A brand launch across the universe.

More breaking news from the Beatles. You always hear that the Beatles brand has universal appeal. Why not market test it? That's exactly what will happen at 7pm EST tonight. NASA is beaming the Beatles song "Across the Universe," well, across the universe.

It's the first song to be sent into outer space, coinciding with the fortieth anniversary of the Beatles recording of the tune, which appeared on their Let It Be soundtrack. (This year is also the fiftieth anniversary of NASA.)

"Across the Universe"—considered by critics (and by John Lennon) as one of his best compositions—will be aimed towards the North Star, Polaris, 2.5 quadrillion miles away, where nearby residents can hear it in 431 years. If they like it we'll get quick feedback 431 years later.

Thousands of Beatles fans across the world are expected to play the song at precisely the time of launch tonight or watch the send-off on NASA TV.

But how is it that the Beatles' brand can generate such attention on Planet Earth thirty-eight years after they broke up? I will attempt to answer that question in a forthcoming book, Business Lessons From Rock. The short version: The Beatles, as a small business team, did almost everything right.

They were radically innovative (more so than any rock & roll band before or since); they were infectiously exuberant in their attitude and performance; they knew how to capitalize on their creative differences and even their personality conflicts; they recognized and then exploited what was uniquely distinct about them (their sound and their look); and they had "big, hairy, audacious goals" (a Jim Collins term) that they were driven to achieve.

The Beatles' creativity was showcased in their original songs, most of which were written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. "Across the Universe"—with its stream-of-consciousness lyrics that included a Sanskrit "hook"—was one of many brilliant classics.

But the song had an uninspired genesis. Lennon said he initially wrote it because he was irritated by the jabbering of his wife in bed, which drove him to pick up his guitar and express his annoyance. That might explain the opening lines: "Words are flying out like endless rain into a paper cup. They slither while they pass. They slip away across the universe."

But then he recognized he could transform his gripe into something uplifting and enduring. The next lines are Rumi quality: "Pools of sorrow waves of joy are drifting thorough my open mind, possessing and caressing me. Jai guru deva om. Nothing's gonna change my world. Nothing's gonna change my world."

Even after the song was finished and recorded it went unnoticed for months. (Lennon often complained that his songs were given less priority than McCartney's.) Later, producer Phil Spector came on the scene and put his finishing touches on it. "Across the Universe" became, arguably, the jewel of the Let It Be album—containing, in my opinion, Lennon's finest lyrics.

(A similar post can be found on TomPeters.com with more than sixty responses.)

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  1. Didn't know that was the origin of the lyrics (John Lennon being annoyed by Yoko's ramblings in bed). Figures that (a) she was annoying and (b) John was genius enough to turn that annoyance into musical poetry. I never paid that much attention to "Across the Universe" before, especially in my on-air DJ days. But now I will give it a new listen. Plus, I wanted to add to your blog's visitor count!!!!

  2. Thanks, Ken. You will be the first of thousands, I'm sure, to respond. Actually it was wife #1, Cynthia, not Yoko, that John was reacting to. I think you'll find the lyrics to be among his very best. BTW, I've gained much of my background info on how the L-Mc songs came into existence from Beatlesongs by William J. Dowlding.

    An ex-DJ like yourself might appreciate this: I was reading comments on the NASA blog last night about the Beatle launch and one respondent said she hoped they launched the version of "Across the Universe" that didn't have Phil Spector's syrupy production. Beatle fans always seem to know their stuff.

  3. Hey, have you heard about the Beatles tribute band, the Fab Faux, made up of top NY musicians, including members of the David Letterman Band and Conan O'Brien Band? There are hundreds of these clone bands - I've heard several that are pretty good - but I hear the FF are among the best.

  4. Yup, I've heard about them. I just found this YouTube clip on them (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5BDZpVMQ_w) that features a faithful rendition of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Apparently they don't care about LOOKING like the Beatles, but they have the chops to SOUND exactly like them. I used Fab Faux bassist, Will Lee (from the Letterman band), on a song I recorded in Manhattan in 1984. He walked in, heard the song once, and laid down an absolutely brilliant bass track. The guy is a pro.

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