Picture this: it’s early 1964. Only a few months earlier, the American President – who offered so much promise not only to America but to the world – is brutally assassinated in Dallas, Texas. America is still in a funk, still trying to figure out what happened. And you. You saw all the reports on TV, you saw the funeral, you watched his wife grieve, you saw his little son salute his casket as it rode by. But you don’t fully understand what’s going on.
And then one day your older sister comes home from school, excited, and declares, in one big, breathless run-on 13-year-old sentence: “There’s this great new band from England called The Beatles and they have a terrific song called “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”
And you listen to it. And you love it. And so does everybody else you know. (Except for your parents who hate it which of course makes it sound that much better). And this lifts you – and the country – up. See, because right then, at that point in time, you need something or someone to do that. You need something to be great. You need something to be fun and exciting.
And the old stuff just isn’t working any more. And the music – and the singers (the “Bobby this” and the “Bobby thats”) – aren’t happening. Rock and roll isn’t dead. It’s just sleeping and doesn’t know where the fuck to go next.
And yes, that was my actual introduction to the Beatles and no, I don’t know what else one can possibly say about them. I’ve held off on posting about them till now because I needed to work my way into them, figure out an approach, decide exactly what I wanted to say.
How the hell can I come up with maybe 10 songs to showcase their sound when they have somewhere around 200, most of which are great? (Although I could totally live without “Hello, Goodbye,” “Octopus’ Garden,” and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” So there’s three down.)
And so, both of those things – writing something fresh about The Beatles and coming up with a handful of songs – are damn near-impossible tasks. So the best I can do is what I always try to do – demonstrate how these songs made me feel and single out a couple of representative songs. And you certainly don’t need me to help you listen to the Beatles. Their music is everywhere (YouTube, iTunes, always being re-packaged, etc.)
No you don’t need to read how I feel about them. But I need to write about how I feel about them.
But before I do that, before I gush and prattle like a teenager again, I want to do a post or two on the so-called British Invasion in general. Yes, The Beatles were the tip of the spear. But they were by no means the only band that came over, not by half. Were they the best? Hell, yeah, I think so. Yeah.
But I think there were maybe a couple of other bands that deserve some recognition. Because there really were a lot of bands. And because there were, roughly, two strains of music coming from England – the more pop-based Mersey sound and the more blues-based London sound.
And if I say it’s the Beatles, Kinks and the Who, then you could just as easily say it’s the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and the Yardbirds. And we’d both be right. So you see, it’s complicated.
Do yourself a favor. If possible, listen to “I Want To Hold Your Hand” with fresh ears and not in the context of all the music that has come since. Imagine yourself to be that pre-adolescent kid hearing this song blasting out of the car radio for the very first time.
And think of the possibilities if you were a listener. Or one of those dozens – hundreds – thousands of kids just learning to play guitar who heard this music and said to him or herself: Now I know what I’ll do with my life.
Next: British Invasion Part 1