A Beatles box-set
To say I was trembling in excitement upon the rerelease of The Beatles‘ entire catalogue of albums would be exaggerating things. But there was an undeniable sense of fun in waking up, getting out of bed, drawing a comb across my head and heading off into town on Wednesday morning with the sole, specific aim of buying one of those 13 records. There was a real sense of anticipation at the thought of eventually having that chosen CD within my grasp (I decided to limit myself to just one at first, in order that I can continue to periodically satisfy my urges for retail therapy long into the coming winter months), before getting it home, sticking it on the front room stereo, and laying out on the carpet to listen to it on some proper speakers with no distractions.
I wanted to relive the kind of old-fashioned record-buying experience that was once part and parcel of being a music fan, but which is all too unfamiliar for us modern music lovers. I decided to make this effort because the CD I would be buying wouldn’t be just any old thing; it would be a Beatles album, one of those veritable treasure troves of pop, newly remastered and re-packaged and smelling, well, not as fresh as a daisy, but as fresh as a mixture of card, paper and plastic possibly can when newly released from its polythene wrapping. Having never owned my own copy of a Beatles album before, I wanted to wring every last degree of satisfaction out the experience of finally putting that right.
Once instore, there they all were – which one to go for?
At first, I considered Revolver, if for no other reason than simply the curiosity of hearing whether a remastered ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ could possibly sound any more vibrant than the previous version, this being a song that still picks me up by my lapels and pushes me and my scrabbling limbs against a brick wall every time I hear it. (For years, whenever I heard in a club I had assumed it must be a Chemical Brothers remix of some old Beatles song, rather than something the Fab Four recorded themselves as far back ago as – can it really be true? – 1966. Listening to that track is like seeing a black-and-white yet oh-so-NOW Marlon Brando teaching the world how to act while sitting on that swing and playing with that glove in On The Waterfront; it simply doesn’t belong of it’s time.)
I also thought about buying Sergeant Pepper’s… , in order to do the obvious: sit down and look at all those little faces more familiar to history textbooks than albums covers while listening to that other great Beatles finale piece, ‘A Day In The Life’, just as so many kids did back in the day.
But, in the event, I went for the White Album. Walking home, running my fingers over the embossed text on the spotless front cover and nearly bumping into a jogger while reading the lyric sheet, I was happy with my choice. And finally, while staring at the half-cut apple on the face of the second disc while listening to the best advert British Overseas Airways Corporation could ever have dreamed for on the first, I was happier still.
However, there was of course a certain amount of self-delusion involved in all of this.
After all, I had just spent money on a 40-year-old album that was already on my iPod (courtesy of having raided the CD collection of a friend’s 60-year-old father during her New Year’s Eve house party a few years ago). And, like almost every other remaster I’ve ever heard (the rare exception being The Stooges’ Raw Power) to my ears it was never likely to sound any different from its previous incarnation. And yes, dear reader, even though for once this was an album that wasn’t already available on iTunes, I could still have saved money and energy by ordering it online and waiting for the postman to bring it to me – or even by indulging in some dirty bedroom criminality by turning to file-sharing sites.
But this was not just a Beatles event: this was probably the last time we’ll ever see a major release issued in physical form alone, and given the paucity of choice of non-Beatles music available in most HMV stores these days – that being the last survivor of the major highstreet stores that originally made their names by selling music – where the shelves are instead full of DVDs, Blu-ray discs and Playstation games (including Beatles Rock Band) it might be the last time that many people ever buy a CD in a record shop, if at all.
The compact disc does not hold the romance of vinyl, but at least the CD, and its accompanying artwork and packaging, are tangible objects. I don’t want to sound like an old fart, but… (whoopee cushion at the ready?) I can still remember going into Our Price and buying my first ever CD at the age of seven – it was the soundtrack to Wayne’s World, I’m unafraid to reveal. Will a child of this century remember, or want to remember, the first time they ever downloaded an mp3? Probably not. Does it matter? Perhaps it doesn’t. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, ‘n’ all that. Although I still buy most music in the form of whole albums, and all of those albums I buy on CD rather than by downloading, even I tend to listen to them on Spotify first, to check out if they’re worth spending money on, and then order them on play.com to save money. But this time I thought it might be wise to spend an extra pound or two by shopping in the high street – it probably won’t be long until I no longer have that option.
Some might say that wanting to own an album and its artwork in physical form rather than simply feeling pleasure at listening to music regardless of any other concerns is just another aspect of the conspiracy of consumerism, but then I wonder what Peter Saville – designer not only of those alluring Joy Division and New Order record covers but also the infamous sandpaper sleeve for The Return of the Durutti Column that would damage the albums stored alongside it – would have to say about that.
In any case, it’s fitting that the last great hurrah of the traditional physical release should be provided by The Beatles, given that they did as much as anyone to make the LP a force to be reckoned with as a work of art, even if it is only a matter of months before their work is uploaded for some digital pick ‘n’ mixing too. … Continue Reading