The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years

Prologue: I had severe Beatlemania from about age 8 to age 18. It’s amazing what sort of extreme obsessions a young human brain is capable of creating. Moving on…

“It was … important to try to tell a story that would convey to people who really have no idea — I’m thinking of the millennials, I suppose; people who have grown up with the music and think they know something of the story — the intensity of the journey and the impact they had,”

Ron Howard on his new documentary, “The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years”.

Now, I am always skeptical of any film named with TWO subtitles, but I definitely did not anticipate that Ron Howard’s documentary would make me think of the Beatles in a new way. Surely I, who for 10 years devoured every possible piece of information about them that I could find and thought of nothing else during my waking hours, would have considered everything there was to consider about the Beatles. But no. In fact, Howard’s generously titled film provided me with not one, but TWO new perspectives on The Beatles.

beatlesbow

Scale

TB:EDAW-TTY, whose title contains a ridiculous number of letters even as an acronym, finally allowed me to comprehend something about the Beatles that I had heard dozens of times but somehow never fully considered: their scale of their phenomenon was MASSIVE. Indeed, it covered the entire globe.

I was born into a world with internet. Even in it’s 20-ish years the internet has grown astronomically to dwarf its former self. Events on a global scale are commonplace in the 21st century, and they are part of the world I have always lived in. It wasn’t until I saw the film which should have just been called “The Beatles: Touring Years” that I understood that such a cultural phenomenon of that scale had never taken place before. Never! They did the first ever stadium tour by a musical group. 250,000 people turned out for their arrival in Australia. The volumes of their album and ticket sales were unprecedented. A lot of unprecedented things happened in the 1960’s that caused a sea change in youth culture and put it on course for how we live today. One of those cultural events was the Beatles. The Beatles were the first of their kind; and they did it without any internet at all.

This revelation blew me away. Maybe I felt a scrap of how blown away people were to be actually witnessing it then, in the 1960s. People that are still alive!

Time

Despite the fact that there is still a huge portion of our population who was alive to witness The Beatles, and the fact that they remain hugely popular, the Beatles are not, in fact, a modern band. I saw the 1960s with fresh eyes as it was presented in The Film. All these years I had thought of the Beatles as timeless, still relevant today, not having diminished in popularity. I imagined myself in the 60s all the time; I imagined them just like the present.

But it was plain to see by the grainy faded analog footage of the era: the Beatles happened in a completely different world than ours. Fifty years have passed. Fifty! The changes that have occurred in the world are immense. The Beatles are truly part of history now. Certainly more than enough time has passed to observe their sprawling effects on modern music and culture. Fifty years, in that way, was a long time ago.

I have always found it incredible that a cultural phenomenon that happened decades ago in a different world could play such a huge role in my life and development and so many millions of others’. And that, indeed, is the massive legacy of The Beatles.

The future of radio, and why it will never die.

memory cards
Smaller size, greater capacity

With the shocking speed at which technology is advancing these days, many products have come and gone in the blink of an eye. Remember flash drives? Of course you do, you may even still own one. 10 years ago, early flash drives came in what would now be considered appallingly small sizes for absurdly high prices. I remember gritting my teeth upon shelling out the $40 it cost to buy just a few hundred megabytes of storage. Today, I sneeze at a flash drive that has any capacity smaller than 4 GB, and I wouldn’t pay more than $10 for it. In fact, I probably wouldn’t pay anything for it at all, because in the last few years flash drives have been made all but obsolete by the rise of cloud storage. I have 15 GB FREE storage on Google Drive and I don’t need to worry about carrying it around in my pocket and potentially misplacing it. Flash drives were just a flash in the pan.

original ipod
The original iPod

This is just one example of a technology that has been introduced just to quickly be replaced by something new. In the music industry, even the successor of CD’s, the mp3 player, is on its last legs. The first iPod came out in 2001, and I couldn’t get enough. Now, I haven’t owned an iPod in 3 years thanks to how incredibly easy it is to stream music from services like YouTube, Pandora, and Spotify. If there are some mp3s I can’t live without and I need to have the actual files with me, I download them onto my smart phone.

But in the media industry, here is one form that stands the test of time: radio. Think about it, when you’re in the car, you still listen to the radio whether it be AM, FM, or “XM”. And I’m here to make the case that radio will never die.

vintage radio

First, let us define “radio”. If you define radio as content that is broadcast wirelessly via towers and radio waves, then stop reading right now, because you are right. The technology of broadcasting via radio waves is 100 years old and is being replaced by more modern methods, such as broadcast via satellite or the internet. I do not define radio based on its using radio waves, but radio as an industry. Here is my list of criteria for what I categorize under the word “radio”:

  1. The streaming of the content is controlled by someone other than the listener. A listener may tune in to hear what is currently playing, but cannot skip around to different songs/programs.
  2. The content is created or chosen by a person or persons, not a computer.
  3. The content is played on a “station” that takes programs from different sources
  4. A station has programming that all follows some sort of theme (ex “classic rock” “Christian” “talk” “news” “top 40”)
Spotify Radio
NOT “radio”

That’s about it. What fits this description? Well not “internet radio”, such as Spotify Radio or the new iTunes Radio, where the user chooses from a list of characteristics and a computer algorithm then pulls music from some giant distant cloud library. Marketers of these streaming services chose the word “radio” because it is a word that is familiar to the consumer, and because the service fits my criteria #4, all the music played follows a theme. This theme is chosen by the listener when they click on which genres they’d like the computer algorithm to play for them.

What does fit my description of radio is anything you tune to in your car, whether it be coming to you via radio waves or not. Radio is where you discover new things: new songs you may not have heard, news stories that are just breaking, interesting conversations and wonderful stories told by journalists. All of this unique entertainment is available to you without the use of your eyes, a special quality which makes radio quite different from any other form of media you might encounter.

Yes, there are also audiobooks and podcasts that can be enjoyed with ears only. But there are also loads of internet videos to enjoy, so why do we still have TV? TV and radio still exist (and will continue to exist) for the same reason: there is something enjoyable about giving up control about what you are about to hear or see, an excitement about not knowing what will come up next on your television or radio, and the knowledge that it will probably be something brand new that you’ve never heard before. You constantly have the opportunity to experience something new. When a person plays their own pre-loaded audiobooks or music, that chance is greatly reduced.

Radio as an industry will continue to thrive. As both a producer and listener of radio, I know that the human desire to both be entertained (sometimes without having to commit your eyes as well as your ears!) and informed will keep radio alive. That is, maybe, until they perfect those self-driving cars….

“Choir Triplets”

If you are not a musician, you might want to skip reading this, as you will find it quite boring.

I have found that most singers have a little problem when it comes to performing rhythms… they simply do not execute triplets properly.

I used to have this problem, too, until last year in a class myself and another percussionist were supposed to play a rhythm in a song written by one of our classmates. Everything was going fine, I feel like I have a good sense of pulse. However, when we got to the triplets, we played them differently! He explained to me what I was doing wrong, and I was shocked! What I was performing is what I have come to call a “choir triplet”, since I find that it happens a lot with singers in a choir.

In order to explain what a choir triplet is, let’s review what a real triplet is first. They look like this: 

And they sound like this (I have added snare drum in quarter notes to help you hear the meter): Triplets

Sounds easy enough, 2 against 3 is a relatively easy polyrhythm to perform. However, you may have been performing triplets this way all your life, and not even realizing it, just as I was doing:

This is what the fake triplets sound like: Fake triplets

They actually sound rather similar. Both “real” triplets and “fake” triplets take up two beats of time. However the difference between them is that in a real triplet, each note has the same duration, and in a fake one, the first two notes are actually longer than the last. So how different are the two rhythms, really? Click here to hear both rhythms played at the same time: Both

I realize now that every choir I have ever been in tends to perform triplets as the second rhythm. It does tend to make the choir slow down and lose the tempo of the piece. When all of the voices are singing the same rhythm, (homophony) it really isn’t too much of an issue. However, when you’re singing a piece like this…In Bethlehem…it can really fuck you up!

Has Pop Music Gotten Worse in the Last 50 Years?

The answer, undoubtedly, is yes.

I have had this argument with my boyfriend a few times, and he just can’t come to accept it. It’s not fair, he said, to compare the music industry as we know it today to the music of the past, because we see all the bad music around us today whereas bad music of past decades has faded out of history and we don’t even know about it today.

This is a good point. However, if you take a cross section of the most popular songs of each decade, you can see from the top five hits of each year how the trend is really going. Take this list for example. It begins in 1946. We have jazz standards, some silly pop songs. Then we move to The Beatles, who, let’s be honest, were some of the finest pop music of the century. In the 1970s we see the charts get peppered with frivolous dance and pop music (come on, can “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” really be compared to Nat King Cole or “Hey Jude”?)

It only gets worse from there. The number 1 song of 1982 is Olivia Newton John’s “Physical”. While I am not saying this isn’t a terribly catchy song, the overall quality or intelligence of the piece surely cannot be compared to the jazz standards or classic rock of previous decades.

Of course there are still some great songs on the list, but as the years progress, the ratio of really great songs (“Every Breath You Take”, “Billie Jean”) to rather stupid songs (“Walk Like an Egyptian”, “Flashdance… What A Feeling”) makes a clear shift towards the stupid side. By the 2000s, we seem to have descended into complete idiocy (“In Da Club”, “Since U Been Gone”, “Buy U A Drank (Shawty Snappin’)”).

To make myself clear again: I am not saying these songs have no merit at all. These are songs I myself have sung along with, danced to, or performed in a private concert to my adoring fans in the bathroom mirror with a paddle brush as a microphone. But when you compare the general level of artistry involved in making these songs with songs earlier on the list, we see a clear divide.

But how could music just get worse? What driving force would possibly be behind that? Well, I didn’t know it until this past week when I read it in my music history book.

Over 100 years ago, the only way to enjoy music outside of a concert was to purchase the sheet music for it and play it yourself. Obviously in this society, only people with musical training and thus refined musical taste would be seeking out music and giving their consumerism to the music industry. Thus, the industry demand for music was only for the type of music these people would like: “classical” music, musical theater/opera, etc.

Then, recording technologies were invented. It started as the wax cylinder, and evolved into the vinyl record. Here’s a neat fact, the early incarnations of a record were not very efficient and could only hold 3-4 minutes of music on each side. This is what dictated the length of songs and is why typical pop songs are about 3 minutes in length today. With each new advancement in recording technology, music became more and more easy to purchase, own, and enjoy. Most importantly, you didn’t have to be able to read music to access it anymore. As more people gained access to music, the demand for music changed because it wasn’t only the classically trained musicians listening to it anymore.

In the past 50 years, music technology has improved at an exponential rate. Since the vinyl record, we’ve had radio, 8 tracks, cassettes, CDs, mp3s, and finally, free and universal streaming services (YouTube, Pandora, Spotify). In 100 years the amount of effort it requires to listen to a piece of music has gone from studying for years to perfect an instrument in order to play the piece all the way down to simply typing in the name of a tune you want to hear. As non-musically educated people have saturated the market, so has the quality of the music gone down to meet their tastes.

Improved technology also means that it has become easier and easier to record music, and this fact has sped up the production of the “bad” music supply.

I am not saying there is no good music at all these days. I am a huge fan of Mumford and Sons, Avett Brothers, Seven Lions, and the like. However, can you really compare Justin Bieber to The Beatles? Besides the hair cut, they really haven’t got a damn thing in common.

More Rant

In addition to my normal woes of the week, this weekend is particularly woeful because I have to go out of town for my grandmother’s birthday. That is not the sad part, but the fact that I will miss so many things while I’m gone really sucks. I will already miss going to the gym for three days, so fuck that. I will only get to go twice this week. Well MAYBE twice! Who knows, tomorrow I might have to choose to skip it again because I have too much work to do. People use “I don’t have enough time” as an excuse not to exercise, but right now I really don’t have enough time and it is making me so angry!

It seems that every awesome concert or recital in the world is happening on this weekend, the ONE weekend I have planned to be away:

  • Mark Husey’s organ recital at the church, he will have pieces that include string quartet and clarinet and there will be a reception afterwards. omg I would kill to go.
  • There is a concert that will be performed by our voice faculty that includes several Handel arias and other great stuff, IDK because I CAN’T GO ANYWAY
  • Just learned today about a concert of Baroque music that will be performed on period instruments and have BAROQUE DANCERS what is that even I want to die
  • One of our piano professors and his colleague are performing all 10 Beethoven violin sonatas in order over the course of three days… the three days I will be away

To compare, here is a list of the recitals that I want to see in September on the weekends that I will be in town: