Thursday, May 10, 2012

Missing TV

About ten years ago I cancelled my cable and haven't regretted it since. Until now, perhaps. I'm not totally unfamiliar with what is on television: alert readers may have noticed that I'm a fan of the work of Joss Whedon. But I don't like having anything broadcast at me. Instead, I buy the dvds. But I may have missed an interesting moment recently. Last Sunday on Mad Men the episode ended with Don Draper listening to "Tomorrow Never Knows" from Revolver. I have season one of Mad Men on dvd, but haven't seen the more recent ones.

You almost never hear songs from the Beatles incorporated into television shows, even ones taking place in the mid-sixties when they were nearly ubiquitous. Why this odd distortion of history? The reason is copyright. In order to play even part of this remarkable song, the producers of Mad Men had to pay $250,000. It may in fact have been the only time a Beatles song, performed by the Beatles, was used in a television show--apart from their own live performances in the 1960s.

Well, let's join Don Draper and have a little listen:


It is hard now to imagine the impact of something like that in 1966. Pop music, driven by very intense commercial competition, tends to fall into ruts pretty easily. As soon as someone finds a new kind of lick, or rhythm or arrangement, everyone else tends to copy it. But the Beatles weren't like that. Early on, you find them speculating about what the next big thing would be. Country? Latin? And you can hear examples of these genres on the early albums. But at one point they realized that THEY were the next big thing. And that led to a lot of genuinely creative music. In this track, for example, they use a whole set of tape loops, which had never been done before (and scarcely done since) in popular music. The likely predecessor was probably Stockhausen's Gesang der J√ľnglinge. People have commented on the similarities. But the differences are even more important. Just listen to what Ringo came up with. He had to invent a new kind of drumming for this song. He had to do that a lot in the next few years.


Anyway, I kind of wish I had seen the Mad Men episode as it would have been nice to have been surprised by "Tomorrow Never Knows" on television. So little is surprising on tv these days...

1 comment:

TC said...

I have to music licensing for television shows has led to a lot of surprises for me. Some of the song choices throw me for a loop but I love discovering new music that way.