Monday, November 3, 2008

Dropping the Ball: The Beatles

Great. Harmonix and its parent company, MTV, announced that they are working on a game similar to Rock Band (but not quite the same thing, somehow) based on the Beatles' catalog and Apple Corps is on board with the original master recordings of the songs. Great! Too bad I can't buy them online, or even in record stores. Great?

I'm not some kind of purist who believes that the Beatles' music has no place in such a project. In fact, it sounds alright to me--certainly better than a commercial for PCs or dick medication. No, Rock Band: Beatles or whatever its called actually sounds like fun to me (pop pills to stay pepped up through stage shows in Hamburg! Don't let George Martin see you smoking cigarettes! Erect a bed in the studio before Paul wigs out on you!). My issue is with Apple Records' handling of the Beatles' catalog.

Did you know that the Beatles' catalog has not been remastered since... ever? That's right. The Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, you name the classic artist and they've seen their catalog get overhauled. As for the band that started it all, we have a smattering of projects that run the gamut from masturbatory--see Paul tell his favorite stories of the Beatles from the driver's seat of his yacht!--to what borders on revisionist history. In the most glaring of these, Let It Be...Naked, Paul McCartney tries to make us forget that the group were in such a shambles on the completion of that album that no one wanted to stick around to do it themselves (If you know where George Martin was at this point, please post in the comments. I've always wondered about that). That's why Phil Spector was hired. Did Spector butcher it with his wall of sound? Maybe. But that's how it happened, Paul. You can't change it by trying to make us buy Let It Be for the 18th time. Just like you can't decide that certain songs in the Lennon/McCartney catalog are "McCartney/Lennon" songs. I don't care if you wrote "Yesterday" and John wrote "Revolution." Even being one of the chief songwriters in the most influential band in the history of pop music does not mean that you can change history. Coming soon: Revolver with George Harrison's solos completely erased! New cut of A Hard Day's Night where Paul plays every role!

Not all of these projects are so terrible, though. Okay, well, one of them isn't: The Beatles' Love album, a surprisingly great byproduct of the Cirque du Soleil's show of the same name, running now in Las Vegas. This album, often referred to as a "Beatles mashup" was produced by George Martin and son Giles (skilled producer in his own right), merges a veritable shitload of Beatles classics into one glorious, lush soundscape. Sound cheesy? Yeah, I know, but check it: this was the first project ever where Apple cracked open its vault and let out some of the rich sounds contained within. The audio quality on this record will blow you away if you've been listening to the CDs, which were mastered in 1987, when CD mastering was still a bit of an experiment. 1987! Two decades and counting. The freaking Monkees have been remastered since then. More than once. Compared with their remastered versions on Love, songs like "Lady Madonna" and "Good Night," to name just a few, sound harsh and cheap on the original CDs.

Love gave us hope that Apple might be finally working on a remastered set, and last year Macca himself even announced that they were (of course this was during the publicity run-up to his latest album, so who knows how much credence should be lent). Certainly they'd sell a ton of copies without doing very much of anything. If Apple Records has the time and money to strip the production off of Let It Be or create a video game, why can't they get this remastering project off the ground? I'm at a loss. Leave your conspiracy theories in the comments.

The Beatles Stay Alone from Rock Band [idolator]
McCartney: Beatles Should Go Digital Next Year [billboard]


Isabelle said...

I don't understand why you're mad:

Will said...

I agree completely. I would gladly play any Rock Band-esque version of the Beatles catalogue and I hope its the sort of thing that encourages future Beatles fandom but this sort of thing should not be priority number one on Apple's agenda.

I can't help but feel a sense of shame when I opt for the LOVE version of I Am The Walrus or Revolution over the original cut. I'm not ashamed for listening to LOVE. It's great. What's furstrating is how currently the best version of the best music I've ever heard can be found on the soundtrack of a French-Canadian traveling circus.

There are plenty of valid arguments for and against Apple selling out the catalogue to commercial outlets or video games but I don't see why they want to keep these tracks from being updated with the latest technology.

Oh, and Paul's a fucking dickhead.