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Miscellaneous - The Beatles

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 31 / 7 / 2008

Miscellaneous - The Beatles


In our 'Soundtrack of Our Lives' series, in which our writers describe the personal impact of music on them, Ben Howarth writes about the Beatles, who have provided a constant backdrop to his life

When I was asked if I wanted to write this month’s 'Soundtrack Of Our Lives' column, I barely blinked before accepting. While I hog the 'Condemned To Rock ‘n’ Roll' column all to myself, my ego is unrestrained and the chance to take up even more space in this month’s edition was too good to miss. But then I started to read the previous contributions to brush up (or ‘steal ideas’ as we writers call it), and realised that it might prove more difficult than I imagined. My fellow Pennyblackers had used this as a chance to write about some of the happiest or saddest parts of their lives, and I don’t think I really can. Music is the soundtrack to my life in the sense that I listen to it all the time, but I don’t really use it to remember certain events. I listened to Coldplay’s second album an awful lot during my first term at university, but I also listened to it last week. For me, music is a constant and while my tastes have changed quite a lot in the years I have written for Pennyblackmusic, that is mostly a coincidence. I listened to the Divine Comedy an awful lot when I worked in Parliament a few years ago, and to Fugazi’s 'The Argument' when I did telemarketing at Kitchen’s Direct. Maybe I got less angry as my employment status improved, but the shift away from hardcore punk may also have something to do with my being five years older. When do I listen to music ? When I am on public transport and when I am on my own in my house. Essential as music has proven in these two circumstances, it hasn’t been playing when I was doing more ‘important’ things. Music – alongside cricket – is the thing I am most interested in, but the primary appeal of both have been that they have not got anything at all to do with my normal life on a day to day basis. So what is the soundtrack of my life ? Easy - The Beatles. They are my favourite band, have always been my favourite band and I will bet anyone all the money in my pocket against all theirs that they always will be. I've not written much about them for this website, but what could I have really added. As well as being the best band ever, they inspired the best music books ever (Ian McDonald's 'Revolution In The Head' and Hunter Davies' excellent biography). The first Beatles song I knew was 'Yellow Submarine', but we learnt to sing it in primary school, and I wouldn’t have known it was a Lennon-McCartney composition. Even earlier than that, my dad swore by 'Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band' as the best way to get me to stop crying when I was a baby. Aged 8, I sang in a Church Choir (indeed, at age 18 I still did, and if I hadn’t moved away from home, I probably still would), and some people decided to perform the song 'Help!' during choir camp 1993. Still, I didn’t know it as a Beatles song, but obviously my parents did and they heard me humming it non-stop. I asked for a cassette player for Christmas that year, and sensibly my parents vetoed my request for the Mr Blobby single and bought me the Help! album instead. And so it began… By next Christmas I was listening to 'Abbey Road' and 'With the Beatles'. 'Sgt Pepper’s' soon followed. The six discs of the 'Beatles Anthology' series followed over 1995 and 1996, and though by this point I was avidly following Britpop, no band ever came close to being as good as the Beatles. Some people like to debate whether the Beatles were lucky, whether they were actually the best band in the world, whether they were really manufactured by a combination of Brian Epstein and George Martin. I don’t care that much – it is simply fact that the Beatles are better than every other pop band. They did everything, and they did it exceptionally well. Ballads, social commentary, knockabout, comedy, rock ‘n’ roll, teen pop, music hall, psychedelica – the Beatles mastered it and moved on, never letting their exceptionally high standards slip (give or take 'Baby You’re A Rich Man'!). Sure, some of their ideas were borrowed by other bands, but most of the time they were improved upon. On top of that, they had a fantastic story – from four years as a jobbing popular-ish local act without a sniff of a professional recording contract to the biggest selling performers of any kind in the entire planet is quite a remarkable rise. But while other bands – the Spice Girls, say – inspire nostalgia for their brief time at the top, the Beatles songs are just as popular. ‘Yesterday’ has been performed more times than any other song, for chrissakes! The ultimate question is whether one prefers 'Revolver' or 'Sgt Pepper’s'. I’m a 'Peppe'r man, perhaps a legacy of my infancy. There are some better songs on 'Revolver', but 'Pepper' hangs together so well, has such variety and has never ever bored me. I’m listening to it right now, in fact. The Beatles wrote the best songs ever, made the only good music film, told the best jokes, looked the coolest, had the most impact, had the best record sleeves, and they have – quite literally – been the soundtrack to my life.

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Miscellaneous - The Beatles

Miscellaneous - The Beatles

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