Music Features

“Let Me Reintroduce To You…”: The Beatles In Stereo (Part 1)

Before Revolver, Paul McCartney’s bass did not exist. 

Convinced that his contribution to The Beatles, musically speaking, was one that played somewhat insignificantly against the audible guitars, Taxman cured me of that assessment, his thumping bass line providing the song its groove and strength.  But, in terms of the band’s previous albums, McCartney’s role was seemingly buried.

The Beatles Stereo Box Set arrived at my doorstep a little over a week ago, a glossy black box that was painful to glom up with my clammy fanboy fingertips as I opened it up to find its brightly packaged contents.  Listening commenced once I worked up the courage to tear off the cellophane and accept the fact that the wash of unforgiving varnish wasn’t going to remain pristine if I was going to actually sample these re-mastered beauties.   

Chronological order, press play, and there it was:  Paul’s lefty fiddle bass as sharp as a fresh stylus on Please Please Me.  And, that’s why this box set is more popular than Jesus now.

Biased as it sounds, no re-mastered, reissued, reintroduced or recycled albums were going to make bigger headlines this year, The Beatles’ revered output barely choked onto CD in 1987 and more or less ignored save the occasional documentary companion (1995/96’s Anthology series), anniversary (1999’s Yellow Submarine Songtrack), whim (2003’s Let It Be… Naked), or circus (2007’s Love).  The Yellow Submarine Songtrack and 2000’s 1 compilation provided some evidence that Apple/EMI were at least toying with the idea of re-mastering the music, sort of teasing the populace with possibility.  They waited long enough to generate a “need” for this material, Amazon having recently witnessed the insatiable demand of Beatles fans everywhere as they’ve sold out of mono and stereo box sets before the actual release date of September 9th.  How many other groups can boast such loyalty?  Forty-five years after Ed Sullivan, and Beatlemania’s still alive and well, whether you like it or not.

And while I want to squeal with delight and produce multiple run-on sentences featuring every tired cliché wherein I weep and testify to anyone reading the spiritual and life-affirming impact that these re-masters have had on my otherwise humble being, making trite declarations of “hearing The Beatles for the first time all over again,” let me instead express that this is better than hearing The Beatles for the first time all over again. 

When Love came out, I was at first intrigued by the reconsidered and carefully collaged mash-ups that George and Giles Martin crafted for the Cirque Du Soleil show of the same name.  But, as I listened to it again and again, I realized that I wasn’t familiar with some of what I was hearing.  Eleanor Rigby had OTHER violins; Hey Jude had a DIFFERENT bass line... there were elements being pulled that I’d never heard before, and had never known to exist.  The exquisite team of engineers at Abbey Road studio have basically freed the music from its former abyss, a mire of flattened production that suffocated the revelatory sounds that George and Giles serendipitously exposed. 

In the simplest terms, their art now has truth and the band with whom the modern LP began, could very well be the band with whom the CD may end.  Somehow, it’s fitting.   

Part 1: From Beatlemania…

A group of young men become the biggest band in rock n’ roll history.  The band ignites an international frenzy with catchy songs that they’ve written themselves and a personable charm that wins attention.  Incessant touring ensues, songwriting continues and somehow this band records and releases six albums and stars in two movies within three years.

Those six albums go on to document the band's rapid progression, an evolution that transcends its beginnings as a pop sensation and transitions them into cultural relevance.

Listening to the titles in succession, (the “astute” observation I’m about to make having been explained time and time again), you really understand how much they evolve musically.  The earliest of their albums, Please Please Me and With The Beatles especially, house the hit machine that caused their colossal elevation as a pop group.  As easy as it to dismiss most of Beatlemania’s output as ear candy and sappy odes to puppy love, (I Saw Her Standing There, P.S. I Love You, All My Loving, It Won’t Be Long), it’s worth noting that the albums’ newfound clarity adds a lot of dimension to what The Beatles were doing at the time.  You begin to hear shades of what came later as the songs become less dance-friendly (I Wanna Be Your Man) and a little more personal (I’m A Loser).  I was actually taken aback by the wooden rhythm McCartney was knocking out during George Harrison’s Don’t Bother Me, the presence of which I’d never previously acknowledged.     

As success proves somewhat ambiguous for the band, Beatles For Sale and Help!, like their aged expressions so well-captured on the former’s cover, both wear an obvious amount of exhaustion and frustration.  Though Beatles For Sale still satisfies the hit record template, almost half the album devoted to pop covers, songs like Eight Days A Week and I’ll Follow The Sun exhibit maturity or a subtle desire to appeal to a different audience. 

Help!, whose urgent title track was born out of cathartic necessity by John Lennon, only goes further to pull The Beatles from they were the year before: their iconic escape from rabid fans the introduction to A Hard Day’s Night and the representation of what was no longer fun or exciting.  You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away is simply a beautiful song, its acoustic melody so fluid and perfect.  Ticket To Ride foreshadows percussive advances in the band’s later psychedelic excursions and Yesterday proves McCartney’s star power as a solo performer.

Before 1965 closes out, Rubber Soul marks the beginning of a new creative phase for The Beatles, one whose chemical influence inspires the accidentally stretched visual aesthetic on its cover and their most innovative period.  The first album written completely by the band, Rubber Soul basically made The Beatles into artists, songs like Nowhere Man, In My Life, Girl and If I Needed Someone, poetic, deep and heartfelt.  Harrison introduces the sitar in Lennon’s Norwegian Wood (The Bird Has Flown), a signature instrument he carries over into the next couple albums. 

As drug culture expands the consciousness of those who partake, and the turbulence of the decade becomes increasingly severe, The Beatles continue to develop and, interestingly, the 60s follow.