I threatened an encomium for Love, the remix of classic Beatles songs by George Martin released in 2006. This is a bit like being Alan Partridge in the scene in which he dithers for whole minutes on which might be his favourite Beatles record before plumping, proudly, for The Best of the Beatles: Love of course is not a Beatles work in the whollest sense. Some songs – the version of ‘Help’, for instance – remain fairly unchanged, if tweaked to a perfect mix. But others – McCartney’s ‘Eleanor Rigby’, spliced with Lennon’s ‘Julia’ – are twisted and restructured in much more radical ways. They’re Beatles songs, but not as we know them.
Yet the record is more than just a play at the edges of a popular canon. What is fascinating about the clear joy with which Martin juggles the disparate recorded elements of the Beatles’ lifetime is how strongly and robustly they hold up to such stretching treatment: Martin is an expert in sonic manipulation, of course, but Drive My Car/The Word/What You’re Doing hold up in their hybrid form as if they were written to do so. And nor is this because The Beatles wrote the same song over and over again – Blackbird/Yesterday and Strawberry Fields Forever are each of them distinct songs, and yet they melt into each other in a way which makes the familiar distinctly fresh again. The Beatles’ songwriting was simply so strong that they can hold an awful lot of extra weight.
This is the best thing about Love, in fact – the way in which it gives us ‘the best of the Beatles’ anew. Most of the songs Martin fiddles with are as famous as a song might get – here a ‘Hey Jude’, there a ‘Come Together’ – but listening to Love is like meeting the songs again. Martin has rummaged through the alternate takes (the cleaner, Claptonless ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ is given an airing here) and sprinkles them like seasoning across the more famous standards; he links them together with swirls of hooks and snatched melodies which recall the weight of memory attached to these songs whilst providing them a new cpntext in which they can also spark new ones.
It’s not that Love can replace the original records. Even in its huge success as a sort of seamless symphony it acts as marginalia to the main text. It’s that, like returning to the lesser known songs after a long while, it demonstrates in the freshness and its playfulness of its contexts how good these famous songs really are (Bonnie pay heed!). They are much more than shopping mall muzak – it’s fitting that it’s George Martin, in the late 2000s no less, who is still the best man to remind us.