2021, a year that will need to hire a publicist. The sting in its tail undid all the good work it had done over summer. If it doesn’t want to be remembered as the Grinch that stole Christmas it will need more spin than a Tory Party press release. And for a while it had looked so good.
It had delivered albums I will treasure long after the antigen tests have gone. Beautiful works from Aimee Mann, For Those I Love, Public Service Broadcasting, Mick Flannery, The Coral and so many more. Somehow, amongst the chaos creativity thrived. And as for the comebacks… well.
Up first was Abba. I’d heard the rumours, but didn’t believe them. There will be a catch, a caveat or some sleight of hand. It won’t be real. But it was real. Benny and Bjorn had written new songs and Agnetha and Anni-Frid were singing them.
Nothing could quite prepare you for it. It felt like the '80s again. I approached nervously. What if it was rubbish? But it wasn’t. Those voices with those songs, still held the power of alchemy. It was magic.
It turned out to be just the opening act. There was a juggernaut to follow, a seismic cultural event that would actually re-write our understanding of the Sixties: Peter Jackson’s unearthing and restoration of the recording sessions for The Beatles’ Let it Be album. This was time travel and a return to a far more pleasant middle earth.
Jackson was exactly the right man for this. It needed someone who could deal with massive projects, painstakingly and in no rush. Someone who had the resources to see four of his people expend 14 years making 16mm film look vibrant and alive.
He had previously made World War One come alive. That was wonderful but overarchingly sad. This was different. This was wonderful but overarchingly joyous. The promo, released earlier in the year had teased that this would be a positive experience. If anything it undersold its startling magnificence.
I watched it, as most people did, over the course of many nights. It was too much to take in all at once. I noted too the reaction on social media, amazed by how differently we all seemed to see it. We all loved it, but often for widely different reasons, our attention taken by wildly different aspects of the same tale.
Since then my standing in music and radio had made me a ‘go-to’ man for long, in-depth discussions of the show. People point at me and say, “you, outside now.” And there they regale me with their observations. These are varied and nuanced, but a thread has emerged of things on which it seems we all now agree.
1. Yoko did not break up the Beatles. She is a benign, happy, smiling presence throughout. It is also just a few months since she miscarried. Is it really so unusual, given the circumstances, that John was reluctant to leave her alone?
2. John was a top bloke. He was very funny, quite incredible on guitar, and a wonderful spirit in the studio.
3. Every time Paul sat at the piano something unbelievable happened.
4. Billy Preston really was the 5th Beatle.
5. It was the death of Brian Epstein that marked the true beginning of the end.
But Get Back’s triumph was not without collateral damage. The size of its success, I suspect, surprised everyone, not least one of the surviving Beatles. Paul I think was already planning something big for 2021, but it wasn’t a TV show.
It was his magnum opus, The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present. Not an autobiography, but his life told through the prism of the songs he has written, many of them the greatest songs of all time. It is a huge, 1084-page undertaking, somehow lost in the slipstream of Jackson’s success.
It’s a great pity as the book has something most of us can relate to: Say a date to many of us and we will stare back blankly. But name a song from a particular era and it all changes. “Oh yes,” you will say, “that was number one the day Ireland were playing France.”
Macca’s brain works that way too, except with him it's where he was and what was happening the day he wrote Yesterday, or I Saw Her Standing There. So, dare I suggest, should you have the odd book token left after the festivities?