without the beatles...

one of my favourite alan partridge moments is where he solemnly declares that wings were 'the band the beatles could have been'. we're meant to laugh at alan for getting it hopelessly wrong - opting for paul and linda's cosy platitudes over the beatles' experimentation and lennon's edginess.

of course it was actually paul who chose stockhausen as one of the characters to adorn the sleeve of sgt pepper, while lennon's experimental phase was inspired either by psychedelic drugs or more crucially, yoko. lennon was essentially a rock and roller with the occasional pretension to something else more significant. if you ask me.

which of course, you didn't.

the beatles were on the radio a lot when i was a kid. 'penny lane' was one of those records that i remember hearing that alerted me to the possibility that music was a good thing - that it could for a few minutes, take you somewhere else. i must have been five or so when it came out. but the beatles were never to be part of my musical education. as i grew up to be a music obsessed nerd it was clear that popular music would not have been the same without them, but to this day i don't think i've ever heard all of 'revolver' or the white album. and i don't really feel the need to.

this is possibly due to snobbery. and it's true that many of those things i do love (todd rundgren, for instance) would not have been what they were if it wasn't for those loveable lads from liverpool. but i think partly it was a sense that i wanted to discover things for myself. the beatles were universally accepted as brilliant. their greatness was a fact, as much as these things can be, in the same way that bach, mozart or beethoven were great. they were up there with the mona lisa, van gogh's sunflowers, the sistine chapel or macbeth. unassailably great, important, and impossible to have an unmediated relationship with. i felt that i wanted an intimate relationship with the music i listened to - this didn't seem possible with a group whose every utterance had been pored over, analysed and dissected by everyone on the entire planet. much as i enjoyed dissecting music, i wanted to be able to do it for myself. so todd rundgren or spirit or brian eno or pere ubu or john cale seemed like better choices.

at the age of 15 or so, i bought a copy of the 1967-1970 compilation for my girlfriend julie. julie liked the beatles a lot. her friends were all into the undertones. when we split up so she could become a lesbian, i was awarded custody of the album. i would play it occasionally, mainly for penny lane, but the music felt like it was happening somewhere else, to someone else.

my lack of interest in the beatles puzzles some of my friends who possibly ascribe it to perverse snobbery, and it's always surprised me a little when i find that some of them have a deep knowledge and love of the moptops. though just this morning i discovered that one of my colleagues shares my feelings - he acknowledges that without them, a lot of the things he loves wouldn't exist, but he essentially he doesn't have any interest in them.

today i listened to that blue compilation again. and felt the same things; i knew every note, every funny noise, everything. and yet with a very few exceptions (all by paul, natch) i felt unmoved or unengaged by any of it. i think i might genuinely agree with alan partridge, and not for comedic effect. it's probably a consequence of a weird set of personal circumstance, but 'listen to what the man said'. 'silly love songs' or even 'let 'em in' mean more to me than the entire beatles catalogue put together. with the exception of 'penny lane', of course.

lennon, meanwhile, remained a massive fucking irritant to me, and not in a good way. if i never hear 'imagine' again it will be too soon, or read some fawning mojo, Q or uncut feature on his lost weekend or whatever. still, two things lennon related stand out for me - one was hearing my daughter sing 'merry christmas war is over' at a christmas concert (she was 6 or 7). and i cried buckets, because for once it seemed to actually mean something.

and then there's this, which still gives me the shivers. don't ask me why. i wish it didn't.

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