Beatles music still sounds fresh after 40 years


   I wasn’t around for The Beatles’ original performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" 40 years ago, but I still feel nostalgic whenever they show that footage on the anniversary of their first televised performance in the United States. Even though it is in black and white, I feel as though the world transformed Wizard of Oz-like from monochrome to color on that day, when The Beatles became an official phenomenon.
   I wasn’t around, but my mom was, and I can vicariously remember Beatlemania through her. Mom liked Paul and Ringo. I liked George and John. After all, I went through my own version of Beatlemania 25 years later, when I discovered them as a teenager in the late 1980s — a time when modern music seemed fairly bereft of life, in a sea of hairspray, neon and plastic.
   Growing up in the decades after they broke up, people in my generation look back on those first images of the Fab Four on the Ed Sullivan stage and say, "They thought THAT was long hair?" Three or four years later, sure, you could say they had long hair. But those shimmering black bowl haircuts have never seemed terribly outrageous to us.
   I don’t think you even have to like The Beatles to appreciate the impact that they had on music, pop culture and fashion. They ushered in an era where bands wrote and performed their own music, and even sometimes hoped that it might make a difference in the world. They transformed the concept of the "album" as a collection of unrelated singles and filler, into a work of art in which every song is an integral part. And they experimented with sound in a way that no popular group before them had done, pushing four tracks of sound to their ultimate limit.
   We will never have another Beatles, however many times someone will be touted as the "next big thing." Even when Nirvana seemed to change the landscape of music and the very music industry in the early 1990s — putting the spotlight on independent record labels and bands that weren’t just about image — by the late 1990s the pop chanteuses and boy bands were back on the top of the charts.
   Today, all you hear about is how the recording industry is dying because of music piracy. I have a hard time believing that the vast majority of music lovers would rather have a copy of an album sitting in a file on their computer, than a concrete, physical copy that they can add to their collection. Perhaps the people downloading popular albums are finding out that there aren’t any good songs except the singles, and deciding not to waste their money.
   Maybe the recording industry should focus more on signing and producing bands that have something to offer, than suing 12-year-olds who just want to find out if an album is worth listening to. You might as well sue someone for listening to the radio.
   Ten years from now, will they even produce CDs anymore, or will all music be on-demand, download-only? Will there still be album art, or liner notes? I never even completely warmed up to CDs, because they’re too small. I still relish the feel of a 12-inch vinyl record, heavy in my hands. Tracing the grooves with my eyes, wondering how they transform into music. I love opening up a gatefold record sleeve with beautiful artwork inside and out, and flipping through the stacks of them that I have carefully alphabetized and arranged by year.
   And I’m not alone. They may tell you that vinyl is dead, but it’s not. Many new albums still come out on vinyl. Independent labels and artists, especially, still take the time to create beautiful works of art to house their music. And of course, there are always old records to paw through in thrift stores, garage sales and specialty stores.
   In the book "Ubik" by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, he envisioned a world in the not-too-distant future in which the protagonist has to pay his refrigerator every time he gets something out of it. He has to pay his front door to get out of his apartment. I don’t want that to be the future of music — paying every time we want to listen to a song. Never owning a compact disc or record.
   But even if this grim future comes into being, you will still be able to go to a used record store (I hope) and pick up The Beatles catalogue for a few bucks. Go ahead — try it! I bet you can still even get at copy of the "White Album" with the posters inside.