My friend Michael is a musicologist whose specialty is Johann Sebastian Bach. Author and lecturer, he addresses groups of scholars in many countries, for example on Bach’s Mass in B minor.
Michael doesn’t think much about the most popular music.
But last weekend he went to a dinner in Manhattan where the early Beatles were playing on the stereo. As Can’t Buy Me Love began, Michael nodded.
“It’s just,” he said with a smile, “so good.”
That same weekend in suburban Buffalo, New York, my friend Lauri overheard some school-age kids discussing the music they were discovering on TikTok: “Have you heard that one? , ‘I heard some news today, oh boy’? »
The Beatles live on. They transcend time, geography, demographics and personal taste.
That will be proven once again on Friday, another anniversary of John Lennon’s murder outside his home in the Dakota Apartments on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Forty-three years have passed, but that won’t deter the crowds that I’m sure will gather about a quarter mile away in Central Park.
Like every year, on the occasion of Lennon’s birthday in October and the anniversary of his death, hundreds of singers and dozens of musicians will tour the Imagine mosaic. They’ll run through almost the entire Beatles catalog, from obscure tracks like Hey, Bulldog to the smooth second side of Abbey Road.
If you stand on a park bench and look west, you can see the creepy Dakota in the moonlight, while the songs unfold. Hour after hour, until late at night, the faithful – tourists, professional musicians or regular New Yorkers – maintain their strange vigil.
And what never ceases to move me is their total familiarity with the music. Whether the song is Love Me Do, Come Together or Revolution, everyone – young, old, American or from a dozen other countries – will know every word and every quirk. If there’s a harmony part (and isn’t there always?), someone will try it.
This year, so soon after the announced release of Now and Then, billed as the Beatles’ final song, I found myself wondering again why the magic of the Beatles never goes away.
I explored the question with Geoff Edgers, an arts journalist at the Washington Post who is writing Double Fantasy, a graphic novel about John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s final days together. Edgers also wrote a children’s book about the Beatles, Who Were the Beatles?
“They represented the perfect fusion of musical excellence and commercial success,” Edgers told me. The exceptional quality is consistent, “with maybe only three songs that aren’t good.”
Additionally, their musical heritage remains intact. They broke up, never reunited, and as a group never released mediocre or bad albums.
However, it is difficult to pin down. Is it because they were together for such a short time, a brilliant burst of music, fame and growth in the 1960s and a final breakup in the 1970s? Is it the songs themselves, engraved in our memories and our life experiences? Is it the sadness of having lost half of the fabulous four too soon – Lennon in 1980 at age 40; George Harrison in 2001 at age 58?
As Edgers noted, artists who die before their time, from Buddy Holly to Janis Joplin to Amy Winehouse, are defined differently. Something mystical attaches to their heritage.
“The Beatles,” Edgers said, “are like a snapshot of a particular period that never fades.” Additionally, thanks to Paul McCartney’s expertise, “the Beatles brand was incredibly well protected.”
Of course, they’re not the only ones experiencing the longevity of their music’s appeal. Bob Dylan, at 82, has just completed another major tour. The Rolling Stones, formed in 1962, released another album a few weeks ago and will tour behind it.
I love Dylan and the Stones, and my taste in pop music ranges from Chris Stapleton to the Pogues to SZA. But somehow, for me, the Beatles are untouchable. On a higher level.
About a week ago, I heard a song that I wouldn’t even put in my Beatles Top 20: A Hard Day’s Night.
As I listened, I found myself marveling at that opening chord for the ages, at Lennon’s spiky vocals on the verses, at McCartney’s creamy vocals on the bridge, at Ringo’s addition of a muted bell , by the watermark of George Harrison’s 12-string Rickenbacker. guitar.
Nearly six decades after its release, A Hard Day’s Night seems even more exuberant, more joyous – more perfect – than ever.
So I guess I’ll go to Central Park on Friday and pay my respects. It’s me who will sing.