By Mark Espiner, a music critic and theatre director (THE GUARDIAN, 18/11/06):
Las Vegas is the whorehouse of theatre and music. Few performers go there other than to make shedloads of cash, often by exploiting themselves. John Lennon knew that. He might have recognised Elvis as the king of rock’n’roll, but he sure wasn’t going to follow him to sin city to play his greatest hits. That, he said, would be «going to hell».
Funny, then, or poignant, that with a little help from his friends, that is where he has ended up. Love, the Beatles theatrical extravaganza in Vegas, has wowed the critics. Created in a specially built theatre, it won’t be coming here, but you can buy the soundtrack – released just in time for Christmas.
The Beatles were always a commercial machine – from the count-in of I Saw Her Standing There, they were primed to sell records and make money. Long after theiroriginal recordings had achieved canonical status, they dramatically boosted sales with genuine archival treats: the exhaustive Anthology (of studio outtakes) and Live at the BBC. But with Love, the «unique soundscape» created for the show from the master tapes at Abbey Road, it’s hard not to think we’ve been sold out as much as John has by his beyond-the-grave appearance at Vegas. In a sense, it’s an artistic success. As Beatle Paul puts it: «This album puts the Beatles back together again. It’s kind of magical.»Ushered into the Abbey Road studios for a preview, we heard an inventive remix of material by the Beatles producer George Martin and his son Giles – or, in current parlance, a «mashup». Songs were stripped bare to vocal-only renditions, or pasted together with other tracks. Ringo’s drum outtakes and John’s clear, reedy voice in a demo of Strawberry Fields have been spliced together, horns and strings added, and the whole thing rolled up into a jubilant and sometimes thrilling journey through the Beatle sound. Beatle academics will write learned papers on what has been mixed in where, identifying, for instance, George’s (or was it Paul’s?) Taxman guitar solo stuck in the middle of Drive My Car. But something doesn’t quite ring true. Paul is right. It is magical – it’s a trick.
What from one perspective offers a fresh take on a set of musical and cultural icons is from another a jarring tinkering with a strong emotional bond formed in listening to the music as it was originally intended. When someone remixes it they change the music’s soul, and yours with it. By all means clean up the recordings, but rehashing them like this is a bit like seeing your favourite pub gastrated into a pan-fried 21st-century bar: you like the new menu, yes, but rue the loss of the old charm.
Roseanne Cash understood the potency of a song’s emotion in its original form when she vetoed Ring of Fire being used for a haemorrhoid cream commercial. Tom Waits put it well when he argued that when artists sell their songs for adverts – or in this case Vegas shows – they sell a bit of their audience too.
The Beatles have taken a principled stance with ads. They acted swiftly to protect their music, putting a stop to Revolution being used for a training-shoe commercial in the 1980s, saying they weren’t in the business of singing jingles. But couldn’t it be that in this remix project the Beatles have pirated their own work and broken with their own ethics? The Beatles canon is a high point of 20th-century pop music, indeed culture. And the integrity of the music exists in its original performance and mix, which is its essence, recorded as it was, and of its time. Mucking around with that changes what it is: an absolute finished product that should stand on its own account. You wouldn’t re-edit Psycho; you wouldn’t colour up Charlie Chaplin. Why mash up the Beatles?