The Beatles For Christmas

December 29th, 2015 by Max Allan Collins
Beatles 1+

Let’s start with a subject that doesn’t seem to have much if anything to do with the heading here.

Barb and I recently bought a new car, an Equinox. But I had already signed the papers before I discovered that it did not include a CD player. I told Barb, meaning every word of it, that had I known – and learned that no CD player is available for that or any GMC model – I wouldn’t have traded our several-years-old Equinox for this shiny new one. That I would have driven the older model until either it or its CD player sputtered and died.

We do a lot of short-hop traveling – food and fun in the Chicago suburbs, visiting Nate and Abby and Sam in St. Louis, getaways to Galena IL, shopping trips to Des Moines. A good part of what makes these trips fun is listening to music or an audio book, to and from. Like a lot of you, I would imagine, I have a big collection of audio books on CD, including Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, and for that matter a lot of my own stuff. The pleasure of hearing Stacy Keach read one of the Mike Hammer novels of Mickey’s and mine is a truly transcendent experience for me.

And my CD collection of music, as you might imagine, is ridiculously large.

But the automobile manufacturers have decided I don’t need a CD player anymore (just as a few years ago they decided I didn’t need a cassette player). They give not a single shit that I have a large library of CDs, or that millions of others also have similar libraries. After all, they provide ports for flash drives and input access for your smart phone and so on.

I have mentioned this to others, and not just baby boomers, and they are appalled to learn their next new car will be CD-player-less. Right now on PBS Membership drives, CD packages are being offered to participating viewers, often with a direct pitch about the joy of listening to these classic tunes in their car. Infomercials do the same. Vintage radio outfits continue to offer their product exclusively on CD, and Best Buy and other retailers continue to sell the little silver discs (albeit giving them less real estate).

Only now, if I want to listen to one of my CDs, I have to use a fairly ancient Sony Walkman that I can play through the AUX of my “infotainment center” (God help us!), which requires various wires being snaked here and there, cluttering up that shiny new car.

That I can play my phone through my radio (yes, radio, that’s what I call it) has turned out to be as close to a saving grace as I’m liable to find in this sorry situation. My son taught me to load a bunch of albums available “free” as an Amazon Prime member. Also, the purchase of some CDs at Amazon provides a free “auto-rip,” which is to say a digital version that plays on your smart phone. Wistfully, I remember a day when my phone wasn’t smarter than me….

This solution is less than ideal, because other than the “free” downloads Amazon Prime provides, and those CDs that have included digital versions, I am left with countless CDs that no longer have a home in my dashboard.

So. One of my Christmas presents (from my lovely wife) was a $100 gift card at Amazon. This I spent buying nine albums I already own so that I could download them onto my phone. Bobby Darin, the Zombies, Paul Williams, and so on. Scratching the surface (like my needle used to on vinyl) of my CD collection.

As for the Stout, Christies and even Collins books that I have on CD, I have to make use of Amazon’s Audible, which is not free…though their yearly membership gives you quite a few credits for a decent price. That same evening I spent my hundred bucks on albums I already own on CD, I used up half of my credits buying Nero Wolfe books that, yes, you guessed it, I already own. And by the way, not every Wolfe novel is available.

Wasn’t this supposed to be about the Beatles?

Well, as you may have heard or read, Beatles albums are finally downloadable on multiple platforms. Almost everything of the Beatles is “free” (I insist on the quotes) if you’re an Amazon Prime member (not free, no quotes required). So I gorged myself on Beatles. Filled my digital library with ‘em. (Make that “library.”)

I love the Beatles, at least up through and including REVOLVER. After that, it gets spotty for me, possibly because I think LSD conspired with that Indian guru to at least partially ruin the Beatles. I have a few friends – terribly confused individuals, like the otherwise sane Ed Gorman – who hate the Beatles, and prefer the Stones. (Nothing against the Stones, and for that matter I like pretty much all of the British invasion bands from clean-cut Herman’s Hermits to scruffy Them, from the power-pop Dave Clark Five to the growling Animals. And the Zombies, my lord, the Zombies….)

Here’s the thing. If you were in junior high or high school when the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, and like everybody on the planet you saw those appearances, your life changed. A rock band playing their own instruments. Memorable pop tunes and smart covers. Four immediately strong personalities. Infectious humor. Lead singing and harmony that thrilled even while eschewing the slickness of what professional singing was supposed to sound like.

As for the Stones, the Beatles wrote their first hit for them (a UK one, “I Wanna Be Your Man,” if I recall correctly). They would have never made it into the culture without the benefit of the Beatles. No British group would have.

The current Beatles CD and Blu-ray release “1″ was another great Christmas present from my lovely bride, and that’s why all of its songs turned up instantly in my downloadable library at Amazon. I got the most tricked-out version, with a CD but also two Blu-rays of performances and music videos. I will admit to you that I have a sentimental streak, and it was glowing as I watched the boys grow and change, and as all those memories flooded back in. I’d been involved in music my entire life, but never would have dreamed of being in a band…until the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

Do I have to say that the world changed, too, because of these four? That hair styles – my father bribed my barber to cut off my Beatle-length hair – would symbolize the generational rift even before Vietnam was a Thing? That they were at the forefront, for better or worse, of psychedelia? That they were always several steps ahead of their competition? That they quit while they were way, way ahead?

So much more could be said, but I have to mention the poignance of seeing how much Paul and John liked each other, how they laughed and interacted. They were lads. By the time they were men, it was over. One last rooftop mini-concert and out.

It was rock ‘n’ roll, yes, but it was so much more. If you were there, and didn’t notice it – or refuse now to recognize it – you don’t quite understand the second half of the Twentieth Century.

As for the Twenty-first Century, I now have to listen to the Beatles, baby, when I drive my car…listening to them, that is, on my phone.

I will have something a bit special to say here next week, but until them…Happy New Year.


13 Responses to “The Beatles For Christmas”

  1. Tom Zappe/St Louis says:

    Thanks for the CD warning. Hopefully my four year old Avalon will take me the distance while I listen to my Gerry Mulligan, Duke Ellington and Count Basie discs. You Rock ‘n’ Rollers have all the luck.

    Happy New year and watch out for the crazy people.

  2. Bill Crider says:

    Like Tom Zappe, I have an Avalon with a CD player. However, I’ve found myself listening to CDs less and less and to the old-time radio shows on XM more and more. The Avalon also has a USB port, so I’ve ripped dozens of CDs and OTR shows onto a USB drive, and I can listen to them anytime at all. I think I could learn to live without a CD player.

  3. Max Allan Collins says:

    Tom, lots of jazz is available as downloads. But it still sucks to have to re-buy stuff.

    Bill, I don’t have the patience (or tech know-how) to rip CDs and OTR. I know my son Nate could help me, but I’m stubborn. I can learn to live without a CD player, too. Just wish I didn’t have to. I do like XM, but the ’60s stations during the day have obnoxious, endlessly chatty djs…and obviously it’s hit and miss, though radio always was.

  4. ed gorman says:

    As you know I’m not a huge Beatles fan but you reminded me of the cultural impact they had. For a sizable section of American people–and not just teenagers–the social world changed. And I still love Rubber Soul and the White album as much as I did when they first appeared. Excellent post, Al.

  5. Max Allan Collins says:

    We’ve had the discussion many times, Ed, that those in our field who dis Mickey Spillane don’t understand his cultural impact. The Beatles, of course, go farther in that (as you say) the social world changed. RUBBER SOUL is my favorite Beatles album, although I’m with those who feel one really good album was trying to get out of the two-disc set of THE WHITE ALBUM.

    I also think that Baby Boomers who were a little older than my group — who were in college or a few years out of college — probably didn’t see the Beatles the same way we did. I can see that (early on particularly) the Beatles might seem to be teeny-bopper stuff. I also think a key aspect of their impact is that they were the antidote to the JFK assassination. Those are the two key events of my generation’s teenage years: the assassination, and the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

    Always great to hear from one of my best friends and one of the very best crime writers around.

  6. Sean Kelly says:

    So I rented a car so we could drive to Omachi (near Nagano) for the long Christmas weekend. I loaded up my iPod with plenty of audiobooks and OTR for the 4-hr (which became 6 thanks to some poor navigational choices). But the cars that the Navy Exchange rent have radio, CD and MD (Mini-Disc!) – no other ports. I scrambled to see if the base library had some book CDs, but their family-friendly selection is woefully lacking. So our drive consisted of listening to my daughter’s Christmas gifts (May J. Sings Disney and Superheroes by The Cincinnati Pops) a couple of hastily grabbed Christmas CDs and the Ronald Coleman Christmas Carol adapted for LP. Those and Japanese radio. AFN is AM and doesn’t reach very far. So come to Japan – CDs are still standard issue here.

    Loved Antiques St. Nicked. Trash ‘n Treasures novellas have been my Christmas tradition for Japan. I’ll be here for three more Christmases so please keep up the fun.

  7. ed gorman says:

    Beautifully said, Al, and you’re right, of course. Age makes a difference. In my teen years it was all Elvis but not even he had the social impact of the Beatles. I still remember their first appearance on Ed Sullivan. I wasn’t quite sure what I was watching. I just knew that the world was changing right there on black and white TV.

  8. Max Allan Collins says:

    Sean, I’ll pass on moving to Japan just for the CD’s (my son says they, and blu-rays/DVDs, are very expensive there!).

    Ed, I forgot to mention some of the other British Invasion bands I really loved (and still do): the Yardbirds, the Hollies, Gerry & the Pacemakers, early Who…and I’m sure I’m spacing out on more….

  9. Mike Doran says:

    Belated thanx for the Xmas card …
    … and present-day thanx for the gift of another reason for me to be glad that I never learned how to drive a car (65 and a quarter years and counting).

    When the Beatles broke through in ’64, I was just coming out of grade school. The ‘rock-‘n’-roll’ singers I was seeing were still the “greasy kid stuff” variety (I remember one girl in my eighth grade class being shocked to learn that ” … the Four Seasons are MEN!”).

    I think I mentioned here that I was never much of a “rocker” anyway; one of the first character traits I developed was sales resistance. My “British Invasion” was Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Marty Feldman, Monty Python, et al.

    I’ve also mentioned my “one obsolescence behind” life a time or ten.
    Lately I’ve been reading endlessly that the DVD is soon to go the way of the Great Auk (my sentiments exactly).
    So far, my retirement is not turning out quite as I’d hoped …

  10. Mike Doran says:

    And to end 2015 on the right note …

    In Celebrity Obits, it looks like Wayne Rogers (CITY OF ANGELS) is the last one out the door for the year.

    In the hope that Universal brings out an official DVD set –

    – although, frankly, their MODs aren’t much better than bootlegs (anybody who has THE BOLD ONES sets knows what I’m referring to).

    To paraphrase the old Chicago Tribune humor writer:
    Maybe The Year Will Get Better.

    Happy Hogmanay, and all that.

  11. Paul.Griffith says:

    I also received “1+” with the two Blu-rays. Watching HEY JUDE and REVOLUTION brought back memories of the Smother Brothers Comedy hour around ’68. I remember they were shown on consecutive weeks, Sunday nights as I recall. I have LET IT BE on Beta but no longer have a means to watch it. Looking for a way to transfer it to DVD. My wife and I have watched the DVD’s from “1+” several times. The different versions of HELLO, GOODBYE are great! I really like the intro from David Frost. Watching him maintain his composure as the four cut-up, you can tell he really loved having the “boys” on his show playing his theme song. Great collection!

  12. JP Shannon says:

    Regarding the car situation: There may be a USB port to plug in a jump drive. Works better than CDs, plays for long periods and you can change out mp3 files as you want. Hope this helps.

    Get well soon, Sir!

  13. Max Allan Collins says:

    TUESDAY Jan 1 2016 3:49 PM

    Thanks to all of your for your gracious and supportive notes.

    I had the first surgery yesterday, dealing with a clogged carotid artery. It went well, though a large hematoma formed that I have to recover from before the larger surgery, which deals with a valve replacement, a double bypass and replacing a potential aneurism area with some kind of mesh thing (invented by Michael DeBakey long ago!). Right now that is tentatively scheduled for a week from this coming Thursday. If I’ve recuperated in that time. In any case, I’m assured the surgery will take place this month.

    While I’m frustrated by yet another postponement, it’s all been designed to do right by me, by a really, really top surgeon. Also, yesterday was rougher than I’d expected, but I was discharged this morning – I look like Elton John with a goiter, but I feel fine (a little fatigued). So I’m relieved to be able to have some recuperation time before the next round.

    Your concern means a great deal to me.