meta-scriptJethro Tull's 'Aqualung' At 50: Ian Anderson On How Whimsy, Inquiry & Religious Skepticism Forged The Progressive Rock Classic | GRAMMY.com
Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull in 1971

Photo: Michael Putland/Getty Images

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Jethro Tull's 'Aqualung' At 50: Ian Anderson On How Whimsy, Inquiry & Religious Skepticism Forged The Progressive Rock Classic

Ian Anderson wasn't sure if Jethro Tull's fourth album, 'Aqualung,' could beat the last three. But the 1971 album turned out to be their masterpiece, consolidating Anderson's feelings about homelessness, love, God and an overpopulated Earth

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2021 - 12:28 am

By now, Jethro Tull's "Aqualung" has been lampooned by everyone from Ron Burgundy to Tony Soprano, but the song's import goes many layers deeper than throwaway jokes. It arguably could save the world.

Sure, everybody remembers that thunderclap six-note riff and leader Ian Anderson's snarling portrait of a disreputable street dweller, "eyeing little girls with bad intent." What happens next in the song is less discussed.

Over tranquil acoustic strums, Anderson sings of the itinerant character not with disgust but with almost Christlike compassion. He paints a detailed portrait of his daily routine. He takes pity on his loneliness. Most tenderly, he addresses him as "my friend."

Fifty years after Aqualung was released on March 19, 1971, it's safe to say this attitude hasn't been evergreen. In an era of quick demonization, most wouldn't try to understand Aqualung's plight or even give him the time of day. 

"I felt it had a degree of poignancy because of the very mixed emotions we feel—compassion, fear, embarrassment," Anderson tells GRAMMY.com of the title track. "It's a very mixed and contradictory set of emotions, but I think part of the way of dealing with these things is to try to understand why you feel those things."

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This spirit of open, honest dialogue imbues the entire album, which Anderson wrote and he, guitarist Martin Barre, bassist Jeffrey Hammond, keyboardist John Evan and drummer Clive Bunker performed. On "My God," "Hymn 43" and "Wind-Up," Anderson analyzed organized religion and its connection to God—or lack thereof.

"I don't believe you/ You've got the whole damn thing all wrong/ He's not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays," he proclaimed in "Wind-Up." Some foreign governments banned the album or bleeped out offending lyrics; Bible Belters burned it.

Is this how we should deal with offending art or those we find repugnant? To Anderson, the real solution begins with turning off social media and having authentic conversations. (Yes, even with those we can't stand.)

GRAMMY.com gave Ian Anderson a ring about the writing and recording of Aqualung, his complicated relationship with religion and why "ranting and raving on Twitter... does no good for anybody."

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Where was Jethro Tull at the dawn of the decade, between 1970's Benefit and Aqualung?

On tour in the U.S.A., a great deal of the time. The songs for Aqualung began—not all of them, but many of them—in Holiday Inns and similar premises through the Midwest of America. The song "Aqualung," I remember writing in a hotel. We had moved on to having separate rooms by then, so it gave me some privacy to write songs and I always had a guitar with me.

So, I remember calling Martin Barre and saying, "Hey, come up to my room. I want to run through a new song with you." He came to my room with his electric guitar—no amplifier, so I couldn't really hear what he was playing—and I showed him the essential riffs and chords through "Aqualung." He didn't imagine, as I did, how it would sound if it was plugged into an amplifier turned up to [chuckles] number 11.

I said, "Trust me, trust me. Play this riff and it's going to be a big thing." I had an acoustic guitar and he wasn't plugged in, so you had to have faith and try to use your imagination. But as a record producer, that's what I was supposed to have, so I figured I would be able to demonstrate the drama and the contrast in the song when it came to playing it on stage.

I think "My God" was another early one that was written—and, in fact, performed—during the summer of 1970. It had slightly different lyrics, but it was one of the first songs that was complete for the Aqualung album. Many of the rest followed on toward the end of the year, and some of them were written pretty much in the studio or around the time of the recording sessions. So, it was varied.

"Mother Goose," I remember that. That was pretty early on. That was in the summer of 1970 as well. So, it spanned a period of time, really, from the summer of '70 through to the end of the year, writing the music and recording. It was an experience, being an album that suffered a little bit from production problems in the then-brand-new studio that Island Records had built from a converted church. 

It wasn't a great place to work in. The big room, the big church hall was not a nice sound. Led Zeppelin were in the studio underneath in the crypt, which was much smaller and cozier and had a very neutral sound. That was a much easier place to work in. They had it pretty blocked out for their session. We were in there maybe just once—we managed to get in to record there. 

But, yeah, it was a tricky album to make, and at the end of it, I wasn't really sure if it would be well-received, but it did OK. In the months and, indeed, the years following the release, it did much more than OK. It wasn't a really slow album, but it was a slow burn. It created a stir, but it was particularly in the year or two following the release that it became a flagship for Jethro Tull throughout the world.

Ian Anderson and Martin Barre in 1971.

What was the germ of the idea behind the title track? I understand you and your then-wife wrote it together, but what compelled you to write about a homeless person so poetically?

A photograph that she had taken. She was studying photography in London at the time and came back with some photographs of homeless people in the south of London. One particular one caught my eye and I said, "Let's write a song about this guy." Not trying to imagine much about his life, but more in terms of our reaction to the homeless. 

I felt it had a degree of poignancy because of the very mixed emotions we feel—compassion, fear, embarrassment. It's a very mixed and contradictory set of emotions, but I think part of the way of dealing with these things is to try to understand why you feel those things. Some of them are reasonable, perhaps, and some of them are unreasonable. 

But the song itself was one of the probably only two occasions I can think of in my life where I wrote a song with somebody else. Actually, that's not quite true—there were two or three very early songs I co-wrote with Mick Abrahams, our guitar player in the first year of Jethro Tull. But that's not something I normally do. I'm very private as a songwriter and find it much easier to be in isolation—in intellectual quarantine.

Aqualung is full of cynicism about organized religion. In past years, you've performed in churches and been involved in their preservation. But back in 1971, where was your head regarding that subject?

Oh, very much the same as it is today. I have a natural cynicism and questioning about all aspects of organized religion. It doesn't stop me from ultimately being a great supporter of Christianity in all of its many flavors. I thoroughly support the church, especially as we go through—I mean, 50 years ago, congregations were beginning to suffer, but the church still had pretty good attendance. 

These days, it really is an enormous struggle in a very secular world to give people the options. So many churches these days are financially at the tipping point of having to fail or go bankrupt. Some of the cathedrals in the U.K. I played in to raise money for them have been literally at the point of having to close them down, just because of lack of support and, ultimately, lack of a congregation.

I mean, there are some fairly well-off, big cathedrals that charge entrance fees because they are historic buildings or very grand, but the lesser cathedrals and most churches don't have any income except for the generosity of visitors. Of course, that mainly means the regular congregation leaving some money, and sometimes, a legacy from somebody who can afford to leave money behind for posterity. 

But it costs a lot of money to keep these places going. Even a little village church may still technically be open, but they only have a service once a month because they don't have a permanent priest. They have maybe a priest who looks after several different parishes and travels around taking it in turns to do a Sunday service.

It's tough times, and I'm very much in support of the idea that we should have that freedom to go into those historic buildings, which most of them are. In America, perhaps, not so, because you're a very young country. But a little village church somewhere could be a thousand years old.

It goes back, really, to Norman times. A lot of churches built in, say, 1100 or 1200, maybe they've changed a little bit along the way architecturally or the building of a new tower or chapel or whatever, but many of them really are between 500 and 1,000 years old, and that's something I think is something worth hanging onto while they still exist. Because one thing's for sure: we aren't going to build any more.

The Victorians did. The Victorians built a few big Gothic churches that were in the style of grand European churches, and so there are a few cathedrals in the U.K. that were built in 1700 crossing into 1800. By the mid-1800s, there was a revival in Gothic architecture, so the cathedrals that follow into the mid-1800s through to the turn of the century tend to be quite grand buildings. But I often feel they lack the buzz. They lack the atmosphere and the special spiritual charge of the truly ancient cathedrals.

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To me, what you're saying is reflected in "Wind Up." In that song, you're not bilious toward faith as a whole. Rather, you seem almost defensive of the essence of it—God, or the idea of God.

Yeah. I don't think we want to overstate it, but I remember the first time I went to the Vatican when I first traveled to Italy. I lasted about five minutes because I just found it so opulent and over-the-top. 

Catholicism does celebrate everything to do with art and gold-plated ornamentation. I found it very hard coming from a Protestant background in the Scottish-English churches, which were more Lutheran in their origins. Simpler, without a lot of ornamentation. So, I found Catholicism overwhelming and too obsessed with grandeur. 

I don't feel that way any longer. Many of the churches in Europe that I've visited and managed to go perform in are indeed Catholic churches. I'm perhaps more relaxed about the way in which people celebrate that because a lot of relatively poor, ordinary people see this as a symbol of the thing they can never aspire to having in terms of their own surroundings. That opulence, that grandeur gives them some comfort and tuning-in to the greatness of God, as they are taught.

But I'm not a believer. I must say. I'm not somebody who has faith, as such. I don't believe in certainties. I believe in possibilities and, occasionally, I believe in probabilities. So, if you were to put me on the scale of agnosticism of one to 10, you could probably put me down for a six, maybe a seven on a good day, in terms of confidence about there being that absolute cosmic power that we call God. 

While I greatly value the Bible, I view it as a gateway to spirituality in the same way that Islam is a gateway to spirituality and Hinduism and the world's great religions. They shouldn't be seen as absolute in terms of detail and being the only way to the truth. 

I find more acceptance in the idea that they are all different doors entering the same great building. You can come through the side door, the front door, the back door or descend from the rafters. There are lots of ways in. That's how I see religion. I place value on it, but I don't like it being pushed to me as a message of absolute certainty. 

As a child at school—14 years old, or whatever I was—I began to have feelings about the way I was being taught in regard to religion that expressed themselves in songs like "My God" and "Wind Up," for example.

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And a lot of Aqualung's power lies in how it deals not only with big subjects, but small, almost mundane ones. "Wond'ring Aloud" portrays this quiet, domestic scene. What was going on in that song?

Well, it's as simple as it is. I don't very often write love songs, as such, and that is. It's a simple, calm, domestic, comfortable, cozy-warm-blanket kind of a song. A bit of a rarity for me. I tend to be more in social realism, in terms of subject matter, but I do stretch to the more whimsical, surreal songs like "Mother Goose." And songs where I'm actually giving you a little more of an insight into my own emotions.

But mostly, I'm writing about people in a landscape—almost like actors on a theater stage. I don't do close-ups of people. I don't do pure landscapes without people. I like to study people in the context in which I see them. And that comes probably from my earlier years studying painting and drawing and, indeed, photography. I see things with the eye of a photographer or a painter, and then I put them to music and words.

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That perfectly encapsulates "Locomotive Breath," which sets characters against a wider landscape of capitalism run amok. Which is a theme you returned to later on with "Farm on the Freeway."

Well, the subject matter, yes, indeed. Things evolve, things change. We carry on with our expansion in terms of population and global economics. It's the reality that we have to face. 

But if there's one thing I think "Locomotive Breath" is about, it's more about population growth rather than anything else. It's talking about the material world, but as a result of a growing population, one which seemed, back in 1970, to be out of control. And if it seemed like that in 1970—well, goodness, it seems a lot more so now! 

Think about it this way. When I was born back in 1947, compared to now, the population of Earth has grown quite a bit. And if you were to ask the question, "Well, how much? 50%? 100%?" you would be surprised, I would expect, for me to tell you that since I was born, within the lifetime of one person—hopefully well within the lifetime of one person, in my case!—the population of planet Earth has slightly more than tripled. That should give pause for thought. In onegeneration, three times the population.

It clearly can't go on. There are signs, of course, that population growth in the so-called civilized Western world is slowing down. That the growth is below the threshold of sustainability, in the sense of fertility rates falling well below two through most of Europe. 

Perhaps not in America, where people like to have big families and brag about them. But in the pragmatic world of European countries and many countries elsewhere that are not technically part of Europe but within that great landmass, you see populations diminishing because people choose not to have large families. 

And so many women decide, given that they have a degree of freedom and the ability to be part of the choice, which they certainly didn't have 100 years ago. Now, they do, and they choose to have one child. Maybe two. Sometimes no children at all. So, on average, that falls to somewhere around 1.6 in the fertility rate on average around Europe.

But of course, in countries, particularly in Africa, we see that the fertility rate is somewhere up around five, six, seven. It continues to explode and brings with it, of course, overpopulation in some areas and the desperation to migrate from those areas to areas where people feel they have a better chance of survival and doing well. Add in climate change to that, and we have a recipe for mass migration in the next 50 years that will dwarf anything you've seen so far.

I would think Canada will be thinking of building a wall between the U.S.A. and Canada to stop you horny Americans from getting in!

Jethro Tull live in Germany, 1971.

Overpopulation was on your mind 50 years ago, and it still is. So were these themes of love and whimsy and religious hypocrisy. Then and now, did audiences have an accurate read on what you were trying to convey with Aqualung?

I don't really think I've ever given a great deal of thought to what audiences think or even what they want. It's not something that has ever driven me. It's an afterthought if, indeed, it's a thought at all. 

I do remember finishing the Aqualung album. After the very last session, it was so late in the night it was early morning, and the keyboard player John Evans and I went into a little cafe near Basing St. in London where the studio was, that had just opened, to do a very early breakfast. 

I remember saying to John, "What do you think? Do you think this is going to play well with our audiences and record-buyers and fans and the media?" He scratched his head and said, "I have absolutely no idea." I said, "Well, I'm a bit nervous, you know. I have my doubts it's going to hit the mark."

It was a bit nerve-wracking for the next month or two until the album was released. I did have my doubts that it was going to be a step upward from our previous album, Benefit. Either it was going to be the beginning of a new ascent to greater, loftier success, or it was going to be the beginning of the downhill slide. 

I felt it was an important album and it was relatively well-received at the time of its release in the U.K, but not overwhelmingly so. I think some of the subject material put some people off. But it was important that over the next year or two, it really did consolidate the onward surge of Jethro Tull's success in global terms. 

I mean, not global. It never did anything in China! But throughout Eastern Europe and Latin America and other places, it caught on.

But throughout Eastern Europe and Latin American places, it caught on. It might have taken a few more years to have penetrated. But Aqualung, by the mid-'70s, had become a very important and popular album throughout the European landmass, including Russia, and places where culture was very much not permitted. 

So, along with everything else, our music was banned in several countries, and it was only heard by people prepared to smuggle in bought, black-market copies, and make illegal tape copies to listen to. I do sometimes feel a sense of awe, really, in the degree to which people grew up, listening to Western rock music in defiance of the law. And potentially, a breach that would put them in prison. Or indeed, in Pinochet's Chile, even worse. 

So I thanked Mikhail Gorbachev personally when I met him some ten, 12 years ago, for being the man behind Glasnost and Perestroika. On his watch, Jethro Tull and The Beatles were the first acts from the West to be officially released on the Russian state record label Melodiya.

Was the record banned for its religious commentary? What was the deal there?

In some places, it was. For example, in Spain, in the final dying moments of Franco's fascist regime, it was indeed banned from the radio. Some words were bleeped out as well. I remember in the Bible Belt of the U.S.A., people were burning copies of Aqualung.

Jesus.

In the Evangelical South, it was seen to be sacrilegious and attracted a fair amount of attention. It had a little bit of notoriety attached to it. But, in Russia, it was just Western music generally. As indeed in some of the world's other countries, it was forbidden, verboten, because it was Western, decadent rock music, and it could seduce the youth and cause mayhem, madness, upheaval and revolution. 

But in Gorbachev's time, I think he wisely released that it was time to gently release the safety valve and create a bit more freedom. And while, of course, he had nothing whatsoever to do with saying, "Oh, we'll release Jethro Tull. I've always liked them!" That's not what happened. It was just, he created an atmosphere where that could come about. 

And so, I think we saw the end result is not only a growth of popularity and accessibility of Western rock music, but it also encouraged many of the homegrown rock bands to actively and more publicly pursue their dreams without fear of arrest. Which is a good thing.

Ian Anderson imitating the Aqualung cover art in 2011.

That level of censorship is alarming to me. Because it's not a record of blunt, ugly atheism; it's yearning and nuanced on that subject. Do you feel this one-dimensional attitude has taken hold in the 21st century as well?

I think I find that one-dimensional attitude liberally dispensed around the Old Testament of the Holy Book. That's what people go for. They like things black-and-white, and simple and direct, and they like a little bit of fear and diatribe and retribution thrown in. It's what happens.

But, of course, in our much more accessible world in terms of media, and social media in particular, people are able to express views instantly, loudly, even if sometimes they might regret them. And black-and-white is the order of the day, so everything is polarized and divisive. 

And I think, America, perhaps, more than any country in the world is an absolute demonstration of that, in terms of the way politics have divided a nation. And the degree to which people might have had a genuine and positive and valuable feeling of loyalty to their country, it's become so split and polarized that I think past ways of looking at it have now become very hard to grasp. 

Being a two-party system unlike Europe where there are many parties—and obviously, coalitions come about as a result of the failure of any party to achieve a massive level of superiority. In your country, it's essentially two parties, first past the post, and that's it. But, in fact, it's not it because, of course, you then contest the election result, and claim it was stolen. 

So, it's a tough world these days, and I think we have a real problem on our hands, collectively. Not just in the U.S.A., but collectively, as a result of populist politics and the divisiveness that seems to go with it.

If we're not allowed to unpack and examine these complicated subjects as you did on Aqualung, we're going to have a sad, withered society. How do we restore nuance to the public discourse so we're not firing professors over tweets?

I think it is exactly by that. By having conversations as opposed to ranting and raving on Twitter, which does no good for anybody. I think it's about listening to other peoples' points of view and trying to understand them, even if don't agree with them. If you don't arrive at an agreement, at least you've hopefully had a conversation and let people know how and why you have the views that you do.

Because to some extent, it is about the media environment. As you say, societal norms that you've grown up in.

Is the problem that we often smear the person or write them off before the conversation begins?

Yeah. I think you've got to give people a chance, and sometimes you have to be discrete, and you can't always say what's on your mind.

I think my views of the Republican Party are of something a little bit more traditional, conservative, discrete, and gentlemanly. You can't actually describe the U.S. Senate in those terms today!

It's a little bent out of shape, and I personally think it's going to take a lot of calming down. People have to calm themselves down. But sore losers like Ted Cruz, or indeed Donald Trump, they're not going quietly into the background, they only see further opportunities to be exhibiting their extreme views, and trying to grab a bit more power. So, it's a scary world.

Ian Anderson live in Berlin, 2018.

I have a bit of a soft spot for George W. Bush. I felt he had a kind of gentlemanly spirit about him and a restraint. I don't know if you've ever read his book after his presidency was over. I'm assuming he didn't sit there and write every word himself, but it seemed very much the genuine sentiments of somebody who had, at least, painstakingly done it through a series of interviews. Or perhaps he had typed a lot of it out himself; I really don't know. 

But it was, I think, a mark of the man, that he demonstrated a degree of his own failings, his dependence, as a U.S president, on listening to the advice coming from people around him. Obviously, notably Rumsfeld and Cheney. He didn't badmouth them, but you could tell from his book that he was circumspect, I think, in hindsight, about some of the things that he was given to work with. 

He wasn't a great president, but he certainly wasn't a bad one. The world would be a much better place, right now, with George W. Bush as U.S president, than the previous one. And we are at this point, now, where we've got your oldest president—or to become president—the oldest man in historical terms to probably serve only a single term, before he has to hand it over to younger blood. 

But boy, did he inherit the second-worst gig on planet Earth right now! In a pandemic year, or two, to try to gradually bring America back to some kind of prosperity, and a degree of normalcy, against all the odds. And everybody's waiting to find every potential failing to try and make him look ineffectual. It's the second toughest gig on planet Earth.

And in case you weren't going to ask me, "Well, who's got the worst gig on planet Earth?" I'll tell you. It's Frank! Pope Francis! It's a really rough time to be the Pope. Because you're presiding over what appears, to many, to be a sinking ship. Catholicism throughout the world is losing ground rapidly, and his role can't be to overturn things at a single throw. It's got to be gentle and gradual.

Just like the U.S president has to work with the House of Representatives and the Senate, the Pope has to work with his cardinals, and indeed, throughout the world, with a lot of people who view him as being far too liberal. So, it's a tough gig, and I don't envy his role at all. Nonetheless, I think he's definitely, in my world, a great improvement over the last few.

You just laid out nuanced portraits of complicated, often vilified figures. To me, that spirit of conciliation runs deep in Aqualung. And Steven Wilson's excellent remix [from 2011] means we can commune with that message more directly than ever.

I'm not sure that it demonstrates itself as well as it might, when you listen to it only on Spotify, let's say.

What Steven has done, being a sensitive and careful person, with great respect for the music as it was originally unveiled, all that time ago—not just our music, but other people that he's worked with, on remixing. What he does is to clarify, to put a little sparkle into the audio by cleaning everything up, to get rid of all those hums and buzzes and clicks and bits of spurious noise between passages of music that the analog world couldn't do.

In digital terms, you can create so much more transparency with the old analog tapes, if you just patiently go back, tidying everything up, so that you hear what you hear, only when it has something to say, rather than being 24 tracks of crumbling, rumbling, spurious tape noise and hiss.

But he doesn't mess too much with either the stereo layout of the instruments or, indeed the balance of the instruments. He takes the original mixes as his model and refines it with great care and discipline, and above all, I think, respect for the original work. It's at its best when you hear it in a high-quality digital format, but for most people, of course, it's an MP3, or it's streaming from some platform. 

You probably still discern the differences, but it's at its best when you listen to it in higher quality. Even a very well-cut and -pressed vinyl album has a certain quality about it, these days. Much better than it did, back when I used to do it, in the '70s. Even though they're still using 1960s Neumann cutting lathes in the studios of the world, are still cut, master lacquers, for the industry. Even though it's ancient equipment, it's better understood, and it's maintained meticulously by people who are invariably music fans.

These days, you go into a cutting room, there's no smoking, there's no everything, it's air-conditioned, clean air, no dust, no mess, nothing to potentially ... It's more like laboratory conditions. And I saw that, actually, in Japan, when I went there, to JVC studios, in the early days of quadraphonic sound, and cutting the very first quadraphonic albums. Everybody was wearing face masks and white coats!

And I loved doing it back then; back in the early '80s. But the reality is that, these days, people take it so much more seriously, to get a good, clean, tidy cut. And they can do it. But, in the '70s, George "Porky" Peckham, one of the most famous cutting engineers that I used to work with, cut all the Led Zeppelin albums, as well as Jethro Tull, and a whole host of... everybody, I suppose, at that time. 

He always had a cigarette in his mouth, and he would lean over the master lacquer, peering through the microscopy to check the grooves, with ash dropping onto the master. So it would probably be true to say there are probably some Led Zeppelin albums where you can't smell George Peckham's cigarette, but you can hear it! Little bits of ash that found their way into the groove and had got pressed!

That's all I've got, Ian. Thank you so much.

Well, nice to talk to you. Take care. Hopefully, in months and years to come, the music industry will be back to some kind of positive and fruitful level of activity again in the U.S.A. We're nowhere near that yet, that's for sure. Maybe six months from now, I think, you should be, hopefully, in a position to begin to do concerts again.

We have a U.K theater tour booked in September, which I'm hopeful we will be able to do. But, every week that goes by, we cancel or postpone concerts into 2022, which we've already postponed since 2020. We're having to push them even further away since they're not going to be feasible for the next three or four months. 

We'll try and keep optimistic, and hope that we can all get back on the road.

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Photo: John Ford

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Em Cooper's GRAMMY-Nominated Beatles Video Is A "Protest" Against Time

British animator and film director Em Cooper's immersive video for the Beatles' 'Revolver' track "I'm Only Sleeping" is the product of some 1,300 hand-painted frames. Here's how the 2024 GRAMMY nominee for Best Music Video came to be.

GRAMMYs/Feb 1, 2024 - 03:32 pm

The Beatles' discography can be heard as a long conversation between four brothers, and the songs on 1966's Revolver certainly talk to each other.

On "Love You To," George Harrison muses, "Each day just goes so fast/ I turn around, it's passed." On "Got to Get You Into My Life," Paul McCartney tunes in and drops out: "I was alone, I took a ride/ I didn't know what I would find there." And in every line of the somnambulant, gently roiling "I'm Only Sleeping," John Lennon declares war on awakeness itself.

Clearly, a shared energy flowed from each of their pens: an askance look at linear time, and how it pertains to modern society. And while painstakingly painting more than a thousand frames for "I'm Only Sleeping," oil painter and animator Em Cooper picked up exactly what Lennon was transmitting.

"I really love the fact that this is some major call towards rest and sleep and dreaming and allowing your mind to wander," the effervescent Cooper tells GRAMMY.com over Zoom. Productivity, efficiency, investment, return: as Lennon seemed to sing, they're for the birds.

As the lore goes, McCartney in 1966 was a man about town, soaking up Stockhausen and Albert Ayler and the avant-garde, while a suburbia-bound Lennon opted to drop acid and, well, lay in bed.

This is reflected in their contributions to Revolver, which got a 2022 remix and expansion: McCartney's tunes, like "Here, There and Everywhere" are borderline classical, while Lennon sometimes couldn't be bothered to add a third chord. But Lennon being Lennon, he made inertia into a transcendent force.

"It feels as though it's a bit of a protest against the calculus view of time and the idea that our time is for sale, we can just slice up our hours and sell it off by the chunk," Cooper says. "I feel like in John's desire for just letting himself sleep and rest, he's saying to the world, 'Let's allow ourselves our own time, our own lives.'"

But the experience of making the "I'm Only Sleeping" clip — which involved painstakingly painting each frame by hand — was anything but tranquil: at times, Cooper even found it painful. This labor of love paid off, though: it's nominated for Best Music Video at the 2024 GRAMMYs.

Cooper details the development of  "I'm Only Sleeping" video, her methodology for mapping the visuals to the music, and, after numberless listens, whether she's sick of this Revolver favorite.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

The Beatles' story is filled with unforgettable sights, and with the "I'm Only Sleeping" video, you added to their visual language. Was that a daunting responsibility?

Absolutely. It really was. And, I think maybe if I had really stopped to think about it too much, it would've really tightened me up. In a way, weirdly, I was quite lucky it was on a tight schedule. That took precedence. I was just in the flow, trying to just focus on each task ahead of me and get it done.

Sophie Hilton, who's the Creative Studio Director at Universal Music, commissioned the film with Jonathan Clyde from Apple Corps. They were very good at guiding the project in a very natural way, so that it made a very natural fit into where they needed it to fit, as it were, in that big, big legacy. So, the fact that I'm an oil paint animator and I work with archive footage — it's got that timeless quality a little bit to it anyway, as does the song.

I worked with the Beatles' archivist, Adrian Winter, who helped me find footage; managing to place it within the history of the Beatles was really important. I didn't get too worried until finally when it came out. 

And then, literally, that was the first moment it really hit me about the legacy — of what I suddenly realized I'd just done.

Em Cooper

*Photo courtesy of Em Cooper.*

Like the experience of sleep itself, "I'm Only Sleeping" is flowing, undulating. It looks like you picked up on that, with this impressionistic continuum of visuals.

Yeah, absolutely. I was inspired by the song itself, because the song has just that continuous rocking motion to the melody. It was as though it was a synesthetic reaction to the song. It felt almost like it just drew itself out in my mind — the movement all kind of choreographed itself around those moments where it's like [sings lyric in dramatic swoop]  "Yawning," and then it felt like it goes over the top.

But, I don't know whether everybody else hears that when they hear that lyric, but that's certainly what I heard, and I could just produce that movement to match. All I really felt I had to do was just stay incredibly true to the song and the movement that was already there, and it just flowed.

How did you do this under such a tight schedule? One thousand, three hundred oil paintings?!

Yeah, I'm not going to lie. It was painful. It was a very tight schedule to produce an entirely hand-painted oil paint animation in. I literally painted every frame on a cel; sometimes, I painted and wiped and repainted.

It's hard work, but I just love oil painting. Now that I've had enough projects that it flows out of me, I find I'm reasonably quick. Some parts were easier than others; doing the faces was particularly difficult. Trying to get John Lennon's likeness over and over again was a real challenge, but other parts of it were much easier.

Obviously, lots of people these days are working digitally to do drawings and things, but I just work in actual oil painting. I find that I'm definitely not quicker at doing something digitally than I am just manually.

I suppose I want to promote the real artforms, because actually there isn't anything that much quicker or different about dipping a brush in some red paint and doing a stroke than doing a digital stroke. If you just gain confidence, it's fine.

How did you collaborate with Apple Corps on this, whether they offered artistic direction or just moral support?

Jonathan Clyde really helped direct all of that. I put all my ideas together into a document, and there was lots of consultations with them and honing those ideas and making sure that they fit with everybody's vision and what everybody was thinking.

And then, carrying on honing and honing, so that by the time I got to actually going, Yeah. We're going for it. We're going to start making this, it was all very clear.

I did a pencil-drawn animatic, which was about, I think two frames a second, which is quite a lot for an animatic, so as to really show the flow of imagery, so that there were no questions. I think there were a couple of changes after that, but very, very few.

So, it was quite clear, and everybody agreed on all the imagery and everything. But, I came up with most of it andwould maybe put some suggestions.

And, we came up collectively with this idea of  the backwards guitar sequence going backwards through Beatles' history from that moment, from 1966 backwards as it were, so as to the feeling from Revolver back to the beginning of the Beatles.

And, I was trying to meld that all together with the magnetic tape in the magnetic tape recorders going in and out of that. It was group calls, so I would take one and spark off and think, Oh, yeah. I remember Adrian Winter, the archivist, mentioning how John Lennon often had a notebook with him because he was always just thinking of ideas; he suggested that. And so, I put the notebook next to his pillow and things like that.

Em Cooper

*Photo courtesy of Em Cooper.*

When Giles Martin's remix of Revolver came out, it was striking how modern it sounded. How did this project enhance your appreciation for this song, album and band?

I watched it again just before jumping on this call with you, and I love the song. I was listening to little individual parts of it over and over again, whilst I was working on it, getting really into the detail of tiny bits of each line. And, it holds up, it's so good. I do not get bored of it. I love it.

I just could carry on listening to it over and over, which really, to be honest, says a lot, because when you work very hard on something, you do tend to find yourself a little bit bored by it by the end. But, absolutely not the case with this.

And, actually, after it was all finished, we went to Abbey Road together as a treat to listen to the [remixed and] remastered version of Revolver that was being re-released, and wow! To listen in Abbey Road Studios with the surround sound, it was just mind-blowing.

I already had an incredible respect for the Beatles, and that has only grown.

2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Nominees List

The Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr
The Beatles in 1964

Photo: Mark and Colleen Hayward / Redferns / Getty Images 

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'Meet The Beatles!' Turns 60: Inside The Album That Launched Beatlemania In America

A month before the Beatles played "The Ed Sullivan Show," they released their second American studio album — the one most people heard first. Here's a track-by-track breakdown of this magnitudinous slab of wax by the Fab Four.

GRAMMYs/Jan 19, 2024 - 06:48 pm

For many in America, Meet the Beatles! marked their first introduction to the legendary Fab Four — and their lives would be forever altered.

Released on Jan. 20, 1964 by Capitol Records, the Beatles' second American studio album topped the Billboard 200 within a month and stayed there for 11 weeks — only to be ousted by their next U.S. album release, The Beatles' Second Album.

It's almost impossible to put into words the impact of Meet
the Beatles! on an entire generation of the listening public. But Billy Corgan, of the Smashing Pumpkins, gave it a shot as an early fan of the Beatles in a series of LiveJournal remembrances — in this case, of himself at five years old, in 1972.

"I am totally overwhelmed by the collective sound of the greatest band ever blasting in mono thru a tin needle into a tiny speaker," he wrote. "I associate this sound forever with electricity, for it sends bolts thru my body and leaves me breathless. I can not stand still as I listen, so I must spin… I spin until I am ready to pass out, and then I spin some more."

So many other artists remember that eureka moment. "They were doing things nobody was doing. Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous, and their harmonies made it all valid," Bob Dylan said of the opening track, "I Want to Hold Your Hand." "I knew they were pointing the direction of where music had to go." Everyone from Ozzy Osbourne to Sting and Questlove agreed.

From Meet the Beatles!, the Fabs would have the most astonishing five-or-six-year run in music. And so much of their songwriting and production innovation can be found within its grooves; truly, the world had no idea what it was in for. In celebration of the 60th anniversary of Meet the Beatles!, here's a quick track-by-track breakdown.

"I Want to Hold Your Hand"

The Fabs' first American No. 1 hit may have been about the chastest of romantic gestures. Still, there's nothing heavier than "I Want to Hold Your Hand," because it's clamor and fraternity. That seemingly saccharine package also contained everything they'd ever do in concentrate — hints of the foreboding of "Ticket to Ride," the galactic final chord of "A Day in the Life," and beyond.

"I Saw Her Standing There"

A few too many awards show tributes have threatened to do in "I Saw Her Standing There," but they've failed. As the opening shot of their first UK album, Please Please Me, it's perfect, but as the second track on Meet the Beatles!, it just adds to the magnitude. What a one-two punch.

"This Boy"

Songwriting-wise, "This Boy" drags a little; it becomes a little hazy who "this boy" or "that boy"  are. But it's not only a killer Smokey Robinson rip; John Lennon's double-tracked vocal solo still punches straight through your chest. (Where applicable, go for the 2020s Giles Martin remix, which carries maximum clarity, definition and punch — said solo is incredible in this context.)

"It Won't Be Long"


Half a dozen other songs here have overshadowed "It Won't Be Long," but it's still one of the early Beatles' most ruthless kamikaze missions, an assault of flying "yeahs" that knocks you sideways.

"All I've Got to Do"

Lennon shrugged off "All I've Got to Do" as "trying to do Smokey Robinson again," and that's more or less what it is. One interesting detail is the conceit of calling a girlfriend on the phone, which was firmly alien to British youth: "I have never called a girl on the 'phone in my life!"he said later in an interview. "Because 'phones weren't part of the English child's life."

"All My Loving"

"All My Loving" was the first song the Beatles played on the American airwaves: when Lennon was pronounced dead, eyewitnesses attest the song came over the speakers. It's a grim trajectory for this most inventive and charismatic of early Beatles singles, with Lennon's tumbling rhythm guitar spilling the composition forth. (About that unorthodox strumming pattern: it seems easy until you try it. And Lennon did it effortlessly.)

"Don't Bother Me"

As Dreaming the Beatles author Rob Sheffield put it, "'Don't Bother Me,' his first real song, began the 'George is in a bad mood' phase of his songwriting, which never ended." Harrison wouldn't pick up the sitar for another year or two, but the song still carries a vaguely dreamy, exotic air.

"Little Child"

"I'm so sad and lonely/ Baby, take a chance with me." For a tortured, creative kid like Corgan, from a rough background — and, likely, a million similar young folks — Lennon's childlike plea must have sounded like salvation.

"Till There Was You"

McCartney's infatuation with the postwar sounds of his youth never ended, and it arguably began on record with this Music Man tune. As usual, McCartney dances right on the edge of overly chipper and apple-cheeked. But here, George Martin's immersive, soft-focused arrangement makes it all work.

"Hold Me Tight"

Like "Little Child," "Hold Me Tight" is a tad Fabs-by-numbers, showing how they occasionally painted themselves into a corner as per their formula. Their rapid evolution from here would leave trifles like "Hold Me Tight" in the rearview.

"I Wanna Be Your Man"

Tellingly, Lennon and McCartney tossed this half-written composition to the Stones — and to Ringo Starr. Mick Jagger's typically lusty performance works, but Starr's is even better — the funny-nosed drummer throws his whole chest into this vocal workout.

"Not A Second Time"

Meet the Beatles! concludes with this likable Lennon tune about heartbreak — maybe C-tier by his standards, but it slouches toward his evolutionary step that would be A Hard Day's Night

Soon, these puppy-dog emotions ("And now you've changed your mind/ I see no reason to change mine/ I cry") would curdle and ferment in astonishing ways — in "Ticket to Ride," in "Girl," in "Strawberry Fields Forever." And it all began with Meet the Beatles! — a shot heard around the world.

1962 Was The Final Year We Didn't Know The Beatles. What Kind Of World Did They Land In?

Taylor Swift performs during night one of the Eras Tour in Kansas City in July 2023.
Taylor Swift performs during night one of the Eras Tour in Kansas City in July 2023.

Photo: John Shearer/TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

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New Year's Songs: 16 Tracks To Give You A Fresh Start In 2024, From The Beatles To Taylor Swift

Whether you're looking to vibe with J Balvin or roar with Katy Perry, let these tracks welcome you to a prosperous and hopeful new year.

GRAMMYs/Dec 31, 2023 - 05:50 pm

The beginning of a new year often results in moments of reflection as well as anticipation about what lies ahead. And with the myriad of feelings that ensue upon New Year's Eve, music serves as a powerful source for both introspection and inspiration.

There are countless songs that give listeners a chance to reflect and resonate with the possibilities of what's yet to come. Whether it's the pulsingly hopeful beat of Jamie xx's "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)," the inspiring narrative of The Notorious B.I.G's "Juicy," or Elton John's pumped-up "I'm Still Standing," a good soundtrack is the perfect catalyst for starting a new year on the right note.

As you envision what the coming year has in store, enjoy this playlist from GRAMMY.com — curated not just to celebrate the moment the clock strikes 12, but to infuse the coming year with inspiration and cheer.

79.5 — "B.D.F.Q"

Inspired by singer Kate Mattison's experiences in Detroit, 79,5's "B.D.F.Q." is about perseverance in the face of a music industry marred by misogyny. Short for "B—, Don't F—ing Quit," "B.D.F.Q." amplifies a mood of independence and strength with the declaration, "They! Don't mean a thing/ Don't mean a thing, just do your thing!" While the message is timeless, "B.D.F.Q." will certainly amp you up for any challenges the new year presents.

The Beatles — "Here Comes The Sun"

Whether you spin the 1969 original or the reinvigorated 2019 mix, the Beatles' "Here Comes The Sun,"  remains a classic symbol of continuation and hope. A track from the Fab Four's iconic Abbey Road album, this George Harrison composition is celebrated for its uplifting melody and serene lyrics that playfully describe a new dawn and brighter days ahead.

Elton John — "I'm Still Standing"

Elton John delivered an upbeat ode to durability and the ability to bounce back with "I'm Still Standing," a 1983 track that resonates 40 years on. Between its catchy melody and John's energetic performance (particularly in the beach-set music video), the song conveys a triumphant message about overcoming challenges and emerging stronger.

"Hamilton" — "My Shot"

Of the many dynamic numbers in Lin-Manuel Miranda's renowned musical "Hamilton," "My Shot" is arguably the most inspirational and universal. A powerfully charged manifesto that embodies ambition and determination — delivered with an electrifying blend of hip-hop and theatrical flair — "My Shot" celebrates seizing opportunities and making a mark. It's a welcome New Year's song choice for those compelled to channel their inner strength and embrace new challenges in the year ahead.

J Balvin — "6 AM" feat. Farruko

This vibrant reggaeton track from J Balvin's 2013 album La Familia encapsulates the spirit of spontaneity. Its infectious beat and catchy lyrics manifest as a celebration of lively nights and the adventures that unfold in the early after hours — hence, the 6 a.m. title. This one's for the night owls, who may see the sun rise at the turn of the new year.

Jamie xx — "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)" feat. Young Thug, Popcaan

"I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)" by Jamie xx is as upbeat and optimistic as hip-hop tracks come. Featuring Young Thug and Popcaan, the 2015 track melds elements of dance and reggae for an infectious ode to good times ahead — an enduring NYE sentiment.

Jimmy Chamberlin Complex — "Life Begins Again"

The title track of their 2005 album, "Life Begins Again"  is an intricate and evocative composition that blends elements of jazz and rock with a bit of emo sentiment. The track showcases Jimmy Chamberlin's exceptional drumming prowess while promising that life is cyclical — every day can be the first of your life with the right attitude.

John Lennon — "Just Like Starting Over"

With themes of rekindling love and starting anew, John Lennon's "[Just Like] Starting Over" is a fitting tribute to fresh starts and the enduring power of renewal in all aspects of life. And as the final single released while he was alive, it's a bittersweet testament to Lennon's enduring legacy.

Katy Perry — "Roar"

Katy Perry's "Roar," from her 2013 album Prism, is a proud declaration of self-empowerment and finding one's voice. An electrifying track with a booming chorus and spirited lyrics, it embodies the journey from silence to strength. Its message of embracing one's true self and speaking out makes it an inspiring celebration of new beginnings.

Lisa LeBlanc — "Pourquoi faire aujourd'hui"

For those looking to give themselves a little break as the new year begins, Lisa LeBlanc's "Pourquoi faire aujourd'hui" may be the song for you. A single from her 2021 album Chiac Disco, the energetic, disco-inspired French language track features playful lyrics about procrastination, with its titular line asking, "Why do today what you could do tomorrow?" — starting the year off in laid-back fashion. If tu ne parles pas Français, LeBlanc's catchy dance beats are fuel for a joyful New Year's Eve atmosphere.

Lizzo — "Good As Hell"

Like many of Lizzo's songs, "Good as Hell" captures a vibrant, empowering spirit. It celebrates self-care and resilience in the face of adversity, blending a lively rhythm with Lizzo's dynamic vocals. Its uplifting lyrics and infectious energy encourage a sense of confidence and self-appreciation — a powerful anthem of positivity any time of the year.

Nina Simone — "Feeling Good"

A timeless classic first made famous by Nina Simone, "Feeling Good" is a powerful anthem of rejuvenation and hope. Simone's jazz-infused rendition was released in 1965; its resolute delivery captures a spirit of personal transformation and empowerment, offering an enduring sentiment going into the new year: "It's a new dawn/ It's a new day/ It's a new life for me, ooh/ And I'm feeling good."

Notorious B.I.G. — "Juicy"

Although The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Juicy" is a personal account of the late rapper's rise to the top, the song encapsulates a spirit of triumph that can inspire anyone with a dream. From its bouncy beat to the iconic "If you don't know, now you know" hook, "Juicy" will have you reaching for the stars.

Otis Redding & Carla Thomas — "New Year's Resolution"

Memphis legends Otis Redding and Carla Thomas' aptly titled 1967 album King & Queen is notable for being the final studio release before Redding passed away that December. The album also spawned a NYE classic: "New Year's Resolution." With lyrics that explore the concept of ​​making resolutions and embracing change in the new year. While the song lacks Redding's trademark soulful wail, "New Year's Resolution" is temperate and contemplative — a reprieve from the let-it-all-out powerful Stax sound to ease your way into the new year.

Peter Cat Recording Co. — "Portrait of a Time"

Both modern and nostalgic, Peter Cat Recording Co.'s "Portrait of a Time" blends jazz, and indie rock for an eclectic and nostalgic, introspective jam. The song carries a reflective mood of contemplation and transition, with lyrics that encourage leaving "confusion and darkening clouds" in the past and hopping in the Lamborghini of life for a new wild ride.

Taylor Swift — "New Year's Day"

After all of the bold, empowered statements on Taylor Swift's 2017 album reputation, she closes the LP with a tender, piano-driven ballad that captures the quiet intimacy and hopeful sentiments of a new year. Aptly titled "New Year's Day," the song's reflective and heartfelt lyrics contemplate love and loyalty found in life's fleeting moments. Swift's delicate vocal delivery and the track's gentle melody evoke a sense of warmth and enduring connection, making it a poignant choice to embrace the new year with a sense of closeness.

TikTok's Musical Class Of 2023: 8 Artists Who Transformed Virality Into Stardom, From Tyla to FIFTY FIFTY

The Beatles - Now & Then
The Beatles in 1968

Photo © Apple Corps Ltd.

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The Beatles' Final Song: Giles Martin On The Second Life Of "Now And Then" & How The Fab Four Are "Still Breaking New Ground"

The wait is over: The Beatles will release their final song, "Now and Then," on Nov. 2. Read an interview with remixer Giles Martin about the decades-in-the-making parting gift, as well as remixed, expanded 'Red' and 'Blue' albums.

GRAMMYs/Oct 26, 2023 - 02:16 pm

The Beatles and grief have always been fundamentally intertwined. When John Lennon and Paul McCartney met as teenagers, they bonded over losing their mothers early on. Their manager, Brian Epstein, died in 1967 at only 32; as McCartney put it during the ensuing Get Back sessions, "Daddy's gone away now, you know, and we're on our own at the holiday camp."

Lennon's murder in 1980, at just 40 years old, imbued their story with bottomless longing — not just between this band of brothers, but a world that had to process the Beatles were never coming back. George Harrison's death from cancer, in 2001, was another catastrophic blow.

But the Beatles' message, among many, was that the light prevails. And from "In My Life" to "Eleanor Rigby" to "Julia" to "Let it Be" and beyond, almost nobody made sorrow sound so beautiful. And "Now and Then," billed as "the last Beatles song" — yes, the AI-assisted one you heard about throughout 2023 — is liable to move you to the depths of your soul.

A quick AI sidebar: no, it's not the generative type. Rather, it's the technology Peter Jackson and company used to separate theretofore indivisible instruments and voices for the Get Back documentary. It also worked in spectacular fashion for Giles Martin's — son of George — 2022 remix of Revolver.

*The cassette edition of "Now and Then." Photo © Apple Corps Ltd.*

With this tech, Martin and his team were able to lift a Lennon vocal from a late-'70s piano-and-vocals demo of "Now and Then," a song he was workshopping at the time. (Remember "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love," the reconstituted Beatles songs from the Anthology era? "Now and Then" was the third one they tried — and, until now, aborted.)

The final version of "Now and Then" features Lennon's crystal-clear, isolated vocal, as well as Harrison's original vocal and rhythm guitar from that 1995 session. McCartney adds piano and guitar, including a radiant slide guitar solo in homage to Harrison. Ringo Starr holds down the groove and joins on vocals.

"Now and Then" is more than a worthy parting gift from the most beloved rock band of all time. And you can experience it a la carte or as part of the Red and Blue albums — the Beatles' epochal, color-coded 1973 hit compilations, remixed by Martin, with expanded tracklistings, out Nov. 10.

Ahead of "Now and Then," which will arrive on Nov. 2, read an interview with Martin about his approach to the emotionally steamrolling single — and the host of Beatles classics that flank it on Red and Blue.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

What was the thinking behind the expansion of the Red and Blue albums?

That kind of stemmed from "Now and Then," really. You know, we finished "Now and Then," and then there was the thought about, OK, it can't go on an album. What are we going to put it on?

There was a thought about trying to respect people's listening tastes. And the fact that they've changed — and the No. 1s, for example, don't really reflect the most popular Beatles songs that people are listening to.

Then, we realized it was the 50th anniversary of Red and Blue. For a whole generation — much older than you, my generation — the Red and Blue albums have this sort of gravitas behind them. I know all the tracklistings; even though I think I was 3, when they came out, we had them at home.

So, we decided to do the Red and Blue albums — which took quite a long time, because there was quite a lot of stuff to do on them.

Since you've remixed all the Beatles albums from Sgt. Pepper's onward, I've been glued to the pre-1967 material — this is the first time I've heard your touch on their early work. Remixing songs as early as 1962 must have been a whole different ballgame.

In all honesty, that was the fun bit.

You know, we couldn't have worked on these songs six months ago; the technology had to be developed in place so we could do this — separate drums, bass and guitar, and have the different elements. And they sound good; it doesn't sound strange or artifact-y in any way.

I think people will talk about "Now and Then" for "Now and Then." But I [also] think the true innovations come back from the early Beatles stuff. The way that it pops out; the way that the records still sound like the same records. Hopefully, the character doesn't change, but the energy is different.

Ringo always said, "We're just a bunch of punks in the studios," and they sound like a bunch of punks in the studios. Now, they sound the age they were when they played it.

And that's so key to me, to making these records — that they sound like that. You know, they were way younger than Harry Styles is now, when they were making these records. People think they're old guys, and they're not.

That, to me, is important, in a way. We get old — I hate to break that to you, but we do get old. And recordings, by their nature, stay the same age. And the Beatles will always be that age on those records.

I think, now, they sound like a bunch of young guys in the studios bashing their instruments, and I think that's really exciting, and the technology we've applied has enabled us to, bizarrely, strip back the inadequacies of the technologies they had.

And I don't mean that in a pompous way. What I mean is that my dad never wanted the Beatles to be coming out of one speaker, and then coming out of another speaker. They didn't want the two tracks to be like that. He hated it. He hated it.

But now, we can have the drums coming out of the middle, like a record is now. He can luxuriate in that, and I think it's fun and exciting.

I'm noticing so many heretofore-obscured details in their early work. The vocal flub on "Please Please Me." The maniacal bongos that power "A Hard Day's Night."

I think you're right, but I think from experience — which, actually, I have a lot of now — there is a beauty in the reality.

What I mean by that is: so much music is perfect, and it's fabricated. There are checks and balances that go on, to make sure that everything is in tune, in time. And all this stuff goes on, which is fine and it suits a place. But it's a bit like the dangers of plastic surgery — everyone ends up looking the same.

And in records, everyone's sounding the same. We dial in so it's exciting, and it becomes boring, essentially, is what I mean.

The excitement you get from hearing a mistake in a song you've heard for years doesn't necessarily demean the song itself. It doesn't make you think, Oh my god, the band is s—. You think, Oh my god, what's exciting is these are humans. These are human beings in a room, making noise.

People go, "Well, who's responsible for the sound of the Beatles? Is it your dad? Is it Geoff Emerick? Is It Norman Smith…" blah, blah, blah. I go, "No, it's the Beatles. It's the fact they're four friends in a room. They make that noise."

And that's the thing about great bands; great bands make a great noise together, and they don't even know how they do it themselves. That's the beauty of it.

It's like, why do you love someone? "Well, because they're nice to me," or because they're whatever. You can't explain things; they just happen. And there's something about "Please Please Me," all that early stuff — you can hear it. It's something just happening, and that's so exciting. God, I sound like such an old hippie.

The Beatles in 1962

*The Beatles in The Cavern, Liverpool, August 1962. Photo © Apple Corps Ltd.*

Your first Beatles remix project, for Sgt. Pepper's, came out five years ago. On the other side of the coin, The Blue Album features songs from that dense, psychedelic era, like "I Am the Walrus," which is such a beast. That must have been a different kind of fun.

Yeah, well, "Walrus" is a beast. I've actually gone back and re-changed the stereo [mix] recently, because I got asked questions like, "Why did I change the end section so it didn't sound like the original?" I was thinking, Did I? I didn't do it deliberately. It's just the balance of speech versus vocals and stuff like that.

I was very lucky, because "Walrus" was on the Love album and show. I tackled a version of that before, and know how tricky it is.

Because by its nature, "Walrus" sounds technically bad, but it's beautiful. It's beautifully ugly as a record, and they're the hardest ones, because you don't want to take away the character. You don't want to remove the grime, because the grime is the record. I spent a lot of time looking at this and doing this — hopefully, we're in a good place with "Walrus."

You know, music's about, How does this make you feel? You don't want to feel secure around "Walrus" at any stage; you want to be unnerved by it. People sort of ask about plugins and technology, and it's like, it's not about that — something you can get on a shelf. How it makes you feel is the most important thing.

You once said that a White Album remix couldn't be too smooth — it's "slightly trashy. It's visceral. It slaps you in the face." I thought of that while listening to the remixed "Old Brown Shoe"; George's vocal is way grimy on that one.

This is going to sound really ridiculous — and I've been through this with a number of different people — but my job is to make a record sound like how you remember it sounding. Because records never sound like how we remember them sounding. And you go back and go, Was that really there?

Some people accuse me of doing stuff that I haven't done, or maybe forgot to do, or whatever. But the fact of the matter is that we kid ourselves all the time, and we fill in the blanks constantly.

It's like, "What about the vocal of 'Old Brown Shoe'? Why does it sound like this?" And I go, "Well, it sounds like that on the record." It's part of the character of the record. If it was too clean, it wouldn't sound [right].

George was very particular at that stage. He didn't get many goes, is the way I would say it, because he wasn't given enough songs.

There's a story [Beatles engineer] Ken Scott told about The White Album, of him doing "Savoy Truffle" — which is incredibly bright as a song, by the way. And my dad apparently went, "You know, it sounds quite bright, George." And he goes, "I know, and I like it." Like, "I know, and f— off," basically.

You have to respect the artists' wishes when you're doing these things, even though they're not there. Yeah, on "Old Brown Shoe," the vocal's quite strange. But that's what George wanted it to sound like, and [far be it from] me to say it shouldn't sound like that.

The Beatles in 1965

*The Beatles in 1965. Photo © Apple Corps Ltd.*

What's your understanding of the extent of the work the Beatles put into "Now and Then" back in 1995, before they aborted it?

I wasn't there, so I'm just going to speculate. What Paul played me — what we worked on together — was kind of after he'd looked at the material they did together.

Far be it from me to argue with a Beatle: there were some things that I thought we should change from that recording. There were a few synth [things], which I thought, once we decided to put strings on it, [weren't necessary].

You know, the key thing is that George is playing on it. Therefore, it is, by definition, a Beatles song, because all four of them are on it. People ask me, "Why is this the last Beatles song?" Well, there's not another song. There won't; there can't be another song where all four Beatles are playing on it.

So, there were bits and pieces that were used and not used. I don't think they spent a lot of time working on it, but essentially, what we kept was George — and obviously, John's vocal, which then we looked at.

Listening, I was thinking, Thank god that George tracked a rhythm guitar part and harmony vocal back then. Or else, this couldn't happen. Or, if it happened, you and your team would never hear the end of it.

What was interesting was, we did the string arrangement. I sat down with Paul in L.A., and there are lots of chugs and "Eleanor Rigby" kinds of ripoffs in the string arrangement.

And what essentially happened was, Paul spent a lot of time listening to what George was playing on the guitar, and it really changed the arrangement. It's in service to the guitar; it doesn't go against George's playing. They were completely respectful of the other Beatles, and made sure it was a collaboration, and it was all four of them.

As Yoko said to me, "John is just a voice now." And I think it sounds like the Beatles, "Now and Then."

Looking at the post-"Now and Then" Beatles landscape, I'm enticed by which Beatles albums you'll remix next. The select tracks on Red and Blue open a door to what Rubber Soul or Beatles For Sale redux might sound like.

Technology doesn't — and never has — made great records, but it creates a pathway. You can do certain things that you couldn't do in the past. And the most exciting thing for me is — as you say — it does open that door to that early material, which we couldn't have done before.

I suppose fortuitously, we kind of worked backwards, in a way — and it made sense to do that. I couldn't have done what I've done on The Red Album even six months ago, probably; it's that quick. I love the fact that the Beatles are still breaking new ground with technology that will pave the way for other artists.

The Beatles in 1969

*The Beatles during a photo session in Twickenham, 9 April 1969. Photo: Bruce McBroom / © Apple Corps Ltd.*

I can't imagine what this next week of "Now and Then" promotion will be like. There's an incredible weight to this. You must be feeling that.

Well, I mean, there's some perspective. My mom's just died. So, it's like [dark laugh] what's important in life?

It's a funny time. We just talked about her funeral arrangements, and she's getting buried the day, I think, the record comes out. So, there are personal things for me in this.

I've been doing interviews this week, and people have asked me, "How do you feel about what your motivation was?" Somebody was saying I'm talking about the Beatles as a resource, or whatever. I go, "You do these things and hope people get touched by stuff."

When you say you enjoy "Now and Then," that's really nice, because that's why we do it. We do it so people can listen to stuff and not just hear it. "Now and Then" sounds like a love song. It sounds like a song that John wrote for Paul, and the other Beatles: "I miss you/ Now and then."

It sounds like Paul has gone there, which I think he did. You know, no one told Paul to go and do it, and Paul didn't go, This would be a great exercise for the Red and Blue Album.

He was at home in the studio. He dug on the record and started working on it, because it's his mate. And he really misses John. I mean, that's the truth. They broke up, and John died nine years later. It really isn't very long.

So, I hope that people listen to the record and they think about loved ones. Or they think about things. That's what I hope. I don't really care about anything else — do you know what I mean? What I'm excited by is people being touched by it.

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