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One of the most entertaining hypotheticals for Beatles’ fans to discuss is what the Beatles would have sounded like or recorded if they had stayed together after the release of Let It Be.* In a sense, this is an even more fruitless counterfactual than another popular one: What songs would have been on The White Album if it hadn’t been a double album (which I have already covered). Unlike the case of that what-if, the songs the Beatles would have done together were never released as Beatles songs. And to imagine the Beatles staying together after 1970 is to wish away the centrifugal forces that had by that point already largely torn the four musical titans at the band’s center apart.**
But Beatles’ fans such as myself speculate nonetheless, aided by morsels such as collaborations between members after the break-up (most notably in the almost-Beatles song “I’m the Greatest!”), and demos of songs that later became solo work but were conceived or sometimes even recorded while the Beatles were still together (e.g., much of George Harrison’s first post-Beatle solo album, All Things Must Pass).
Recently, news has emerged that whets this speculative appetite even more. In a September 8 story in The Guardian, Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn revealed the contents of a heretofore undiscovered tape from almost exactly 50 years ago, in which the Beatles (sans an unwell Ringo Starr, for whom the recording was made) discussed their future plans. This despite the fact that, as Lewisohn points out, the Beatles had, at that time, already wrapped production on Abbey Road, which would be their last recorded album (though not the last released). And yet, on the tape, the three discuss plans to get a single ready for a Christmas release…to promote their next album! Learning this, I again returned to my own idle speculations, a cold comfort I create for myself in a world in which the Beatles did, in fact, break up. And so, in the Yesterday-esque spirit of Beatles hypotheticals, here is my attempt to imagine what the “next” Beatles album, which I have called Inward and Outward, would have looked like:
Although I am a Millennial (with a podcast!), and ELO’s critical and commercial peak came when my parents were in high school (though their greatest hits, like “Mr. Blue Sky” and “Evil Woman” have had a long cultural shelf life), I nonetheless have long been a huge fan of this Beatlesque symphonic pop-rock group. I have written about ELO’s output at Ricochet and even got to discuss it for two hours on an episode of National Review’s excellent Political Beats podcast.
Yesterday is really two movies, one better than the other.
The better movie in Yesterday, the latest by director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), with a script by Richard Curtis (Love Actually), is a light, cute, modern fairy tale that assumes one’s love of the Beatles* (yes, this movie could not get more British). It presents a simple yet striking what-if: Jack** Malik (Himesh Patel), a struggling, mediocre musician, suddenly enters a world that resembles our own in (almost) every way but one: Only he remembers The Beatles.*** Through a series of convenient but credibly implausible circumstances, he then rides this newfound knowledge to astronomical success, doling out hit after hit seemingly from divine inspiration to all around him, while only he (?) knows the truth.
Yesterday hits all the classic beats of the rise-to-fame morality tale. Success soon forces Jack to abandon his friends and family in England. Most important of all these to him is Ellie Appleton (Lily James), a teacher, his part-time manager while he was still playing at bars and empty tents at music festivals, and–much to his dismay–not quite his love interest. Meanwhile, he struggles to maintain his integrity against the wages of commercialism in the music industry, embodied with enthusiastic cynicism by Kate McKinnon, playing a cutthroat record executive.
Last Thursday was the 50th anniversary of The Beatles, a.k.a., The White Album, The Beatles’ sprawling 1968 double-LP. I took the occasion to record a podcast on The Beatles’ musical legacy, which you can listen to here.
In the course of that podcast, I made the case for The Beatles’ greatness, even though they are most decidedly a product of the Baby Boomer culture that refuses to relinquish its death grip on us all. But I don’t think they’re entirely beyond criticism, though I wouldn’t dare make it on my own meager authority. Which is why I here invoke George Martin, who made so much of The Beatles’ music possible (as I explained here), and who believed that The White Album should have been just one album and not a double LP.
Goo goo g’joob! As The Beatles (a.k.a., The White Album) reaches its 50th anniversary, the Young Americans take some time on a hard day’s night to have a long and winding discussion about whether The Beatles really are the greatest band of all time (the answer is yes), and whether they still matter and should be in your life (the answer is also yes).
Stipulating that there’s no accounting for taste, what sane person would say The Who are/were a better band than The Beatles? This guy:
I believe rock and roll is a sometimes ephemerally subtle, sometimes gruesome and grotesque she/he-animal capable of transcendence. I believe that rock and roll should reach for the Golden Ring, hot, sexy, lissome and coy, even if it falls in the attempt. I believe that the ability to hear rock and roll is a gift that deserves not just moments of grace, but moments where the fusion of volume, energy, and meaning appear to have the power to split the atom. That’s why I prefer the Who to the Beatles.