So I was browsing some back issues the other day, and I chanced across this review from the June '78 issue of The Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review.
I'm not sure whether I think it holds up or not -- and for that matter, I'm not even sure I agree with it at this point -- but the subject matter seemed relevant. I've changed a word or two and some punctuation that I found irksome, but mostly it's the piece exactly as it ran.
I have before me two remarkable recorded artifacts, originally conceived for media other than the LP, that suggest Lester Bangs was right on the money when he observed in these pages..."it's time to let go of the Beatles once and for all."
Some of us aging Sixties types have stubbornly resisted that suggestion even against our own better judgement, but it's time to face it squarely. Fact is, most of the musical and technological grammar the Beatles created has been appropriated whole by those who have achieved mass-market success in the Seventies, from Barry Manilow to Fleetwood Mac. As a result, if anybody is to blame for the Mush Rock that dominates today's airwaves, it's our erstwhile heroes. And while that's hardly their fault, it does, or should, force a reassessment of sorts. What's particularly curious about these two new albums -- the original-cast recording of the Broadway hit Beatlemania and the souvenir of Eric Idle and Neil Innes' March NBC-TV "Rutles" special All You Need is Cash -- is that they vindicate Bangs in totally different ways.
What Beatlemania proves, depressingly enough, is that there are people who are so desperate for what the Fab Four symbolized that they have lost touch with the realities of contemporary life. Either that or there are still suckers being born every minute, people who will pay outrageous ticket prices to see a Broadway show that reduces their most cherished memories to the level of a a drag queen doing Judy Garland impressions. Clearly, those who have made the show the box office hit it is feel the myth of the Beatles hasn't dated, but that's ostrich-ism of the first order. Their music hasn't, perhaps, but the attitudes and styles that surrounded its creation have, and it is an imitation of those attitudes and styles that, at heart, the show is selling, a kind of reassuring retreat into the great rock-and-roll womb that is my generation's equivalent of an earlier generation's nostalgic passion for Busby Berkeley films. In short, it hardly matters whether some of the performances in Beatlemania have an eerie K-Tel authenticity about them (most of them don't, actually); real Beatles music survives only in its original context, and that, as we stand here on the shore of the Eighties, is long gone.
"The Rutles" demolishes the memory of the Fab Four in a more civilized, more affectionate, more fun-filled way, but with just as devastating a thoroughness. What Idle and Innes have created is no less than a warped retelling of the band's entire history, most of the details intact but just enough askew to make you view the whole as slightly less than the sacred high drama we all know it was. The fourteen songs do the job by combining every half-remembered riff, lyric fragment, and banal tune in the Lennon-McCartney catalog into brand new songs that still sound like the genuine article; you can predict every lick, every piece of instrumentation, every studio trick a good verse before it happens. Everything we loved about the Beatles we loved is leveled -- except their humor; I don't think it was an accident that George Harrison himself was involved in the project. While those who have lapped the Broadway ersatz will undoubtedly be offended, for the ex-Beatles themselves and the rest of us in the real world "The Rutles" is liberating as only the most reverential irreverence can be. And of of course it's no more a putdown of the Beatles than this review is, so save your stamps. -- Steve Simels
BEATLEMANIA ARISTA AL 8501 two discs $11.98
THE RUTLES WARNER BROS. HS 3151 $8.98
Like I said, I'm not sure I particularly even agree with it anymore. I mean, the point about the Beatles being responsible for most of the crap that was then polluting Top 20 radio is at least arguable, but it's also a little unfair and self-righteous. Of course, I wrote the piece in a momentary mood of punk-inspired anti-Beatles icon smashing, and unfair and self-righteous was sort of the game that was being played in 1978.