[JPL] Beatles sidebar
TradeSecrets at comcast.net
Tue Nov 28 12:58:00 EST 2006
Because this article has already been archived by the NY Times, I'm not able
to post a link that all can access, so here's the entire thing.
November 19, 2006
MUSIC; Roll Over, Brian Epstein: The Beatles Get Mashed
By JON PARELES
THE latest Beatles collection, ''Love'' (Capitol), isn't a retrospective:
it's a recombination. After the innumerable reissues, archival gleanings and
rescued live recordings that have made the Beatles catalog an endlessly
milked cash cow for EMI Records and the Beatles' own Apple Corps, the
''Love'' CD and its surround-sound DVD mix, both due for release on Tuesday,
are different. Instead of simply collecting Beatles tracks, ''Love''
actively manipulates them.
Songs are edited together, dismantled, reconstructed from unused takes,
overlapped, mined for guitar licks or orchestral bits, segued into free-form
montages, even run in reverse. The result is both familiar and disorienting.
''Love'' is part of that snowballing 21st-century phenomenon, the mash-up.
It's an authorized one, approved by the Beatles and their families and made
by George Martin, the Beatles' producer, and Giles Martin, his son. They
assembled this music for the Cirque du Soleil production ''Love,'' now
running in Las Vegas. The tone is admiring verging on reverent.
Mash-ups can mock their sources; ''Love'' emphatically does not. Nor does it
venture outside the Beatles' own catalog. All the music is from the Beatles,
1963-70, except for a new string arrangement by George Martin, which is
overdubbed onto the bittersweet, acoustic-guitar version of ''While My
Guitar Gently Weeps'' that appeared on ''Anthology 3,'' part of the
''Anthology'' series of alternate takes.
For people who have been hearing Beatles albums since they were first
released, ''Love'' is a memory test, a jolt to the ingrained experience of
the music. Did it always sound that way? Wasn't that guitar solo in a
different song? All mash-ups do that to some extent, but the déjà entendu
effect is exponentially stronger with material like Beatles songs that
millions of listeners have memorized from end to end. The effect, as it was
with the ''Anthology'' albums, is not to devalue or dethrone the well-known
versions, but to illuminate them.
Giles Martin said in an interview that he was tempted to have the album
packaging read, ''No original Beatles recordings were harmed in the making
of these tracks.'' It's a nervous joke. By reshuffling Beatles nuggets even
this much, the Martins have breached the hermetic domain in which the
Beatles have tried to keep their music.
The Beatles' EMI recordings aren't available on iTunes, and Apple Corps
turns down most requests to use the Beatles' catalog in other contexts. When
Danger Mouse made ''The Grey Album,'' his razzle-dazzle combination of the
raps from Jay-Z's ''Black Album'' with microsliced samples from ''The
Beatles'' (a k a ''The White Album'') in 2004, he immediately got a
cease-and-desist letter from EMI Records, which instead could have
capitalized on a new surge of interest in a 1968 oldie. (The album
circulated anyway as a widespread free download.)
Like any other recordings the Beatles' songs have been fodder for
unauthorized mash-ups. But officially, they have been treated like sacred
texts, to be kept inviolate. ''Love'' doesn't open the door to Beatles
recycling (which was going on anyway) as much as it recognizes the
''Love'' was made for Cirque du Soleil, which, astonishingly, persuaded the
surviving Beatles and family members not only to let Beatles songs be used
as the soundtrack for a big Las Vegas production but also to allow them to
be rejiggered. Cirque du Soleil's needs clearly affected the programming of
the album -- of course the Beatles' circus song, ''Being for the Benefit of
Mr. Kite,'' is included -- but ''Love'' was also a good pretext to sift
through the tapes one more time.
The Martins searched the Beatles catalog for coincidences of key and tempo,
for bits of songs that could be turned into connectors or musical puns.
Vocals from ''Nowhere Man'' drift in above the keyboard and cello of ''Blue
Jay Way''; the guitar introduction to ''Blackbird'' leads into ''Yesterday''
It's an album of connoisseurship, revealing the inspired details tucked into
so many Beatles songs. (Paul McCartney's bass line in ''Something'' emerges,
with the rhythm guitar track removed, as a true countermelody.) It's a sonic
Because ''Love'' was made from early generations of the Beatles' original,
unprocessed studio master tapes, the timbres of voices, fingers on strings
and drumsticks on skins are more immediate than they have been on other
digitized Beatles releases. Which ought to raise the pressure on EMI to
release better remastered CD's of the original Beatles albums.
Some of the juxtapositions are revealing, pointing to threads that run
through the Beatles' music. ''Tomorrow Never Knows'' and ''Within You
Without You'' were both in the same key, so the rhythm track of the first
can fit the melody of the second. But both were also Beatles songs that
matched mystical reflections to the drone of Indian raga. Other combinations
are merely clever, a matter of trivial coincidence. A few are cutesy and
The ''Love'' version of ''Strawberry Fields Forever'' imagines the song
being constructed: first John Lennon singing it by himself with acoustic
guitar, then the other band members joining in one by one as a rhythm
section, then layers of backup voices, of electric guitars, of horns and
electronics, but with Lennon's voice always vulnerable at the core. It's
touching and fascinating, like a time-lapse version of the Beatles at work.
And then, unfortunately, the production goes off the rails, piling on bits
of other, unnecessary songs.
''Love'' isn't the last word on the Beatles catalog -- or at least it
shouldn't be. There's far more material in the group's archives than a
single collection can encompass, especially if the point is not only
preservation but extrapolation. The Beatles in their heyday held their music
to extraordinarily high standards, but they weren't rigid or exclusionary
about what went into it, whether it was Bach or the Beach Boys.
They were playing in every sense of the word -- even doing their own
premonitory mash-ups in songs like ''Revolution No. 9'' and ''I Am the
Walrus'' -- and with ''Love,'' some of that old playfulness returns. Back in
the 1960s the Beatles were pop's vanguard; now, in this guarded way, they
have joined the cut-and-paste present. Their originals stand up, but it
wouldn't hurt their legacy one bit to let some outsiders play with them too.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company Top
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