny, and Dhani looked exactly like George, circa the “Rubber Soul” album, only with better teeth. It seems that as well as this video game, which somehow challenges the players to sing and play along with their songs, that the Beatles are enjoying a big renaissance all over the world.
Their albums are selling big again and people are talking about the Beatles’ impact on pop music everywhere on earth. Which is right and proper since they remain the best band ever to come down the pike and brought popular songwriting to new and exciting heights. Their music never sounds dated, their song craft still amazes, and the joy they brought to their music still shines through. They never really went out of style since they broke up in 1970 like a lot of other bands did. To older music fans, this is gratifying, and a chance to find common ground with a younger generation. It seems that fans of every age and every sort of music appreciate the Beatles and know all their songs by heart. They were special then, and are special still.
Which is a fine and wonderful, and it brings to mind being a youngster back in the 1960’s, getting blown away by this quartet of skinny young Brits from Liverpool. Their singles dominated the airwaves and their albums became more adventurous with every new release. Just when you had digested the changes they had brought to rock & roll music and the new directions they were exploring, they’d release another album or single that would shoot to the top of the charts and go themselves one better than the last record. Their fans couldn’t believe it and waited eagerly for the next release, wondering what the heck they’d come up with this time. They would never disappoint.
Starting with the albums “Beatles ’65” through “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver,” they began a period of creative growth and exploration unmatched before or since. Songs like “Eleanor Rigby,” “Taxman,” “Norwegian Wood,” and “Got To Get You Into My Life” pulled the listener in many musical directions, all the while retaining their own signature Beatles’ sound. Then they went and changed the album game altogether with the release of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” the first concept album. It had orchestras, tape loops, reprised themes, an Indian raga and great new songs of a slightly different sort, longer and richly detailed both musically and lyrically, a groundbreaking record that still stands up as an unbelievable achievement for a rock band.
But they weren’t done yet, following that up with a collection of singles recorded in Sergeant Pepper style and packaged as The Magical Mystery Tour album, also an instant sensation. Done with that phase of musical exploration, they then went about creating their classic double album with an astounding 30 interesting songs on it called simply “The Beatles,” but known universally as The White Album, a collection of personal songs like “Dear Prudence” and “Julia,” rave up rockers like “Back in The USSR” and “Helter Skelter,” plus George Harrison’s great “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” This album was all over the musical map and not on such a grand scale as Sergeant Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour, yet more challenging for its length and variety and ultimately just as rewarding as their earlier work. They were now working on such a high plateau of previous accomplishments and great expectations that The White Album seemed to be a step back into throwing the four of them into a studio and see what they could do with these quirky tunes. Well, what they did was create The White Album, a classic.
They followed that up with the “Let It Be” album with producer Phil Spector, which for some reason was not released until after “Abbey Road,” their final studio album and another breathtaking masterpiece in collaboration with their long-time producer George Martin. After the release of “Let It Be,” the Beatles broke up, stunning the world and breaking hearts even as their latest single climbed to the Number One slot. But what else could we have asked of these guys? In a single decade they wrote and recorded the soundtracks of our lives. Lennon & McCartney have gone down in history as the greatest pop music composing team in history, with George Harrison contributing a dozen classics himself, with his haunting “Something” being one of the most popular songs in the world to this day, and a song that the great Frank Sinatra called the greatest love song ever written. Who would know better than the man who had sung a thousand of them?
All the Beatles went on to have successful solo careers. Of course we lost John Lennon much too soon to a deranged murdering nerd, and George Harrison died of cancer 8 years ago after surviving a knife attack by a burglar in his home. Ringo Star still makes records and seems as happy as when he was bobbing his head behind his drum kit on the Ed Sullivan Show. Paul McCartney is making some very good music again after his middle years making silly throwaway ditties with the likes of Wings. He also seems sort of obsessed in a small-minded way with his own legacy versus that of John Lennon, but who cares about that school boy nonsense? None of it means a hill of beans compared to the unbelievable music these four made together.
What made them what they were is probably as big a mystery to themselves as it is to the rest of us. The odds of four working class happy-go-lucky punks coming out of the urban cauldron that was post-World War 2 Liverpool and setting the whole world on its ear with their incredible artistry have to be next to impossible. But that’s exactly what the Beatles did, in song after song, album after album and in three inspiringly ridiculous and fun movies. Being there at the time to see it all unfold and to hear each new release was a special part of uncounted millions of lives. It seems the only ones who didn’t have The Beatles to claim as their own were The Beatles themselves. Well, someone had to be them and those four guys gave more than they got, perhaps more than they will ever know. Here’s to four skinny, grinning young punks from Liverpool.