We’ve all seen them – the Beatles re-releases on CD, iTunes and the Rock Band video game. Don’t think that this is nostalgia. It’s something else, a bigger phenomenon of re-fashioning and re-making pre-existing material for new audiences to make even more money from what’s already been sold. This concept can prove to be, in some ways anti-creative if we’re not careful.
Artistically, the Beatles have inspired many of the great rock bands (and not just artists in the music industry but all sorts of endeavours in business, art, charity, technology and science) and those that have been inspired have gone onto inspire others.
The continued presence of the Beatles is a good thing; it does the same job as they did in the early sixties – everyone else has to rise their game. Otherwise we’d all have no choice but to be still listening to things like Shirley Temple and Frank Ifield.
It’s like how Apple’s iPhone has raised the game in the realm of hand held communication devices. Every phone company now has their own ‘iPhone beater’ smartphone. Their previous tacky, simplistic and overpriced standard phones are just not good enough. Apple, like the Beatles, proved and continue to prove that it can and should be done well.
But there’s a danger. It doesn’t lie with the likes of artists and scientists, most of which continue to push boundaries and create new content. The danger of the nostalgia and re-release industry is that the audience gets soft. They get comfortable with the familiar and don’t try or value new things.
This is why Hollywood constantly makes (inferior) remakes of classic movies. This is why West End and Broadway musicals are re-hashes of old ones, old movies or successful old back-catalogues. This is why people will go and see a performance of a Shakespeare or Pinter play but not a daring new work by a new playwright.
This is why the music industry in is disarray. The biggest selling act of the 90s was the Beatles. The biggest selling album of the 2000s was: you guessed it, the Beatles. The money just keeps coming in. There’s no real need to search for and develop new talent. When Elton John’s contract came up for renewal, all the record labels clamoured to get him to sign with them; he’s a safe bet. Few are prepared to take a chance like George Martin did with the rough, unknown, unproven Beatles in 1962.
Today there is still a healthy gig-going culture with some great bands. In fact, live music is a bigger industry than it’s ever been. But so many of these never each their full potential because they don’t get the wider backing.
The Kinks were a great live band in the early 60s. They played exclusively covers of hits of the day. People booked them and people went to see them because they were a great band. In 1964 when Ray Davies wrote the hit You Really Got Me they embarked on a recording career. Their first three or four albums are pretty mediocre (with the exception of the included singles). But they were allowed to develop and improve and what followed was exceptional. They became one of the defining acts of the era. That’s unlikely to happen now.
It’s the same in publishing. Massive advance payments and marketing budgets are available for the same old thing or the ghost written celebrity memoirs while the new author with the ground breaking novel is either not published or just left to their own devices and baring some miracle, goes unnoticed.
Until very recently Disney was going to do a re-make of the Beatles 1968 animated feature Yellow Submarine. They were going to use the same storyline, the same songs – but make it in 3D, thereby losing the unique charm of the original. Why bother? Why do it when the original is so good? Why not re-paint the Mona Lisa or re-build Stone Henge while you’re at?
Why redo things? Why not do something new? The Beatles never re-trod old ground. In most cases they didn’t even put the singles on their albums as they thought it would be a rip-off for the fans who’d already bought them.
They never did anything the same twice, there was was always a progression, always something different and they moved on fast. So too did everyone else around them.
We should all be more like that. Try new things. Create new and different approaches. Experiment and move forwards, not back. Re-invent ourselves. Take what has gone before an build upon it, improve it where possible and keep going. Yes, there may be a few mistakes along the way, the odd Magical Mystery Tour TV special or Get Back sessions. The occasional Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. But those slight low points of errors in judgement also allow for the great highs of the successes like Something or Hey Jude.
We need to take risks with our creativity, as both creator… and appreciator.
This is an extract from my forthcoming book, Creativity and the Beatles.
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