Sheesh! From all of the hoopla surrounding the Beatles last week, you’d think the Fab Four just displayed their mop tops on the Ed Sullivan Show for the very first time. In truth, that was 45 years ago — but you’d never know it from the way the band has reclaimed the pop-culture discussion.
So, what’s the deal? Most of the excitement is centered around the release of a videogame: The Beatles Rock Band. In the game, you take your plastic instruments — buy the set and you can actually play a replica of Paul’s bass — and journey through the Beatles’ musical career from their early days at the Cavern Club to their rooftop concert at Apple. You can see digitized versions of the lads wearing costumes appropriate to the period in their careers. (Though, it seems a bold step forward for a band that won’t let its music be sold on iTunes.) To turn the release of the game into a true event, on the same day the band also released The Beatles Boxed Set. The boxed set contains all core catalogue titles, plus Magical Mystery Tour and Past Masters I and II, remastered (and in stereo!) for the first time and put out with all of the original UK artwork. If you’re into it, there’s a second boxed set for those who want to hear the Beatles in mono.
All the excitement is understandable. It probably would not be an exaggeration to say that The Beatles Rock Band is a combination of the best band of all time and the best video game of all time. (If you High Fidelity-style list-makers out there have other No. 1s in those categories, perhaps you’ll allow this statement instead: The Beatles and Rock Band are two of the best things that can appeal to a mass audience. I can picture playing The Beatles Rock Band just as easily with my grandmother or with my pre-teen cousin — and my pre-teen cousin would probably be better than me at it.)
While it’s easy to explain, the second question is: Is all the hype worth it? For the game, apparently, the answer is yes. According to Metacritic, a site that aggregates reviews, the game scores an 88 out of 100. (The only other game currently rocking a higher score is Batman: Arkham Aslyum, which I cannot picture playing with my grandmother.) IGN UK writes that “The Beatles: Rock Band is a peerless offering that blows any comparable ‘band-only’ music title out of the water. Doing justice to the greatest band of all time was always going to be a tough job, but The Beatles: Rock Band offers a beautiful tribute to an enduring act.”
There are drawbacks: Most reviews complain that there are only 45 songs offered, which means that everyone has a favorite that wasn’t included. (Some omissions: “Hey Jude,” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” and “Across the Universe.”) Also, IGN UK notes that, as far as gameplay goes, it’s not as much of a challenge as previous Rock Band games. (Don’t use this as an opportunity to slag on Ringo’s drumming.) Apparently, this game is designed precisely so that you can play it with your grandmother.
Now, for the boxed sets. While Rock Band is technologically innovative, the boxed sets seem almost backward. To me, that the very idea of a boxed set is past its prime — this may very well be the last boxed set that people ever buy. (Yes, give us the remasters, but please let us buy them electronically — it’s really the box we don’t like, not the set.) But, as far as the sound quality goes, Rolling Stone writes that: “An enormous effort was made to stay true to the original mixes, so there aren’t going to be any easy revelations for Beatles fans. Instead, these albums sound deeper, richer and fleshed-out.”
For me, the best part about the one-two punch of The Beatles Rock Band and The Beatles Boxed Set is the amazing amount of nerdery that they’ve inspired. Entertainment Weekly put out their list of the best Beatles songs (which compelled my friends to rank, weight, and compile our own, much better list); WFUV spent the whole day playing cool Beatles covers; Rolling Stone trotted out a lot of its old articles on the Beatles, and put together a slideshow of the band’s breakup through classic RS articles.
There’s a lot of good material there to discuss. What’s the best Beatles album? Who did the best Beatles cover? Is “Don’t Pass Me By” truly awful or secretly underrated? For pop-culture junkies, this stuff is gold. If you have any insights — about the band, the game, the articles, whatever — let me know in the comments.