Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Beatles For Sale

Me :“I always preferred listening to The Rolling Stones.”
Bartender: “Who?”

I was on vacation in Holguin, which is Cuba’s fourth largest city. On a beautiful sunny afternoon I stumbled into La Caverna, a bar unlike any other I had been to in Cuba. The first thing I noticed wasn’t what music was playing, it was what music wasn’t playing.

Had I really found a Cuban bar that didn’t play Cuban music? Does such a beast exist?

It turned out that La Caverna was the Cuban version of the Cavern Club. There were Beatles records on the walls, lyrics scrawled on the walls, and (fab) four life size mannequins of the boys in the corner.

Only Beatles music is played at La Caverna, and it’s either pumped from the speakers or it’s played by one of Holguin’s Beatles cover bands. It was like being in a sports bar that supports only one team- and that team doesn’t play anymore (Hmm. That gives me an idea...)

So when I tried to strike up a conversation with the bartender about my fave British band and he looked at me with complete bewilderment, I was completely shocked.

“How could you be such a Beatles fanatic and have no clue who the Stones are?”

I didn’t ask that question, but from what I could gather while I was there the Government did a damn good job of keeping foreign music off the island, except for Los Beatles.

Maybe Fidel tried to take credit for Revolution.

All that to say that it took that trip to Cuba for me to realize that The Beatles were larger than life, a true global phenomenon. Good luck finding a corner of God’s green earth where a goat farmer isn’t humming Love Me Do.

Still, it took seeing Paul McCartney in concert this summer to realize that I’d undersold The Beatles my whole life. I always said that the Stones were badder, bluesier, ballsier, and obviously better.

I was wrong.

They’re two bands from the same era, and obviously there are similar influences, but they are completely different. After 20 years of ignorance, I can now open my mind and heart to both, and never again blindly just to one over the other.

I bought The Beatles box set last week. The entire discography, remixed in stereo. Every song from their whole career, beautifully packaged, thorough liner notes, even “making of” DVD’s for each album. It could’ve come in a plastic bag from Provigo though. The music speaks for itself.

I’ve now gone through the entire discography twice, the later albums a few more, and Let it Be, Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper, the White Album, and Revolver have even made it to the car with me. Needless to say, I’ve listened to very little else in the last week.

For the first listening party, my friend Grody came over to my place for a marathon music session. Grody and I have indulged each other’s musical geekiness since high school, and is probably the friend I’ve seen the most shows with. Neither of us are musicians, but we know our stuff and we know what we like. The last time we had one of these evenings was when Led Zeppelin released How The West Was Won.

And with a “1,2,3,4” I Saw Her Standing There was playing, and we were off…..

The night went something like this: a track would play and we would sit there in silence. The song would end, and Grody and I would share a look we’ve only ever shared at concerts. “Did you hear that?” “It’s so different!” “It’s like a new version!” How The West Was Won was getting its ass kicked.

From the start of Please Please Me to the end of Past Masters, you can really hear the sound quality differences. Everything sounds much fuller and has a much richer quality. On a good sound system, and with your eyes closed, you get a feeling that the music is being played live in the room.

I hate to keep going back to the obvious, but damn The Beatles were good. All of them. Even Ringo. One of the knocks I’ve always heard about The Beatles was that Ringo wasn’t a good drummer. When re-mastered in stereo, you can really hear his genius. More than ever, the drums really pop out at you…some beautiful fills, and some really great beats.

Listening to it in one shot really gives you a feel for how prolific the songwriting was. So many styles, so many songs, and most amazingly, is how quickly they turned out albums. Basically everything was released in a seven-year period that started nearly 50 years ago!

And that is the heart of the melt. The Beatles changed the way music was made, listened to, and appreciated. Hearing it all at once, and with the best sound possible, is more than a music lover's dream. It's magical.

The Beatles Box Set gets my Nigel Tufnell “Turn it up to 11” Seal of Approval”.Turn it up, dance all night, and try to wipe the smile off your face. It’s not going to happen.

Here are my ‘must listen’ tracks off of each album. There are many other amazing songs to check out, but these are all ones that I felt like I was hearing for the first time.

Please Please Me – Twist and Shout –
With The Beatles – I Wanna be Your Man
A Hard Day’s Night – Can’t Buy Me Love
Beatles For Sale – Rock N’ Roll Music
Help! – Yesterday
Rubber Soul – Drive My Car
Revolver – Got To Get You Into My Life
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – A Day in The Life
Magical Mystery Tour – Baby You’re a Rich Man
White Album Disc 1 – Back In the USSR
White Album Disc 2 – Helter Skelter
Yellow Submarine – All You Need Is Love
Abbey Road – Here Comes The Sun
Let it Be – Dig a Pony
Past Masters Disc 1 – Sie Liebt Dich (for Scott Saxon)
Past Masters Disc 2 – Hey Jude

I’m going to get back to my roots now. If anyone needs me I’ll be grooving to Exile on Main Street and Day for Night.