Being roughly ten years younger than the Beatles, when they first burst upon national British consciousness I immediately became an obsessive wide-eyed fan of theirs in a male ‘from a safe distance, middle class, watching on TV, listening on radio, reading the newspapers and magazines, always convinced they were God-like in their brilliance’ sort of a way, probably because when you’re on the verge of teenage-hood you crave certainties and giant heroes who seem to transcend and soar above the ordinariness of your own existence and for me in the early 1960s the Fab Four – along with Muhammad Ali (boxer) and Garry Sobers (cricket) – represented a pretty handy triumvirate in this respect.
Had I been female I suspect the intensity of my feelings and excitement would have been all the greater because of the burgeoning sexuality angle (schoolgirl crushes and so on) but even then – amongst both genders – there was an acceptance that the Beatles were somehow in a class of their own. Probably this was because you knew they could play their instruments, they (or at least two of them, and later you also realised that George could occasionally pen something of his own) actually composed most of their own songs … and, of course, all the critics – and even, amazingly, sometimes your parents – admitted that they were actually quite good as well.
[Mind you, this last could have been a bit of a double-edged sword for their longevity, of course. Whereas at about the age of 10 or 11 the prospect of your parents liking the same pop idols as you did was a positive thing, by the time you reached 13 … well certainly 14 and a half … said prospect had become a distinct no-no, which was why loads of us had moved on to worship the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, or indeed any other artistes who plainly didn’t give a shit what any parents thought about them, indeed tried to make a point of offending the older generations.]
Nevertheless, whatever artistes and types of music any young Brit possessed of a pulse had moved onto by 1970 (and tastes changed both rapidly and more often than you can possibly imagine in those heady days) – by then I was into the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Small Faces and the British Sixties Blues Boom bands, and had just been knocked sideways with awe by the extraordinary blues-based power and virtuosity of the first Led Zeppelin album – we all accepted that, in terms of the British (and therefore the world’s) rock aristocracy – whether together or individually, and here we must remember that they split in 1970 before any of them had reached the age of thirty – the Beatles were the reigning monarchs. And not in a transient, 20th Century Western democracy, ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ manner – but in a 17th Century (Louis XIV, Charles I) ‘divine right of kings’ sort of a way.
Down through the decades since (and someone of my age would say this wouldn’t I?) I measured the musical pygmies that followed against the unattainable yardstick of the Beatles’ achievements and reputation and found them wanting, even when sometimes – however fleetingly – some of them ‘flowered’ to great or even equivalent effect.
Without doubt, my perspective was steeped in the ‘But I was there’ subjective historical legacy. Nobody, literally nobody, under the age of fifty today can possibly understand the social and cultural impact of the Beatles and their fellow iconic pop stars of the Sixties upon the world.
When times moved on and in the early 1990s the music industry began recycling, re-packaging, digitalising and re-mastering the music of artistes of the past – and then took the ‘completist’ obsession to the extent of including bootleg recordings, multiple takes of famous songs some of them including fluffs, false starts, hysterical giggling and even ‘studio chat’ – I bought all the Beatles Anthology CDs and was able to wallow in nostalgia and appreciate their sheer genius, musicality and energy all over again.
Even the accompanying explanatory booklets astonished, e.g. when one realised that – after touring one continent for three months – they’d stop off in London for three or four days to record half a dozen classic new songs they’d composed in their hotel rooms – and then simply jump onto another plane and jet straight out again to tour Scandinavia or somewhere for several weeks. Touring, composing, recording, being interviewed and photographed, going to parties – how did they ever get time to relax or recover?
The thing that has remained with me to this day about the Beatles – and those lesser mortals who were like them – is that later generations will always have missed out upon the experience of being young fans when they were at the height of their fame.
Take my daughter, for example. She’s probably listened to 70% of the Beatles catalogue at one time or another, and certainly bought a ‘Greatest Hits’ CD along the way, but to her they are just a band from the distant past that produced a juke-boxful of singalong ditties and which her old Dad keeps banging on about (whenever anyone will let him), claiming that no musical artiste these days is fit to shine their shoes.
This month there are two major Beatles items coming out.
Hollywood director Ron Howard – he formerly of the Happy Days TV series acting fame – issues his Eight Days A Week documentary, essentially covering the Beatles touring years (from 1963 to 1966), this week. It’s receiving four-star or better previews from the critics and seems to be a well-crafted and researched ‘window’ on the Fab Four’s hectic, pressurised lives of that period.
Simultaneously – or very close to it – The Beatles: Live at the Hollywood Bowl is an accompanying remastered CD version of the original 1977 release, now featuring the best of three concerts the Beatles played at that venue in 1964 and 1965 as lovingly researched and prepared by engineer Sam Okell and Giles Martin, son of Sir George Martin the Beatles’ long-time producer (sometimes called ‘the fifth Beatle’). Apparently it includes several bonus, never heard previously, tracks.
I’m off to dine with my daughter tonight in Oxfordshire. One of my dilemmas is going to be whether I recommend that she goes to see the Eight Days A Week movie which is on a nationwide cinema release and, if so, with what degree of strength and urgency.
Half of me senses that – as a matter of passing historical interest – she might just welcome the prospect as part of an occasional mini-quest to understand more about her old man. The other half is all too aware that – but for my intervention – the chances of her seeing a review, or an advertisement in her local paper, and thinking “That might be worth seeing” are practically zero.
What’s best to do, I wonder …