A friend of mine is a huge fan of Doctor Who. He's watched every single episode ever made that still exists (and, since he's rather determined when he's enthusiastic, so have I), and has produced extensive lists and reviews of every story, along with a series of summary clips and videos to take people through the 40 year history of the show.
He is however, not a true fan of Doctor Who, though, by his own admission, this is not something he wants to be.
Why is he not a true fan?
Because he's perfectly willing to admit that a lot of Doctor Who stories are a little bit shit, being firmly of the opinion that Doctor Who is a show that started great, really great (Hello William Hartnell) and then started to slowly decline, rose up again to near it's former glory (Hello Tom Baker), but then, inevitably, began to sink once again into the turgid, volatile swamp that was 80s television, until only a pale, embarrassing shadow remained (Hello Sylvester McCoy).
A true Doctor Who fan, he has explained to me with an air of exasperation, loves Doctor Who. But not just that, they love each and every frame of every show that has ever been made. It can't be bad, they say, because it's Doctor Who. The reverence they hold for the show as a whole overcomes many things. Obvious plot flaws, painful and frustrating intercutting, bad design decisions, poor special effects, and, worryingly, a general sense of logic and common sense.
No, he is not a true Doctor Who fan.
By the same token, I am not a true Beatles fan.
I bring this up, as I have just finished listening to their collected albums, a set I purchased roughly a week ago. The Beatles is something that I missed a little. Yes Sam, you patiently explain. This is because the Beatles broke up 15 years before you were born. Fair point, I respond. But that's not what I meant. So shut up.
When I say I missed the Beatles, it was not for lack of opportunities. I did hear a few songs over the years, my dad had a cd of some of their singles, and a friend of mine was absolutely mad about the Beatles, so I heard some more through him, though I never really got into them. (Some more things my friend was absolutely mad about that I failed to get into: Bike Riding, Socialism, Carbohydrates, Yoghurt Making, and Getting Mugged.)
In all honesty, as a child and teenager I thought the beatles were rather dull. Some nice songs to be sure, but nothing amazing, you know. (This is before I knew what harmony was, and that harmony was awesome.)
I also knew that The Beatles, to put it mildly, got a little weird after a while. I was (and am) a very big fan of songs that had clear melody you could hum along to, and some of the psychedelic era songs I had heard were very hard to hum along to (if you don't believe, me try humming along to the crescendo at the end of A Day in the Life. See I told you so), and just sounded like "a lot of noise."
But over the years my knowledge and understanding of music began to expand, and as I heard more of their music, I began to realise just how accomplished and proficient musicians they were (a love of George Harrison's solo career certainly helped), and decided that I really should give them another shot, and so saved up and lashed out on the newly spiffy and remastered collected set.
In some ways I was pleasantly surprised.
In other ways I wasn't unpleasantly not surprised in the least.
One of the biggest surprises is how much I enjoyed their early work. It's very different from their later years, and is comprised almost entirely of simple, uncomplicated poppy rock tracks, generally about a girl, or a guy who's got a girl, or a guy who hasn't got a girl, or paperback writers and other typical stuff like that. (wait...)
But it's a refreshing kind of simplicity, full of wonderful harmonies and no aspirations of greatness. There's no "we're bigger than Jesus" here, there's just a love of music and desire to play for people.
Around the time that the Beatles stopped touring (no small conicidence), their music changed dramatically. There was a lot more experimenting, a lot more trying new things, a lot more trying to be original. And, as many, many artists have discovered over the years, when you try something new and different, it could turn out to be not very good.
Don't get me wrong they wrote some excellent tunes during their studio years, but on every album their were always some rather dull tracks as well. For every Hello Goodbye or Back in the USSR, there's generally a Within You/Without You or Wild Honey Pie hiding in the tracklist somewhere. This started with Sgt Pepper, continued into Magical Mystery Tour, and peaked with The White Album.
Oh yes, the White Album.
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this album, for while it has some of my favourite tracks out of all the Beatles compositions (USSR, Prudence, Guitar Gently Weeps, Birthday) it also has more tracks that I'd prefer to skip than any other Beatles album. It also has the somewhat dubious honour of having the only Beatles track that I really, genuinely, and truly hate.
I am, of course, referring to Revolution 9, a track that takes my earlier "a lot of noise" comment and lives it out in it's full literal horror.
I will not refer to it as my least favourite Beatles song, as that would be an insult to music in general. For those of you who have not heard this track, it is 8 minutes and 22 seconds of random sentences, looped snippets of music, backwards recordings, and general cacophony and screaming.
In short, it has nothing in it that could even be generously be referred to as 'a song'.
At this point I would like to dramatically proclaim that this was it, the point of no return, the one step to far, the proverbial straw that hit the proverbial camel with a crowbar (proverbial or otherwise), and that the Beatles never recovered from the depths to which they had sunk.
The only problem with that is that their next two albums are actually quite good, in fact, Abbey Road is probably the best of the lot, and Let it Be isn't far behind. They hark back to the earlier melodies and simplicity of their early years, while maintaining the technical proficiency and skill they had developed, as well as the improvements in studio tools that they had been using in their studio years as well. It is, in short, the best of both worlds.
So while I am definately a Beatles fan, and consider them one of the greatest, if not the greatest bands of last century. But I'm perfectly willing to admit that some of their songs are a little bit shit.
You'll notice that in my musings on the Beatles I haven't mentioned their recreational drug use, the friction between the band members, and the eventual breaking down that drove the members apart and into their solo careers.
This is because I do not care.
What has their friction, their arguments, and studio politics, or indeed what they ate for breakfast got do with their music? Some would say everything, I would say nothing. Surely, the only thing that matters when you're listening to a Beatles song (or indeed watching a film, or reading a book) is: Is it good to listen to? Am I satisfied, and entertained?
For this reason, I am not a true Beatles fan.
But, on the whole, I'm rather glad I'm not.