On Nov. 16, Apple finally announced what many had been anticipating for a long time: the Beatles had arrived at the iTunes music store. This was apparently big news. It spawned commercials and news articles that all seemed to lead to the same reaction: Who actually cares? The Beatles have been around since the ’60s. Why does it matter that a single band is added to the otherwise bottomless pit of music that is the iTunes store in a world with so many other avenues for acquiring music?
Well, it does matter. In fact, it matters a lot. Any expansive music collection without the Beatles is incomplete, a farce. It’s akin to the Louvre minus the Mona Lisa — a travesty of art. The Beatles are among the best-known bands in history; this is almost indisputable. But, unlike the other well known bands in history (and any other band for that matter), they are almost universally liked, or at least tolerated. Think about it: The biggest piece of criticism directed at the Beatles is that they are “overrated,” which is itself a testament to their success. For a decade, the Beatles ruled the airwaves, and their reign has still not completely diminished.
While most bands fade as time goes by, the Beatles seem to survive on an entirely different plane. As the years go by, the music gets deeper, more meaningful and more evocative of the times. The songs weren’t made to stay put in the ’60s — they transcend decades and eras. “Revolution” may have been a Vietnam War protest song at one point, but it still applies for the wars of today and will likely continue to be relevant unless its lyrics come to fruition. “Yesterday” is an instrument for melancholy on the same scale as family photo albums. Each year brings a new meaning to the song, a different yesterday to miss and daydream about. The Beatles age like fine scotch and accumulate respect like bank interest. Citing the Beatles as an influence is a cop-out now. It’s understood that they changed music entirely.
Perhaps the greatest thing about the Fab Four is their range, both emotionally and musically. The early Beatles (of the “She Loves You” era) are happy and optimistic. The songs are undaunted by the complications of love, but maintain that innocent, youthful enthusiasm that catches many the unwary listener in their snares. As they progressed, so did their variety. “A Day in the Life” does a little bit of everything — at times it’s eerie and haunting, and the buildups provide tension like a runaway train. However, when Paul sings, it feels like everything’s going to be just fine. The chorus of “Hey Jude” can double as an anthem to sing at the top of your lungs, the verses of “Let It Be” can substitute as a eulogy. Find an important, defining moment in life — there’s a Beatles song for it. Paul put the idea of love at first sight into words, and John captured nostalgia in a song. There’s a reason that no band has had more number one albums in the United Kingdom or sold more albums in the United States than the Beatles. They are always applicable.
Nobody claimed that their earliest music was technically masterful (in fact, the drums of “She Loves You” are close to novice and the bass is lifted directly from a Chuck Berry song), but that was never the point until the later years. They had quality music, so they didn’t need to show off with complex pieces. It’s amazingly fortunate that a single band could be composed of four veritable musical geniuses. John, Paul and George were inducted again as solo artists into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after being included as a band in 1988 (sorry Ringo, surely you’ll get your just desserts eventually). Each filled a role vital to the band with a different musical personality, culminating in one of the greatest bands, if not the greatest, of all time.
The Beatles didn’t just alter our culture, in a way they were the culture. They were the British Invasion with “moptop” haircuts. They were Beatlemania. They were the Yellow Submarine, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and the Magical Mystery Tour. Even now, they perpetuate current art (like Cirque De Soleil’s “Love” or “Across the Universe”). So yes, the iTunes addition is a big deal, and not for the added profits Apple will reap. It’s a big deal simply because it’s the Beatles. There could be no greater reason than that.