11 Things That Bum Me Out About Sirius XM's New Beatles Channel

A channel that plays Beatles music 24/7 should be amazing. And yet ...EXPAND
A channel that plays Beatles music 24/7 should be amazing. And yet ...
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Sirius XM features channels dedicated to the music of Neil Diamond, Springsteen, Elvis Presley, the Grateful Dead, Pearl Jam and Tom Petty. It also has curated channels for Jimmy Buffett and Ozzy Osbourne, and of course there’s Little Steven’s Underground Garage, Which Plays a Helluva Lot of Southside Johnny and Omigod By the Time I Was in 10th Grade in 1977 I Had Heard All the Southside Johnny I Ever Wanted to Hear (that’s the actual name of the channel, you can look it up).

Which is all to say that the Beatles Channel on Sirius XM, which launched in May, is a welcome and overdue addition to the satellite radio universe. I have spent a great deal of time listening to the Beatles Channel, and I have some observations and critiques inspired by this experience. These are presented in no meaningful order:

Remember when listening to the radio meant hearing an actual human play one of these?EXPAND
Remember when listening to the radio meant hearing an actual human play one of these?

1. I miss DJs.

Like many of the Sirius music channels, the Beatles Channel is largely automated, i.e., any DJ’s annotation or commentary has been removed. But without a live DJ, one gets the sense that some uncaring algorithm is selecting these songs. This is the music of our lives and memories; doesn’t it merit human narration? I feel the station is vastly more attractive when the human touch is evident, so I'm glad it at least features excellent weekly specialty shows presented by Bill Flanagan and Chris Carter. I even like it when it includes the occasional awkward fan request, because at least we get a sense that a Beatle lover is sharing his time with us, and not a computer programmed to act like a Beatle lover.

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2. Is the Beatles Channel allergic to The Fireman?

The three albums Paul McCartney and Youth recorded as The Fireman comprise some of the most remarkable music of McCartney's post-Beatles career (and the most recent of these releases, 2008’s Electric Arguments, may be McCartney’s most interesting album-length work outside of The Beatles). I do understand that the bulk of The Fireman’s music — shifting voyages over astral highways paved with colored gravel, sort of like Revolver via Hans-Joachim Roedelius — would sound somewhat odd between Ringo cheerfully mewling “You’re Sixteen” and April Wine’s version of “Tell Me Why.” But that’s exactly what this channel should be doing: reminding listeners of the diverse magic of the Beatlemind.

Beyond just The Fireman, the Beatles Channel has chosen to virtually ignore the fascinating experimental side of The Beatles’ solo work. Where the hell is George’s Wonderwall, Paul’s Thrillington, Lennon/Ono’s Life With Lions and Two Virgins? The latter two records, in particular, document an absolutely crucial time in the story of The Beatles and Lennon/Ono, and are a powerful reflection of Lennon’s extraordinary search for his emotional core and artistic self as The Beatles came to an end.

3. “Free As a Bird” is not a Beatles song, and please stop pretending it is.

With its treacle-thick Jeff Lynne production and its obligatory checklist of Beatlesque elements, “Free As a Bird” is a tombstone where there should be a butterfly house, and that over-processed, way-too-prominent snare is literally the hand slamming the coffin shut. Please let this Frankenstein’s monster of a track, released as a "new" Beatles song as part of the Anthology series in 1995 but in fact just the three other members jamming on top of an unreleased Lennon demo, die in the river under the castle, undisturbed by villagers.

4. You can play Ringo’s “Goodnight Vienna” all you want, but it’s still not a very good song.

There is not parity among The Beatles' solo careers. I understand Ringo is still alive (and his breath-drawing self is a factor in promoting the channel), but you cannot assume that Ringo’s LPs are the artistic equal to the albums of John, Paul and George. That simply isn’t true. It feels like (at least) one-fourth of The Beatles solo stuff the channel plays is by Ringo; certainly, some of is quite good (the Ringo album from 1973 is essential), but you can’t merely add up all the Beatles solo albums, throw out the really weird ones (note above), and divide by four.

5. If “What Goes On” isn’t the worst Beatles song, it is very, very close.

See, we learn things from listening to the Beatles Channel! On the upside, it is an absolute joy to stumble on treasures in places where you would have never thought to look. For example, there’s Paul’s bobbing, bubbling bass part on “Hey Bulldog,” Ringo’s atypical yet vastly effective Bobby Graham–ish drums on “For You Blue,” and the nearly Cramps-ish proto-punk of Lennon’s “Well Well Well,” from Plastic Ono Band. Sitting around at home, I would never have thought to seek out these great treats, but the very nature of an all-Beatles radio channel alerted me to them.

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