The other day I threw out my first Beatles album — which is akin to throwing out one of the only photos of a dead relative, a perfectly good organic burrito or a $20 bill. Beatles albums have been discarded before, but mostly by crazies and Klansmen back in early March ’66, when dubiously contextualized quotes from John claimed that “Christianity will vanish and shrink…” and that “We’re (The Beatles) more popular than Jesus now.” That was 49 years ago, three years before I was born.
On Friday, I turned 46. And instead of taking some kind of inventory (I'm saving that for 50), I began to think about my relationship with the Beatles, who were still together when I was born (take that, Y and Z Generations!). And my relationship to them, unlike that with just about everyone else in my life after nearly half a century (friends, family, women, pets, the government, R.E.M.) is more or less the same: pure love. I am the human equivalent of Ringo’s peace fingers, and have been since I first began playing with the LPs that my mother and father gave me to play with because I was an early-depressed child. Some of those wonderful objects had posters, and lyrics, and these four beautiful men with sparkling eyes on their covers. Others had dyed vinyl, red and blue.
They were much better than TV. John Lennon was still alive. So was George. It was Camelot in suburbia, with perfect pop music coming out of faux wood-grain speakers and later, an 8-track player made of white plastic and shaped like a diver’s helmet. But that’s when things began to turn. I could no longer stay on the floor in the den with the turntable; I had to gather around the weird-ass 8 track. It’s like that scene in "2001" when the vegan apes live peacefully with the tapirs until the monolith appears and that one ape realizes he can use tools — cut to lots of dead tapirs. And war.
I should say that throwing out, say, the "Yellow Submarine" soundtrack might be one thing, but the LP that I binned was "Revolver." And I did it because it was the wrong "Revolver"! There is a "Revolver" that exists in my head — the mono "Revolver," the music that changed everything, even Don Draper. This wasn't it. I bought this version on eBay and soon realized it was mixed, or remixed, all wrong. George Harrison’s cough at the beginning of “Taxman,” and the background vocals chiding “Uh, uh, Mr. Wilson… Uh uh, Mr. Heath,” were buried in the mix.
You can remix Lou Reed or Pavement all you want and I’m good, but the Beatles I am orthodox about. How did I end up with this screwy "Revolver," and could there be people who actually prefer it? Should I have found one of them? Placed it back on eBay and lied about its merits in my sales description? My need to always have every Beatles album from "Please Please Me" to "Let It Be" at my fingertips 24 hours a day no matter where I am superseded the horrible sight of that Klaus Voorman cover going into the trash with the chicken bones and the pizza boxes, but it had to happen, or I risked losing my tether to the first time I heard “For No One” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
To paraphrase Supertramp, which I like to do as much as possible, the question of what, exactly, is a perfect and complete personal Beatles collection runs too deep for such a simple mind. Since the start of their recording career, the LPs, and later the cassettes and other updated media, have been released by Parlophone in the U.K. and Capitol in America. Not that I realized this at 10 years old. I just bought what was on sale in hopes that I would one day have everything, and kept doing so almost reflexively as the U.K. versions became easier to acquire, which is basically akin to shoving a 10-bob note up your nose. "Beatles for Sale," for example, was called "Beatles ’65" in my collection and it had “She’s a Woman” on it (one of Paul’s grooviest early songs). There was an album called "Hey Jude," which was not the only way you could get "Hey Jude," not that I would know that before buying it. I thought it was a Beatles album I’d missed, but most of those songs were already on the blue album. Did Parlophone and Capitol count on people like me to be stupid, anxious, Pavlovian?
I drew certain lines. I didn’t buy the interview albums, although I was tempted. There was an album called simply "Rock and Roll Music," which had songs from the White Album (aka "The Beatles"), but I bought it because I didn’t own a copy of “I’m Down,” and as with “She’s a Woman,” I needed it. There was an album called "Love Songs" with a shit-brown cover that was easy to dismiss, but I welcomed it into my collection and pretended it was a catch, even though it for some reason considered “She’s Leaving Home” a love song — seriously.
When I got my first car, I made sure I had every Beatles album on cassette, because you can’t play “Magical Mystery Tour” on vinyl in an ’87 Toyota Tercel as you speed down Sunrise Highway. When I went off to college, CDs had just come out. The first CD I bought was “Diamond Life” by Sade, and the next dozen were Beatles albums. Soon my 8-tracks and cassettes and LPs went… wherever. I got into drugs (like the Beatles did, man!) and went a bit slack in keeping everything neat and organized (it was the ‘90s). I chopped out a lot of drugs off the jewel box of “Rubber Soul,” with that swirly lensed shot of the lads, but even as addicted as I was by the ‘90s, if you told me I had to choose between my scorched CD or, well, drugs, I would have chosen “Rubber Soul.” I even liked “Run for Your Life,” which John purportedly hated, even though he wrote the fucking thing (I suppose I’ve written things I’ve hated, too… ).
But do enough hard drugs and cold turkey will get you on the run. You will end up selling a lot of shit so you can keep doing drugs — you don’t need to be Maxwell Edison to figure that one out. I moved to Hollywood after college to try to write movies as good as “Caveman” and “Give My Regards to Broad Street.” I did more drugs. I sold my car for $500 and had nowhere to play the cassettes I managed to keep track of (“Revovler!”). I sold my CDs and my CD player. And the reason I knew that I was truly lost was that for the first time in a quarter of a century, if I woke up in the middle of the night and needed, actually needed for my sanity and wellness, to hear “Flying” or “Wild Honey Pie,” or regular “Honey Pie,” I was shit out of luck. You couldn’t call up a radio station and request it like you could have in the ‘70s. You couldn’t ask your roommate to play it for you on his upright bass and sing it (in his Georgian accent). You went through withdrawal.
One of the first things I did when I got clean was re-buy all the Beatles albums on vinyl… again. Every last one, from “Please Please Me” to “Let It Be” and back — British versions, not a mote of dust on them.
And then they came out on iTunes.
I’m sure I don’t need to explain the appeal for someone with this kind of relationship to their music of having every song at my fingertips on a machine that was, at the time, about the size of a pack of cigarettes. They got me, hooked me the way I was supposed to get hooked, the way they demonstrated someone like me actually getting fishhooked in some boardroom — just a stick figure with the word “Beatle fan” and an arrow pointing to my long hair.
I sold the vinyl on Bleecker Street, bought an iPod, and one by one, loaded it with every Beatles album plus “Past Masters One” and “Two,” because say I fall in love with a German film star and she needs to hear “Sie Liebt Dich” while we are making strange love, or an Andrea Feldman-like mental case who only wants to do it to “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number”)?
Steve Jobs not only fixed the world, he fixed my Beatles problem for good. For good! And I wasn’t even 40. I couldn’t even lose the Beatles if I wanted to. They lived in The Cloud, which was probably a lot like the Sea of Holes in “Yellow Submarine.” Even if I lost the iPod itself — and I did — the albums were still there. But what if I lost my Cloud password, and my computer crashed, and I got fired from my job as a reasonably well-paid rock writer? And I lost another iPod (a Nano this time, because I was trying to be fiscally wise) and another after that (left behind at a particularly depressing DJ gig)? What if I couldn’t wring them out of the Cloud at 4 a.m.? What then, John? Paul, George, Ringo? Brian Epstein?
Some days ago, an announcement appeared on the official Beatles Twitter and elsewhere, promising a major development. I am no longer even close to being the optimist and the dreamer I was back on that brown shag carpet, but somewhere there was a damp flicker that wondered, “Hey, maybe they cut a deal with Spotify?” Free Beatles music forever, for the low, low price of giving Facebook all my personal info and things that I enjoy! (The fucking Beatles.) Of course, I’d have to upgrade to the premium service, because nobody is shuffling Beatles album fucking sequences on me. Nobody!
Instead, as all fans now know, it was yet another version of their hit No. 1 album, this time with videos.
And once again I find myself, as I did as a prepubescent, building a vinyl collection of Beatles albums. I don’t go out as much as I used to, I reason. It will be nice to hear them on Sunday mornings with coffee and the paper. No need to travel with them. This is it. And there’s eBay — I don’t even have to go to a record store, which is fortunate because there are no more fucking record stores (apologies to all still living record stores).
The first one I bought? “Revolver.” The best one. The perfect one. The one that’s probably better than “Blonde on Blonde” and “Pet Sounds” and “What’s Going On.” The one that makes me happy like a drug, like sunshine, like really good soup. When it’s in, it hits you in the face with its greatness. That cough at the beginning of “Taxman.”
So, the other day I threw away a Beatles album. I guess I could have given it to a neighbor or just left it on the stoop. Someone would have taken it, but I didn’t want to pass on my disease.
I’m 46. If I live, say, another 40 years (that’s being incredibly optimistic — let’s say 25), how many more ways will arise to entice me to purchase the same music I’ve been buying over and over again for my entire life? Will I need to own a “With the Beatles” (not “Meet the Beatles,” mind you) hologram? Will I have to abide by George singing “Don’t Bother Me” in my bedroom? Will there be volunteer programs where the catalog is simply uploaded into your brain, and you will never lose it? You will literally meld organically, cybernetically, with the Beatles catalog? And if so, how much will it cost? Should I begin saving now?
The Best Things In Life Are Free, But These Ain’t: A short list of complete Beatles audio for the obsessive fan to purchase over and over again in various different formats
(Warning to Fab completists and correctors: It’s a “short” list. Please no “you forgot” comments. We didn’t forget. The Yesterday and Today’s 1966 “Butcher” album, for example, is not here, because a near-mint version probably costs the same as a used Lexus SUV at this point, and the Cirque Du Soleil album is not here because French clowns are a bummer.)
Please Please Me – UK — 1963
With The Beatles – UK – 1963
Meet the Beatles – US – 1964
The Beatles Second Album – US – 1964
A Hard Day’s Night – soundtrack – 1964
A Hard Day’s Night – LP – 1964
Something New – US – 1964
Beatles For Sale – UK – 1965
The Early Beatles – US – 1965
Beatles ’65 – US — 1965
Help! – ’65 – US – Soundtrack — 1965
Help! – ’65 – LP – 1965
Rubber Soul – US/UK – 1965
(first 8-Track Tape release)
Revolver – US/UK – 1966
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – US/UK — 1967
Magical Mystery Tour – US/UK — 1967
The Beatles (White Album) – US/UK — 1968
Yellow Submarine – US/UK – 1968
Abbey Road – US/UK – 1969
First Beatles cassettes issued in US
Hey Jude – US/UK – 1970
Let It Be – US/UK – 1970
1963 – 1966 US/UK (Red Album) – 1973
1967 -1970 US/UK (Blue Album) – 1973
Live At The Hollywood Bowl – 1977 (actually pretty great)
Rock n’ Roll Music – 1976
Love Songs – 1977
Full Beatles UK discography – CD release – 1987/88
Past Masters Volume One – 1988 – Available on CD
Past Masters Volume Two – 1988 – Available on CD
Anthology 1 – Multi format – 1995
Anthology 2 – Multi format — 1996
Anthology 3 – Multi format – 1996
1 – US/UK – Multi Format – 2000
Let It Be… Naked – 2003
Beatles Stereo Box Set – 2009
The Beatles in Mono – 2009
2010 – The Beatles catalog comes to iTunes