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Got to Get You Into My Life: HMXers and The Beatles Before The Beatles: Rock Band, Part II

Carolyn VanEseltine is a web QA tester at Harmonix.  When not searching for ways to break the website, she daydreams about forming a band with her friends.  Unfortunately, most of her musically inclined friends rock harder than she does, which does not bode well for her future membership.

Hello again!  As I promised last week, I’m back again with some stories from my colleagues about how the Beatles affected them before The Beatles: Rock Band.

Many Harmonixers found the Beatles at a very early age, and we particularly associate the Beatles with our families.  (Several of us owned Beatles albums as our first albums ever – see the HMXers First Records Story, too!)

  • “I discovered the Beatles through my father.  I knew every Beatles song inside and out before I was 3.  The album that sticks out the most to me is Magical Mystery Tour.  To this day it is my favorite Beatles album (strange, I know).  ‘Penny Lane’, especially, is probably the most well written song in contemporary music.”  - Nicolas Gregoire, Audio QA
  • “[When I was] growing up, my uncle would script a lot of home movies for us kids to participate in.  There were five cousins around the same age, so this gave him a decent cast to work with.  The first movie I did with him, my sisters and cousins was a music video to The Beatles’ 'Yellow Submarine.'  I was four years old.  He presented music and acting to us in this fashion about once a summer and also gave us the opportunity to be creative in a very interesting way as young children.  It started with non-scripted parts for little kids in 'Yellow Submarine,' but after a few years we were doing a lot more.”  - Matthew Reineck, Industrial Designer

My family is very musical, and the music of The Beatles is always something we enjoyed playing and singing together as a family.

  • “My parents introduced me and my two siblings to The Beatles at a very young age.  I remember driving around in our Buick station wagon listening to The Beatles’ Greatest Hits tape over and over again.  As I grew up, the music of The Beatles became further integrated into my musical interests as I started to learn about music.  My family is very musical, and the music of The Beatles is always something we enjoyed playing and singing together as a family.  As is the case for many people, I remember waking up on my birthday to the sounds of the song ‘Birthday’ pounding out of the family stereo.”  - Dave Plante, Audio QA
  • “When my mother bought her first CD player back in 1993, the first CD we purchased was The Beatles compilation, the 2-CD blue one that contained songs from 1967 to 1970.”  - Russen Guggemos, PHP Developer
  • “The Beatles have always been a part of my life.  My Dad’s favorite band is The Beatles, and he was always singing their songs around the house when I was a child. I had never really listened to The Beatles’ original versions, though. Dad has such a great singing voice that I never felt the need to seek out the originals. (More on Dad’s singing talent: once, while slightly inebriated, Dad heckled a Beatles cover band at a bar, to which they replied, “You think you can do better?!” He spent the next two hours singing to the enthusiastic crowd and getting free drinks for his effort.)”  - Christine Jandreau, Production Assistant: Web

I wasn’t the only Harmonixer-to-be who drifted off night after night to the music of The Beatles.  Matthew Nordhaus and Brett Milano had the same experience.

  • “When I was little, maybe four or five, my parents used to play music for my sister and me to put us to sleep. Sometimes Simon and Garfunkel, or Abbey Road, but our favorite was Yellow Submarine. My dad would put one speaker at the door of my sister's room and move the other one so it pointed into a heating grate between my room and the kitchen (the speaker wire would only reach that far). Then he would go back to the record player and start the record. 

    “The sound of an LP being played still brings back strong, happy, memories for me: hearing the needle drop onto the groove with a click, and then the subdued pop and crackle just before Ringo started singing ‘In the town where I was born...’ 

    “Every once in a while he would put on side two by accident, and my sister and I would shout ‘SCARY SIDE! SCARY SIDE!’ ‘The Sea of Holes’ incidental music was terrifying at that age.”  - Matthew Nordhaus, Senior Producer: Design

The first [one] I heard was “She Loves You”, the way those harmonies jumped out of the radio - like a jet plane taking off, and [it] hit me about as hard.

  • “Okay, I’m going to come out of the closet and admit that I am old enough to have heard a lot of The Beatles history in real time. I was six years old (do the math) when the first records were released and already very aware of the radio and the few records I had managed to collect (Elvis, Beach Boys, 4 Seasons….)  Suddenly one day my favorite station (WABC New York, home of Cousin Brucie) was going on about more Beatles records coming up in the next hour - what was this, and why was it suddenly so important?  The first I heard was “She Loves You”, the way those harmonies jumped out of the radio - like a jet plane taking off, and [it] hit me about as hard. A week later, my sister and I bought my mom Meet the Beatles! for her birthday.  She didn’t want it, so we kept it.

    “Most of my early Beatles memories happened in the dark - the radio on after bedtime, just absorbing whatever was on there, and there’d be a new Beatles record every few weeks.  They were always so different, something new for my young imagination: how did that poor girl get her face into that jar?  What’s a paperback and how do you write one?  And what’s this one mean, ‘she was a date dripper’?  I remember how ‘I Feel Fine’ made me want to turn the lights on and jump around the room, and how ‘Hey Jude’ just seemed to go on and on, longer than any song I’d ever heard. I remember hearing the backwards buts on ‘Rain’ and trying to figure out what those strange words were John was singing at the end. By the time of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, I had no idea what kind of world these sounds was coming from…but I sure wanted to find out.”  - Brett Milano, Writer

Like Brett, I was terribly curious about the meaning of it all.  (I remember asking my father why “no one was saved” in “Eleanor Rigby”.)  Michael Georgeson, however, had one song all figured out….

  • “The very first music I remember is the White Album.  I must have been about seven.  I normally ignored ‘grownup music’, but I was really taken with this album.  I especially remember loving the song ‘Rocky Raccoon.’ I liked the story and imagined the sad hero to look like this:

Michael Georgeson's rendering of Rocky Raccoon

- Michael Georgeson, Artist

Some Harmonixers didn’t even know who they were listening to when they listened to the Beatles.  The music moved them and stayed with them anyway.

  • “In second grade, the school guidance counselor came in with his guitar sometimes, and he’d sing sets of songs like 'Puff the Magic Dragon' and 'Yellow Submarine.'  I loved 'Yellow Submarine' more than anything else he sang, and didn’t know why that song was special, just that the vocal melody and guitar mixed together in a way I hadn’t heard before.  It felt great, while other songs only sounded great.  It was a few years before I learned it wasn’t a random kid’s song, which surprised me almost as much as learning it was a Beatles song.”  - Chris Lynch, Composer/Sound Designer
  • “Each year on my birthday, my sister’s birthday, my dad and even the dog’s birthday, my Ma would sing a weird birthday song that I was certain she wrote.  It was so bonkers! She had this odd guitar riff that she sang while doing one of those awesome mom dances and kooky lyrics that didn’t make complete sense.  I loved it more and more each year, but when I was thirteen I discovered it was penned by The Beatles and not my Ma.  The Beatles were not played in our house growing up, so there was no way for me to know (and this was before the Internet) - they didn’t make the cut over Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Whitney Houston & Mariah Carey.  I think of her whenever I hear it now.”  - Fish McGill, Associate Web Producer

Many Harmonixers started caring about the band as well as the music when they learned more about The Beatles themselves.

  • “For me, The Beatles were that band my mom always liked.  I don't generally share a lot of musical taste in common with my mother (sorry, Carole King isn't my thing), but that was the one band we've always seen eye-to-eye on.  I enjoyed them, although when I was a kid, it was just because it was cool-sounding music. 
    “I'm going to make myself sound kind of young here, but it wasn't really until that album they released with all of their #1 hits on it that I really got it beyond my mom's love of the band, or it being nice-sounding.  I pulled out the booklet in the CD and noticed all of the years of their hits, and thought to myself, ‘Wow, these are really close together.’  After that, it was just a matter of researching everything about them, and before long, I was living and breathing the band.  Now it comes up in conversation with my mom even more. (I even got her the stereo remasters for her birthday!)”  - Tom Brown, QA Tester
  • “I was a freshman in high school and totally had a crush on Gabrielle Deifik.  Gabby liked The Beatles, so I got my hands on Sgt. Pepper so I would be able to impress her with my vast knowledge of her favorite band.  Things never worked out with Gabrielle (although she's one of the few people from high school that I still talk to), but i've been a huge Beatles fan ever since, so there's that....”  - Bill Whitney, Composer/Sound Designer

John became my hero.  His mix of sarcasm, hope, and absurdity appealed to my teenage self.  I was stunned at 15 the morning my Dad told me he died. It was the first time I'd experienced mourning.

  • “My parents had the Rubber Soul LP, which I played incessantly when I was around 10 (enough to be surprised when a different song list came out on the CD - I have an ‘American’ Rubber Soul playlist now).  Around 11, I used the album to experiment with how records worked, and eventually discovered that I could sharpen my thumbnail, drop it in a groove, and play a song through my fingers.  The highlight was using three fingers to play 3 different parts of ‘Girl’ simultaneously.  Foreshadowing? 

    “Around 14, I got Sgt. Peppers and began a serious love affair with The Beatles.  In particular, John became my hero.  His mix of sarcasm, hope, and absurdity appealed to my teenage self.  I was stunned at 15 the morning my Dad told me he died.  It seemed impossible.  I rode my bike through the cold to a place in Forest Park where people were gathering.  It was the first time I'd experienced mourning; it felt good to be among all those people I didn't know, feeling the same things.”  - Seth Goldstein, Engineering Manager

I learned to play the piano thanks to the Beatles.  Robert Shepherd learned something else entirely.

  • “In high school, I had a two-disc Beatles compilation (the blue version) of their later work.  I had those discs on constant loop in my 3-disc (top of the line for 1996) CD changer.  One night, I became very inspired and wanted to impress a girl I went to school with.  I called her up and she started talking about poetry and other things that I just wasn't all too familiar with.  I remember trying to keep the conversation alive as I rested on an orange shaggy rug staring at my ceiling. As casual as a moose in a vat of honey, I told her that I loved to write poetry. Of course, this is where she asked me, ‘Oh really? Can you read me something?’ 


    “With a panicked look in my eye, I scanned the room and saw the glowing blue Beatles compilation.  I immediately grabbed the lyrics that were inside and flipped a page or so to ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps.’  I told her that I had something that I had been working on and that it was untitled.  I proceeded to read the lyrics: 

    I look at you all, see the love there that's sleeping 
    While my guitar gently weeps 
    I look at the floor and I see it need sweeping 
    Still my guitar gently...

    “On the other side of the phone line, all was quiet until I got to that point of my poetry scam.  Then the silence broke: ‘Rob...that is a Beatles song.’  How could she have known such an obscure band?  I was sweating in the spotlight, and there was no fixing this one. 


    “My early days of courting were tragically hilarious. 

    “What The Beatles mean to me is: don't steal creativity from others... write your own ****ing poetry.”  - Robert Shepherd, Associate Producer

Under the condition of anonymity, one more Harmonixer gave me one last Beatles-related story.  “Our ‘song’ is ‘Do You Want To Know A Secret’,” she told me.  “We are massive George Harrison fans - and that song pretty much describes our relationship.  It came up the first time we played the song together in-game - but when we were first dating (and before I worked at HMX and had any idea that we were making a Beatles game, because it wasn't public), we used to drive around listening to Beatles albums all the time.  And on the weekends, we watched [A] Hard Day’s Night and Help together…. When I started working here, I was prepping for E3 and the two of us were playing through a build. We started talking about how we didn't have a song. And I said: ‘Do you think we should have a Beatles song?’, and then we chose ‘Do You Want To Know...’ in the game menu, and it clicked….”

To sum up, a couple choice quotes:

  • “I’ve known The Beatles music longer than I can remember.”  - Matthew Reineck, Industrial Designer
  • “The music of The Beatles is one of the major elements in the soundtrack of my life.”  - Dave Plante, Audio QA

So here I am, surrounded by the crazy, dedicated, talented people who created The Beatles: Rock Band.  And by some amazing happenstance, it has my name in the credits.  Holy cow.  (And other eloquent, articulate things.)  Yet, as Kurt wrote to his uncle, it seems somehow right that I’m here.  And Dave Plante speaks for us all in one last comment…

  • “Working on The Beatles: Rock Band is an experience that I will never forget, and I’m so happy that in a small way I was able to contribute to their legacy.”  - Dave Plante, Audio QA

Needless to say, my parents have heard a bit about The Beatles: Rock Band.  But they live in Michigan instead of Massachusetts, and they haven’t seen it yet.  This year, when I go home for the winter holidays, my brother is bringing the hardware* and I’m bringing the software, and we can show them this amazing game that my friends at work made in tribute to the greatest band ever.  Mom’s a big fan, and her standards are high… but I think she and Dad will like it.

And just as I’m not unique in my pre-game love for The Beatles, I’m not unique in looking forward especially to the holidays this year.

  • “After playtesting The Beatles: Rock Band, I realized why Dad had so much love for these songs. There’s something about The Beatles’ music that’s really magical. You can’t help but smile and feel joyful when playing or singing along. I’m really looking forward to the next family get-together so I can sing along with Dad and share the same kind of joy he had when he sang these songs to me and my brothers.”  - Christine Kayser, Production Assistant: Web

How did you meet The Beatles?  Do any of the songs or movies have special associations for you?  We’d love to hear your anecdotes, and we welcome your comments here or in the forums.

Happy gaming!

* I’m flying; he’s driving.  Much safer.