in The People's Album

How do you find an interesting way to write about an album composed entirely of the most well-known hits by the most well-known rock band ever?  I don’t know.  I really don’t know.  But god dammit I’m gonna try.

Album: 1
Artist: The Beatles
Release Date: November 13, 2000
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 
12.3 Million

Why Was This Popular?

Because Sometimes America Loves Discovering (Or Rediscovering) The Good Stuff

To say that a mere album has the power to change someone’s life seems a little ridiculous.  After all, most albums just consist of a bunch of randomly aligned notes and words that some lonely guy probably put together over a few nights in the hopes of getting laid.  And yet at the same time, music is such an intangible thing that it has this weird power to communicate something deeply emotional that no other art form can achieve.  Which I guess is just a very roundabout way of me saying that I’m pretty sure this album changed my life.

The Beatles’ 1 came out in the fall of 2000, though I didn’t end up listening to it until about two years later during the summer of 2002.  At the time, I was first learning to play the bass guitar, and I was also starting to become more and more disillusioned with the state of modern rock music (Yeah, that’s right.  I was already experienced at being disillusioned with things when I was 13).  I can remember this because every time my bass teacher would want to teach me a new song, he’d ask “So, Colin.  Are there any new songs you’ve been into lately?”  And apart from the occasional Foo Fighters or Red Hot Chili Peppers song, my answer would usually be “Nah, not really”.

But then it happened.  One day my mom came home with a copy of The Beatles’ 1, and I thought “Yeah, maybe I should give those Beatles dudes a try.”  Of course I’d heard of The Beatles by then, though I wasn’t terribly familiar with a lot of their songs, possibly because my parents were born just a little too late for The Beatles to get much play in our household.  And I don’t want to say my mind was completely blown the first time I heard 1, since I guess even by then The Beatles reputation as a unanimously-loved band preceded them.  But I could instantly tell that I was listening to pure, unfiltered greatness when I heard that album, and my relationship with music hasn’t been the same since.

Needless to say, I ended up listening this album a lot.  Like A LOT.  As far as I remember I listened to 1 practically every night before going to bed from late August 2002 to around late December 2002 when I got Sgt. Pepper as a Christmas present — which got me to thinking that I should probably check out some of the other stuff these guys had done and see whether it was any good.  During those four months, a lot of my experience with 1 consisted of me intimately listening to it through my headphones on a CD player.  But a lot of it also consisted of me playing it out in the living room on my family stereo, which I think caused my parents to take notice and remember that oh yeah, these Beatles songs are pretty great, because of course they are.

And I think that serves as a nice little microcosm of why this album is such an anomaly in the canon of best-selling albums in the U.S.  It’s sold millions of copies because my generation needed some sort of sampler through which to get into The Beatles — a band whose heyday was far before our time, but whose influence was (and still is) being felt in innumerable ways.  And then for our parents’ generation, 1 served as a nice little way for them to revisit a band who were still the best thing the ‘60s ever gave us, and they could do it without having to dust off those old LP’s that’d been lying around in storage.

Did It Deserve To Be Popular?

It seems like a no-brainer that an album that was so purely intended for good in the face of the overwhelming evil of platinum-selling albums in the Soundscan era should’ve deserved to be popular.  But this does bring up the question of the Greatest Hits album’s place in popular music.  In my experience, Greatest Hits are something you buy when you’re trying to get into an artist, and then when you eventually get into that artist’s proper albums, you end up thinking, “Wow, that Greatest Hits album was a total waste of time and/or money.”  In fact, I was just reorganizing my CD collection the other day and noticed a Jimi Hendrix Greatest Hits that I had bought as a teenager, and noticed that basically every song off of it was on Are You Experienced.  So why didn’t I just buy Are You Experienced?  Because I hadn’t yet realized that for the most part Greatest Hits albums are dumb, and any band worth their salt has put out at least one quality album worth listening to in full.

This is especially true with a band like The Beatles, who are probably the only rock band who managed to release a lot of albums, all of which happen to be classics.  Really any of The Beatles albums — apart from maybe the Yellow Submarine Soundtrack or Beatles For Sale — could serve as accessible gateway albums for getting someone who’s never listened to The Beatles to listen to them.  Because despite The Beatles being known for their many artistic breakthroughs and expanding the vocabulary of popular music, it’s not like we’re talking about The Soft Machine or Captain Beefheart here.  The Beatles always wrote wonderfully accessible pop songs that have easily stood the test of time, and any music fan with half a brain shouldn’t have much trouble getting into them.

But maybe that doesn’t matter.  Because young people have a hard enough time listening to anything from five years ago, let alone fifty years ago.  So for that reason, I think 1 has been a necessary thing to have around, since these are literally the most likable songs in The Beatles catalogue.  And maybe in this day and age we need something that’s so extremely likable to turn people on to The Beatles.  Also, it’s an interesting album just in that you can so clearly hear the linear evolution of this band, but do it all in one 70-minute block.  And apart from its lead-off track “Love Me Do” (I’ve never been a fan), I’d say every single song on 1 is fittingly representative of The Beatles’ enduring legacy.

Would I Pay Money For This?

I wouldn’t at this point in my life.  But as I said, it’s a good album to listen to when you’re either really young, or really old.  So God-willing that we still have music in the future, I look forward to the year 2064 when I can celebrate the 100th anniversary of The Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show by uploading 1 to the microsupercomputer that’s been implanted in my brain.  Good times.

Next Time On The People’s Albums: I’ll say “bye bye bye” to my manhood since it’s gonna be me listening to and writing about ‘NSYNC’s No Strings Attached.