Christopherson Column: Holiday season countdowns
I had to be somewhat of a strange sight to the others fueling their vehicles at the gas station the other day. I cozied the pickup next to a pump and then just sat in the driver’s seat for a minute or two. Then, if anyone was in fact looking on in bewilderment, they would have seen a look of exasperation cascade across my face and my mouth in exaggerated fashion form the words, “WHAT!? No WAY!”
I was listening to The Beatles channel on SiriusXM Radio. The listener-chosen list of top 75 “early Beatles” songs from 1962-1966 was wrapping up, and the #1 song from that particular period was “In My Life.”
Excellent tune. But the best from that unparalleled run from the greatest band of all time? No.
I exited my vehicle, finally, and started filling the tank, still muttering to myself.
I could write 10 columns about The Beatles by noon. I wrote a Beatles-inspired column in 2009, a whopping 11 years ago, so obviously I’m overdue for another one.
There was never a band like them and there will never be another band like them.
From John and Paul’s earliest days in Liverpool (watch the Paul McCartney/James Corden “Car Seat Karaoke” and try not to weep), to Beatlemania, the intensity of which hastened the band’s demise, to staying power 50+ years strong despite not recording any new material over those five decades. Other bands like the Rolling Stones can claim the same longevity, but they’re still together, still touring and making new music.
And the stories behind the songs. The stories hidden in the songs. How, touching on just one, it’s suggested by some Beatles historians, after John Lennon got in so much hot water for saying in a 1966 interview, "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now,” McCartney came to Lennon’s defense in his lyrics to Eleanor Rigby, even though the two were already starting to clash professionally and drift apart. After the song’s title character is buried, “No one was saved,” McCartney’s lyrics note, which her church promised would happen. A swipe at Christianity? Yes, it’s said, but the words are also possibly in defense of his longtime friend, creative partner and bandmate.
It’s a must that The Beatles live on, and the 2019 film, “Yesterday” attempts to get new generations fired up about their music. Despite the film’s interesting premise – a struggling singer/songwriter realizes he lives in a world that for some sudden, unexplained reason The Beatles never existed, and he attains worldwide fame for claiming their songs as his own before finding his conscious and trying to come clean – it’s superficial. But that doesn’t make it any less mesmerizing to watch a largely anonymous, somewhat talented musician sing the opening lines of “Let it Be” and watch the jaws of everyone around him drop to the floor.
SiriusXM’s Beatles channel aired numerous top-75 song lists chosen by listeners over the recent holidays. In addition to the “early days” from 1962-66, there was a “later days” list from 1966-70, a “ballads” list, a top-75 Beatles “rock” song list, among others.
The experience of listening was often inspiring and sometimes infuriating, but perhaps the best case for The Beatles’ widespread impact and reach and continued adoration can be found in some of musicians who clamored to serve as DJ during the countdowns.
Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles fame (With such – gulp – high-quality like Manic Monday and Walk Like an Egyptian) gushed over her favorite early-Beatles tunes and offered several obscure backstory tidbits as she talked of singing along to the songs in her bedroom as a child. Hoffs, who is somehow days away from turning 62, was having the time of her life, and I developed a whole new respect for her.
Another DJ host was Rob Thomas, of 1990s emo band Matchbox 20. Sorry, Rob, your Beatles appreciation is appreciated in this space today, but you can’t live down Matchbox 20. Every song makes me nauseous.
The Beatles. Who’s better? The silence you hear is not Lambeau Field after Randy Moss torched the Packers defense in 1998, but music lovers trying to come up with an answer.