“The kids of AD 2000 will understand what it was all about and draw from the music much the same sense of well being and warmth as we do today,” Beatles publicist Derek Taylor wrote in 1964, in the liner notes to “Beatles For Sale.” “For the magic of the Beatles is timeless and ageless.”
There were times in the last four decades when some of the Beatles themselves disagreed with him. John Lennon sometimes disparaged the band and famously sang that, “I don’t believe in Beatles.” But Paul McCartney never stopped valuing the music of his former group, and he’s guarded its legacy carefully. He plays his Beatles hits live, looks at projects involving the band’s music and, most recently, helped the team of videogame designers that made “The Beatles: Rock Band” make the title as accurate as possible, down to the color of the walls in Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club.
The trailer for “The Beatles: Rock Band” features some of the tunes included plus a preview of gameplay.
McCartney spent the summer of 2009 playing a tour that was light on dates and heavy on crowds — he performed strings of shows at select stadiums, with time in between. “It’s summer, and we’re getting to do the thing we love best, which is play, and the thing we love second best, which is to have time off in the summer,” he said in an interview before his show in Tulsa, Okla. “That makes us very enthusiastic.” The crowds have felt the same, cheering loudly for a set that mixes new material, Wings hits and Beatles songs.
Those songs will find another life on Sept. 9, when Harmonix releases the Beatles “Rock Band” game and EMI puts out remastered versions of the band’s studio albums. Although the Beatles have not made their songs available digitally, their music sells well anyway, and the new releases are expected to give record stores a much-needed pre-holiday boost. All of this looking back has also given McCartney cause to reevaluate his old songs, which he says have never sounded better than they do on the reissues. “It sounds,” he says, “like we were in the room.”
It looks like you’re having the time of your life onstage. Do you still get the same charge out of performing that you used to?
It’s been feeling very good at the moment. We haven’t been out for a little while, so that’s always cool. Because we’re not flogging away on a great big tour –we’re picking and choosing certain dates, some of which are events like the opening of Citi Field — they’re special events. We’ve got plenty of time between them to hang, so we’re almost combining it with a holiday. And the band has playing great. Also, the audiences are super-fab. They’re going bananas. We haven’t been around too much, so they’re not fed up with us yet.You’re playing some of the Beatles songs as the remasters are about to come out. Does that bring back memories?
I always do songs I want to play and also songs the audience wants to hear. So there’s a positive spin on them, anyway. I think it’s interesting, when you have some time to consider things. I was talking to people at dinner the other night and they’d heard about the show or seen it and [we started talking about] things like the significance of the Beatles politically. So many people, in America particularly, come up to me and say, ‘You changed my life.’ This whole idea of the significance of the Beatles is incredible. Someone mentioned the Russian thing – the bringing down of the iron curtain. That was the whole ethos behind rock music, we just happened to symbolize it because we were possibly the most visible. It’s not often that that kind of a thing has such a global influence. We were lucky because we were at a time of global communications – TV and records and radio were stretching through borders. And the other day I was doing a bit of yoga and the yoga teacher said I have to thank you and the guys – I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for the Beatles. I feel that more as time goes on.
EMI is putting out new versions of the Beatles albums on Sept. 9. Did you pay a lot of attention to the remastering process?
We do the approving and the other guys do the real hard work. We needed a very good team to help with the anthology and Cirque du Soleil and now for ‘Rock Band.’ So they do the work and then Ringo and I go in and listen to the demos and we usually go, ‘Wow, this is amazing- that’s what it sounded like in the room.’ That’s what’s nice about it. It’s not smarter or more sophisticated – it’s just more real, it’s more true to the noise we were actually making. I can listen to those records and see John right there.
What about ‘Rock Band?’ Is it weird having your music out there for people to interact with?
I think it’s great. It’s just the modern world and you either embrace it or you don’t. I’m happy to embrace good new ideas – it keeps things exciting. If kids – or anyone – want to play a video games and someone like [‘Rock Band’ publisher] Harmonix wants to put together a great Beatles project, then it makes sense to me.
This is the same kind of thing [as the “1” album]. I’m sure the kids don’t care – and I don’t care -how they hear the music. To hear it is the fun. It’s very good quality – Giles Martin [son of famed Beatles producer George Martin] has been doing all the work, so I think it’s going to be an interesting phenomenon that will make another Beatles thing happen.
One aspect of the modern world the Beatles haven’t embraced is iTunes. Have you thought about it? Or do you think that not having your music available there has helped you?
That originally was mentioned a number of years ago and we all sort of said we’d look at it. But there was a logjam with the people who took over EMI – there were some aspects of the whole thing that they became nervous about. So the deal got stuck. So we’re just waiting. Meantime, as you say, it’s kind of interesting, because virtually the same kind of thing is going to happen with ‘Rock Band’ – you’re going to be able to download albums from that. We bypassed the logjam – not really intentionally. But one day I think that it’s natural that it will be on iTunes.
An expanded version of Billboard’s conversation with Paul McCartney will appear in the September 12, 2009 issue of Billboard magazine. You can buy that edition by visiting OrderBillboard.com and selecting Issue 36.