The standout releases of 2009 for me were The Beatles Remastered – all of them. In some ways they saved the year for me. Still working with students, as I was until November, and involved in the worldwide web of rock critique and the newly titled theo-musicology, I try to keep up to date with all things indie and contemporary. A few releases might have intrigued me in 2009 but apart from Mumford and Sons little grabbed me by the ear. That I listened almost exclusively to The Beatles for the last three months of the year says it all. And yet there was enough in those 13 albums to keep me consumed.
It was 1976 when I first fell in love with The Beatles. They crashed into my developing fifteen year old pop consciousness and over the next year probably changed my life. Not in the Christ sense. That came about two years later. In my Remastering of The Beatles in my life, however, I realised this winter that they played an almost John The Baptist role. It was these Fab Four mop tops that were at the very least the soundtrack of the world changing in the sixties, if they weren’t actually a momentum of the change, that started this rural Ulster boy to start thinking bigger things. My embryonic thoughts of the meaning of life and where answers lay to the questions my later adolescence was starting to ask were all wrapped around songs like Nowhere Man, Revolution, Eleanor Rigby, All You Need Is Love and Let It Be. My first meaningful conversations about art and life were with a fellow Ballymena Academy pupil Graeme McKee as a result of our Beatle obsession. As I have always said these rock songs asked the questions that I found the answers to in Jesus. That sounds like a glib cliché but true never the less.
Over the years I have of course delved deeper in my understanding of The Beatles catalogue as I have in my grasp of the Scriptures. So, Beatle songs, as well as the solo catalogues of each member, have kept my mind fertile for the development of the Christian worldview that has taken me a long distance from the confines of the seventeen year old rural Northern Ireland package of faith I assented to back in 1979. Writers like Steve Turner, who also shares my Christian faith, have opened up the depth of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band which originally hit me as a confused drug induced psychedelic mush and songs like Blackbird, Tomorrow Never Knows and Carry That Weight among others have been unlocked to their social, political and emotional significance.
Yet, after thirty three years of listening, reading and writing about The Beatles I was shocked by how shocked I was by the new Remasters. It was a like a brand new discovery. It took me back to the original feeling I had when I had first put on the big black yellow label 12 inches of vinyl that I had brilliantly (or guiltily) swapped off a friend for old Smokie and Gary Glitter singles! The Remastering opened up sounds and energy that I had not heard before. Beatles For Sale and those earlier pop records were now real rock albums, harder edged than I had imagined. You could now hear all six months of the recording of aforementioned Sgt Pepper; every little sound carefully added. Suddenly with this more vivid soundscape you realised that The Beatles were more than the most prolific pop/rock band in history. Yes, their melodies were so brilliant that my children loved them as soon as they could differentiate songs and yes even their album tracks sounded like singles but in this new reality you could suddenly hear how brilliant a bass player Paul was and how amazing a time keeper Ringo was. Both have suffered for being the last two Beatles alive and for being media friendly and funny. What the Remasters shout out about the criticism they have received as musicians is - WRONG! They are brilliant and George too. At his death many had pointed out how it was his riffs, seemingly simple, that had given the songs their trademark. I was convinced but these new Remasters give a whole new insight to his playing, particularly on Sgt Pepper. John has always been the most loved Beatle, ironically for being the least loveable one! Any listen to these records will now make it very obvious that we got lucky when these four Liverpool lads found each other. It is unique that four guys with such talent can live in the same era, in the same geographical location, and then find each other and a world that will listen. The Beatles did. These Remasters confirm them the best band to ever to walk the planet.