Chris Brady: Beatles re-releases - I just can't help myself

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The Beatles' February 1964 appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show started their "conquest" of the United States. Photo / AP
The Beatles' February 1964 appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show started their "conquest" of the United States. Photo / AP

In London, at the office of Apple Corps, a little man sits at his desk day and night, working out yet more ways to fleece money out of a totally suspecting but totally addicted group of sad, ageing people. These people have spent thousands of dollars (or pounds or euros or yen, or maybe even Bulgarian lev) on a band that hasn't existed for more than 40 years, and of whose original six members only three are still alive. Ordinarily, such a band would be well and truly history, but of course the Beatles were anything but ordinary.

We've just had the 50th anniversary of one of their greatest triumphs, for it was on April 4, 1964 that saw the band with the top five singles in the Billboard chart. The songs Can't Buy Me Love, Twist and Shout, She Loves You, I Want to Hold Your Hand and Please Please Me created a record that has never been equalled or seriously threatened. For many older folk (and for many of their children, especially mine) these songs are known off by heart, back to front and upside-down.

They are indeed timeless but if anyone had suggested in 1964 that in 2014 not only would radios still be playing them (and they would be available on some strange, futuristic system called iTunes) but the Beatles would still be selling millions of records (or CDs or digital copies thereof), very few would have believed them.

Yet it's true, partly because of people like myself. We just can't help ourselves. A "new" Beatles item is released and bam! - I've ordered it. A great example is the just-released US Beatles CD collection, timed to coincide with the band's triumphant 1964 conquering of the US, starting with The Ed Sullivan Show.

There are 13 CDs in the set and it cost me more than $200. Of the 13 discs, I already owned eight because they were released in 2004 and 2006 as part of another set. So when this year's release turned up I thought, "Hang on a second, we're being screwed here, well there's no way I'm falling for this". Then I looked at the website and promptly ordered it.

But why? What is it about the Beatles that seems to keep us desperate for more? And it's not just us old, grey-bearded, still long-haired (but balding in the middle) oldies, it's a fair number of young kids too. You just have to go to the Abbey Rd crossing in London and see that the pilgrimage is made by people of all ages and nationalities (I know - I've been there several times to worship). I guess it's that the music sounds as wonderful as ever, and modern techniques make it sound even better.

But it's also something else. It's about a time they call the Sixties which, despite the terrible stories of race riots, wars in Biafra and Vietnam and assassinations that rocked the world, also had the wonderful, new liberating music, the colourful clothes, the new-found freedoms for young people, and which, with the passing of time, seems more exciting now than maybe it really was.

And that's what the little man in London understands only too well. He knows some of us are quite happy to live in the past. He probably knows my name and thinks "right, what's the next rehashing of Beatles stuff we can foist on Mr Brady?", knowing I'll buy it. Never mind, many years from now, when I'm in my rocking chair, at least I'll be surrounded with the sounds that made me happy for so many years, even if I do have multiple copies of all the songs.

(A final word: There were six Beatles - John, Paul, George, Ringo, Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best. Some people have claimed to be the "fifth Beatle" but I don't think so.)

Chris Brady is an "ageing history teacher at Taumarunui High School and Beatles freak forever".

- NZ Herald

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