“A Day in the Life”.” Eleanor Rigby”.” Something”. “What Goes On”.
Are these song titles immediately recognizable by you as Beatles songs?
John wrote the first, with a little help from his friend, Paul.
Paul of course wrote the haunting second song. George, poor George, considered by the Lennon/McCartney team as a second rater, was allowed by John and Paul just one or two of his own songs to appear on each new album.
Of course “Something” is a brilliant and beautiful song, as good as any by Paul and John. Frank Sinatra called it the best love song in history.
And Ringo wrote the least number of songs; “What Goes On” is one of just half a dozen he wrote for the Beatles, including “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Octopus’ Garden”.
People used to ask “Who’s your favorite Beatle?” as a conversation starter. The answer supposedly revealed some deep aspect of one’s personality, like your astrological sign.
What does all this have to do with consumer tech and the Internet?
Well I asked myself the question, if the Beatles were tech companies, which one would they be, and my answers … Well you be the judge of them, as I don’t think anyone else has ever made this comparison.
You Say Yes, I Say No
First you should know that John and Paul did not write together as a traditional song writing team: they competed more than they collaborated. Yet the first person to hear the newest song by Paul was John, and vice versa, and they often suggested a chord progression here, a melody change there.
George wrote by himself, as did Ringo. George played the songs for John and Paul, and they decided which one or two would appear on their next album.
OK, here’s my take on if the Beatles were tech companies, which would they be?
Without a doubt, Paul would be Apple. Even though it was John who came up with the name of their record label. When Jobs and Wozniak founded Apple computers, the Beatles’ management immediately objected, and an agreement was reached allowing Apple Computers to retain the name, as long as they stayed out of the music business. There were at least three court trials resulting from Apple Computers breaching this agreement, but they were resolved with the Beatles’s Apple Corp paying fines to Apple Computer, and as of Nov 16, 2010, the Beatles’ music was available for download on iTunes.
Paul has a great deal of Steve Jobs’ obsession with perfection and micromanagement about him and his music. He generally wrote all the parts for the others, even telling George exactly how to play the solo on a certain song. “Play it yourself then,” George said, and left the studio. So Paul did.
His standout songs set new standards for pop music, with beautiful soaring melodies, unusual instruments (such as the piccolo trumpet in “Penny Lane”) and was a perfectionist in the studio, overseeing every detail of the recording in progress, under the watchful eye of producer George Martin.
Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
Jobs was the same with his products. His breakthrough new devices — the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone — were not necessarily new concepts, but he saw the market for them and perfected them. He was such an obsessive that he demanded that the inner circuitry of his sleekly styled products be just as elegant to the eye as the designs of his products were on the outside.
He was also devious to his partner, Steve Wozniak, claiming that he had sold the first Apples at much lower prices than he had actually received, pocketing a few thousand dollars that rightly belonged to Woz.
Paul pulled a similar stunt. The Beatles did not own the copyrights to their music. The labels did. He advised his bandmates at one point that they should invest in buying the rights to their back catalogs, which the rather naive Beatles took as good advice. What Paul didn’t mention was that he had been buying up their music for a couple years, and though there was still plenty available, Paul got the cream of the crop.
Though John was the official band leader, Paul often took the initiative in business and creative endeavours, and frankly the others were relieved that Paul was looking out for them. He did the fewest drugs, after all, and he injected a sense of discipline in the studio and a strong work ethic.
So, Paul is not Steve Jobs. He didn’t throw temper tantrums, he didn’t fire people on the spot. He was driven, but not mercurial. But he helped create a musical brand name that was popular around the world, and bespoke quality. He is Apple.
Now John is harder to place. His appetite for knowledge was well known, and though he did many despicable things to his family and bandmates, his pretensions of doing good in the world, his various and often silly press stunts like his bed-in for world peace, his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War, his efforts on behalf of the poor and the hungry, all these make him the Google of the band. Google’s famous motto, “Do no evil”, would characterize John’s public activities to bring about a better world.
This despite the incredible cruelty he inflicted on his first family, his manager, Brian Epstein, and many others who crossed or annoyed him. But his public persona fits Google’s image, and his forays into other art forms, such as film and poetry, have their corollaries in Google’s research into, well, everything, from artificial intelligence to quantum computing.
Baby You Can Drive My Car
George can have no better match in the tech world than Samsung, the Korean electronics and industrial giant that most people know as the makers of top of the line phones and tablets. Samsung is third behind Apple and Google in the public mind, but it is constantly innovating and producing huge volumes of gear.
It is an also ran behind Google and Apple, but, just as George released All Things Must Pass, his first solo record in the form of a then unheard of triple album, filled with songs he had been saving up for years, and incorporating classical Indian instruments into his pop songs, Samsung releases entire lines of phones and tablets with startlingly varied features, for many price ranges.
It is true that Lennon/McCartney and George were not artistic competitors, whereas Samsung is clearly aiming at becoming the new Apple, which we somehow know is never going to happen. George’s output after the Beatles was prodigious, and he even had a number of big hits, but he never achieved the level of commercial success enjoyed by Paul and John in their solo careers.
And George weathered a copyright violation court action, just as Samsung is constantly fighting off patent infringement lawsuits from Apple.
The bringer of the suit was Bright Tunes Music Corp. In 1962, Ronald Mack wrote a song called “He’s So Fine,” which was a big hit here and in the UK for the Chiffons.
George’s first solo album contained a song called “My Sweet Lord,” which had been released in a different version a couple years earlier with longtime Beatles collaborator Billy Preston. But it was George’s version which hit number one, and though he admitted that he had heard the original, there were significant differences. But just listen to the two versions on YouTube and you’ll see why the judge deemed “My Sweet Lord” a veritable copy, despite George’s vigorous objections involving complex song structure and music theory. These were valid and true, but to average listeners they still sounded like the same song.
But George in the end graciously recompensed the performers and publishers, and he conceded that the chorus, at least, was essentially the same. Like Samsung, George was prolific and he was always experimenting with new forms, as Samsung leads the Android market with the sheer variety of formats factors, entire lines of phones and tablets, and setting the bar with the quality and diversity of their products.
Ringo is tougher to place. He was an above average drummer in a genius band (Paul would sometimes take drums when Ringo was tired or couldn’t get what Paul was after). But he set the standard for drummers in rock and roll, and he provided a propulsive beat that drove the band.
If Ringo was a tech company he’d be Blackberry, known as RIM till a recent name change, just as Ringo was born Richard Starkey before assuming the stage name of Ringo Starr. He was the oldest Beatle, just as Blackberry was the oldest major producer of smartphones. Blackberry did one thing very well, communication, and its smartphones were distinctive for their physical keyboards, their email, and their ubiquity.
After a long session typing business correspondence on a Blackberry, one might be tempted to shout, as Ringo did spontaneously at the end of Helter Skelter, “I got blisters on me fingers!”
Ringo hated the vitriolic arguments that tore the Beatles apart, in fact fame never changed him. He was the one called on to deliver messages to the others when they weren’t speaking, he was the one who begged the others to just get along, and, after the break up, he teamed up with other aging rockers to tour as something of an oldies act.
Fact is, the others grew out of the Beatles and started successful solo careers. Ringo was something of a has been. Just as Blackberrys were once essential, they soon found themselves adrift and alone, with inferior technology. Like Ringo.
Oh, he toured with Ringo’s All Starr Band, which was a supergroup of an ever changing line up of current and former rock stars, but it was like Blackberry’s refusal to give up or introduce radical change to compete. Frankly, the tech industry is surprised that they have hung in there till today.
I bet most readers still have an old Blackberry lying in their drawer, still too fond of it to recycle it. I have three.
The Beatles rise to the top was meteoric. It’s hard to believe they recorded together only eight years, about the same length of time it took smartphones to reach critical mass and their current state of technological sophistication.
It’s surprising that all the recorded music of the Beatles amounts to only ten hours and a few minutes.
It’s just as surprising how sophisticated smartphones have become in the last eight years. The first were relatively primitive, totally unlike today’s ten core flagships with blazing speed and super high definition screens. It’s rather like Meet the Beatles compared to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
But just as the Beatles changed popular culture, rock music and society, smartphones have had a similar impact.
As John sang when he was just 20 years old (tragically, already half of his life) on “In My Life”:
There are places I’ll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all.
Paul Croke, former newspaper editor and longtime Washington DC area freelance writer, has loved gadgets and consumer electronics since he saw his first Dick Tracy watch. He writes about consumer technology.