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Treading a careful line

My post today springs from my reaction upon reading a report penned by Roisin O’Conner that appears on the website today of – THE INDEPENDENT

(I feel should begin by declaring my inadequate qualifications for my position as occasional Rust musical correspondent. The fact is that, although I have heard of the artiste Lana Del Ray – in the sense that I have probably read hundreds of references to her and her music in the media and also in monthly ‘pop and rock music’ magazines over the years – in actual fact I am not aware of ever having heard a single note of her music or voice.)

In the wake of the ongoing Harvey Weinstein allegations scandal (and, like all media outlets, I would like here to add the catch-all-legal-defence-in-advance ‘Mr Weinstein has issued a statement stating that he denies that any of his sexual relationships with women have ever non-consensual’) and the current Westminster Bubble hand-wringing revelations, ‘We must be seen to do something’ campaigns, denials, resignations and appeal for end to witch-hunts, the Western World seems to be in the midst of a media and social storm at the moment regarding general sexist behaviour and/or sexual harassment (particularly of young people) by those in politics, corporate organisations or indeed any other circumstances in which one human being may be – either de facto or perceived – in a position of power over another.

This has raised enormous interest and, of course, to a degree a whole can of worms in terms of comment, outrage, appeals for calm and even personal soul-searching. I was even at a lunch earlier this week at which the topic came up and we were all invited to think back into our past lives for instances in which we ourselves – in the current climate – could have been accused of improper behaviour in one form or another.

Yesterday I watched a breakfast television programme in which a discussion took place on the subject of whether the Millennial Generation were just ‘snowflakes’ – i.e. namby-pamby weaklings who unnecessarily needed laws to protect themselves (some were suggesting) from the attentions of males-in-power … and it is usually males – when in the past (twenty years ago and more) ladies now fifty-something-and-over used in practice to deal with similar approaches, sometimes upon a daily basis, without batting an eyelid and certainly without feeling affronted or degraded.

It goes without saying, of course, that in said discussion there were strong lines of argument coming back to the effect that improper sexual harassment and/or behaviour is just that, irrespective of when it occurred and whatever the social mores of that era were.

Furthermore, when you think about it, all factual statements or reports of such alleged improper behaviour naturally appear deeply damning when read or heard in the cold light of day.

Inevitably this media storm has a long way to go yet. There are even new ‘Westminster Bubble’ allegations in the newspapers this morning …

However today I just wished to take Rust readers – particularly if they are beyond the age of sixty – back to the date 22nd March 1963.

I was aged eleven at the time, just to give you a heads-up upon my personal circumstances.

It was the day of the launch of the Beatles’ first album Please Please Me.

It was an extraordinary album in many ways, not least because it was the first that producer George Martin and the Beatles made together and it represented a snapshot that encapsulated all the elements of the chemistry that went together to make the Beatles not only what they already were but what they were later to become.

Prominent amongst these was their sheer musical talent and the fact that they had spent two periods of playing live in night clubs for up to seven hours per night in Hamburg (between August 1960 to December 1962) – their version of the now popular (10,000 hours) theory that intense practice is a necessary prerequisite for world class excellence in any walk of life.

The album was also, famously, recorded at the Abbey Road Studios in St John’s Wood in a single day – 11th February 1963 – of less than thirteen hours’ duration (10.00am to 10.45pm if you wish to be precise): 14 tracks, with the Beatles’ take upon Twist And Shout – written by Phil Medley and Bert Berns in 1961, first recorded by the Top Notes but its first chart success being with the Isley Brothers’ version in 1962, the one the Beatles knew – being left until last because George Martin feared that John Lennon, already badly affected by a cold and having been singing at full throttle all day, would only be able to attempt a single take. And that is exactly what happened.

At the time of making it – just for the record – John Lennon and Ringo Starr were 22, Paul McCartney 21 and George Harrison still only 19 (he would celebrate his 20th birthday a fortnight later).

The first track on the album is I Saw Her Standing There, essentially composed by Paul McCartney but credited – as most of their songs of were – to Lennon-McCartney not least because in those days the pair of them were virtually inseparable.

It’s a cracking tune – one of my all-time favourite Beatles songs – and (as they say) anyone close to my vintage could not possibly fail to associate it with their youth and/or the era in which it emerged.

Here are the lyrics:

(1,2,3,4!)

Well, she was just 17
You know what I mean
And the way she looked was way beyond compare
So how could I dance with another (Ooh)
When I saw her standing there

Well she looked at me, and I, I could see
That before too long I’d fall in love with her
She wouldn’t dance with another (Whooh)
When I saw her standing there

Well, my heart went “boom”
When I crossed that room
And I held her hand in mine…

Whoah, we danced through the night
And we held each other tight
And before too long I fell in love with her
Now I’ll never dance with another (Whooh)
Since I saw her standing there

Well, my heart went “boom”
When I crossed that room
And I held her hand in mine…

Whoah, we danced through the night
And we held each other tight
And before too long I fell in love with her
Now I’ll never dance with another (Whooh)
Since I saw her standing there …

The first thing I wish to register is the absolute perfection of that opening line ‘1, 2, 3, 4’ – for everyone who listens to it – or certainly who knows the song well.

That simple list of numbers, most probably totally improvised on the day and indeed at the time of recording, is as indivisible from the whole song as is the line “Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well” from Act 5 Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

The second – and the important one as far as this post is concerned – is the couplet ‘Well, she was just 17/You know what I mean’.

It’s dripping with male brio, zest for life and sexual wishful thinking. And you know what?

Every goddamned male – and (might I add) most females as well – who ever hears it instantly knows exactly what the singer is thinking.

This is my excuse to provide a link to a video recording of a Beatles’ live performance of the ditty – courtesy of YouTube – I SAW HER STANDING THERE

Hell, even I at 11 years old at the time – who had no more than the vaguest and crudest notion of the biological and physiological details of the human female anatomy – was identifying with it. Obviously, for me (then) the delights and complications of human inter-gender relationships were some way off, but like any 11 year-old it was a Garden of Eden to which I was fully expecting one day to obtain the key and/or permission to enter.

My point is that – whatever gender and whatever age any of us happen to be at any particular time – one of the key things about any great creative or artistic achievement or performance is that its ability to ‘speak to us’ is undiminished. The same work can say different things to us at different times, when we’re in different moods, different stages of life, whether we’re children or parents, gay or straight, angry or sad, at a party or at a funeral.

Let’s just take I Saw Here Standing There for a moment. According to legend, Paul McCartney began composing the song on 22nd October 1962 when he was aged 20. His girlfriend of the time (Celia Mortimer) was aged 17. He was writing it from his own personal viewpoint. It must have resonated very strongly with all young men aged 15 to 25. It meant something to me too, albeit I was projecting myself something like four or five years forward when I first heard it.

But to a thirty-five year old man? A forty-five year old one? A fifty-five year old one? Even a sixty-five year old one?

At what point does ‘dirty old perv’ come into it?

And what (irrespective of your age) if you’re male and have a fourteen year old daughter?

Wouldn’t you then be concerned about all those 15 to 25 year-old prototype Paul McCartneys – those testosterone-fuelled heterosexual young men intent upon nothing more than a boozy, exciting, male-bonding, girl-meeting, music and dancing, good time out on the town at which – if they got lucky – they’d ‘make out’ with some attractive ‘just over the age of consent’ (or at least looking as if she was) young ‘bird’.

Even if she just happened to be the fruit of your own loins, the apple of your proud parental eye.

I’d also hazard a guess that in the spring of 1963 I wouldn’t be far wrong if I suggested that there were hundreds – if not hundreds of thousands – of young ladies aged thirteen and over in the United Kingdom who were imagining themselves being 17, spotted by a 20 year old Beatle across a crowded disco room and being whisked off to live happily ever after with him … or maybe that would be (more likely) to have one very special night with him that they’d remember all their lives.

If I was a sixty-five year old lady who just happened to catch the Beatles’ I Saw Her Standing There playing by chance on the radio at some point today, would I be amused, disgusted, nostalgic or totally indifferent to those famous opening words ‘Well, she was just 17/You know what I mean‘ …?

I don’t doubt for a minute – and Rust readers might like to suggest their own nominations, please send them to the usual email address – that the Beatles’ I Saw Her Standing There isn’t the only example of a song containing lyrics which – in some circumstances, especially in 2017 – might be regarded as potentially a bit ‘iffy’, ‘dodgy’ and/or inappropriate.

Throughout history there have always been songs containing innuendo, expressions of sexual longing or bravado and ‘near the knuckle’ references (who can forget the ineffable Chuck Berry hit My Ding-a-Ling?), but inevitably there’s a gap between genuine and justified offence (on the one hand)  and ‘knowing’ indulgence and/or even just sheer exuberant fun for both genders (on the other).

I’m just saying …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Michael Stuart

After university, Michael spent twelve years working for MELODY MAKER before going freelance. He claims to keep doing it because it is all he knows. More Posts