Today The Beatles and the company formerly known as Apple Computer Inc. struck a deal resulting in the release of the band's music on iTunes for the first time.
The band's entire output -- 12 studio albums with 193 tracks from the original catalog plus all the filler from Anthology and other compilations -- is remarkably brief by contemporary standards. Turns out Melanie Saftka of "Brand New King" fame has released 30 albums, if you can believe it.
So, really, how big a deal is it if 193 tracks get added to a list of millions of songs already in the iTunes library? It should be a thimble of water in the sea.
Yet we know it's not.
The Beatles catalog has been wildly influential over the past half-century. In fact, there are a lot of Beatles filler tracks and throw-aways that seem to foreshadow entire genres of current rock music.
Listen to these tracks and you can hear the sonic blueprint for some of the various "movements" and "scenes" we've been occupying ourselves with for the 40 years since John, Paul, George and Ringo strolled out of the studio and over the crosswalk.
Did The Beatles serve as the main influence on the bands that make this music? Probably not, but their music is so ubiquitous that it's safe to say it played a part in priming both artists and audiences for what was to come.
Oh, and as an added bonus this list is presented with some of YouTube's most awful homemade music videos! Hey, not everything influenced by the Beatles can be great.
Song: "When I'm Sixty-Four"
Genre: Twee Pop
Bands that wouldn't sound the same without it: Moldy Peaches, Talulah Gosh, Belle and Sebastian
Composition-wise, "When I'm Sixty-Four," is truly peculiar; is there any other well-known song in the history of popular music which uses a clarinet so prominently? The novel, classically-tinted, instrumentation is only a tiny part of its inherent tweeness, though. Just listen to those super schmaltzy lyrics about the simple joys growing old together - this song surely sounds like something Kimya Dawson wrote for the Juno soundtrack.
Song: "Rocky Raccoon
Bands that wouldn't sound the same without it: Drive-By Truckers, Band Of Horses, The entire roster of the Bloodshot Records label
The Beatles played with country and western sounds on a number of songs throughout their career -- going all the way back to "What Goes On" from Rubber Soul and their cover of "Act Naturally" on Help! -- but it's "Rocky Raccoon," that puts together a blueprint for the coming alt-country/Americana/Insurgent movement.
The song is a silly story of a cowboy from the Black Hills of South Dakota who finds God after getting a lead plug fired by his wife's new lover. Actually, Paul McCartney has said he was "basically spoofing the folksinger." It's a great song, though it's really not the sort of thing any British band had any business writing. That's sort of my point, though. The Beatles were doing their best impersonation of country and folk musicians of the time who were trying to reclaim the traditional music of rural America by writing their own stories about bloody incidents inside old west saloons. If four guys from Liverpool could try their hand at that, why not a North Carolina kid like Ryan Adams?
Song: "Helter Skelter"
Bands that wouldn't sound the same without it: The Stooges, Sonic Youth, Motley Crue
Like a lot of songs on this list, "Helter Skelter" was written as an answer to another popular band of the time. After Pete Townshend described "I Can See for Miles," as the loudest, rawest, dirtiest song his band has recorded McCartney tried to one-up him. Yes, the ultimate proto-punk record, the first Stooges album, was in the works at the time, but it's worth remembering that Iggy's debut tanked upon release. "Helter Skelter," on the other hand, gained a huge audience, getting people ready for the harder-edged punk and metal sounds of the decade to come.
Song: Yellow Submarine
Genre: Hipster Children's Music
Bands that wouldn't sound the same without it: Wee Hairy Beasties, They Might Be Giants (current kindie version) The Rockabye Baby! series,
Unlike the rest of this list "Yellow Submarine" was actually released as a single. Still, it certainly feels like a b-side that was pressed onto a 7-inch because the Beatles were big enough to do whatever they wanted, and what they wanted to do was to toss Ringo a bone.
This McCartney-penned track was actually quite successful as a single, too, prompting hand-wringing from conservatives who were touchy about John Lennon's then-recent "Bigger Than Jesus" remark and who suspected it just had to be a big dirty hippie drug reference. Nope. The song is a straightforward children's sing-along about a sailor which was just simple enough for The Least Talented Beatle to sing-talk and which went on to directly influence well-meaning indie-type parents who want their kids to grow up with impeccable taste.
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Song: Revolution 9
Genre: Art rock
Bands that wouldn't sound the same without it: Radiohead, Deerhoof, Lou Reed
The Beatles' songwriting started tilting toward the avant-garde with Revolver, which contained slightly off-center songs like the stellar "Tomorrow Never Knows." By their eponymous 1968 album the band had been selling so many records for so long that they could do pretty much whatever they wanted.
So John Lennon, presumably trying to impress his new gf Yoko (who actually has a writing credit on this track) tossed eight minutes of experimental noise onto side four of the White Album. Yes, it's a steaming pile of shit but it also opened minds, functioning as a gateway to art rock for generations of kids who started listening to early Beatles pop and soon found themselves trying to understand this disaster. At 8:22, it's also the longest track the band ever released -- more than four times the length of "Yesterday" (2:03) and about 1/1,000th as good.