Fifty Years of the Beatles
from The Beatles Anthology
September the eleventh need not be an unhappy anniversary in every respect. Here's living proof: It was fifty years ago today....
At 10 AM the session commenced. By one o'clock it was in the can; a modest but catchy little tune called "Love Me Do". Also recorded at that session was the B-side, "P.S. I Love You".
The passage of a half-century should give us pause. We are as removed in time from that day as the Beatles themselves were removed from September 11, 1912. Think about that! Although they would not enter America's consciousness for another year-and-a-half, I was one of the very few lucky ones to get a taste of the Beatles, months before the rest of the United States.
In the late spring/early summer of 1963 my brothers and I were first introduced to the Beatles through our English nanny, a nineteen-year-old Londoner named Margaret. She loved music and among her collection of 45 RPM's was something on the Vee-Jay label called, Do You Want to know a Secret. I clearly remember that I liked it. The child-like simplicity of John Lennon's lyric ("Do you promise not to tell?/Let me whisper in your ear") was the sort of thing that would appeal to a little boy not quite having reached his fifth birthday. There was no picture sleeve for the record, so the Beatles would remain faceless - and nameless - to us for another year.
I read the news today, oh boy....
Their timing was perfect. When they finally touched down on these shores in February of 1964, Americans were still emotionally bent over from the psychological blow rendered to them less than three months earlier when a young and beloved president was shot and killed in Texas. Everyone who was alive in 1963 say they remember where they were and what they were doing when they received the news that Jack Kennedy was dead. Seventeen years and sixteen days later, people would say the same thing about the moment they heard the news that one of the Beatles had died. Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans, you know?
Other than that joyous music, what appealed to so many of us about these guys was the fact John, Paul, George and Ringo were a frustrated comedy team. Let's face it: they were a riot of laughter. In that dark, late winter of 1964, a ray of sunshine - however fleeting - appeared on a clouded horizon. At that moment, America needed the Beatles like a tonic.
Although our conscious memory of the living, breathing Fab Four recedes into the mists of history with each passing year, it cannot be argued that their music is still timely. Fifty years after Glenn Miller made his first recording, his output would be seen as a quaint chestnut of a lost and bygone era. That is not the case in this instance - far from it. The Beatles still matter. They're the soundtrack in the lives of people who were not even alive when they thrived.
Six months ago I wrote about Brian Sager, who attended Beatlefest 2012 with me. When he was born in 1994, the lads from Liverpool had not released a new LP in almost a quarter of a century, And yet the convention we attended on March 24 in Secaucus, New Jersey was packed with kids his age - and even younger - for whom the music of the Beatles defies the decades. They are the gentle and silly ghosts that refuse to fade away into that eternal, unknowable void.
Those of us who are lucky enough to have been alive during the years they ruled the world have our own personal memories of the phenomenon that was Beatlemania. I remember the Ed Sullivan Show. I can recall so clearly trying to drift off to sleep that night with their harmonies still ringing in my ears. I remember seeing A Hard Day's Night at the movie theater around the corner from where I grew up. I remember being at my cousin Mike Cullen's home when I first saw the Sgt. Pepper cover ("Mike! They're wearing mustaches! What's that all about???") I remember exactly where I was standing in the summer of 1968 when I happened upon a girl from the neighborhood who was listening to the new Beatles record, Hey Jude, on a small transistor radio.
I remember my reaction to the news that they had disbanded. It won't last, I remember thinking. Someday they'll Get Back to where they once belonged. I really believed it - for an entire decade I believed it. You may say I'm a dreamer. The dream is over. It ended forever on that horrible night almost thirty-two years ago when John Lennon was forever taken from us because of an insane act of cold-blooded murder.
They would join forces once again - sort of. In 1995 the three surviving Beatles (and then there were two) would get together to overdub their instruments and their voices onto an unfinished Lennon composition called Free as a Bird. When I first read that it was going to happen I was miffed. John had spent many months in the studio prior to his death. Certainly there were hours of studio-quality recordings they could have worked with, and yet all Yoko Ono provided them with was an old and faded homemade cassette tape. What the hell is wrong with her, I thought.
My opinion changed on the night I finally heard the finished product. The voices of George and Paul sound very clear, while John, by this time long dead, and due to the technical limitations of the tape, sounds as if he is singing from another dimension, far, far away. Hearing them all together now, those incredible harmonies, I'm afraid I became a bit emotional. On that night I was with a young woman named Connie who was born in 1970, the year they ceased to be. When she saw my reaction she giggled and said, "Oh, Tom! What's the big deal?" I told her that no one who did not live through that era could possibly understand what the Beatles meant to their troubled generation.
Forty-four years of biographical hindsight informs us that these were four, humanly flawed, imperfect - and in many respects - troubled men. Oh, but that music. That timeless, perfect and beautiful music. I'm willing to forgive these guys just about anything. I was only four months shy of my twelfth birthday when the Beatles broke up forever in the spring of 1970. When I was a little boy they were the undisputed princes of the Planet Earth. To me they seemed to be invincible. The deaths of John Lennon and George Harrison proved for all time that they were not. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are today elderly men for whom eternity now beckons. They were - and are - as vulnerable in their grip on this slender thread as any of us. Imagine.
I think I'll be spending a good deal of my time today reflecting on their legacy and listening to their music. Fifty five years ago, in the summer of 1957, two teenagers named Lennon and McCartney were casually introduced to one another at a church picnic in Liverpool, England. Can you even imagine how boring this world would be if either one of them had made different plans that day? A world without the Beatles....I can't picture it. You've got to hand it to fate. Seriously.
Love, love me do
You know I love you
I'll always be true
So please, love me do....
All you need is love. I'll go to my grave believing it.
by Phillip Norman
There have been quite a few good biographies of the Beatles written since 1968. This is one of the best.
Here is a link to a piece I wrote two years ago about the tour I made with Brother Pete and our pal, Kevin Swanwick, of the Abbey Road Studios in merrie olde England:
We followed her down from a bridge by a fountain, and she led us to the door of Studio Two. Life is funny that way, you know?
All You Need Is Love
Those northern songs will last forever.