Had John Lennon not died in 1980, this year he would have celebrated his 70th birthday on Oct. 9. And a month later, he would have seen the Beatles catalog appear on iTunes for the first time. In one week, Apple sold 1.4 million Beatles songs.
“Just imagine that we could live our favorite melodies,” Carly Paige of Phoenix sings on “Just Imagine,” which she composed out of Beatles song titles. She uploaded the video to YouTube on Jan. 14, 2010. She was 12 years old at the time. Now she’s 13.
I’ve been coming across them for years, ever since I started blogging Beatles covers. In 2008 I remembered a haunting rendition of “I Will” by folksinger Maura O’Connell, and wondered if her cover was on YouTube. It wasn’t, but so many others were.
A search for “Blackbird” yielded thousands of videos, on average about 10 new covers each day. And the breadth of countries astonished me. I’d heard The Beatles were popular in Japan, but I didn’t know about Chile and Germany. Brazil. Indonesia. Iceland. The list seemed endless.
Ages too ran the gamut, from old-timers who could barely carry a tune to kids in grade school, and everything in between. For a band that broke up 40 years ago, such lasting and pervasive influence is extraordinary.
It gave me hope to travel the world via the Internet. In a year of grim political and economic news, I could take a break by way of a YouTube. I discovered a South Korea child prodigy named Sungha Jung. One day he was fingerpicking “Blackbird” on a guitar custom made for his little-boy body, and a few years later he was touring the world. Last January Jung performed in Seattle with Colorado musicianTrace Bundy.
When I see children sing the same songs I learned at their age (“I’ll Follow the Sun” by two serious little girls, followed by their not-so-serious approach to “Mr. Sandman”) it does my heart good. The ground feels a little more solid when at least one tradition is handed down to the generations to come.
YouTube stars may hope to sell their work someday, but unless they live under a rock, they must know the air has gone out of the music business balloon (which is looking more and more like the poetry “business” every day). In truth, they sing for pleasure. Although the performers put forth the effort to sing the song and upload the video, they thank their viewers instead of the other way around.
I have to believe these Beatles fans across the globe make war propaganda a more difficult sale. All video on the Internet has. How do you convince Americans we should drop a bomb on Iran when they’ve watched ayoung, unarmed protester named Neda Agha-Soltan, who looked like a typical college student in the United States, die before their eyes?
Diplomats and generals have said the war we are trying to win in the Middle East and Asia is a war of culture, of “hearts and minds.” The Beatles, arguably the most beloved of any export from the West, could not have known that one day their music may prove more useful to the cause of peace than standing armies, and not necessarily because of their lyrics. Maybe just because they wrote so many great songs.
And the Beatles are not alone in their ability to transcend geographic and cultural boundaries. On Dec. 5, 2010, a flashmob congregated in Bali. Right there on YouTube you can see over 900 people sing and dance to “Love Today” by the flamboyant British singer-songwriter Mika. If youwatch the video, you’ll see flashmobbers wearing the same bright, psychedelic colors on Mika’s EP cover. And you’ll see several young dancers wearing hijabs.
From around the world, a baker’s dozen of the (totally subjective) best Beatles covers uploaded to YouTube in 2010. These musicians perform in New York City subways and college dorm rooms. Outdoors and in basements. One singer has his two kids keeping time by clapping. A man in Japan collaborates with a musician an ocean away. Two men sing with a rocking horse in the foreground. Hey, it’s YouTube. Expect anything.
In order of upload date, beginning Jan. 2, 2010:
Out of the mouths of babes and The Beatles: Peace. RIP John Lennon and George Harrison. Your message lives on.
[originally published by Politics Daily in 2010]