All Together Now
Growing up in a suburb of Columbus, it was necessary to take culture wherever it was available. We had a bookstore for most of the 80’s, until it closed and a pet store took its place. It wasn’t big, but I found a couple of notable things there. One was a book called All Together Now. (Another was Robert Christgau’s Consumer Guide book from the 70’s, but that’s for another time.)
All Together Now was a Beatles discography book going up through 1975. Dry stuff, but there were fascinating bits within all the data. At the time I found this book, it wasn’t easy to learn that one or more Beatles had a connection to songs with titles like “Death Cab for Cutie” (before it became a band name) or “Greenfield Morning I Pushed an Empty Baby Carriage All over the City.”
I happened to pull this book off the shelf again recently. Looking at it now, it seemed to tell a story about the Beatles, and about rock music in general, as vivid as most biographies. There were the early releases on obscure labels, the massive 1964 success and the numerous attempts at cashing in that came with it, and the short-lived avant-garde optimism of the Apple years. As well, the book made it plain that the ex-Beatles were not in a good place in 1975. Forgettable solo albums (anyone listened to Goodnight Vienna or Extra Texture lately?), appearances on equally forgettable albums by other artists – details are all there.
Shortly after I reread this book, the announcement arrived that there would be a new round of Beatles remasters. That prompted the thought that the rest of the Beatles’s release history also says some things about rock. The 1987 CDs are a souvenir of a time when rock was celebrating itself, to great financial success. The 90’s Anthology discs, meanwhile, show the celebration still continuing, but with more strain – packaging more elaborate, prices higher, hype more intense, contents more meager.
Some have been frustrated that there haven’t been remastered Beatles discs sooner, but I commend the band’s restraint. Many less notable catalogs have reappeared several times by now. And the mention of documentaries accompanying the discs reminds me how much the cycle of nostalgia has shortened since the 60’s, or even the 80’s – for a few years now, new CDs have been coming out with documentaries, as if they’ve already made the Rolling Stone all-time best list. (I watched one of those, for Phish’s Undermind, which mainly served to confirm what a bad place they had reached by then. Glad to see them doing better now.)
At least one person on an online forum has wondered if the new Beatles discs can save the faltering music industry. However, a more common view is that the true suspense about the Fab Four this year involves them partnering in a special edition of a video game, and possibly (although they haven’t come together on this yet) making their music available on I-Tunes. Back in 1964, the Beatles left a lot of older popular music back in the dust. In 2009, their main accomplishment may be upstaging themselves.