A couple of weeks ago there was special on TV that celebrated the arrival of the Beatles in America, and their landmark appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in February, 1964. Several contemporary artists played classic Beatles songs, while surviving Beatles Paul and Ringo, their spouses, and other family members including Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon rocked out in the audience. The big finale saw both ex-Beatles taking the stage to perform some of their greatest hits. Ringo went on first. He looked very fit and energetic as he sang songs such as “Boys”, “Matchbox”, and “Yellow Submarine.” Then Paul joined him on stage for a performance of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, and “With a Little Help from My Friends.” From time to time the camera would scan the audience, where celebrities such as Tom Hanks and Dave Grohl were enjoying the show. There was also a lot of twenty-something women dancing and singing along like it was a Taylor Swift concert.
It’s always nice to see young people that appreciate the Beatles’ music, or any of the music my generation grew up with. Not that today’s music is all that bad. It just doesn’t have the same quality that music from the definitive years of rock and pop had. Another let down is that today’s music, and movies, and just about every other form of arts and entertainment, is way too digitalized. The pounding, pulsating sound of electronic dance, house, club, disco, or what-have-you is such a mind-numbing experience, who cares what the song is about. Then there’s the American idol, MTV, or YouTube path to stardom. In my day we used to stay up till midnight on weekends to see our favorite bands on shows such as “In Concert,” or “Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert”. There is an aura of mystique that surrounds a band that you only see in magazines or a couple of times a year on late night TV.
Getting back to the Beatles (Get Back Jojo!), I have read comments from some individuals on the internet that don’t like the Beatles, and can’t understand why Sgt. Pepper is considered by many to be the greatest rock album of all time. Some of them are just internet trolls, or right-wingers that think the Beatles were a “liberal” band, and their music appealed mainly to left-wing hippies. But there are some that just don’t like their music; and that’s okay. I didn’t like the music my parents listened to when I was young (even if I did, I wouldn’t have told nobody!). Let’s face it: The Beatles started out with only 3 guitars and drums. No backup keyboards, synthesizers, or orchestras (until later in their career). The Fender amps they relied on to power their sound was no match for today’s sound systems. If you have ever seen the video of the lads playing Shea Stadium in 1965, you know what I’m getting at. They couldn’t even hear themselves sing because girls in the audience were screaming so loudly. These days’ musicians have cordless microphones and headsets. A lot of the music seems to be piped in so the artists can focus on their dance routines. All this along with Dolby Surround Sound systems would make anyone sound better.
What it comes down to is, you had to have been around back then. I was 7 when the Beatles performed on Ed Sullivan in 1964. Soon after, I got “Meet the Beatles”. When “A Hard Day’s Night” premiered at the movie theaters, I went to see it. Likewise for “Help”. I think I had every album up to “Rubber Soul” when “the Monkees” TV show premiered in 1966. At that point, the Beatles, and their music had matured, and so had their audience. I was only 9, and the Monkees were on every week. So I concentrated less on the Beatles and more on the show that was created after two producers saw “A Hard Day’s Night”, particularly the scene where John, Paul, George and Ringo danced and goofed around in fast motion while “Can’t Buy Me Love” played in the background (essentially the first music video).
My older brother bought “Revolver”, which is still one of their best albums in my opinion, and I would listen to it from time-to-time. But for the most part my interest in the Beatles had waned somewhat.
Then Sgt. Pepper came out….wait, no, 2 singles with accompanying videos came out first: “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane”. The songs and videos were radically different than anything I had ever seen before. Time magazine called SFF “the latest example of the Beatles’ astonishing inventiveness”. It was dark and moody, and the imagery was haunting. It almost gave me nightmares. Penny Lane was more cheery, but still radically different from anything I had seen before.
When we got Sgt. Pepper (by this time my whole family was Beatles fans), I played it about 10 times a day. It wasn’t one particular song, but the way each song transitioned into the next one that compelled one to listen to it in its entirety. Now the band used new instruments, explored different genres, and experimented with recording techniques that were revolutionary.
After Sgt. Pepper, I mostly bought 45 RPM singles (remember those?) instead of whole albums, and I began to listen to the radio a lot. So I had singles like “All You Need is Love”, “Hello Goodbye”, “Rain”, “Come Together”, “I am the Walrus”, “Back in the USSR”, “Get Back” “Revolution” and a few more that were big hits back then. I don’t think I ever owned another Beatles album after Sgt. Pepper, but obviously I was still a fan, and I paid attention to the latest Beatle news, from their trip to India, the death of their manager Brian Epstein, the Yoko Ono buzz, the Manson family connection, and finally, their breakup in December 1970. I had just turned 13.
About 7 years ago, I rediscovered the Beatles when I bought a laptop and an iPad, and began downloading music. My brother-in-law has a subscription to a website where you can download files of all kinds, and I downloaded about 4,000 songs, including about 280 Beatles songs. I found that I like their music more than ever. I also downloaded songs by the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Elvis (Costello and Presley), CCR, and many others. With a 16GB iPod that holds about 1300 songs, I would put it on shuffle, and go for a 10 mile run. Whenever a Beatles song came on, I always savored it. The Beatles really were the greatest rock band ever, and I’m so glad that I literally grew up with them.