It's 2007 And The Beatles Still Matter

The Beatles, pictured in 1967.
The Beatles pose for the camera, June 1967.
AP Photo

Sunday Morning contributor Bill Flanagan of MTV takes a look at the Beatles' legacy 40 years after their revolutionary album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

This summer Paul McCartney turned 65 and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" turned 40. Both events got a lot of media attention. The Beatles broke up in 1970 and two of the Fab Four have passed away — and yet Beatlemania never completely subsides.

Cirque du Soleil's big hit "The Beatles Love" just celebrated its first anniversary in Las Vegas. Paul and Ringo attended, paying tribute to George and John, and the fans went wild.

The acclaimed director Julie Tamor has a new film coming in September called "Across The Universe," which uses Beatles songs to tell the story of the '60s through the eyes of an English boy named — guess — Jude.

The Beatles' music in invulnerable to changes in pop styles or fashions. It gets stronger as time goes by.

Which created a special challenge for John, Paul, George and Ringo. No matter what they did as solo performers, it would always be held up to the impossible standard of The Beatles. They were the only four musicians in the world whose records were considered disappointments if they were not as good as Beatles records. As John Lennon sang on the last Beatles album, "Boy, you're gonna carry that weight a long time." It's a testament to their strength of character and resolve as artists that all four of them kept moving ahead and making music in spite of the impossible expectations.

It's interesting how well a lot of their solo work ages — as time passes and we get away from the Beatles comparisons.

Ringo has a new "Greatest Hits" album coming out later this summer, on August 28. It's a surprise to be reminded of how many solo hits Ringo had: "It Don't Come Easy," "Photograph," "Back Off Boogaloo," "You're Sixteen," and a lot more. John Lennon always said that Ringo was a star in Liverpool before he joined the Beatles and everybody there knew he was going to be successful in show business in some fashion. Go back to the Beatles movies for proof of that; they are all built around Ringo. He was a natural Starr.

For George fans, there is the long-awaited CD re-release of the complete Traveling Wilburys recordings. Back in 1988 George put together a super-group with his pals Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison and had a huge hit. The Wilburys made two albums and several other recordings, all of which are collected here along with a new DVD documentary that reminds us how remarkable this nearly accidental group really was. At the time I think most of us just got a kick out of seeing those five famous faces singing together. Now you listen and you realize that these songs were really well-constructed and beautifully recorded. Obviously George Harrison knew how to balance giant egos and giant talents. The Traveling Wilburys is a great tribute to the good humor and subtle power of "the quiet Beatle."

Nobody ever called John Lennon the quiet Beatle. John was one of the great big mouths. A worthy tribute to his memory is a new double CD called "Instant Karma" in which U2, REM, Green Day, Christina Aguilera and a couple of dozen other current stars perform Lennon's songs. It is all in support of the Amnesty International campaign to save Darfur, and although a skeptic could say that when it comes to stopping that genocide it might be time to give guns a chance, this is a noble cause and a wonderful tribute record. However, it has to be said: no one else can sing these songs like John Lennon. His voice remains irreplaceable.

Which should remind us to be grateful that Paul McCartney is still with us. Paul is the most successful popular songwriter in history but he always has the burden of anything he does being compared to what he did in The Beatles. Paul's response has been to simply keep working. Through gigantic success, unprecedented fame, public feuds and private tragedy, McCartney has never stopped making music.

His new album has a great title — "Memory Almost Full." It's a concept record about scanning through a lifetime of images and memories. It's about being amazed at how quickly time passes, and how memories from 40 or 50 years ago can seem as vivid as what we did yesterday. He calls it "my ever present past."

McCartney's real subject has always been perseverance — "Take a sad song and make it better," "Take these broken wings and learn to fly," "Let it be." No matter what he's gone through, McCartney always acts like it's cool, it's fine, it's no big deal. On "Memory Almost Full," Sir Paul looks back on a long and event-filled life and hints that maybe it was a pretty big deal after all.

A few years ago I was seated with Paul at a wedding and of course, every guest in the place, from the bride's cousin to the priest, came up to have a photo taken with him. After about an hour of this I said to him, "Boy, that must get to a real drag." He said, "Well, anytime I start to feel that way I remember how nervous John and I were when we were kids and we met our heroes, the Everly Brothers. I know what it's like to be the fan."

He said that it amazed him sometimes to think that he met Elvis Presley. In fact, he said, it amazed him sometimes to think that he was in The Beatles. On his new album, Paul expresses that amazement that we all in some ways share. Get a load of how fast life goes by, all the things we've done, all the people we¹ve known, all the adventures, all these friends and lovers.

It's a remarkable thing to look back at a life and say, "Wow, that was me!"