Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Fab Four’s biggest album, Local Spins publisher John Sinkevics took a nostalgic journey to Liverpool and London to evaluate The Beatles’ place in history.
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I’ve heard fans and critics muse about this over the years, and music historians certainly will have to consider whether they’re merely a footnote or a full chapter in the pantheon of humanity’s cultural development.
Will The Beatles be mentioned in the same breath as Beethoven, Mozart and Bach in 100 or 200 years? That is, if humanity is still breathing in two centuries, of course.
If the queues, crowds and upbeat fanaticism I experienced on a recent trip to London and Liverpool are any indication, I’d say the Fab Four’s place in history is likely assured, and if not, the boys continue to at least make a substantial dent in the pocketbooks of consumers.
Many of those Beatlemaniacs are eagerly waiting to snatch up the deluxe 50th anniversary box-set edition of the so-called “White Album” being released Friday (Nov. 9) – “a suite of lavishly presented packages,” featuring previously unreleased session takes and fresh mixes by Sam Okell and Giles Martin, son of renowned original producer George Martin.
There have been reams and reams of words written about that controversial double-album alone, in direct contrast to the plain white sleeve cover embossed with only two words: “The Beatles.”
Pundits have mused over the band squabbles that marked the studio sessions and the collection’s stunning musical diversity, while over-analyzing hidden meanings in its lyrical content in songs such as “Glass Onion,” “Revolution 9” and “Piggies.”
(Watch a new video for the remix of “Glass Onion” below, and read a 2017 Local Spins column by Charley Honey about the 50th anniversary of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.“)
But consider this: A half-century after the band recorded that album at Abbey Road Studios in London, hordes of Beatles fanatics continue to make the pilgrimage daily to the iconic street crossing that graces the cover of what was essentially the group’s final album, 1969’s “Abbey Road,” with Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr forever immortalized in mid-stroll in the photo snapped after a studio session.
THE FAN ARDOR CONTINUES — AND IT’S NOT JUST BABY BOOMERS
These days, Beatle devotees of every age and nationality make the pleasant hike from the St. John’s Wood tube stop in London’s city of Westminster to stop traffic – at the irritation of locals, I’m sure – just to take turns hoofing it across the road while their friends, relatives and other tourists snap photos of the crosswalk.
These same fans leave their signatures and proclamations of Beatles love in Sharpie fashion on the whitewashed walls outside Abbey Road Studios, a somewhat-nondescript building in a handsome English neighborhood.
Their scrawled messages often include lines from Beatles songs (“All you need is love” seems to be the most popular) and their country of origin (from France to the United States to Japan to Brazil and beyond).
They also leave plenty of quid inside the adjoining Abbey Road Studios gift shop (myself included) which hawks the likes of Beatles refrigerator magnets, pens, posters, mouse pads, placards, guitar straps, pins, even a limited edition “Yesterday” score by George Martin priced at a mere 250 British pounds.
Elsewhere in London, there’s another noteworthy example of The Beatles’ historical preeminence: At the British Library’s Sir John Ritblat Gallery, alongside copies of the Magna Carta, Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebook, the Gutenberg Bible and manuscript scores by Mozart, Handel and Beethoven stands a Beatles exhibit, featuring a handwritten “Ticket to Ride” and other scrawled lyrics by Lennon and McCartney, as well as audio of a hilarious, early ’60s holiday greeting to fans by the Fab Four.
Of course, Liverpool is the birthplace of The Beatles, so it’s no surprise that devotees would make this wonderful northern England town a target destination on their crusade. Mathew Street, in particular, has become a major tourist attraction – a mecca for rock fans who sing along to Beatles favorites performed by tribute bands in the re-created Cavern Club where the group performed 292 times during an 18-month period or quaff a pint at The Grapes, where The Beatles had a favorite booth.
Heck, even Paul himself oozes nostalgia for the Cavern Club, surprising fans in late July by playing a set there with his band for all of about 110 enthused spectators, a feat he also unfurled in 1999, when he was joined at the club by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, among others. (Take a video tour of The Cavern Club below.)
THE BUZZ CONTINUES OVER THE UPCOMING ‘WHITE ALBUM’ RE-RELEASE
Current performers such as singer-guitarist Gary Murphy – who plays the Cavern Club weekly – still regale patrons with tales about the “pandemonium” that ensued when The Beatles first hit it big in the early ’60s, with cigarette smoke so thick in the club that “you couldn’t even see the stage.” Not so today.
My wife and I were lucky enough to have resident tour guides – Fran and Colin (whose wife worked at the Cavern Club in its heyday) – show us the Liverpool ropes, complete with a stop at a Mathew Street gift shop filled with memorabilia and a visit to Liverpool’s Pier Head to pose with an oversized statue of The Beatles strolling along the Mersey.
As someone who grew up with The Beatles from the onset, my ear pressed against a little black transistor radio as a 6-year-old enamored of “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” I can tell you that strolling down Mathew Street and peering through the wrought-iron fencing at the Abbey Road Studios façade are transformative experiences. It’s at once smile-inducing and melancholy, a mix of buoyant nostalgia and the ache of passing time, reflecting on all those intervening years that included the untimely loss of Lennon and Harrison.
It’s also uplifting and surprising to watch 20-somethings from South America or Italy or Japan taking cheerful selfies of themselves on Abbey Road, reveling in the cultural significance of a band that released its final album a quarter-century before they were even born.
Mozart could only have been so lucky. (Of course, The Beatles had the distinct advantage of creating their music in an era that’s been able to promote it and preserve it technologically, in ways perhaps that even Mozart or significant artists in tribal Africa or pre-print Europe or Asia could not.)
If the buzz over re-release of The Beatles’ “White Album” is any indication, even Mozart would have been impressed.
After all, the first time around, it sold more than 3 million copies within the first four days of its release, eventually going 19-times platinum, making it the band’s most successful album.
So of this, I have no doubt: As the greatest rock band of all time, The Beatles’ place in history is assured.
Still, after 50 years, one question remains: Was the walrus really Paul?
VIDEO: Mathew Street and The Cavern Club 2018
Video by John Sinkevics
VIDEO: The Beatles, “Glass Onion” (2018 Mix)
PHOTO GALLERY: Abbey Road (London), Mathew Street (Liverpool)
VIDEO: Paul McCartney at The Cavern Club (2018)
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