The history of the Beatles seems set in Liverpool cement: the Hamburg scene, the Pete Best years, the conquest of England and then America, the rancorous breakup, and then…well, everything after, from Wings to Julian Lennon. But all you need is a brain to dismantle some widely held, but erroneous, Fab Four beliefs.
The Beatles revived rock. Here are a few of the movers and shakers who first hit the charts during those supposedly moribund years between 1960 and 1964: the Beach Boys, Otis Redding, the 4 Seasons, and the first Motowners. The Beatles did change the course of rock, making it safe for parents and stoners alike, and writing an astounding number of standards. But the only thing they revived was our post-JFK assassination spirits.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is their masterpiece. Yes, it was pop culture’s first major product-oriented Event, its conceptual aura made rock respectable for academics, and it contains the mind-blowing ”A Day in the Life.” But only those addled by too much acid would consider this collection of tea-and-crumpets pop the Beatles’ greatest album. Rubber Soul and the Brit version of A Hard Day’s Night are edgier, and The Beatles (a.k.a. the White Album) is a shining example of their eclecticism. Besides, any album that led to a film with Peter Frampton and George Burns has a lot to answer for.
The solo Beatles sucked in the ’70s. Okay, there’s no denying that John’s execrable Some Time in New York City or George’s Krishna sermonizing dared you to continue being a fan. Yet even during the Me Decade, the ex-Fab Four conjured up plenty of magic. Band on the Run; Imagine; chunks of All Things Must Pass and Living in the Material World; singles like Paul’s ”Junior’s Farm,” John’s ”Instant Karma (We All Shine On),” Ringo’s ”It Don’t Come Easy,” George’s ”Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” — each is up there with the most noteworthy group efforts. Just as important, in the ’70s they revealed their true selves — flawed humans to whom we could all relate.
John was in the midst of an artistic comeback when he was killed. Wishful thinking. ”(Just Like) Starting Over” sounded like ELO on a modest day, and the rest of Double Fantasy drove right down the middle of the road. Maybe Lennon was clearing his throat for harder, more challenging music to come, as the posthumously released ”Nobody Told Me” hinted. But we’ll never know, and we’re still left with the dismaying fact that the man peaked with 1971’s Imagine.
The choicest Beatles bootlegs are on The Beatles Anthology. Wrong again. The most priceless pirate tape remains a hilarious version of ”Hey Jude” from McCartney’s 1989 tour. But it’s not the Artist Formerly Known as Cute who provides the entertainment. Some industrious bootlegger dropped out all voices and instruments except Linda’s horrific off-key harmonies. Now, that’s taking a sad song and making it even worse.
Finally, let’s deal with Ringo. Brilliant drummer, or the luckiest one-two pounder in history? Talk amongst yourselves.