WHEN Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr appeared on stage together for a charity gig in New York the other day, it was the first time they had done so in seven years.
Some of the sell-out 6,000 crowd at the Radio City Music Hall had paid 1,350 to see the last surviving Beatles. Having patiently listened to the warm-up acts, including Sheryl Crowe and Donovan, the place erupted when they walked on stage and threw their arms around each other.
Together they played a couple of Beatles numbers including Lady Madonna and With a Little Help From My Friends. When McCartney then sat at the piano to sing Let It Be there weren't many dry eyes left in the house. The poignancy of the occasion was brought home when he said "John loved New York. A song for John," and began playing Here Today, the tribute he wrote after Lennon's death.
It was an unabashed night of nostalgia, but fans of the Fab Four have been given something else to look forward to with the news that each of The Beatles' original albums are being re-released on the same day.
Their entire back catalogue, featuring all 13 of the band's albums along with the Past Masters compilations, will hit record shops worldwide on September 9.
Engineers at the Abbey Road studios in London, where The Beatles recorded their songs under the watchful eye of George Martin, have spent the last four years painstakingly remastering the music from the original analogue tapes. Apple Corps and EMI said the result was "the highest fidelity the catalogue has seen since its original release", while at the same time maintaining "the authenticity and integrity" of the original recordings.
Each cd will come with the original album art, along with booklets including original and new sleeve notes and mini-documentaries on the making of each record. Fans will be able to buy albums individually, or as a special box set. It will, in other words, be an unfettered Beatles-fest. The band already holds the record for most number one albums – 15 – and the simultaneous release of 14 discs raises the possibility that they could occupy every spot in the album chart top 10. And you wouldn't bet against it happening.
While the likes of Queen, U2 and the Rolling Stones are feted as rock gods, The Beatles are in a musical stratosphere all of their own. But why, nearly 40 years after their acrimonious split, are they still so popular?
Barry Miles, Sir Paul McCartney's biographer, says you have to go back to the beginning. "They were essentially the first rock band. Before that you had the Shadows but The Beatles were the first of the British singer-songwriting bands and they just happened to be the best. They were the first band to play stadiums, to have merchandise, they were
ground-breaking in every way," he says.
"They did each song differently, they never followed the same format. The Rolling Stones, good as they are, in their early days used the same instrumentation, but The Beatles were different, they would use a string quartet or have Ringo playing a cardboard box."
They transformed rock 'n' roll and pop into what became rock music. "They had tremendous performing and songwriting talent, not only John and Paul, but George wrote some fantastic songs and the likelihood of having three gifted songwriters in the same band is very remote."
Miles says they took their fans with them on their musical journey. "They combined avant garde with pure pop, which they did on Sergeant Pepper, but they were very clever and their songs have stood the test of time because people are still digesting them today. Without The Beatles you wouldn't have had Oasis and Britpop. But if you go back to punk and heavy metal they were doing these before anyone had heard of them."
However, their legendary status has become about more than just the brilliant music they made. "They have become icons. Whenever you see a TV montage of the Sixties now it always shows The Beatles waving to the screaming crowds as they're stepping off a plane somewhere. It's gone beyond the music, they've entered our national consciousness, they're up there with the Queen, cricket and warm beer."
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