Star Trek Histories at 50

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, August 15, 2016

My celebration of Star Trek at 50 continues, which began with “Remembering Star Trek—50 Years” and then “Star Trek: Dystopia in the Utopia.” I was never a Trekkie/Trekker, never went to a Star Trek convention, and I’ve only read a couple of the novels, so I don’t know why I’ve developed this sudden fascination with Star Trek. For decades I’ve had a hard time watching any old TV shows again—they were just too simplistic. Only the latest and best TV keeps my attention. Then something happened, something clicked, and I didn’t hate ancient television anymore. WTF?

It all started when I caught a few episodes of Gunsmoke, and then I read Leonard by William Shatner, which described working in 1950s television. This week I’ve caught episodes of I Love Lucy, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Make Room For Daddy, and Perry Mason, all from the 1950s. And, Annie, my Star Trek buddy, and I, are chronologically going through the 1960s Star Treks. I’m in some kind of time warp, and I can’t get out. Why?

Maybe it started when I was bingeing on 1950s science fiction books, and that somehow altered my consciousness so I could enjoy the old television again. Maybe the 1950s is just a comfortable place to hide out for a while. Living in the 1950s for a while evidently prepared me to enjoy 1960s Star Trek again. After reading Leonard and beginning the systematic rewatching of ST:TOS, I began craving more data about Star Trek.

The Fifty-Year Mission v1The Fifty-Year Mission v2

That’s when I discovered the two-volume, The Fifty-Year Mission: The First 25 Years and The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years: From The Next Generation to J. J. Abrams, both by Edward Gross Mark A. Altman. The first volume is even available on audio. These are beautiful books, massive in scope, that includes hundreds of new interviews, that attempt to cover the entire subject of Star Trek and its legacy. What Gross and Altman do is cut and paste thousands of quotations from everyone involved into one long, two-volume, chronological narrative. It’s both a history of Star Trek and a study in how television and movies are made, and how a cult phenomenon was created.

These-are-the-Voyages-v1-CushmanThese-are-the-Voyages-v2-CushmanThese-are-the-Voyages-v3-Cushman

Because there was so much written about Star Trek, I wondered what are considered the most comprehensive books on just ST:TOS, so I started poking around Amazon and found this three volume set by Marc Cushman:

Because these books are an episode-by-episode history of the classic 79 ST:TOS shows, I bought the first volume to read along with my rewatching of the series. These five books should keep me busy for years. Maybe three years. I’ve been thinking of writing a review of each show on it’s 50th anniversary. Of course, that sounds like one of those projects that I’ll start and give up quickly. However, my new fascinating with these old Star Trek shows is different this time. Fifty years ago I judged each show by my then standard for science fiction. Many episodes seemed way too silly to be considered science fiction because the science didn’t seem believable. This time around, I’m seeing the shows as allegories and metaphors, and not concerning myself as much with the science.

From the handful of episodes we’ve seen again, I realize each episode makes a statement about science fiction, the social and political climate of the day, and the ambitions of their creators. Fifty years down the road, I’m using Star Trek to study what we were all like in the 1960s – a kind of cultural anthropology. With 79 episodes, I’m sure Star Trek probably said everything anyone could about what’s possible with science fiction.

Star Trek was never my vision of science fiction. I’ve never really liked television and movie science fiction as much as I love written science fiction. Quite often, visual science fiction seems silly, even demeaning to written science fiction. Now, that’s my POV, and I know it’s not a common one. For example, the first four episodes of Star Trek (as seen on Netflix streaming, including the first pilot) have stories built around aliens or humans with god-like powers. Annie and I were arguing about that last night. She claims aliens could have super-powers, because we don’t know what’s possible. I say destroying a space ship and its crew light years away with just a thought is an unbelievable god-like power. I’m an atheist – not only do I not believe in God, I don’t believe in god-like powers. But what does it say when science fiction creators and fans do?

Roddenberry was known to be an atheist, so why does he write about god-like beings? In the first pilot, humans reject any paradise the Talosians promise because we refuse to be their playthings. In the second pilot, Kirk kills the two crewmen who become gods. How symbolic! Are those stories allegories, and Gary Mitchell, and later Q, stand in for something Roddenberry wants to attack? Is this science fiction or theology? What do the Talosians stand for in the story? Are they merely powerful aliens, or metaphor for gods? The crew of Star Trek always rejects, escapes, destroys or outwits powerful god-like aliens. Hell, they have a tough time accepting Spock, and his cold logical mind. This show is amazingly pro-human. Should I even say, humanistic.

If I study these history books about Star Trek will I find out why each show was written? Are their academic books that critically analyze the stories. Or, are the stories merely cribbed from 1950s science fiction. “Charlie X” seems to borrow from Stranger in a Strange Land and “The Good Life” by Jerome Bixby. How often in the original 79 episodes of Star Trek do the the writers reprocess for the current week’s show something they read in F&SF, Galaxy, If and Astounding during the previous decade? Science fictional ideas that were spread to thousands in the 1950s with magazines, were now being spread to millions on television.

I’m currently fascinating by Star Trek for many reasons. I’m rethinking my own brain programming. I rejected God and religion back when I began embracing science fiction. But after a lifetime of accepting my science fictional faith, I’m developing skeptical thoughts. The foundation of my thinking comes from 1950s television, reading science fiction in the 1960s, and absorbing the 1960s counter culture. Strangely, I believe Star Trek did the same thing.

JWH

Nova by Samuel R. Delany–Reading Science Fiction in 1968 and 2014

Rereading a novel I loved reading almost a half-century ago is an interesting experience.  Nova by Samuel R. Delany was a novel that dazzled my teenage self in 1968, but has lost its sense of wonder for my older self in 2014.  I’d be awful curious to know how 17-year-olds today reading Nova feel about the book.  Is the magic being 17, or 1968?  Delany was only 25 when he completed Nova, so he was much closer to my age than than Robert A. Heinlein, my favorite science fiction writer at the time.   Heinlein was 44 years older than me, so Delany was an exciting young writer that spoke to my generation.  Delany was the same generation as The Beatles, the generation before the Baby Boomers, and the generation we grew up admiring, the one that made the 1960s.  Nova in 1968 was to science fiction what The Jefferson Airplane was to the Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland generation at the time.  It rocked.

Nova(1stEd)

It’s very hard to separate my memories of Nova from the times when I first read it, the 1960s.  Nova came out around the time of The White Album by The Beatles, Crown of Creation by the Jefferson Airplane, Wheels on Fire by Cream and Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix.  So that music is what I listened to when I first read Nova.  This was also around the time I went to see Apollo 8 launch at Cape Kennedy in December of 1968.  I was in the 12th grade and I was very excited about the future, but worried about things like the Vietnam war, the generation gap, race relations and looming overpopulation.  Both Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in 1968.  To make matters worse, the Chicago Democratic Convention happened that summer and society seemed to be in chaos. 

To say the country was divided is a vast understatement.  Even the world of science fiction was split into the Old Guard and New Wave, with lots of flaming rhetoric spewing between the two.

Set in the year 3172, the galaxy is divided into the Earth controlled Draco Federation, and the younger rebellious Pleiades Federation.  Nova is about a mad power quest by Lorq Von Ray of the Pleiades to control the market in Illyrion, a heavy element of Delany’s invention that powers space travel and intergalactic commerce.  It’s extremely rare.  Von Ray learns that Illyrion is produced in abundance in the heart of a star and gathers a motley crew to fly through a nova as it happens.  Von Ray and his rich family is hated by Prince Red and his sister Ruby, the heirs of an opposing wealthy family who also want to control the supply of Illyrion.

This is 1940s Planet Stories space opera, but with 1960s counter-culture swagger. Nova is colorful, epic and full of super-science sense of wonder in a New Age Science Fiction novel.  When I read Nova in 1968 it was tremendously exciting.   I wanted it to be a map of the future.  Like most of Delany’s stories from the 1960s, it features a young wanderer, The Mouse, who plays an exotic musical instrument, a sensory syrynx, and an intellectual vagabond Katin Crawford who is writing a novel.  Back then Delany often had characters writing novels and poetry inside a novel so he could comment on the meta-fiction nature of things, as well as explain the psychohistory on such things as Tarot cards.

The story has a good deal of backstory before getting down to the real mission of flying into a nova to set up the rivalry between the Von Rays and Reds, and explain the backgrounds of Mouse and Katin.  The trouble is the story has more color than plot, and the older me wasn’t as dazzled by the adventure.  All the characters are cyborgs that fly the ship by jacking into sensors that sail the starship on fictional interstellar energy currents.  The 17 year-old-me hoped we’d eventually discover such magical properties of outer space that would allow people like me to travel between the stars like we fly between cities now.  My 62 year-old-self knows all this is make-believe Santa Clausing.  The story is still readable, but it’s gone from an exciting science fiction tale to a colorful fantasy fiction.  My younger self should have known better, but I was awful hopeful about the Final Frontier in 1968.  And I was bedazzled by hippie dreams.

Interstellar space is so much more real to me now, with it’s extremes of temperatures, varieties of lethal radiations, and most importantly, its brutally vast distances.  Science fiction sorely needs to rethink how we’re going to explore the galaxy.  Nova’s kind of scientific speculation is as practical as building giant canons to send people to the Moon.  I don’t blame Delany for how things have changed, because Nova makes an exemplary example of 1960s science fiction.  The science of Nova is quickly becoming as quaint as the science of The Skylark of Space, so such stories reflect how we used to dream of living in a very different universe.

JWH – 6/3/14

The Defining Science Fiction Books of the 1960s

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After completing The Defining Science Fiction Books of the 1950s, I decided to push ahead into the 1960s.  Going through the databases and assembling the list was a shock to my memory.  I remember the 1960s being a tremendous decade for science fiction, and it was in volume, but I just don’t know how many of the books I found to list here are actual classics.  I’ve reread far fewer of these titles than I did for the books from the 1950s, so I’m going more from distant memory than recent.  And I padded the list with more books I remember reading about but haven’t read.  I included them because they still sound good enough to track down in 2013.  Many of these books listed below are ones I discovered researching the Classics of Science Fiction website, so they stick in my mind.

Also, I’m doubting the completeness of my databases.  I had to consult several sources to find many of the titles I “remembered.”  If I had to actually make up this list from cold memory it would be far shorter.  I needed tools like the Internet Science Fiction Database to trigger buried recollections.

In the 1960s I loved shopping for books so much that I would visit bookstores two or three times a week.  Towards the end of the decade I learned how to go to flea market and garage sales and offer to buy whole boxes of paperbacks cheap.  I’d then take them to 2 for 1 trade in stores.  I got to know the science fiction sections of several used bookshops in Miami.  So looking for cover art for this list was a trip down memory lane.

I’d often read a book a day back then.  Which is probably why I don’t remember these books so well – I read fast, and consumed science fiction in mass quantities.   Some do stand out, especially the titles I’ve reread over the years.  In terms of ideas, the 1960s were rich in original content.  Most of the 1950s was spent reprinting the classic stories of the 1930s and 1940s pulp area.  This still happened, but less often.  Heinlein’s great short novel Orphans in the Sky from 1963, is really two novellas from the early 1940s, “Universe” and “Common Sense.”  Thus it’s very hard to think of Orphans of the Sky as a classic 1960s novel.

Twelve 1960s SF Books That Might Be Remembered in the 22nd Century

The original essay I wrote about the 1950s was inspired by the Library of America’s collection of 1950s science fiction. I assume Library of America will published a collection for the 1960s, and then the 1970s. After collecting all the most memorable titles from the 1960s that I could find, favorites just don’t jump out at me like they did for the 1950s. However, I would say this short list of books are the standout science fiction books of the 1960s, the ones most remembered by people who don’t normally read science fiction. These are the titles I think will be remembered by literary scholars in the future, if they’re willing to read science fiction.

  1. Solaris by Stanislaw Lem (1961)
  2. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (1961)
  3. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)
  4. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (1962)
  5. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1963)
  6. Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)
  7. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (1966)
  8. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (1966)
  9. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (1968)
  10. Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner (1968)
  11. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1969)
  12. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (1969)

I personally think Stand on Zanzibar is one of the standout SF novels of the 1960s, but it’s quickly becoming forgotten.  When it comes down to the nitty-gritty I’d say Stranger in a Stranger Land and Dune are the quintessential novels of the 1960s.  They aren’t my favorites, but I think they are the ones remembered by the most people.

What’s fascinating to think about, is this list of books will be how the 1960s will be remembered by science fiction readers in the future. Even though science fiction is mostly set in the future, it’s really about the period in which it was written. Psychoanalyzing the 1960s through the lens of science fiction is going to be very weird, especially when our descendants look back on us through the eyes of Philip K. Dick.

Here’s the larger list I worked from, the titles that hard core science fiction fans should easily remember and love.  These are the books that I either read, read about, won awards, or are often talked about at the Classics of Science Fiction Book Club.  Compiling this list makes me want to reread a lot of books.

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a-for-andromeda
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dune
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mindswap
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1960s SF: My Personal Favorites

  • Empire Star by Samuel R. Delany
  • Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
  • Orphans of the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
  • Nova by Samuel R. Delany
  • Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin
  • Podkayne of Mars by Robert A. Heinlein
  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
  • Dune by Frank Herbert
  • The Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick
  • Way Station by Clifford D. Simak
  • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
  • Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany
  • Mindswap by Robert Sheckley
  • Four for Tomorrow by Roger Zelazny
  • This Immortal by Roger Zelazny
  • Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock
  • Omnivore by Piers Anthony
  • The Past Through Tomorrow by Robert A. Heinlein
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
  • The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick
  • Hothouse/The Long Afternoon of Earth by Brian Aldiss
  • Pilgrimage: The Book of the People by Zenna Henderson
  • A for Andromeda by Hoyle & Elliot
  • The Last Starship From Earth by John Boyd
  • The Dream Master by Roger Zelazny
  • Dimension of Miracles by Robert Sheckley
  • The Witches of Karres by James Schmitz
  • Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison
  • The Eleventh Commandment by Lester del Rey
  • The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard
  • Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
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JWH – 4/7/13 – Table of Contents

My Music DNA: The AM Radio Era

In an age of gadget addiction I look back and realize my first AM radio was my first personal gadget that changed my life.  TV will always be the gadget that raised us baby boomers to see the world, but it was a family gadget.  For me, it was a white clock radio I got for Christmas in 1962 that was my first in a long line of personal gadgets.  Sadly, I don’t have a photo of my much loved radio, but this one will do to inspire these words.

clock-radio

How do we become the people we grow up to be?  The other night I watched Transcendent Man, a documentary on Ray Kurzweil on Netflix streaming.   Kurzweil is an inventor and visionary who hopes to live long enough for medical science to discover immortality, but he also loved his deceased father dearly, and wants to recreate his dad’s personality in a computer.  Kurzweil’s assumption is if he could program a computer with everything his father was interested in, he could create an artificial being that has his father’s personality.  I think a lot about artificial intelligence and I’ve long wondered what programs our personality.  Are we the sum of our likes, loves and dislikes and hates?

The other day I told a friend at work that the music of the 1960s defined me.  She objected to the term “defined” but I couldn’t think of a better one.  If I tried to program a robot to act like me it would require figuring out how to program a love for the same music I love.  I don’t think that’s possible, but then how did it happen in the first place, with me?  How was I programmed to love the music that I do?  What are my music genes?

Some people are very sentimental about music.  Think about weddings and funerals and how we select songs that define us.  There’s that word again.  But we don’t play our favorite TV shows at our funerals, but songs we love.  Some couples mark falling in love with songs.  And what would movies be without songs to enhance our emotions?  Baby Boomers are very different except that most of us feel tied together by the music we shared growing up in the 1960s.

One reason I’m writing this is to remember.  Figuring out the answers to these questions helps me remember.  Writing about the past involves spelunking into the deepest caverns of my mind.  My first memories of music was from the 1950s, listening to songs on my dad’s 1955 Pontiac car radio.  Right from the start my Dad hated the pop music I was unconsciously drawn to.  But it wasn’t until I got that clock radio for Christmas, when I was 11, that the songs started burning into my memory.  My AM radio, with a tiny 3” speaker, was one of the most transformative gadgets of my life.  I wished I had a photo of it sitting in all the rooms I lived in during the years I owned it.  What a shame.  That’s another article to write:  what I wished I had photographed when growing up.

From the end of 1962 until through 1967 that AM radio programmed the musical foundation of my life.  I got the radio when I was living on Maine Avenue at Homestead Air Force Base.  I was in the 6th grade at Air Base Elementary.  I started 7th grade a Redlands Jr. High in September 1963,   We then moved back to our house in Hollywood, Florida probably late October, where I attended Broward Jr. High until just after JFK was killed, when we moved to New Ellington, South Carolina, for the rest of the 7th grade and part of the 8th at John F. Kennedy Jr. High.  Then back to Leisure City near Homestead, where I spent the 8th grade going to Homestead Junior High, and then we moved to Cutler Ridge, where I went to the 9th grade at Cutler Ridge Jr. High.  I graduated Jr. High in 1966, the summer they started advertising Star Trek.  By the time the show premiered we had moved to Charleston, Mississippi for the first half of the 10th grade at East Tallahatchie High School, and then in March of 1967 we moved to Coconut Grove, Florida where I finished the 10th grade at Coral Gables High School and started the 11th.  This is was 1967 and 1968.  It was around the end of 1967 that my white AM radio died.  In 1968 I bought a small console stereo with AM/FM radio, and that began my FM years I’ll write about in the future.

Through the magic of Rdio I’ve been assembling playlists for the songs that are etched in my synapses, making groovy grooves in my gray matter.  I played my radio whenever I wasn’t in school, and I even slept with the radio playing.  Is it any wonder that I imprinted on those songs.  I can even remember the radio stations I listened to when we lived in South Florida, WQAM and WFUN.

If you wish to listen to these songs, sign up for the free membership to Rdio and play these playlists.  You can view the lists without joining, but it doesn’t take much effort to set up a free account.

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Would I have been a different person if I had played different music for those five years?  What if I had gotten into jazz or classical music?  Would different music made a different Jim Harris?  Wouldn’t it be a fascinating experiment if we could raise ourselves over and over again, traveling back in time to our birthday to be born in a different country and culture.  Then compare how much of our personality stays the same and how much is differs?  If I had been born in China and immigrated to the US in the 1990s, would I eventually discover that I loved these songs on these 6 playlists?

I don’t think I’d love the music same way if I did.  There’s something about absorbing the pop culture around you when you go through puberty – that stuff sticks to you for the rest of your life.  1962-1967 seems very clear in my memories, while the rest of my life is a blur.

To illustrate how precise my memories are from this time, is how attuned I am to the sound of the original recordings.  When building my playlists I could tell almost immediately when a song was the original, or if it was a recreation, or even if it had been re-mastered tune.  I don’t mind some sonic improvements but I hate major changes.  Remember, I first heard this music in mono.  I usually don’t mind the stereo versions, but the re-mastering that messes with the sound levels, even when it makes the instruments stand out clearer, bothers me.  And I just hate when artists re-record their hits.  I know it’s because they lost the rights to the originals, but I want to hear what I heard over my white AM radio from late 1962 to late 1967.

The soundtrack for the film Pirate Radio re-mastered many classics, compressing the sound to modernize the feel of the songs because modern songs are much louder than oldies.  I can handle this to a degree, but it makes me want a 60s AM filter to change the sound back.  It’s not quite the same, but it’s somewhat like colorizing old black and white movies.

A lot of songs are missing from these playlists – songs I’ve forgotten, songs that everyone has forgotten and gone out of print, songs out of copyright, songs from The Beatles and other butthead artists that refuse to let their music play from streaming music services.  And there’s another group of missing songs, those I learned later to love, like folk music and jazz from that era that I didn’t learn about until after I switched to FM and LPs.

Also, there’s the problem that Rdio just doesn’t have all the songs it could.  For example, “Half Heaven, Half Heartache” by Gene Pitney is available from Rhapsody but not Rdio.  This is why I pay $9.99 a month to two streaming music services.

Finally, there’s the problem of my memory.  Even with national playlists I can’t remember all the songs I used to love because many songs were local or regional hits.  For example, in Miami back in 1963, my sister and I loved a song called “The Lone Teen Ranger” that I never heard again for decades.  I later I learned on the Internet this was Paul Simon singing as Jerry Landis.  But there are so many songs like this that I haven’t heard for decades that are still lost in the darks corners of my mind.

There’s a wonderful internet radio called Playa Cofi Jukebox that lets you play songs by years 1950-1989.  Nothing is required to play the music, and if you pick a year, you’ll get a link to the weekly record charts – for example here’s December 22, 1962, around the time I got my radio.  By the way, this goes to show you a flaw in my playlists.  Songs on 1963 have songs that first appeared in 1962.  If I was anal I’d remake the lists by absolute release dates.

cashbox-chart

The other night on the Grammys Maroon 5 and Foster the People sang two Beach Boys songs as a 50 Year Tribute.  Are songs from my youth still turning on young people after all these years?  I have no idea what these songs sound like without the nostalgia speakers I always hear them through.  Do they sound funny and quaint, or could they actually appeal to an eleven year old in 2012?

JWH – 2/20/12 (50th Anniversary of John Glenn’s flight into space)

The Beatles 09-09-09

Hardcore Beatles fans are waiting for the the ninth day, of the ninth month, of the ninth year, of this new millennium for the remastered Beatles catalog to be released.  It’s been 22 years since the last reissue of the Beatles, when their LPs first came out on CD, when many audiophiles claimed those productions were botched. 

Could this be the stimulus package that the music industry needs to get people to buy CDs again?  My wife and I have been buying Beatles CDs again for the last year, getting them all except A Hard Day’s Night, so now we have to decide if we want to go and buy them yet again.  Of course we both bought all the LPs in our separate teenage lives in the 1960s.  And if we want, we can even buy the remastered CDs again immediately because they are also releasing a special second box set in mono.

Will modern kids who live and die by the iPod be anxious to buy sonically superior versions of the Beatles’ songs?  Especially considering that their collections are probably stolen now?  I can’t Help! but believe that EMI is expecting us Baby Boomers to pay the tab.  And will we?  Susan and I have opted not to get the box set immediately, but I plan to at least get A Hard Day’s Night.  I want to see just how good these remastered songs sound.

The real question is:  How many people still listen to CDs on a stereo system?  I do, and a few of my old fogey friends, but I think the number is dwindling.  I was one of the gullible who bought into the SACD (Super Audio CD) technology when it came out, just about the time the rest of the world was turning to MP3 music.  To really appreciate the quality of the new CDs, they need to be heard on a good stereo, or at least a good car CD player.

I know who will buy these new Beatles CDs, the same 3,000 folks Susan and I saw when we went to see Rain, A Tribute to the Beatles last June, a Beatles cover band.  The hall was full of Baby Boomers and their kids and grand kids, all seeking the perfect illusion of being at a Beatles concert, and damn if Rain didn’t bring a deep kind of nostalgic catharsis.  I recently saw Rain on PBS, and the illusion doesn’t work with TV.  I always thought it was a joke that people loved Elvis imitators, but now I know different.

In the 09/03/09 Rolling Stone magazine, they get Paul’s response to one of the recording engineers talking about the new digital production, “McCartney judges the reissues by an even higher standard, ‘It sounds like it did in the room when you recorded it.’”  The magazine even says the recording engineers on the project claim, “the digital version is indistinguishable from the masters.”  These new discs will be the closest we can get to time traveling back to the 1960s. 

However, they also quote Paul as saying, “I can listen to a record on the radio on the beach and it sounds OK to me.”  He goes on to explain that he and John were never audiophiles, and they originally recorded most of the songs in mono and let technicians make the stereo mixes.  But at the end of the piece they quote Paul again,

Now I hear John and think,’There he is,’ he says, Like, you can almost close your eyes and you can kind of see him, because the quality is so real.  So I like that about it.

Fans who don’t buy the remastered CDs won’t get that close if they listen to these new songs as MP3 downloads, but the quality still might be noticeably better.  I’m anxious for the Beatles’ catalog to appear on streaming music services like Lala and Rhapsody, so I can add their songs to my playlists.

I’ve been listening to my ripped Beatles albums at work and while I write on my blog this last couple of weeks trying to decide which of the remastered albums I will buy first.  Here are their albums in the order of their original British release.

  • Please Please Me
  • With the Beatles
  • A Hard Day’s Night
  • Beatles for Sale
  • Help!
  • Rubber Soul
  • Revolver
  • Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  • Magical Mystery Tour
  • The Beatles (The White Album)
  • Abbey Road
  • Let It Be
  • Past Masters
  • Yellow Submarine

Strangely, I’ve learned that my taste in Beatles’ songs have changed over the years.  I used to think the later albums were their masterpieces, because of their studio sophistication and the kids had grown into mature artists, but now I’m wondering if The Fab Four were more creative when they were younger, and their songs were silly love songs.  My current favorite Beatles song is “I’m a Loser” from Beatles for Sale.  However, I can click anywhere in my 253 Beatles’ song collection and find tremendous creativity.  My friend Janis interrupted this writing with a phone call, and we chatted for a long time about the Beatles and I played the beginning of dozens of songs for her.  She could hear the beginning of the music, remember the words, and start singing the songs, which made me envious of her talent, because I can never remember words to any song but “Happy, Birthday,” and I sometimes stumble on its lines.  Susan also has perfect memory of words and melody.  I’m so jealous.

The Beatles are considered the musical giants of 1960s music, but there are so many songs from the 1960s that I love much more than any particular song the Beatles created, like “Downtown,” “Stop in the Name of Love,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Eve of Destruction,” and so on.  Their collective catalog overwhelms, but they were mostly competing with one-hit wonders.  Look at their competition: 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969.

I wish some record company would remaster the hits of 1960s on month-by-month CD collections, with each set capturing the top 100 songs for that month.  Wouldn’t it be great to buy February 1964 and hear The Beatles invade the American music charts again, and hear their songs in context to their competition and inspiration.

Recently I finished listening to The Beatles by Bob Spitz, unfortunately an abridged audio book of a great Beatles biography, that has rekindled my Beatles-mania.  I plan to read the full version of the book someday and try to list and listen to all the songs mentioned that inspired the Beatles.  They loved the popular music of the 1950s, and they even named their band after Buddy Holly’s, The Crickets.  Bob Spitz must have interviewed hundreds of people for the biography, and I was most taken with the musical influences that create The Beatles.  An idea of what I’m talking about can be found on John Lennon’s Juke Box.

Another way to discover The Beatles is through The Beatles Anthology, an 8 part documentary from 1995.  Once you start learning about their history it becomes addictive.  I have no idea if young people have much of an idea of who the Beatles were.  An old joke twenty years ago was about a young women asking an older man, “Did you know Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings?”

With the release of The Beatles Rockband game and the remastered catalog of albums, will there be a new wave of Beatle-mania this September.  I hope so.  Ask yourself and your friends, “What are your favorite Beatles songs?”  I was surprised with what my friend Janis answered.  She remembered songs that I never think of, but when I listened to them, I thought, wow, I need to concentrate on these tunes for awhile.  It’s so easy to forget.

Maybe people don’t listen to CDs anymore, but they still listen to songs, so lets hope these reissues get the world to go nuts over the Beatles again.

JWH – 8/31/9