When I was in 4th grade, we had a talent show. Which, now that I think about it, is kinda ridiculous for a bunch of 9 and 10 year-olds because with the exception of a few rare individuals, most 4th graders aren’t really talented enough to warrant a school-wide assembly. Yet here we were.
My friend Danny and I decided to enter. We had no discernible talents at that age (it may even be argued that 20 years later, I still don’t — unless you count watching TV), yet came up with quite possibly one of the best ideas ever.
You see, in 1987/1988, kids my age had no idea about The Beatles; they were all into the glam/hair metal bands of the day: Poison, White Snake, Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister, etc. Since we both loved the Beatles, Danny and I agreed that we would mesmerize the audience with a roaring lip-synced version of Magical Mystery Tour. We envisioned that a) everyone would think it was us and b) we’d be able to, for every subsequent talent show, lip-sync Beatles songs to standing ovations. We figured that since none of our classmates had ever heard of the Fab Four, we’d be able to co-opt their genius as our own.
I remember being John, with guitar in tow. (Ironically, I had no interest at that time of learning how to play an instrument. It only took me until I was 18 to want to play guitar. Better late than never, I suppose). Danny was, for some reason, Ringo. Once again, we were 10.
We told our 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Sabatini, about the idea and she loved it. For about 2 weeks, everyday after school, Danny and I would play the vinyl of Magical Mystery Tour and “sing” along with the eponymous track. We practiced running up to the mic stands and “woo-ing” like The Beatles did.
When the big day came to actually perform the sketch, we were on. Until the album started to scratch. We were the Milli Vanilli before Milli Vanilli; the Ashley Simpson before Ashely Simpson. I looked from the record player to the crowd to the record player to Danny to the crowd, put my crappy little guitar (which only had 3 strings on it and still sits in my closet!) on the ground and walked off the stage. I felt I was caught and the thundering silence from the audience forced me to walk off the stage. Thankfully, I was 10 and what frightened me the most was going home with a scratch on my parents’ record.
Not too long after the Lip-Synch-Gate, The Beatles released their catalog using the brand new technological format, the compact disc. While it didn’t revolutionize the way people listened to The Beatles, it offered a glimpse of how, 17 years after their break-up, the band would and could stay relevant.
Growing up, my dad always made me listen to music – classic rock, Motown, doo-wop, etc. And whenever I would try to put on the current artists, his response was always the same: if you can convince me this band/artist will be remembered in 20 years, you can listen to it. Talk about a Sisyphean task.
There have been countless books extolling the genius of The Beatles. We all know why they are considered the most influential band in our pop cultural history – their harmonies, their use of technology in the studio, their songs, their melodies, their lyrics, their messages, their affability, their string of number 1 singles, their record setting album sales, their defining of an age in American (and world) history. Every generation learns about The Beatles in their own way, and this current Twitter and Facebook generation is learning the importance of The Beatles from video games and from the remastered collections.
I thought I knew a lot about The Beatles; both from a conversational perspective and from a musical perspective. I was wrong. After listening to the remastered albums, I’m hearing things I’ve never heard before. I’m hearing syncopation of Ringo’s drums, more pronounced instrumentation, and a much higher fidelity. The music is actually enhanced.
The Beatles will remain relevant in American history because, as noted above, they are intrinsically linked to the tumultuous 1960s (although, I disagree with that moniker, but that’s for another post). But also because of their influence in how music is made, merging beautiful symphonic sound with pop-based lyrics and harmonies. Now, for the first time, we, the listener can actually hear The Beatles in all their brilliance.
We can hear the obvious mistakes, as well as the subtle. We can hear instruments that were so low in the analog mix, they barely registered. We can hear the beautiful bass lines of Paul and the incredible comping of John and George. We can hear Ringo play along with Paul more crisply. In short, we can hear The Beatles.
Hopefully, one day, I’ll have a 10 year old kid who will listen to these albums on some incredible headphones and discover what music can sound like. And then claim the band as his/her own. Just like I did. Just like millions of us did.