What of the Beatles?

Jazz, pop, and circumstance
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  September 2, 2009


Spouting off during downtime in an interview with jazz drummer/composer Steve Grover, I once put forward my ill-researched idea that the third song is almost universally the best song on a great album.

"So 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' is the best song on Sgt. Pepper's?" he fired back, in a heartbeat.

Which is why it wasn't much of a surprise to find that Grover, also a music professor at UMaine-Augusta, is putting on a jazz interpretation of the Beatles' music with his Quintet on September 8 at One Longfellow Square, just a day before the official release of the remastered versions of the entire Beatles back catalog. All this Beatles talk has got to be inspiring.

And I'm less than shocked that Spencer Albee is, with his School Spirit Mafia, performing the entirety of 1967's Magical Mystery Tour at the Asylum on September 12, in addition to helping the Portland Music Foundation out with its "Dissecting the Beatles" seminar at the Port City Music Hall September 9.

But why do any of us care so much for a band that broke up 40 years ago after just seven years of superstardom?

"The reason why the Beatles still matter is that they were good at what they did," says Grover, distilling the truth to its essence. "I just went for a walk and listened to Rubber Soul and Revolver. . . and I was hearing things I hadn't really heard before, and I've listened to them a million times."

They moved so many pieces of the record-making business forward. Think about the cover of Sgt. Pepper's: It was, like much of the record, simply vastly more than anyone else had done. You even got this cardboard cut-out thing so you, too, could have a mustache and stripes on your sleeve.

Nowadays, I don't even bother to open the digital booklet that comes with some of the albums I download from iTunes.

But we had to go there to get here. People couldn't exactly surf YouTube videos of their favorite bands back then, so they needed other items to remember them by.

Clearly, the Beatles were great at making themselves memorable — even omnipresent. They broke up before I was alive, I'm fairly certain my parents never had any of their records in our house growing up, and yet I found myself in college knowing every word to at least five of their albums.

But does that legacy continue? There's a story going around local-music haunts (growing into myth at this point) that producer Jonathan Wyman discovered Sparks the Rescue, a band with 2.3 million songs played on MySpace, had never even heard Sgt. Pepper's. That was the inspiration for the PMF panel.

It's ironic that the same era of the songwriting band that the Beatles introduced may eventually contribute to their recession into the annals of history and songwriters and bands focus ever more on the future and ever less on the past and current. Pop music, once entranced with the American Songbook, once the bastion of two separate entities — songwriters and performers — has become a place where you must play your own material or be labeled a cover band and be relegated to the dust bins (excepting that odd phenomenon that is modern-day the "Pop"/"Top 40"-single-laden album, usually as performed by an American Idol finalist).

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Related: So good, The digital delight of Space versus Speed, The Toughcats at One Longfellow Square, February 3, More more >
  Topics: CD Reviews , Entertainment, Music, Steve Grover Quintet,  More more >
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