I ask quite some people to tell me their musical biography, these days. It is my job to do so – I have the opportunity to work on a PhD thesis partly in my boss’s time (never will I be caught saying negative things about my boss), and part of the research project is to get people talking about their musical lives. Two names pop up often: Johnny Cash and the Beatles.
There is a striking difference between the two. Cash had a career lasting decades and decades. In his early times he performed together with the young Elvis, and he ended with recording on the label American Recordings a kind of multiple-cd Post Scriptum to his career that turns out to be – continuing in a Latin atmosphere - his Magnum Opus. It is this, “the late Cash” (there is always the possibility of a pun here), that people often mention in their stories as a recent discovery.
How different with the Beatles. When people mention them in their biography, it is often not as a recent discovery but as something that was played at home when they were young, either by themselves or, if they are younger, by a sister, a brother, or their parents. Not a recent discovery, but something that has stayed with many people throughout their life.
Funny: Cash played for over forty years but is only now discovered by many; the Beatles played for just 8 years but have been with many ever since then. I am a big fan of both of them. I remember buying the first American recordings-cd by Cash and playing it non-stop for a month; and buying the rest of the series since then. Recent memories, as it were.
The Beatles for me are old memories – some songs (especially from the red double album, Love me Do for example) remind me of the sitting room of my parental home on Sunday morning. I will have been 6, or 8; and I remember also that when the blue double album entered the house (my brother owned both red and blue) I thought it quite noisy songs but over time started to like that side of the Beatles more and more. I turned into a fan in my teens and collected the original lp’s for some time in my twenties and thirties. And now, in my forties, I started playing them again, with incredible pleasure, for myself and my children (my 2-year old daughter sometimes specifically asks for music from the “Veatles”).
What I realize only now is the incredible development they went through in only 8 years. They started their career with the “Please Please Me” album, quite innocent, half of the songs covers (“Anna” and “A Taste of Honey” are not to be missed). It ended with “Let it Be”, or actually with “Abbey Road”, two completely different albums, and in between they had gone through their “Revolver” sound, through “Sgt Peppers”, and had recorded what I still see as their Magnum Opus, the “White Album” (their best song is not on their lp’s; it is for me probably “Old Brown Shoe” – yes, a Harrison song!).
When they recorded their first single George Harrison – the youngest Beatle - was only 19. When “Let it Be”, their last album to appear, hit the market,
Harrison was 27, and Ringo Starr, the oldest one, was just 30. Lennon was shot dead at his 40th. And here I am`- 47 and trying to understand how it feels to be 30 and to know that already you leave the world a heritage.