Today is an extraordinary day in terms of music. It has been fifty years since four young men from Liverpool,after several years of hard touring through Hamburg and famous dates at the Cavern Club and being rejected by Decca,basically recorded their live set of the time in the studio for Parlaphone records with producer George Martin and put it out as their first album Please Please Me. The quartet was of course The Beatles. In England, Beatlemania promptly ensued-spreading throughout Europe and around the world. In this half century time, The Beatles have been written and talked about to such an enormous degree that,for the first time in their history,some first hand memories are fading and some younger people are sadly referring to the Fab Four as “overrated”. In fact, just this week on American Idol I noticed contestant Burnell Taylor had never before heard the song “Let It Be” before performing it on the show. Interestingly enough,partly due to medical advances, several generations of Americans are alive and thriving and while there is potential in today’s world to take The Beatles musical contribution for granted, they will forever continue to be beyond iconic in terms of their longevity and influence.
One reason for The Beatles almost overwhelming iconoclastic status might have something to do with the fact that Beatlemania might’ve forever changed the dynamic for pop music fanaticism; Elvis Presley’s appeal was strong but was primarily applied to adolescent girls and boys. With The Beatles, their following became so enormous it not only earned its own name but caught the attention of other people in their own age group and above. Other musicians,and the family of Beatles fans were talking about them often equally as much as the youth culture. So it’s only fitting,in the current environment where the baby boomers who bought Beatlemania into being are still surrounded by their surviving parents,siblings,children,grandchildren and now even great-grandchildren. Beatle songs have long ago worked their way into everything from television commercials to children’s songs and lullaby’s. Of course pop culture is not by itself enough to maintain an endurance such as The Beatles still continue to enjoy. Some element beyond mop top hairstyles and a flamboyant sense of humor has continued to drive their success and that quality lies within their music.
Those musical reasons for The Beatles’ enduring success can largely be found within that first album which this article is celebrating. With Paul McCartney’s screaming countdown of “1-2-3-4!” into “I Saw Her Standing There”, we have a song full of energy and hand-claps: the most joyous possible aspects of rock n’ roll of that era. Even there however ,the signs are all their this band has something special. Musically it was something unprecedented in its time: half the songs on the album were cover versions and the other half original songs. The most exciting thing about that though is the both show an enormous amount of strength. Full of clean and beautiful vocal harmonies McCartney’s original song “Do You Want To Know A Secret”, placed alongside covers of songs such as “Chains” showcase The Beatles appreciation and embrace of the smoother, cleaner harmonies and melodicism of soul and pop/R&B music of that era outside of the raunchier, bluesier guitar based rock ‘n roll songs than preferred by John Lennon by and large. Even for Lennon he brings a hybrid of both “heavy on easy” rock and soul on The Isley Brother’s “Twist And Shout”, which John famously sung with a horse and strained throat and the other three bring to a strong, harmonized frenzy on the bridge of the song.
What The Beatles really did here was blend the melodic and harmony rich sound of the popular song, and all of its strong arrangements and chord changes, with the exciting and bluesy rock ‘n roll/rhythm & blues sound of that particular time. Therefore this album basically helped to create the sub-genre of music we now refer to as pop/rock. It’s also important to view this within the context of its era. When viewing the DVD release of the complete Ed Sullivan Show episodes featuring The Beatles, complete with the other acts and commercials as well, The Beatles appearance on the show in that context seemed to come from a totally different world. So I can only imagine how in their native England, which in 1963 was defined by even more rigid social and cultural conventions than America, how the phenomenon known as Beatlemania suddenly erupted with the advent of just this one album. The Beatles never actually had to write songs outright about non conformity. Everything physical and vocal about them gave a burgeoning generation,in America having already been deeply affected by President Kennedy’s “new frontier”, to begin to develop a thriving counterculture which would explode (and The Beatles would themselves become active participants in) in just a few short years.
One night recently at a dinner with my family we were watching The Beatles Anthology on DVD,my father remarked that before he can recalling even being in love with a woman or anything of that sort The Beatles were the first love of his life outside of his family. That struck me in a rather profound way; that The Beatles and their music could have such a profound impact on the heart and soul of just one person in my own family. I also suppose if one still holds true to the core values of the counterculture and social politics, The Beatles will probably somehow always have a similar influence in one’s life. This can actually be confirmed by a remark Paul McCartney made about The Beatles in general at the end of the Anthology documentary. And that’s that whatever else The Beatles accomplished in their comparatively brief recording career together ,the greatest thing about them were that the majority of their songs were about love ,peace and humanity. That outside the few exceptions of openly depressed or angry songs such as “Run For Your Life” , you had songs such as “Love Me Do”, “All You Need Is Love”, John’s “Give Peace A Chance”. Even songs that sound a lot sadder such as “Yesterday” and “She’s Leaving Home” all express the same impulse-though more for the need of this feeling. And in the end, as they themselves said that is the enduring message of The Beatles: the love you take is equal to the love you make.