“Beatlemania is a temporary state of mind that can only be accurately described by the state of one under its influence.”
This snippet from an old news report was re-broadcast earlier this summer on SiriusXM’s “The Beatles Channel.” Once the phrase “temporary” is removed, it serves as a mission statement of sorts for this 24/7 bastion of Fab Four–focused programming. The maniacs have the wheel, and their madness is contagious.
The Beatles Channel, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, has an expansive mission. First and foremost, it hopes to broaden the Beatles’ narrative to encompass nearly everyone whose orbit they touched in any way. History is written by the winners, so how did the singers who were swept off the charts by the Beatles’ British Invasion fare? You knew that John Lennon was murdered, but did you know that James Taylor lived just a block away and heard those fatal shots from his window?
“In a culture that’s emerging of playlists and randomness and algorithmically generated music, it’s interesting that at the end of the day, when you do something like this, you realize how this is not able to be duplicated algorithmically,” says Scott Greenstein, SiriusXM’s President and Chief Content Officer. “Take the greatest computer coder ever, the guy who invented ProTools, you’re still never gonna be able to program a Beatles channel this way. There’s a clear delineation: Certain things can’t be done other than by hand with people that artists trust.”
But any single-artist programming endeavor presents a challenge: How do you keep generating new content based around a finite catalog of 206 usable titles? Even Flanagan was initially skeptical that a weekly program would be able to keep Beatles fans hooked. “Really, two hours a week?” he remembers thinking when presented with the idea of co-hosting a call-in show. “You don’t think we’re gonna run out of ideas? They’re like, ‘Nope.’”
Finding extra sources of variety helps: On the Beatles Channel, canonical songs are mixed with selections from solo catalogs, hard-to-find B sides, covers from a wide variety of genres — Count Basie’s rendition of “All You Need Is Love,” for example — and even songs by non-Beatles that former Beatles contributed to in some way.
Hosts are free to organize shows around themes of their own choosing. “At some point I had an idea for the alphabetical format,” says Asher. “By restricting yourself to one letter of the alphabet, you think not only of songs, but people and places and events and stories all connected with your letter that week. It’s an apparent restriction that actually enables you to wander more widely.”
Flanagan has experimented with several through-lines. “Just yesterday, one of the producers said to me, ‘People don’t realize how many non-Beatles records Ringo has been the drummer on,’” he recalls. “So that sent us off on a show about, Ringo played on this Clapton record, this Joe Walsh record, this Howlin’ Wolf record. There’s a show I don’t think anybody has heard before: 16 or 18 songs by various famous artists from Stephen Stills to T Bone Burnett to Tom Petty where the drummer is Ringo Starr.”
Some shows are organized around grander themes. “One of my favorites was called the ‘Let It Be’ moment,” Flanagan explains. “It was about the fact that at the same time that ‘Let It Be,’ a secular hymn, came out, Simon and Garfunkel did ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water, ‘ James Taylor did ‘Fire and Rain,’ then George [Harrison] did ‘My Sweet Lord,’ Billy Preston produced by George did ‘That’s the Way God Planned It,’ and then John answered the whole thing with ‘God,’ which was kind of a hymn for atheists. Suddenly you have a show that’s basically a theological argument from the Beatles in 1970 and 1971.”