The Beatles (2) In America

First post here:

“Guitar groups are on their way out, Mr Epstein.” Thus saith, supposedly, one Dick Rowe who was at the time the senior A&R guy at Decca Records. At least Epstein quotes him as saying that in his autobiography.

The truth is that the Beatles’ audition didn’t go as well it might. They didn’t play as well as they could. Even if they had, Decca didn’t seem predisposed to them, offering to record them at their own expense. Epstein turned it down. So in a sense, they turned down Decca and subsequently, George Martin signed them to Parlophone and history was made. And if I were Rowe, I would have had a little device in my office that would kick me in the ass once a day for the rest of my life.  

Everyone, I think, knows that the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan variety show in early 1964. (Specifically, Feb. 9). (Sullivan’s show, in addition to featuring rock bands, also had plate-spinners, jugglers, vaudevillians, comedians, and a puppet he would occasionally talk to named Topo Gigio.) Less well-known is how they got there. One would assume that Sullivan had heard through his contacts that there was this “youth rock and roll band” that he really should book.

In fact, it turns out that Sullivan happened to be at London Airport (Heathrow) in late ’63 when the Beatles were returning from a tour. So he witnessed Beatlemania full-force. Not yet convinced, Brian Epstein and his people had to keep working him. Sullivan finally relented when he was advised that “the Beatles were the first “long haired boys” to be invited to appear before the Queen of England.”

They somehow forgot to mention that Lennon infamously said, “For our last number, I’d like to ask your help. Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And for the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewelry.”  (The Beatles were sharper and wittier not only than anyone expected, but usually moreso than their interviewers).

What’s always amazed me over the years is how many rockers said that seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan was (literally) life-changing for them. That’s when they decided to become musicians. A partial list includes:

  • Joe Walsh, Eagles
  • Nancy Wilson, Heart
  • Billy Joel
  • Tom Petty
  • Gene Simmons, Kiss
  • Joe Perry, Aerosmith
  • Rick Nielsen, Cheap Trick
  • Richie Sambora, Bon Jovi
  • Steven Van Zandt, E Street Band
  • Chrissie Hynd, Pretenders
  • Gary Rossington, Lynyrd Skynyrd

Here’s one of the songs they performed that fateful night, “All My Loving.” Listen to John’s great rhythm guitar strumming here and how it goes from fast triplets to a more staccato sound. Really propels the song along. (If you don’t sing along I’ll be forced to come over and buy you a beer).

Spotify link

In April of that astonishing year, the Beatles made history as the only act to take all five of the top chart positions on the Billboard 100. 1. Can’t Buy Me Love; 2. Twist and Shout; 3. She Loves You; 4. I Want to Hold Your Hand; 5. Please Please Me.

And in July of ’64, the Beatles released their first movie “A Hard Day’s Night,” the title being a Ringo malapropism. Everybody pretty much figured, oh this will suck. But as a matter of fact, not only did it not suck but it was great. Not only did they have a director (Richard Lester) who “got” them but they also assigned a Liverpool writer (Alun Owen) who hung around long enough to understand them and their sense of humor. The movie’s dialogue sounds off-the-cuff and improvised. But it’s not. Totally scripted.

“A Hard Day’s Night,” is my favorite of all the early albums. There’s nary a bad song on it and I used to just listen to it and flip the record over and over and over. It’s still that good. Outside of some one-hour Sunday morning radio shows, these early songs seem to me to be largely forgotten or at least overlooked. They shouldn’t be. Which is why I blog.

And so from that album (and movie), “I Should Have Known Better.”

At this point in time the Beatles were still touring and the wear and tear were beginning to show. You can see it on their faces in their late ’64 “Beatles for Sale” album cover below. Everybody wanted a piece of them.

The eventual culmination of this insanity was their 1966 visit to the Philippines where they unintentionally snubbed Imelda Marcos. This apparently pissed off the whole country and the Beatles and their entourage were assaulted on their way out of the airport. Ringo got punched; Brian Epstein got kicked and thrown to the floor. A nasty, nasty scene.

220px-Beatlesforsale

We didn’t know it then, but this signaled the beginning of the end of the Beatles as a live act and they would soon transition to being a studio act only. They managed to squeeze in another movie, “Help,” which while fun, had nowhere near the acclaim, critical or otherwise as the first one. The Beatles later confessed that the movie was filmed in a “haze of marijuana.” (We are shocked – shocked!)

“The Night Before,” is a great McCartney song from this movie. I love the way the songs of this period just seem to have their own engine, seem to flow along effortlessly. John also mostly wrote the song “Help” which he later admitted was an actual plea for assistance, sugar-coated though it may be. (“I was fat, depressed, stressed.”)

He was weary to the bones of being a Beatle and as early as 1965 expressed a desire to get out of this machine he’d helped to create. (Which should put to rest the ridiculous bullshit rap that Yoko gets about breaking up the band).

Spotify link

Lennon’s songwriting was increasingly becoming less “I love you-you love me” in part due to the enormous influence Bob Dylan had on him (and the band in general). (Lennon said, “For three weeks in Paris we didn’t stop playing  it {The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan}. We all went potty about Dylan.”) “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” from the same album shows a heavy Dylan influence.

Well, that’s it, thank you and goodnight. “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition.” Lennon again,  rooftop – London.

Wait, you say you want an encore? Ok, then let’s do another great George vocal, this one from “A Hard Day’s Night.” (No worries – we’ll get to Ringo!) And while George is a terrific guitarist, again that pulsing rhythm guitar that moves the song along is 100% Lennon.

Spotify link

Sources: Wikipedia, Mark Lewisohn and The Beatles Bible.

Next – The Beatles’ music gets more personal, more introspective – and weirder. They become a studio-only band with their greatest accomplishments ahead of them….

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