That tracks

In arguing for the exclusive primacy of the studio track as the work in rock music, Theodore Gracyk points out that the Beatles stopped touring as they became fixated on sophisticated albums. I heard an interview with Michael Lindsay-Hogg today which upends the example.

When producing the promotional film for “Hey Jude”, Lindsay-Hogg decided he needed more visual interest to accompany the instrumental bit at the end. So it was recorded in front of an audience. Over the course of several takes, the Beatles got into it. As Lindsay-Hogg tells it, this led to the idea of a concert movie which became the documentary Let It Be.

The rooftop concert for Let It Be was the last time the Beatles performed together live, because the band broke up. But it’s not hard to imagine that if they had stayed together then live performance would have continued to be an important part of their formula.1

So the example of the Beatles better supports pluralism about the ontology of rock. The studio track can be— and often is— a work of artistic interest. But so can live (or recorded) performances. So can a song itself or interpretive choices within a version of a song. The details of particular cases can make one of these more interesting than the others, but that doesn’t always point towards the track.2

  1. As Lindsay-Hogg points out in the interview, playing together and touring also puts a band in proximity to one another with time on their hands that can be used for songwriting.
  2. Gracyk’s other example of a band that stopped performing live is Steely Dan, but I’ve never really liked Steely Dan.

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