Fifty years ago, Feb. 9, 1964, after seeing the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show, my neighborhood was abuzz with conversation.
Some alarmed parents, freaked out by the hordes of screaming girl fans, thought the world was coming to an end. They had barely had time to get over the shock of “Elvis the Pelvis” in the 1950s when their eyes and ears were assaulted with four lads from Liverpool with mop haircuts that made them look like invading barbarians.
We kids, of course, thought the Beatles were cool – cooler than cool. We were wild about their music. Our conversations centered around bets we made about how long the Beatles would last on the Hit Parade. Back then, it was the Age of Fads – Davy Crockett hats, hula hoops, ant farms, magic rings in cereal boxes, you name it. Many parents hoped and prayed the Beatles were just another fad – hair today, gone tomorrow. I bet my buddies the Beatles, much as I loved their songs, would be kaput in six months. In those days, the very notion of a rock ‘n’ roller performing much beyond the age of 25 was utterly ridiculous.
Oh, were we wrong! And I’m so happy to have been so wrong. As someone (I forget who) once insightfully said, “The Beatles were the soundtrack of our lives.” So true.
One snowy day in the winter of 1963, I was sitting in a lounge chair in my living room by the bay window, reading Charles Dickens’s “David Copperfield.” The radio was on low – KDWB-Channel 63. I wasn’t listening to it. All of a sudden I dropped the book. A song had captured my attention. It was the strangest song – a kind of happy explosion of energy with the oddest chord changes I’d ever heard. I didn’t know its name or who sang it. It was something about “holding your hand.”
A few days later, I popped over to the house of twins Judy and Janey Townsend. They wanted me to hear a new album they’d bought. It was called “Meet the Beatles.” My jaw dropped when I saw the cover – four strange-looking guys with caveman haircuts. Weird! Judy put on the album, and I was instantly hooked, stunned to hear “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” the song that captivated me days earlier on the radio.
The next year, the Beatles made their historic Sullivan Show appearance. Still later, their album “Rubber Soul” blew us kids away with its luscious tunes, amazing harmonies, astonishing lyrics and musical innovations that included the mysterious sound of an Indian sitar on “Norwegian Wood.”
Still later, we friends would sit for hours listening to “Revolver,” which was even more musically innovative, a dazzling series of songs that combined surreal poetry with stunning studio sound effects so new and fresh to our ears. There was no doubt, after that album, the Beatles were not only superb musicians and incredible singers but accomplished poets who, with a song like “Eleanor Rigby,” had married words and music in a somber lyrical vision of a woman whom life had passed by.
And still later, along came “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which took our minds right off the hinges. And then there was the double “White Album,” another astonishment, followed later by “Abbey Road,” which we played constantly until the album wore out.
Years later, in 1980-81, I was studying in London, living just six blocks from the Abbey Road studio where the Beatles had recorded so many masterworks. One morning while getting ready for school I heard the news: John Lennon had been shot and killed in New York City. It took many mournful days for that news to sink in. Years later, George Harrison’s death of cancer was another shock.
And now there are two – just two Beatles. Such a shame they all couldn’t have lived longer, reuniting to make more great albums. But then, why wish for the impossible? Let’s just be grateful those four lads from Liverpool, in a seven-year creative miracle, left us so many songs that still have the power to astonish us, as much as they did in those young happy days when we first heard them.