February 13, 2014

Ode to John, Paul, George, and Ringo

I've always loved the Beatles.

Somehow I've blocked out any memory of the JFK assassination (although I have memories from before that) just a little over two months previously, but I do recall sitting with my older siblings in our living room watching the Ed Sullivan Show that Sunday night 50 years ago.  Their lyrics seem downright silly by today's standards (♪"She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah"♫, ♪"I want to hold your hand"♫), but they were harmless, and it was a new and revolutionary sound for the time.  Incidentally, before the Beatles hit the charts, the #1 song was Dominique by the woman known as The Singing Nun...also a catchy tune, if you happen to remember it, but with a completely different sound.

The group released records pretty frequently, almost keeping up with James Brown (who came out with a new record seemingly every three weeks), and as was the case with really good artists like JB, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Temptations, and The Supremes (who hit later that year with Where Did Our Love Go?), the B side was often as good as the A side. Like Smokey, the Fab Four wrote their own material (aside from some early recordings, including the Isley Brothers Twist and Shout that gave John an obvious case of laryngitis). Between my four siblings' pocket money, the Beatles 45's with the swirly yellow and orange labels of Capitol Records frequently played on our hi-fi, one hit after another, giving way eventually to the albums.  I particularly remember Rubber Soul (my sister played the track "Michelle" over and over), Revolver, and later, the infamous White Album.

Watching the televised concert by various artists paying homage to the four lads from Liverpool brought all that back to me, and I played my CD that has over 20 of their hits on it and fell in love with the music all over again.  I even named the chapters in my book A Love For All Seasons after their songs, and I gave away a $25 gift certificate to a lucky winner who guessed that the common thread of the chapter titles was music recorded by the group.

I've never been a huge guitar fan, but The Beatles, three of whom played guitar, often laced their music with distinct guitar riffs (Day Tripper, And I Love Her, Norwegian Wood) that appealed to me. To this day I remember going to bed just after a breaking news story came in about a man critically injured by gunshot wounds who looked a lot like John Lennon being brought to a New York hospital, and turning on the TV the next morning and hearing those six haunting opening guitar notes to In My Life. Those notes told me it had been John who'd been shot and that he was dead, even before the reporter announced it.

Their music began to mature as they did, and in their middle to later years as a group their sound became a little psychedelic with songs like Yellow Submarine and Hello Goodbye (the same thing was going on over at Motown, with songs like Ball of Confusion, Reflections, Cloud Nine, Psychedelic Shack), or songs that made no sense and clearly sounded like they were high when they wrote them, like Uncle Albert and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (the acronym of which famously spelled 'LSD').  

I admit that none of their releases from that period were favorites of mine (although Yellow Submarine is catchy, sounding a bit like a children's song).  It's their love songs that are dearest to my heart....Here, There, and Everywhere is a much-covered tune that is one of my favorite songs of all time (I particularly like the covers done by George Benson and Hugh Masekela).  The Friends of Distinction did a real nice version of And I Love Her (Him) on their debut album, which was the first album I ever owned.  Other compositions have never been done better than by the group themselves.  I loved the way they harmonized on songs like Girl, P.S. I Love You, This Boy, and If I Fell, and the simple charm of You've Got to Hide Your Love Away and I Will.

Then there were the turbulent times before their breakup, during which they recorded some of their finest music:  Blackbird, the immortal Let it Be; Hey Jude, and their final hit and my personal favorite, The Long and Winding Road (another tune beautifully recorded by George Benson).

The televised concert could only include a few of their many hits, and I believe it was done well.  All four Beatles were showcased with pictures of them in their early years with their families.  Even though John and George are gone from us, they were very much a part of the evening.  With so much emphasis put on the Lennon/McCartney output, but individually and collaboratively, with regard to their success, I was particularly pleased to see that George and Ringo were given equal attention, George as a songwriter (three songs he penned were performed:  While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Something, and Here Comes the Sun.  Ringo, a late bloomer in terms of looks and looking surprisingly fit and youthful for a man of 73, sang Boys (from one of the group's early albums) and the two hits he sang lead on, Yellow Submarine and A Little Help From My Friends.  He also played the drums. All in all, it was a very pleasant two-and-a-half hour trip down memory lane.

One perennial favorite Beatles tune that doesn't really do anything for me?  Yesterday.  I don't know why; to me it's just "all right" but no great shakes.

What are some of your favorite songs?