Are you a Beatles fan?
It's sort of a ridiculous question about a band, and a trio of songwriters, who in many ways invented pop songwriting, establishing its DNA in R&B, folk, music-hall tunes and experimental art music, and pointed the way towards the contemporary singer-songwriter, heavy metal, double-A side singles, concept albums, and more.
In other words, isn't everyone a Beatles fan?
Well, I am and here are some of my personal favorite Beatles-related media. Be warned: this is a potential black hole of procrastination!
Across the Universe (film)
The soundtrack to this movie is good, but the film is a continuous burst of creativity. Director Julie Taymor is known for her Broadway staging of Disney's Lion King and the film "Frida" but here she collaborates with her husband, Elliot Goldenthal, a film composer, to basically make a jukebox musical from the Beatles catalog. The actors are all excellent singers and full of youth and energy -- it reminds you that the Beatles were a young band -- George Harrison was only 27 when they broke up. You may find some of the choices odd, but they are never boring. I was prepared to maybe hate this film, but I ended up loving it. Plus, Salma Hayek in a nurse's costume... Rawr...
I Am Sam (soundtrack)
I have not seen the film "I Am Sam", but I love the soundtrack. All songs Beatles cover tunes by contemporary masters of songwriting like Aimee Mann, Paul Westerberg, Rufus Wainwright... Eddie Vedder's cover of "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" gets some radio play, but there are lots of gems here. The beauty of great covers is that it affirms that the songwriting is excellent and though the Beatles had great arranging from George Martin and excellent guitar tones... it all comes back to the melodies and the words.
The Beatles Complete on Ukulele
This is for the text. The uke cover versions of every Beatles tune are amusing, sometimes very good, but I love this site for the essays about the songs. They are meticulous about who the main songwriter was and then there is often a story about the recording session, or arguments they were having at the time... To be honest, I couldn't say how accurate these stories are, but they are the stories I wish are true.
The Songs the Beatles Gave Away
Slate.com has been "blogging the Beatles" with articles that reflect where the Beatles were 50 years ago. Many of their articles are worth reading but my favorite is about songs they gave away. Lennon and McCartney wanted to be Rogers and Hammerstein or Lieber and Stoller and they wrote songs -- hit songs -- for friends and labelmates. These are mostly early, 2 minute pop songs, but they are worth a listen.
"Love" soundtrack to Cirque du Soleil
Again, I've not seen the Cirque du Soleil show set to Beatles music, but I find the soundtrack fascinating. In this case, it's not so much about the songwriting as the production. George Martin, the original producer of the Beatles catalog, and his son Giles, got permission to remix the songs, taking elements from one track and putting it behind vocals from another track. Apparently there was no change to individual tracks, in other words, the Martins found riffs in the right key and time signature to mash up with other songs. Listening to the songs is like hearing an audio treasure hunt, as you recognize snippets from various recordings.
And now, in writing this post, I've discovered a site that has collected every Beatles interview ever, here: http://www.beatlesinterviews.org/ I may never sleep.
Jack Cheng directs the Clemente Course in Dorchester, excavates in the Middle East, and writes in Waban, MA.