McCartney 3, 2, 1

You would think that with all the streaming world has to offer, you would rarely find yourself thinking, “There is literally nothing worthwhile to watch.” While Paul McCartney shares some of the same stories and tidbits he has shared in the two billion other interviews he has done (really, he just can’t resist sharing the creation of “Yesterday” one more time and can you blame him?), the new Hulu series McCartney 3,2,1 does not fall under that category, offering enough meaningful content to keep even the most devout of Beatles fans interested (well, unless you’re one of those whiny types who is just never content with anything, ever, in which case try some therapy or see if buying a villa in Florida makes you happy — spoiler! it probably won’t).

The format of McCartney 3, 2,1 is straightforward: each episode features a dissection of a Beatles song (or two…or three) at a mixing board with producer Rick Rubin. Stories and memories ensue, with a few common threads coming through — here are some of my favorites:

The pure love and joy the music brings to Paul. He’s a fan just like the rest of us.

Listening to a playback of “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, he is dancing, smiling, and shouting, “Whoo!” He loves it. During one episode, he discusses the process of becoming a Beatles fan again. After the pain of the breakup (“I thought I would be in this band forever,” he reflects), it took several years for him to be able to listen — and play live — Beatles songs again. Yet, once he did, he remembered and appreciated what a good little band they were, which becomes more and more evident as McCartney and Rubin take apart select Beatles tracks.

One such track is “And Your Bird Can Sing,” which John Lennon bluntly wrote off as “another horror” and “another one of my throwaways.” Yet, at the mixing board, showcasing the different parts that make up the whole, the artistry and musicianship of the band becomes evident and, as Rubin points out, a listener can hear the energy and excitement the band generated playing together in the studio — an energy and excitement that is delightfully infectious, even if you’re Paul McCartney listening to your band some fifty-odd years later.

Creating music was (and still is) a simple, natural process for the band.

During many of these mixing board moments, Rubin will ask Paul if the different components required hours of laborious rehearsals before recording. The answer is simple: no. As the main songwriters, John and Paul would present the basic song to the rest of the group (and George Martin) and together they would develop the finished product, each contributing. Listening to “And I Love Her,” Paul remembers how they felt the beginning of the song just needed something. George played the opening notes, and the song was complete. “I couldn’t imagine this song without that…It was good, you know,” Paul muses. Similarly, Ringo’s militaristic drumming of “Get Back” took the track in a completely different direction.

Paul also explains how he learned to play the piano — a simple process that begins with finding middle C and creating chords. The band lacked formal training, yet it obviously didn’t matter. Their innate ability to create came, in part, from their unique bond with one another.

Paul has great affection for John, Ringo, and George…

While some may consider Paul’s re-telling of his memories rose-colored and self-serving (how’s that down payment for that villa coming?), I find him to be incredibly endearing and generous.

The first tune featured in the series is “All My Loving.” Paul is quick to point out the driving rhythm guitar — something John was equally proud of. (“‘All My Loving’ is Paul, I regret to say…Because it’s a damn good piece of work…But I play a pretty mean guitar in back.”) The discussion then moves to the differences in their personalities: John was more defensive and cynical, while Paul was optimistic and diplomatic. You see it famously in two Beatles tracks: “Getting Better” (Paul: It’s getting better all the time; John: It couldn’t get much worse) and “We Can Work It Out” (Paul: We can work it out; John: Life is very short, and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend). Paul attributes their success as a songwriting partnership, in part, to these differences and reflects on what made them so different, namely their upbringing. Paul came from a close-knit, loving family, while John was essentially abandoned by both of his parents. While he was raised by a loving aunt and uncle in a comfortable suburban setting (certainly the most prosperous of the four Beatles), he also knew his mother lived close by with his two half-sisters and their father, which had to be difficult for a young adolescent to understand and remain indifferent to.

Ringo was, of course, the last Beatle to join the band, yet his effect on the band is indelible. The band felt complete once Ringo joined; Paul remembers how different it felt from the very first time Ringo played with them. He lifted them up. Cut to Ringo banging away to “I Saw Her Standing There” at the Washington Coliseum during the Beatles’ first visit to the United States, and John is rocking, head bopping, completely enthralled by and feeding off of Ringo’s energy. “He just brought the whole band together,” Paul concludes.

George lived closest to Paul, and they met by chance on the bus ride on the way to school. There was an empty bus seat; George sat down, and they discovered their mutual interest in music. Rubin asks Paul how many other kids on that bus cared about music? “I would guess one…if you were lucky,” Paul answers. Chance – magic – divine intervention – whatever you want to call it – it is incredibly rare to sit on a school bus next to someone with whom you form this lasting connection. Not only do you become close friends but also have a shared extraordinary experience that forever molds you together, and at the end of the day, you have the greatest love and respect for each other. “From the little guy I met on the bus — a little guy with a quiff…He turned to be this very wise man,” Paul says.

The juxtaposition of the guitar and bass on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is fascinating to listen to in isolation. Reminiscing about the fact that Eric Clapton — not George — played the distinctive solo on the track, Paul observes: “It was very generous of George to give Eric this moment, when he could have had it for himself. But it’s just like, George was very like that. He was very open.”

…Even if he was the Bossy Beatle.

Some of Paul’s memories are, admittedly, carefully framed to downplay this fact. He recalls the use of the piccolo trumpet on “Penny Lane”; the solo includes an impossible high note that the player, David Mason, told Paul was out of the instrument’s range. Paul’s response? Well, you can do it! And he did. What Paul omits from this memory, however, is the fact that he asked Mason to record the solo a second time; George Martin had to convince Paul to be satisfied as the musician had just accomplished an inconceivable feat.

Listening to “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” Rubin seems surprised that Paul played drums on the track. Why? Well, Paul was probably showing Ringo what he wanted him to play on the track, and Ringo just said, “Well, you do it!” He neglects to mention the fact that Ringo actually quit the band at this point, precipitated by Paul’s overbearing direction.

Best butt in the Beatles? Is it not obvious?

At another point, Rubin plays “Another Girl,” an odd choice, as I always found the most memorable part of this song the sequence in the Bahamas from Help!, which clearly points out who had the best butt in the Beatles (ummmmmm, Paul).

“Who played the guitar on that?” Rubin asks.

“I’m not sure,” is Paul’s unconvincing answer. “I’m wanting to say it’s me ’cause it’s bad enough.”

“It’s a bold choice for you to play that,” Rubin compliments.

“Bold mistakes…That’s me. I specialize in bold mistakes.”

Yes, it is you, Paul. You played the guitar solo because you were unhappy with George’s rendition, and George just said, “Well, you do it!”

Yes, Paul was the bossy Beatle, but we still love you anyway.

Paul values John’s opinion — even now.

In some ways, John Lennon’s murder also made him a martyr, certainly at times to Paul (and perhaps George and Ringo, too). He was increasingly seen as the Beatles, the leader of the band (which, of course, he was, but it was also an equal partnership between the four–“How many Beatles does it take to change a light bulb?” George Harrison once quipped. “Four.”). Consequently, it has seemed, at times, that Paul is still competing with the memory and legacy of his dear friend. Yet, he has great love and regard for John, and you see how much Paul values John’s opinion and relishes his praise and respect even now.

Rubin reads Paul a quote about his bass playing: “Paul is one of the most innovative bass players that ever played bass and half of the stuff going on now is directly ripped off from his Beatle period. He has always been a bit coy about his bass playing, but he’s a great, great musician.”

“Did I write that?” Paul asks, laughing.

“That was John Lennon.”

“He never said that to me,” Paul replies — not begrudgingly, just matter-of-factly. And while I find it hard to believe he has never heard that quote or read it, he is genuinely pleased to hear it.

When asked to choose a favorite song he has written, Paul is tempted to say “Yesterday” because he finds its genesis so magical, yet he wants to say, more than ever, “Here, There, and Everywhere,” the beautiful love song found on Revolver that he wrote one day by John Lennon’s pool, waiting for him to be up and ready for a songwriting session. John himself always liked the song, telling Paul, “I like this one.” And that was enough — great praise indeed coming from John Lennon.

Magic.

When asked, “Do you believe in magic?”, Paul responds that he has to, considering the way “Yesterday” came to him.

Magic is a word used often in this series, and it is a word that could be used to describe many aspects of the Beatles’ story. And while in some ways a fitting adjective, the word magic seems too easy. This band worked hard. They had great supporters behind the scenes who encouraged and augmented their strengths and creativity. They believed in and supported each other as friends and bandmates. “The Beatles is over, but John, Paul, George, and Ringo…God knows what relationship they’ll have in the future. I don’t know. I still love those guys! Because they’ll always be those people who were that part of my life,” John Lennon once said.

“That didn’t have to happen,” Paul says at one point. “We could have had five years and gone back to the factory.”

The final scene of the series finds McCartney at the piano, holding the final chord of “A Day in the Life.”

“Yeah. You know, there’s the magic again,” he says with a smile.

The Song That Broke Up The Beatles

As the world adjusts to its new normal, with some finding comfort in innumerable rolls of toilet paper (hey, that’s one for you, nineteen for me) or choosing to purchase cleaning supplies for the first time ever (apparently), I still find contentment, joy, and comfort in the same things, and near the top of that list has always been The Beatles.

I have spent the past several weeks immersing myself completely in their words and music (nothing else sounds good anymore), and I find myself still amazed by the craft and beauty found in so many of the songs. (I think I could use my fingers to count the truly abominable Beatles songs on a single hand.) These songs are undoubtedly part of my DNA at this point, but it is startling to hear a song as if it is the first time and be utterly blown away.

Let It Be has never been a favorite album. (Even with the release of Let It Be…Naked, I wasn’t sufficiently swayed, although the omission of the horrid “Maggie Mae” and “Dig It” is an obvious improvement, and it might contain the best version of “Across the Universe,” a beautiful Lennon composition that never got the production it deserved.) When an editor used Let It Be as an example of a classic record that would receive a full five-star rating, I was appalled and lost respect for that individual’s opinion (although in retrospect, I suppose the Beatles at their lowest ebb is better than 99% of any other musician’s output at any time). Despite the band’s disintegrating relationship, they still managed to produce some astounding songs, but I’ve never really wanted to listen it repeatedly — until now, with the impending end-of-the-world. (But I need the world to not end before Peter Jackson’s film is released. And the final two volumes of Mark Lewisohn’s biography. Is that too much to ask?)

The initial idea behind Let It Be was to show The Beatles rehearsing, recording, and ultimately performing an album of new material in front of a live audience. “Someone mentioned The Colosseum in Rome, and I think originally Paul might have even suggested a bloody boat in the middle of an ocean. As for me, I was rapidly warming up to the idea of an asylum!” John Lennon stated, reflecting on the number of “live” performance options that were discussed before The Beatles finally just went up to the rooftop of their Apple building.

The original intended title, Get Back, was an expression of the band’s desire to “get back” to the simplicity of their old recording days with no studio trickery or hours of overdubbing. The original cover even copied that of their first studio album, which had been recorded in just under twelve hours. The final result: approximately 96 hours of film and 30 hours of music that no one could agree on a suitable production sound (ever). The record was subsequently shelved, and the band returned to the studio to record the superior Abbey Road later that year.

John and George, however, approached Phil Spector to re-mix Let It Be for release. Although Spector did the opposite of the album’s original purpose, adding a female choir and orchestra to four of the album’s tracks, three of the Beatles liked the album’s sound, and it was slated for release, more than a year after its initial recording.

Paul McCartney was upset with the extensive overdubbing that was added to two of his hallmark compositions, and he attempted to have the “raw” (later re-christened “naked”) versions from the Glyn Johns mix placed on the album instead. His request was blocked by the ever-magnanimous Allen Klein (because he “waited too long to ask,” according to Lennon). This was the final straw for McCartney and what ultimately cemented the band’s demise–not to discredit Yoko (please, do not play nice and naive and claim she had no role, it’s delusional and irritating), diverging interests, and sheer boredom. Not only had McCartney lost control over his music–unforgivable in itself–but his voice and opinion were no longer respected. He released his debut solo album, titled simply McCartney, on April 17, 1970 (a controversial date, as it clashed with the releases of both Let It Be and Ringo’s Sentimental Journey) and announced to the world that The Beatles were no more.

Yet it is “The Long and Winding Road,” the song that broke up the Beatles, that I find myself listening to constantly during this time. (When Ringo recorded his drum part for “The Long and Winding Road” on April 1, 1970, he was the last Beatle to attend a recording session. This was, unfortunately, not an April Fool’s joke.) It has never been a favorite; I think I found it too saturated in syrup (maybe a by-product of Spector’s over-production), and it reminded me of Peter Frampton contemplating suicide. Now, though, I cannot decide which version I prefer.

The “naked” version is arresting in its simplicity and bare emotion, and it is clear why McCartney wanted to release this version. (Interesting to note, however, that McCartney has used Spector’s arrangement for many of his live performances. Again, it may have been less that Spector added orchestration and female voices to his song than the fact that he did it without McCartney’s consent and approval. The man likes to control things, understandably so.)

By comparison, Spector’s version does seem over-the-top. Yet, in an over-reaching way, it does augment the song’s emotional weight. And I absolutely love the slight break in Paul’s voice around the three-minute mark: “You left me standing here….” That just might give it a slight edge. Thankfully, in this age of copious takes of Beatles songs being available, one does not have to definitively decide which one is superior.

Paul wrote “The Long and Winding Road” with Ray Charles in mind; Charles cried the first time he heard it. “It’s a sad song because it’s all about the unattainable; the door you never quite reach. This is the road that you never get to the end of,” McCartney has said of the song’s melancholy. And that is perhaps what makes it the perfect soundtrack to these uncertain times–even if it is the song that broke up the world’s greatest rock and roll band.

It’s a dog eat dog world, Sammy, and I’m wearing milk-bone underwear: An Anti-depressant Mixtape/Playlist

Blame it on the fact that I haven’t watched any Dark Shadows in months (yes, months) or the fact that I’m only up to my ideal weight if I were 11 feet tall or a complete lack of restful sleep or water retention, but all roads lead to acute depression and apathy. And while I (and you) may really just want to listen to Blue or “Waiting ‘Round to Die” on repeat, that’s not healthy behavior. (Not that I know anything about healthy behavior.) But you (and I) know that music can be a great mood alleviator, miracle aligner, what you will. So, gather ’round and have a listen to this group of songs all-but-guaranteed to pull you out of your funk. Save the marshmallows and chocolate for another day, my friend. (I know they’re the food group on the bottom of the food pyramid, but you need some balance in your life.)

1. ELO – “Mr. Blue Sky”  

Beatles influence (huh-huh-huh-huh): you’re doing it right.

Oh, to be a little Baby Groot and dance around the world without a care.

2. Crosby, Stills, & Nash – “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” 

Opening track on your debut album: you’re doing it right.

Like, if the album ended after this song was over…I wouldn’t even be mad. I’d still snatch up every copy.

And as far as pet peeves go, number one behind all other drivers on the road would be individuals who choose to talk at any point during this song but especially the last ninety seconds or so. This is especially irksome when I have my headphones on. Like, why can’t you read my anti-social behavioral cues? Don’t interrupt my religious experience here. Oh va, oh va! Doo doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo doo doo/Doo doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo!!!!!!!!!

3. Harry Nilsson – “The Puppy Song” 

I don’t know, I just want to go outside and roll around with a dog.

And I’m not, even, like a dog person.

The power of music, man.

4. Ricky Nelson – “Raincoat in the River” 

Don’t act like you’re too cool to listen to Ricky Nelson ‘cos you MOST. DEFINITELY. ARE. NOT!! I SAID NO NO NO NO!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is a little-known gem (in my wobbly universe where I don’t have a very firm grasp on reality, anyway) hidden on the slightly forgettable Love and Kisses album. But boy oh boy, if this song does not give you the will to live, I don’t know what will. SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP ASAP.

Oh, and remember how in my last post I talked about how you have to accept people for who they are and love them anyway? That’s what I have to remind my husband of when he finds me dancing to this song wearing my sleep mask before bedtime. Don’t forget I gave up the chance to marry Marlon Brando or Ricky Nelson in the next life to marry you! You have to love me just as I am!!

Now the rain’s been drippin’
Drip drop a drippin’
Every day you’ve been away
Now the rain is stoppin’
No more drip drip droppin’
You’re back to stay
That’s why I say… 
I’M GONNA THROW 
My raincoat in the river
GONNA TOSS 
My umbrella in the sea 
The sun’s gonna shine like never before
It ain’t gonna rain, gonna rain no more
Now my baby’s come back to me

I may or may not have a complete dance routine for this song. Ricky’s voice just moves me.

Also, I hope you deeply (DEEEEPLY) appreciate how the last photo in the above video shows Ricky’s best side. Er, I mean back side. All of Ricky’s sides are the best sides.

5. Bee Gees – “You Win Again”

“They’re back to win your hearts and your minds with their new single, ‘You Win Again.’ Ladies and gentlemen, welcome…The Bee Gees!” 

ALWAYS THE SAME.

(If you don’t understand that reference, you clearly haven’t watched In Our Own Time enough times/as many times as me. Get on task!)

Not only is this song totally awesome and life-affirming, but this whole era of Bee Gees just might feature all of my style goals in the form of Robin Gibb (who else?). Confidence personified.

Ok, I can’t watch any more Bee Gees videos tonight. It will lead me down the rabbit hole of total Bee Gees obsession, and it gets worse every time. It’s really something only a cancer survivor would understand.

OH GIRRRRRL 

Thank you for existing, Gibbs.

6. Pulp – “Disco 2000” 

I don’t know, I just think I could sing along to this song all day, every day and never, ever be sad.

Oh, what are you doin’ Sunday, baby? 
Would you like to come and meet me, maybe? 
You can even bring your baby! 
Ooh ooh oh oh ooh ooh ooh
Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh

Remember that scene in that one episode of Life on Mars (the original, superior UK version starring John Simm) where Sam, trapped in 1973, hears a snippet of this song on the radio in the Indian restaurant? No? I guess you haven’t watched that show as much as me either. Keep up, will ya?

7. The Style Council – “My Ever Changing Moods” 

The lyrics of this song are actually quite political and powerful, but what really makes this song an automatic anti-depressant for me is the flawless, tongue-in-cheek video featuring Paul Weller and Mick Talbot in a bike race. I can’t believe there are people on this planet who find it appalling and degrading to the song. How can you not adore this video? Paul Weller’s face with his mouth full of banana at 2:35? Please God, let me live again. It’s the best thing ever.

8. Wham! – “Last Christmas” 

This is another song where the video helps make it so inspiring. But there are also people who don’t like this song or video, and I am here to tell you that those people are wrong.

(Careless Whisper) Maybe next year… 

Gets me every time.

9. Hall & Oates – “Say It Isn’t So” 

Pretty sure this is the song I listened to repeatedly on the morning of my wedding. Does that mean anything, Dr. Crane?

The only downside to listening to this song is the moment when you realize you can’t dance as well as Daryl does with his own silhouette in this video. Life goals right there. You might get really discouraged and sad. Be careful.

Also, how scary is John when he creeps up behind Daryl and points as he sings “SAY”? Really scary and really, really creepy.

10. Peter Frampton – “Show Me the Way” 

Oh my gosh, if you are one of those people who thinks they’re too cool to listen to Peter Frampton, PLEASE GO AWAY. (Uhhhh, why does the above video have 2K THUMBS DOWN? Are you just jealous of PFramp’s awesome chest? Your internet privileges are hereby REVOKED so you can get some professional HELP!!!) But if you donated your copy of Frampton Comes Alive! to a used record store, THANK YOU because I probably bought it. (Nope, I still ain’t sayin’ how many copies I own.)

I just love it when this song comes on the radio. I just have to…wonder if I’m dreaming. I feel so unashamed. I can’t believe this is happening to me!

Ahhh, heaven. This must be what it is like.

11. The Monkees – “Pleasant Valley Sunday” 

What a great pop song.

I could recommend watching The Monkeys as an anti-depressant, but I have learned to accept that it is an acquired taste for some not-so-blessed individuals.

And I may be in the minority opinion here (don’t know, don’t care), but I really think Season 1 is a better, more entertaining television show than Season 2, where Micky plugged his hair into a socket and walks around wearing a psychedelic tablecloth for most of the season. But the music? Definitely superior, and this is a great example.

12. The Beatles – “She Loves You” 

This whole playlist could be Beatles songs. The sound of my beating heart. My will to live.

But I had to pick an early, frenzied Beatlemania song because there is so much energy and joy in those early songs. People who stick their nose up at pre-Rubber Soul Beatles just might actually be worse than the demonic souls who don’t even like the Beatles. Get HELP!!!!!

13. The Beach Boys – “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” 

Any version will do, but I am personally endorsing the stereo mix found on the 30th anniversary box set. Why? Because we like you, and Brian sings the bridge, therefore resulting in minimal Mike Love.

Pure bliss.

HIDDEN TRACK: BJ Thomas – “As Long As We Got Each Other” 

Remember when CDs would have hidden tracks? That was super annoying. I’m glad it’s not a thing anymore. Not that I really know because I don’t buy that many CDs. Anyway…

I love having this song stuck in my head. Quality of life improved tenfold.

I know there are many more songs that could qualify for this playlist, but my sleep mask is calling to me…

852664894-brian_wilson_1968_laying_in_bed_with_smoke

10 Albums

As a quick footnote to my last post, I have recently been pondering at what point I should become concerned and/or seek medical attention (NOT from Dr. Julia Hoffman, of course) when I find myself resonating with sentiments expressed by David Collins? (He only tried to kill his father…twice? Has been possessed a handful of times, made friends with ghosts, been accused of being an insane liar…totally respectable!)

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(That point has passed. You went past go, Brittany, but you did not collect $200. )

Moving on…

I was recently “tagged” on social media to post about ten albums that have had an impact on me. This task was particular difficult for me because it’s easier for me to think of individual bands and musicians who had an impact on me, as I have this obsessive personality that requires me to listen to everything they ever recorded and consequently makes it hard to narrow down which album has had the most impact. But hey, let’s give it a whirl…

10. Graham Nash, Songs for Beginners (1971) 

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I am a simple man
And I play a simple tune
Wish that I could see you once again
Across the room
Like the first time

I’ve said it before, and I guess I’ll say it again: Graham Nash is undoubtedly my favorite member of CSN. Compare Nash’s first solo effort to those of the other members (which aren’t too shabby, don’t get me wrong–I love CSN), and you’ll hear why. The album is full of raw, emotional songs about Nash’s breakup with Joni Mitchell and fervent cries for political activism, but each song is so carefully crafted to pop/singer-songwriter perfection. I listened to this album a lot as a teenager–no regrets.

9. Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here (1975)

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Remember when you were young? 
You shone like the sun
Shine on you crazy diamond 
Now there’s a look in your eyes
Like black holes in the sky 
Shine on you crazy diamond 

As a teenager, I had a vague notion of Pink Floyd but didn’t really become interested (translation: obsessed! I can’t have interests like normal people, remember?) in the band until I discovered Syd Barrett and his music. “I’ve got a bike/You can ride it if you like/It’s got a basket, a bell that rings and/Things to make it look good/I’d give it to you if I could, but I borrowed it.” Ughh, love that stuff. Everything about that era of the band is so unique–the sounds, the lyrics, even the delivery of the lyrics…nothing like it in the world, methinks. Ice creeeeeam, tastes good in the afternoon! Ice creeeeeam, tastes good if you eat it soon!

But the fact of the matter is that the band endured and made more music without Syd Barrett than they did with him. The band could not have happened without Syd Barrett, but it also could not have lasted with him at the helm. Still, the band found ways to acknowledge his importance and pay tribute to him in some of their most famous works, Wish You Were Here included. (Even though Roger Waters has stated, in his usual stubborn way, that only one song off the album is really about Syd, but I find his influence permeates so much of the album, albeit if not always so forthrightly as “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.”) During the recording of the album, a shaven, overweight Syd Barrett visited the studio, shocking his former bandmates and reducing them to tears. The emotional weight this album carries is palpable in its lyrics and music.

1965-Pink-Floyd-Sound-39-Stanhope-Gdns-Highgate-London

How I wish, how I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
And how we found
The same old fears
Wish you were here

When I bought the album on CD (that used to be a thing, you know), I specifically ordered a version that also included the early Pink Floyd singles–“Arnold Layne,” “See Emily Play,” “Candy and a Currant Bun,” “Apples and Oranges”–as bonus tracks, making it the perfect CD for me, as it melded my favorite non-Syd Barrett Floyd album with some of my most favorite Syd Barrett songs.

8. Pulp, Different Class (1995) 

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You will never understand
How it feels to live your life
With no meaning or control
And with nowhere left to go.

(Now I’m wondering why I didn’t re-create this album cover at my wedding? Uhh, because those are some ugly flowers, that’s why, the second voice in my head says.)

Oh, Jarvis.

What can I say? I spent a good portion of my life obsessed with and worshipping that guy. And for good reason.

Pulp spent a long time (what, fifteen years or something) in the music business without much to show for it. (And that would be because some of the early Pulp music is really, really not very good. Just trust me on this one.) With Different Class, Pulp’s recognition and success reached a whole new level. They had top ten hits, nationwide fame, and Jarvis Cocker–the guy who once fell out of a window trying to impress a girl with his Spider-man impression and spent months in a wheelchair as a consequence–was suddenly a sex symbol at 32.

Different Class is full of some of his best songwriting, dealing with themes of sex (Jarv’s fave), the class system, drugs…yet all set to a flagrantly POP beat. There’s the scathing, vengeful “I Spy” (in which Jarvis advises that you should take him “seriously, very seriously indeed ‘cos I’ve been sleeping with your wife for the past sixteen weeks”), anthemic call to arms for all the mis-shapes, mistakes, misfits, the depressing come-down at “Bar Italia” “where other broken people go”, the infectious sing-a-long “Disco 2000” about the one that got away, and the ultimate ATTACK on the clash of the social classes “Common People” (really a shame how the video/single omits the final, most biting verse). And then there’s “F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.”, “Live Bed Show,” “Underwear,” “Monday Morning,” “Pencil Skirt”….

It’s impossible to choose a best or even favorite track. This is the album that catapulted a mild interest in Jarvis Cocker to a full-blown obsession, kicking the door open for all the rest of “Britpop.” It would be years before any other musical genres would be allowed to enter the fortress.

7. Frank Sinatra, A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra (1957) 

sinatra_christmas

I love those J-I-N-G-L-E bells, oh 
Those holiday J-I-N-G-L-E bells, oh 
Those happy J-I-N-G-L-E B-E-DOUBLE L-S 
I love those J-I-N-G-L-E bells, oh 

If you’re surprised that there’s a Christmas album on this list, then you CLEARLY haven’t listened to this Christmas album. I listen to this album year-round. A song from this album made its way to my wedding reception playlist. It’s Sinatra. It’s perfect.

I first got into Sinatra after being assigned to read Gay Talese’s magnificent profile of Sinatra, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” during my next-to-final quarter of college (the first time around), and I thought, “Wow, he has to be the coolest guy, ever.” And guess what? He is. I just don’t wanna live in a world where there is no Frank Sinatra. In the words of Dean Martin, “This is Frank’s world, and we’re just living it.” Amen, brother.

6. The Smiths, Hatful of Hollow (1984) 

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I am the son, and the heir, of a shyness that is criminally vulgar
I am the son and heir, of nothing in particular

It was difficult to choose one Smiths album; truthfully, any of their albums could be inserted here. But I may or may not still be wearing an oversized, pit-stained Smiths t-shirt, an heirloom passed down from an older sister, with this album cover on it, so I’d say its impact is pretty obvious.

Morrissey has a lyric for every situation in my life:

Struggling with the state of yourself and your life? “Every day you must say, how do I feel about my shoes?”

Feel like your work is not meaningful or productive? “But sometimes I feel more fulfilled making Christmas cards with the mentally ill.” 

When someone finally asks your honest opinion of them? “Frankly, Mr. Shankly, since you ask: you are a flatulent pain in the arse!”

Have to deal with the consequences of telling someone your honest opinion of them? “Sweetness, sweetness, I was only joking when I said I’d like to smash every tooth in your head.”

Feeling under the weather and someone asks you how you’re feeling? “Oh mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head.”

Just something I may or may not say every day: “Oh, I’m too tired/I’m so sick and tired/And I’m feeling very sick and ill today.” (I am a “delicate flower”!!!!)

Someone says “I love you”? “So…scratch my name on your arm with a fountain pen. This means you really love me.”

Moving onto a new obsession and your previous obsession starts to feel left out? “I still love you, oh, I still love you/Only slightly, only slightly less than I used to, my love.”

PMSing and carrying around some extra “water” weight? “You’re the one for me, fatty/ You’re the one I really, really love/And I will stay/Promise you’ll say/If I’m ever in your way/A-hey!”

And ad infinitum.

I mean, these lyrics just roll off the tongue. So good.

(I recently saw a headline about a study that concluded that “Smiths fans were neurotic.” Was such a study necessary? I mean, really????????)

If you want to have a fun game of charades sometime, try using Morrissey lyrics. “Punctured bicycle, on a hillside, desolate.” Ahhh, fun times.

5. Oasis, Definitely Maybe (1994) 

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You’re the outcast, you’re the underclass
But you don’t care, because you’re living fast
You’re the uninvited guest who stays ’till the end
I know you’ve got a problem that the devil sends
You think they’re talking ’bout you but you don’t know who
I’ll be scraping your life from the sole of my shoe tonight

As a young child, my brother and I would go upstairs to my older sister’s lair and deface the posters of her musical heroes with sticky-tack: Morrissey’s nipple magically grew one very long hair and the Gallagher brothers’ noses always had dangling boogers. I had a strong aversion to the Gallaghers in particular because I knew one of them (who also thought he was John Lennon) had called George Harrison a “nipple” (“NIP-PLE”) and I got tricked into watching one of their concerts instead of getting to watch A Hard Day’s Night for the nth time because I was told John Lennon was in it. (He was–in photographic form at the conclusion of “Live Forever.”) So it was a long time before I sold my soul to this rock ‘n’ roll band.

But oh boy, when I did, there weren’t no turnin’ back. Noel Gallagher’s latest solo effort asks, “Who built the moon?” Uhhhh, you? Would follow that dude to the moon and back, no questions asked.

What a debut album–it kicks in with “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and never, ever lets up. Soul sold.

4. Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home (1965) 

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Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky
With one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea
Circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate
Driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow

I cycled through many musical obsessions as a teenager, but I think perhaps my obsession with Bob Dylan lasted the longest and had the greatest impact, which is odd considering I probably listen him to the least out of any artist that appears on this list. I devoured all his albums, watched Dont Look Back more than was healthy, and wore sunglasses a lot. Yeah, not healthy behavior, but having a thorough knowledge of Dylan’s catalogue is something I consider worthy of being mentioned on my resume. Once, I had to explain to a dense individual how important Bob Dylan was to music. Like, they legitimately didn’t get it. It was sad. Don’t be that person.

Bringing It All Back Home is my favorite Dylan album, as it blends both acoustic and electric Dylan and contains some of my favorite Dylan tracks (which I did NOT play at my wedding reception!)–and Rick Nelson’s, too. I know, I have great taste.

3. The Jam, The Gift (1982) 

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Why are you frightened can’t you see that it’s you
That ain’t no ghost it’s a reflection of you
Why do you turn away an’ keep it out of sight
Oh don’t live up to your given roles
There’s more inside you that you won’t show

Paul Weller is the man who knocked down the walls built by Jarvis Cocker.

My first exposure to The Jam was the video for “Going Underground.” I thought, “Good song, lead singer is a bit odd-looking.”

Ha. Ha. Ha.

I feel like with each of my obsessions, it just got worse. Like, I spent A LOT of time obsessing about Paul Weller. Way more time than I spent obsessing about Jarvis Cocker, even. The only reason I don’t spend so much time doing it anymore is because…well, I found more fulfillment in my work and life, I guess. And I also sought medical attention. Only kidding, ha. Maybe I should have.

Anyway.

The Gift may not be my favorite Jam album (but it includes my favorite Jam song, bar none), yet it is their most musically diverse and adventurous. And it has so, so, so many good songs.

And it’s their last. Weller, at age 24, announced the dissolution of the band at the height of their fame. Guts, man.

Bring on The Style Council!

(Never forget the time I threatened to turn this blog into an analysis/discussion of Style Council videos.)

2. The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds (1966) 

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Sometimes I feel very sad
Sometimes I feel very sad
(Can’t find nothin’ I can put my heart and soul into)

I don’t even know what to say about this album. I love it so much. It is absolute perfection from start to finish. It’s a spiritual kind of thing, don’t you think? Yes, yes, it is. Yet there are still people who don’t “get” this album. Don’t be that person. Make the world a better place. Listen to Pet Sounds, preferably at least once a day. You just have to listen…listen.

1. The Beatles, Rubber Soul (1965) 

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Was she told when she was young
That pain would lead to pleasure?
Did she understand it when they said
That a man must break his back
To earn his day of leisure?
Will she still believe it when he’s dead?

Any Beatles album could hold the top spot on this list. As many musical obsessions have come and gone, The Beatles were the first and remain the most intense and innate part of my existence. The Beatles are the sound of my beating heart.

It’s odd (to me, anyway) to think of how this is the album that so influenced Brian Wilson to write Pet Sounds, yet he and I listened primarily to different versions. Brian was listening to the Capitol version, with a different track listing (including the false-start version of “I’m Looking Through You”), and I have always listened to the original UK version. (Capitol may have been onto something, actually: omitting “What Goes On” is downright inspired and inserting the folksy “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and “It’s Only Love” blend in well with the musical landscape of the album.) Yet we both have the same intense love affair with the album. Revolver may have opened the doors for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Sgt. Pepper is certainly more advanced technology-wise, but neither has the heart of Rubber Soul. In fact, as much as I love each of their albums, I might go as far to argue that no other Beatles album has the heart that Rubber Soul does. The empathetic drumming Ringo lends to John in “In My Life”? Just…my heart.

I’ll stop now. I find it hard to express my feelings about this band of brothers for, like Cordelia, my love’s more richer than my tongue…

I know everyone stays up REALLY late at Collinwood, but it’s way past my bedtime…

P.S.

Because no one has found out that he’s a vampire from another century.

Can’t stop, won’t stop. HELP!

Without Precedent

I often wonder about my love for The Beatles–why it is so inexplicable and embedded in my DNA and how millions of people, different from me in innumerable ways, feel precisely the same. Maybe this ingrained, intense feeling is why fans are so incredibly protective of the band’s legacy and equally critical of anything pertaining to The Fab Four, even if it is a feature-length documentary directed by an Academy Award winner named Ron Howard.

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John Lennon, with son Julian, visits Ron Howard and company on the set of Happy Days in 1974.

The producer of the film, Nigel Sinclair, who also produced Martin Scorsese’s documentary about George Harrison Living in the Material World, explained fans’ dual reaction to the announcement of the film: “Ron had people come up to him in the street and [they would] say ‘Mr. Howard, I’m so glad you’re doing the Beatles film.’ Ron said, ‘Of course the subtext is “And don’t screw it up.”’

From me to you (hey, I’m trying my zest here), he does not mess it up.

(My criticisms are few and minute, so let’s get them out of the way. I find the commentary from individuals not part of the Beatles’ circle superfluous, unnecessary, and rarely insightful. Do I care what Sigourney Weaver wore to see The Beatles at Shea Stadium? Not really. Do I care that Jon Savage’s parents wouldn’t let him go to a Beatles concert? Not really. What makes them different from the thousands of other ordinary people who loved The Beatles just as fervently? Oh, right, they are of some renown. Whatever. Get out. Secondly, the film’s tagline boasts that this film is about the band you know but the story you don’t…well, not really. I didn’t really learn anything new, but I did see lots of new photos and footage, and I got to see The Beatles on the big screen, replete with the entire Shea Stadium concert. Horrid snobby portion of this post over.)

Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years tells the story of The Beatles, using their live performances as its focus, which, on the surface, may seem odd, since The Beatles were never exactly synonymous with extraordinary live performances. They didn’t have pigs or light their instruments on fire or create auto-destructive art. Their audiences were not rapt in hearing the words of a lyrical poet, as Dylan’s fans were (a fact he was proud of in his early career, especially when The Beatles’ phenomenon surfaced). For much of their performing career, the music was secondary to the spectacle of seeing The Beatles. By choosing this least-regarded facet of the band, however, Howard is able to more fully reveal how the Beatles progressed and evolved by contrasting it with the circus-like atmosphere of their increasingly stagnant live performances.

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Foreshadowing in Hamburg, 1960: “Their name liveth for evermore.”

The Beatles’ stage performances weren’t always so stagnant, though, and their success was not an accident that happened overnight. Ringo states in the film that playing was the most important thing for the band, and their stints in Hamburg, Germany, allowed them the opportunity to perfect their craft while playing for eight or more hours every night—to unruly, difficult-to-please crowds or to an empty club (empty except for a bearded drummer from another Liverpool group, Ringo Starr). This was their apprenticeship, this is where they learned how to play in front of people–how to mach schau, and when they returned to England, they broke the jazz-only rule at Liverpool’s The Cavern Club, performing a total of nearly 300 times. Having dominated The Cavern Club and garnered a local following, the group was still looking to improve and to move the next step up the ladder.

That next step up the ladder was not what any of The Beatles expected: Beatlemania. Opening with color footage of the band playing in Manchester in November 1963, the film shows the excitement and the burgeoning mania: girls screaming, fainting, and the sheer joy John, Paul, George, and Ringo exude. The film illustrates this joy and excitement perfectly with its abundance of unseen (or, at least, under-seen) concert and interview footage. Fans debate the sexiness of the members (“Ringo’s got a sexy nose.” “George’s eyelashes are sexy.”) and declare their undying love for them: “Paul McCartney, if you’re out there listening, Adrian from Brooklyn loves you.” Fans’ adoration for the Beatles ignites laughter but is genuine—and contagious. Just as contagious and laughter-inducing is The Beatles’ humor—then and now. Just a few favorites: John introduces himself to a reporter as Eric, George uses John’s mop top as an ashtray, George thanks Ringo for his contribution to a fan club record and remarks “We’ll phone you,” and Ringo recalls his inability to hear the band’s music at their concerts, “I couldn’t hear anything. All I could see was Paul’s arse, John’s arse…” Ringo had the best seat, am I right?     

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After conquering Europe, the Beatles arrived in the United States, where the madness escalated to a whole new level. While the Beatles complied with the larger venues (and greater profits) and increasingly manic American crowds, they refused to accommodate the demands of segregated venues. In this regard, they were pioneers, standing for what they believed to be right. As journalist Larry Kane, who accompanied The Beatles on their 1964 North American tour, remarked, he was touched by The Beatles’ kindness, their genuineness, and their intelligence.

After 1964, though, The Beatles’ pioneering in the live arena stalled, except by breaking attendance records by playing in larger venues. The opposite was true of their recording career, where they continued to flourish. With each record, they progressed, wrote better songs, and experimented with new sounds and ideas, culminating with the release of Revolver in May 1966. Tellingly, the Beatles never performed any songs from Revolver live, demonstrating how the sophistication of their recording career had overtaken the circus that was their live show.

By 1966, the group’s rosy relationship with the public was fraying. Not only were their performances inaudible but touring had become a life-threatening situation, which escalated with John Lennon’s remark that The Beatles were, in fact, more popular than Jesus Christ. (Real talk hurts.) Even their relationship with the press, who had adored their wit and cheekiness, was verging on hostile. In a clip, one journalists asks The Beatles why they are so “horrid snobby.” Paul, irrefutably the most diplomatic Beatle, answers that they are not snobby but the journalists and their questions are not particularly nice and get what they deserve. (Again, real talk hurts.) Death threats, Beatle burnings, and exploding firecrackers at concerts became the new norm for The Fab Four. They arrived to their final concert, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966, in an armored truck. They decided they’d had enough–of touring, at least. Still, in these tense moments, you can still see their camaraderie and the joy their music brings.

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Paul McCartney and George Harrison at The Beatles’ final concert in 1966.

Despite all the obstacles this band faced — touring was a money-making venture not an artistic one, their concerts lasted no more than thirty minutes and offered little variation in terms of set lists, and oh yeah, the screaming which made it impossible for them to hear one another — the film shows what a good live band The Beatles were. They could have easily not put any effort into their live shows at all, but they were often in tune and played as a cohesive unit. That unity is a testament to their closeness as individuals and their faith in one another, my favorite aspect of the film.

“I was an only child, and I suddenly felt as if I had three brothers,” Ringo states in the film. Paul gets emotional recalling the first moment Ringo played with the group, and George expresses how he was always glad that they had one another to lean on and share the experience, unlike an isolated Elvis or Sinatra, declaring, “We were very, very close to one another.” This is the band that went from staying in a single cramped room in the back of a theater in Hamburg to occupying the entire floor of the New York Plaza Hotel, where they found themselves gathering together in one room to get away from the pressure of being Beatles and just be with each other.

They loved one another and had faith in each other, just as many individuals around them had faith in them — notably George Martin having faith in their artistic vision to not touch the unorthodox structure and sound of “Tomorrow Never Knows” and Brian Epstein sacrificing so much for them and maintaining his faith in them despite no measurable success for so long (John Lennon once said there was a period where the only people who had faith in the band were Brian Epstein and George Harrison). And by having faith in each other, they inspired others to have faith in one another — so that it didn’t matter if you were black or white, weird or popular, young or old; The Beatles were a uniting force, beautifully encapsulated by the chorus of grown men singing “She Loves You” to celebrate their football club’s victory season. And there it is — that inexplicable feeling of love swelling inside me. I love The Beatles like no other. They are, quite simply, without precedent.

The Toppermost of the Poppermost

I have read a lot of books about The Beatles, so many that I began to lose faith in ever finding another one that would teach me something new or let me see them from a different perspective. I have become more and more picky about which books I will spend my time reading, especially when it comes to the Beatles — so much so that when I am in the midst of reading one and an author refers to John Lennon as the oldest Beatle, I stop reading. Because if you can’t get something that simple correct, what else are you mucking up? So, this past holiday season, when The Fest for Beatles fans touted not just one but three books as essential for every Beatles fan, I was skeptical. But oh, was I wrong! These three books are, you might say, the toppermost of the poppermost when it comes to Beatles reading…

1. All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release by Jean-Michel Guesdon and Philippe Margotin 

I adore this book so much I’ve already read it twice, stuffing it with post-it notes along the way. As the title suggests, this book gives you the full story about every Beatles release. This first includes an overview of each studio album and EP, and then a delicious (yes, delicious) track-by-track dissection — we’re talking the genesis of each song (i.e. what inspired them to write the song or, if it’s a cover, when they started working the song into their impressive and extensive repertoire), discussion of each song’s production, technical details, who played what, who wrote what, recording and mixing dates, the technical team (bless ’em), and the number of takes (this gets kind of crazy around oh, I don’t know…”Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” Bang, bang!). Oh, and there’s also little yellow boxes exclaiming “FOR BEATLES FANATICS” (…who else?), and they are packed with the tiniest, coolest tidbits…like how there is no bass after the first minute of “Strawberry Fields Forever” or the mono version of “She’s Leaving Home” is slightly faster and higher than the stereo version (boo, mono forever). Here’s what a typical spread looks like:

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Paul definitely has the best butt in the Beatles.

Isn’t it beautiful? The spread design, I mean — not Paul’s butt (although it is pretty great, let’s be real, people).

All the Songs is a great (albeit hefty) reference book that I know I will return to again and again. William J. Dowlding’s Beatlesongs has been my go-to when it comes to specifics about the Beatles’ music for years, but All the Songs just may replace it. 

I love that this book’s main focus is on the Beatles as musicians, songwriters, and recording artists with minimal personal information or defamation. I thought I knew it all, but this book taught me so much more about their songwriting and recording processes, and I came away with an even greater appreciation of and love for their music and the Beatles as musicians — who would have thought that was even possible? Not I.

2. The Beatles: The BBC Archives: 1962-1970 by Kevin Howlett

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Again, the title gives it all away — this book digs into the BBC Archives and gives readers every available detail about the Beatles relationship with the indomitable BBC (who, eager housekeepers that they were, got rid of so many of their performances). The book comes with reproductions of some of the documents Howlett uncovered in his extensive research, including manager Brian Epstein’s application for the Beatles (which, at the time, still included Pete Best on drums) to audition for the BBC radio and the staff’s subsequent response to their audition: “An unusual group, not as ‘rocky’ as most, more C+W [Country and Western], with a tendency to play music.” The same staffer approved of Lennon as a singer but not McCartney (“Paul McCartney — NO.”).

The early years are fascinating because, like the recordings now available on Live at the BBC and On Air: Live at the BBC, Volume 2, they tell us so much about the Beatles as musicians and their personalities. First, the Beatles worked hard and often a relentless, frantic pace. Their first album (well, ten of its fourteen tracks) was recorded in about ten hours; this is seen as a remarkable achievement, but, as Howlett writes, their work rate at the BBC was even higher: “Apart from when they were performing in front of an audience for a broadcast, The Beatles had to complete five or six songs in a short session. They were not fazed by this requirement.” Furthermore, their radio performances were limited by the BBC’s equipment: they had to record on mono machines and any mistakes would have to either be edited out and replaced with a separate take or a lengthy overdubbing process. Thus, most of their BBC performances were recorded live, direct to tape, revealing their strength and talent as musicians and what exciting performers they were.

The other aspect of their BBC performances is that they offer insight into the Beatles’ as music fans — what they liked to listen to and what inspired them. During their radio program Pop Go the Beatles, 39 of the songs heard in the series were not available on the Beatles’ records by the series’ conclusion and 26 of those 39 would remain unreleased during the Beatles’ recording career. Of course, many of these are now available on the Live at the BBC series, and they tell us what the Beatles liked — lots of Chuck Berry, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and records and artists that remain rare and unheard to this day (“Devil in His Heart” by the Donays, anyone?). This large repertoire of songs that remained unreleased on record gives us an indication of what accomplished musicians they were and how much variety they were able to have in their set-lists in their early performing days. And not only did they cover these songs, they made them their own, they gave them the Beatles sound.

Then there were the interviews and on-air banter between the performers and presenters that tell us what naturally charming and witty people the Beatles were. Howlett’s book is full of transcripts of such banter, some available on the BBC recordings, some not (I would love to hear a recording of the 1964 interview with Paul by George, who, at the end of the interview, thanked Paul and told him he’d receive his “three shilling fee at a later date!”). They liked to call presenter Lee Peters Pee Litres (tee hee), and when presenter Rodney Burke introduced himself, “My name’s Rodney Burke, thank you very much!” John Lennon interjected, as only he could: “That’s your fault!”

Later, however, the Beatles simply had less time (and, likely, interest) to drop into the BBC and thus their final BBC session was in 1965. They still offered interviews and television appearances, and the details of these offer insight into how they were changing as a band and as people. For example, when interviewed for a program called The Lennon and McCartney Songbook, Howlett’s transcript indicates McCartney’s diplomatic nature, while Lennon is subdued, grumpy even, showing how he was becoming restless with being a Beatle (and likely very stressed and nervous about their upcoming tour of the US, who didn’t take kindly to his “more popular than Jesus” remark).

Interesting also is the interviews of 1969 and 1970, when relations between band members were very tense and strained at times. In 1970, George was asked about the split of the group and answered, in part: “It’s the end of The Beatles like maybe how people imagine The Beatles….I can see this year us all doing a separate album each and by that time people will probably think there’s no chance at all of there ever being Beatles again. And then suddenly, there’s Beatles again.” Only eleven days after this interview was broadcast, Paul McCartney announced he had quit the band (well, basically). Jerk!

The BBC Archives is a fascinating examination of the Beatles as recording artists and people, demonstrated by their recordings and interviews given to the BBC. I’d argue that the following statements made by Howlett are some of the most important to be written or uttered about this most-written and most-uttered-about band: “The brilliant innovations made by The Beatles in their latter years are, quite rightly, regarded as pioneering achievements that continue to influence musicians. But if you did not experience the group’s musical progression as it happened, listening to The Beatles without that chronological context can distort an historical view of their career. The picture on With the Beatles may not seem so now, but in 1963 it was extremely radical. So was the album’s music: energetic, visceral, and cutting edge. Indeed, the initial years of The Beatles’ success, 1963 and 1964, may well be their most revolutionary.” Yes, yes, yes!

This book, coupled with the Live at the BBC recordings, shows just how revolutionary and fun they were in those early years. In a BBC Audience Research Report, a solicitor, self-described as “definitely over-twenty,” wrote:  “How can anyone fail to like them? Their music is so gay and uninhibited, and they themselves are so full of joie-de-vivre.” Amen, brother.

3. The Beatles: All These Years, Volume 1: Tune In by Mark Lewisohn 

When Mark Lewisohn, renowned Beatles scholar and author, told the late Neil Aspinall that he was beginning a three volume biography about The Beatles, Aspinall responded, “Does the world really need another Beatles book?” Yes, Neil, it does, and this is it!

This first installment of Lewisohn’s trilogy takes us up to the end of 1962, just on the cusp of Beatlemania. In other biographies, this section of the Beatles’ story is glossed over — not here. The book is just over 1100 pages (and there is an extended version of the book but it’s currently only available in print in the UK, what gives? This is the 21st century, where is our global village?). Other biographers, too, make this period of the Beatles’ story somewhat dry — not here. I couldn’t put this book down. I even dreamed about it. That’s normal, right? And other biographers — still, here, now, in 2014 — repeat (or even create) myths and legends that simply are not true — not here. Lewisohn is a scholar. He has source upon source upon source. And as a result, his writing is scholarly but, at the same time, engaging.

Lewisohn gives the full facts and truth about so many parts of the Beatles story — how they finally got that coveted recording contract, where those haircuts come from, and yes, not only did Pete Best have zero drumming talent but zero personality. It’s so refreshing (…especially after the headache that was Larry Kane’s When They Were Boys).

Similarly refreshing is how Lewisohn portrays and discusses the Beatles’ individual faults without making them out to be horrible people. He does not excuse their faults (John and Paul’s early views on women, Paul’s jealousy, John’s strange fixation with cripples, etc.), but he does put them in perspective by putting them in context of their lives and times, allowing some understanding of why they were the way they were.

Reading this book, I came away with a greater appreciation of how hard the Beatles worked and similarly how hard the people around them worked — specifically Brian Epstein, bless that man — to make their career happen. I appreciate how certain people, whose lives had run parallel to their own, had to come together with them to make it happen. The Beatles always had the potential to be the greatest, they always had the talent and charisma, and they certainly always had the belief that something would happen…but without certain people and opportunities, it would not have happened, and we would still be listening to Pat Boone records.

One of the most interesting things I learned was how Decca didn’t necessarily reject the Beatles — well, they kind of did, but they also offered to assist Epstein in getting the Beatles on a record. But Epstein, amazingly (albeit thankfully), refused. Lewisohn explains Epstein’s thinking: “The bottom line seems to have been that Brian couldn’t accept the Beatles’ records being made by someone who didn’t appreciate them and was doing it only for money. In a perfect world they would come under the wing of a man who, like him, could see their potential and was interested in adding his talents to theirs.” That man, of course, was George Martin who was actually forced to sign the Beatles! Oh, what stories are in this book.

I especially love Lewisohn’s thoughts about a recording of the Quarry Men’s evening performance the day Paul met John. Writing of the tape and this early Lennon vocal performance, Lewisohn hits so many things about Lennon (and by extension, the Beatles) that make them so remarkable:

“And this, even more than its highly improbably existence, is the most extraordinary thing about the tape: it is unmistakably John Lennon. Although inspired by Elvis and Lonnie, he’s not attempting to imitate their voices or their style, and more strikingly still he’s not adopting any phoney American or mid-Atlantic accent. Singers always start off as impersonators, mimicking whoever made the record they’re performing, some perhaps going on to develop their own voice. That John Lennon already had it at Woolton, that he was so audibly himself, is the mark of a true original. Not only does he have a great rock voice, it’s an honest one.”

Influenced, yes, but unmistakable an individual, an original — a natural, honest original, not painstakingly groomed for prime time but just being himself.

I just finished this yesterday, and I am so depressed. I just wanted it to keep…going. It took Lewisohn ten years to research and write this volume, and he hasn’t written the remaining two volumes, and I don’t know if I can sustain the will to live long enough to see them written and released. I hope so.

Good Ol’ Freda (Ryan White, 2013)

When it comes to The Beatles, there are plenty of myths and legends. There are the tell-all books and exclusive interviews of close and loose associates of the band that sometimes create or perpetuate these falsehoods, distorting the truth in the process. Then there are the words, memories, and opinions of the Beatles themselves – and sometimes even they contradict themselves! (See their recollections of receiving the MBE in The Beatles Anthology!) And then, rarest of the rare, there are the untold stories of those who were actually there.

Good Ol’ Freda tells such a story.

Freda

Freda Kelly had the dream job of countless teenagers (and adults, too, I’m sure!) in the 1960s: she was head of the Beatles’ fan club…and personal secretary to the Fab Four themselves, placing her in their coveted inner circle and giving her a front-row seat to the madness that was Beatlemania and all the crazy, wonderful stories that went along with it. There are so many stories — and kinds of stories — in Good Ol’ Freda.

There is the story of her close relationship with all of the Beatles and their families — how George’s father taught her to ballroom dance and how Ringo’s mother eventually influenced Brian Epstein to give Freda a raise. There is the story of how John Lennon’s laugh once saved her job. There is the story of how George, sweetheart that he was, got her all of the Beatles autographs. There is the story of how she made John Lennon, who moments earlier had declared she was “sacked”, get down on his knees and beg her to once again serve as his secretary. What a sight that must have been!

Then there are the stories of how she took care of the fans because she was, first and foremost, a Beatles fan, and she knew what that meant. She understood the intense devotion, admiration, and love the Beatles inspired in their fans. And so when fans wrote requesting locks of hair, she scoured the floor of the barbershop and sent them real locks of their hair. When a fan sent a pillow requesting that Ringo sleep on it and send it back to her, Freda made sure that Ringo slept on that pillow. And when scores of fans wrote for autographs, she did her best to make sure that they received genuine autographs. (She — like John Lennon — disliked the use of the stamped autographs Brian Epstein tried to make standard practice because, quite simply, they weren’t the real thing. And she understood the disappointment and frustration that a fan would feel when they received not only a stamped autograph but a stamped autograph that had smudged.) Even after the Beatles had disbanded, she gave away memorabilia worth literally millions to real Beatles fans in the mid-1970s.

And then there are the stories of Freda as a person — staunchly loyal, unfailingly trustworthy and honest, not swayed by materialism or wealth, and highly protective of the Beatles and their fans. Freda was kind, but she was not to be crossed, as the story of how she fired an assistant once she discovered she had cut her sister’s hair and tried to pass it off as the Beatles’ hair demonstrates. The situation was simple to Freda: she could no longer trust the assistant and thus she had to go. Freda was fiercely loyal. She was once offered money in exchange for as many bits of information she could fit into an envelope. Nobody would have to know — she could place an envelope through a door and an envelope, with a large check enclosed, would be returned. Looking back on the situation, Freda explains how everybody needs and likes money and often would like to have more money — but she did not want it that much. Her integrity was worth more to her. What a gal!

To Freda, fame and wealth do not mean much. Because, as she reflects on the deaths of those once part of the Beatles’ circle, all the fame and money in the world still can’t cure cancer, can it? Throughout the years, Freda has refused offer after offer to write a book and tell her story — and the only reason she chose to tell it recently was for her posterity, spurred on by the birth of her grandson and the death of her son who had often asked her about her memories of working with The Beatles.

Watching Good Ol’ Freda, it’s easy to fall in love with Freda. You recognize yourself in her because she, like you, is a Beatles fan. She has been one since she visited The Cavern Club during her lunch break one day and will forever remain one. And you appreciate that she was there, in the midst of all the craziness, to take care of not only the Beatles but also their fans. You see the genuine love she had for the Beatles, their families, and those other close associates she worked with. “I worked with a lot of good people,” she remarks toward the end of the film.

She, too, was one of the good people, and I am so glad her story has finally been told. Thanks, Freda!

Another Post About All the Little Things I Love About HELP!

Continuation of this post

Last time ’round, Ringo’s pants had just fallen down and Paul was very encouraging about it. Now, after the scientists’ failed attempt to remove the sacrificial ring from Ringo’s finger, the Beatles head back to their flat to…sing a song! What else?

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And Paul is trying to impress Ahme (Eleanor Bron). Typical.

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George, on the other hand, is verrrrrry suspicious of her.

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And when Ahme pulls out a needle, George passes out. Poor thing.

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This is the “intermission.” Remember, the Beatles smoked marijuana for breakfast around this time–and were just naturally very silly, very funny people.

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George is alarmed that Ringo would just give up this valuable ring; John is psuedo-alarmed at George’s alarm.

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Paul asks if the medicine about to be administered to Ringo is “habit-forming”; George assumes he is talking about the gum he is about to pop into his mouth.

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And believe me, it is very exciting. He wraps himself in a Wrigley’s Gum Wrapper. Need I say more?

 

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Clang and the gang have turned up, and I love how, amidst the confusion, George strangles John, responds nonchalantly when John tells him that it’s him, and continues to do so.

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George–always on the lookout for some extra cash and his friend’s best interests (and in that order!!).

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See what I mean? When the scientists arrive and inform Ringo that they shall have to operate on his finger, George wants to make sure it will be covered by the government. Ho!

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And then the Beatles go skiing…and they’re not very good at it. (It was their first time!)

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Not being very good at skiing, the Beatles decide to just sort of…fall over…

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…And sing a song instead! Convenient, that piano is.

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And hey, let’s have a picnic, too. And a toast! To us! Tonight!

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I love how this was the Beatles’ first time skiing, how they (or at least, Paul) asked that it be worked into the script somehow, and how John is really, really bad at skiing and just annoys anyone else on skis who happens to know how to ski. Ho ho!

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Pretty sure this is my favorite line in the entire film. Pretty sure I used to say this when coming out of the bathroom in elementary school. Pretty sure I had no idea what it meant. Pretty sure I should start proclaiming this to announce my farts. Especially now that I know what it means.

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I love how George is suddenly hungry.

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Ya think?

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Oooh, sassy.

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Look, if you watch this film with me, this is just one of those moments where I hit PAUSE. And there is a moment (or two…or three…or maybe even four…) of silence for The Cheeks. Once, I did this, and my dad was in the same room and got very flustered and said, “Why did it stop?” Uh, HELLO.

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The Beatles have now taken refuge in Buckingham Palace, and John decides this is getting a little to ridiculous and decides that it’s time to get of that ring…even if it means getting rid of Ringo’s finger, too!

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I know Paul was The Cute Beatle and all, but sometimes I like to call him The Bossy Beatle.

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Ringo does what Paul says (who has the will to disobey Paul’s wishes?), and George seizes this opportunity to sneak a peek at Ringo’s hand.

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George Harrison remembered this scene taking days to film, due to their incessant giggling  (a residue of their breakfast, remember).

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Two words: Paul’s face.

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Must be. That’s what I always do on my tea break. Actually, I don’t have tea breaks. But my sister does and that’s what she does.

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You gotta read this line in slow-motion. You just gotta. Done it? Don’t it sound a million times more AWESOME?

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George is very pleased with himself because he’s managed to avoid paying the pub bill. And John’s just…being John.

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Exclaimed movie audiences everywhere.

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Note: This is Paul speaking to Ringo, not the other way ’round.

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George, your face.

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You kind of have to hear John’s grumpy old man voice to fully appreciate this, but this is very nearly almost my favorite part in the whole movie. Wait, I’ve said that before about some other part, haven’t I?

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They’re going to the Bahamas, by the way. And we’re just gonna have to pause for a few more minutes. For obvious reasons.

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I love that George is playing this “drop something on Ringo’s head” game.

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My precioussssssss!

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Oops. I think somebody just touched something they weren’t supposed to.

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I actually have no idea.

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I love this expression of rare outrage from Ringo. The fiends!

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Perfect summary of this movie.

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I believe the expression is the cat who swallowed the canary!

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I love George’s imitation of Tarzan. Almost as good as Peter Tork’s, if you know what I mean.

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You tell ’em, Ringo! It’s good to see Ringo finally standing up for himself.

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A happy reunion!

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End of the film shenanigans.

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Just a bit of trivia: The “white cliffs of Dover” swimmer is played by one of the Beatles’ road managers, Mal Evans.

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And the final thing I love about this film is this closing dedication. Why was this film dedicated to Elias Howe? I don’t know. Does it really matter? No. It’s just reflective of the absurdist nature of this film…and I love it.

And that concludes all the little things I love about this movie. Okay, so it didn’t take me 250 posts to write about all the things I love about Help!, but it could have (I cut out a lot). Now do yourself a favor and watch this movie and laugh, laugh, laugh, and laugh. And watch out for those fiendish thingys. Ho, ho!

 

 

 

 

 

A Post About All the Little Things I Love About HELP! Part One of…I don’t know, 250?

Oh, Help!. There are just some days when I just feel like I need some Help!. Wait, I take that back. I don’t need “some” Help!; I need A LOT of Help!. In fact, I need all the Help! I can get.

I’m talking about The Beatles’ second feature film, by the way.

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A Hard Day’s Night is my favorite Beatles film and one of my favorite films, period. It’s perfect. It is superior to Help! in many ways, but Help! is special. In order to watch Help!, you have to suspend reality and allow yourself to enter this fantastical, absurd world where the Beatles reside, a world where Ringo (who else?) is in possession of a sacrificial ring that he cannot remove, and, as a result, various groups of people chase the Beatles for possession of the ring for sacrificial reasons and power. Whereas A Hard Day’s Night was a semi-realistic fictional representation of a day in the life of The Beatles, Help! has maybe one fraction of a fingernail based in reality. But that’s part of what makes it so much fun.

John Lennon recalled the experience of filming Help! in 1980: “The movie was out of our control. With A Hard Day’s Night, we had a lot of input, and it was semi-realistic. But with Help!, Dick Lester didn’t tell us what it was about. I realize, looking back, how advanced it was. It was a precursor for the Batman ‘Pow! Wow!’ on TV–that kind of stuff. But he never explained it to us. Partly, maybe, because we hadn’t spent a lot of time together between A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, and partly because we were smoking marijuana for breakfast during that period. Nobody could communicate with us; it was all glazed eyes and giggling all the time. In our own world.”

I think that sums up the movie pretty well. (By the way, I used the whole “The Beatles used to smoke marijuana for breakfast” as a conversation piece as an eight-year-old. Totally normal.) The Beatles certainly are in their own world, and through watching this film, they allow you into that crazy world for about ninety minutes or so. Result: delirium.

I’ve watched this film a lot. I think I know the script by heart. I love so many things about this film that it might actually take me 250 posts to share all of those things with you. But for now, here’s part one of all the little things I love about Help!–subtitles taken out of context, facial expressions, plot points…everything. Brace yourselves.

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But before we get to all those wonderful things, I’d like to point out this moment in the film and its effect on my young life. As a child, I shared my obsession with the Beatles with many, many people, but the most tolerant recipient of my nonstop enthusiasm for this band was my younger sister, Molly. So she watched Help! almost as many times as me. Now, Ringo was (and still is) Molly’s least favorite Beatle. (I’ve been trying to get her to agree to medical attention for years!) And I had many, many Beatles posters, but I had one particular poster that was my favorite–partly because I loved the photograph so much, partly because it was my first Beatles poster. And one day, I discovered that SOMEONE had inserted a tack into Ringo’s pupil. Yeah, I wonder who that was. And I wonder where they got their inspiration.

Point of this story: Be careful whom you allow to watch Help! with you, people. I mean, you do something REALLY nice for someone else by letting them watch this WONDERFUL, FUNNY film MULTIPLE times, and they end up using it against you. Wow. I repeat: BE. CAREFUL.

Now, onto nicer, pleasanter things!

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I love how many copies John has of his own second book, A Spaniard in the Works.

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I love how Paul has an organ that rises out of the floor and how, in place of sheet music, it is filled with comic books.

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Yeah, Ringo. (Note: all the copies of his book!)

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I love how John calls the others to wake them up via his alarm clock.

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Old people in purple turbans. Can’t even pronounce Beatle correctly. Geesh.

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Paul’s disappointment at not being the “Bea-atle” whom they seek. Poor Paul.

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This is my standard response to unsavory invitations, too. “Hey, wanna go see the new Twilight movie?” “No thanks, I’m rhythm guitar and mouth organ.”

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Nah…but your face did!

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That’s what first attracted all of us to you, Ringo. That and that humongous…ring on your finger.

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Nipple alert.

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This is how the others laugh at Ringo. Ho!

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Geeze, Ringo.

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John then says, “I like a lot of seasoning in me soup.” I think part of why I like this part so much is because before I owned a copy of Help!, I had a VHS tape of a televised airing. And during so many viewings, about three seconds of the film right around here got taped over because I pushed RECORD instead of PLAY on the VHS player. I cried myself to sleep for years over this. Then Help! was released on DVD, and I cried tears of happiness.

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I love George trying to wink.

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I love George sneakily shoplifting at the Jeweler’s.

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But I love John’s not-so-secretive attempts at shoplifting even more.

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Oh, no! The wheel! (Which breaks.)

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Ringo is so profound. How does one choose Ringo as “least favorite”? I do not understand.

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I repeat: How does one choose Ringo as “least favorite”?

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An accurate description of my life.

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I see where Bob Dylan got his inspiration.

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Yeah, my sister may have said she didn’t like Ringo, but I’m pretty sure she crapped her pants during this scene every time.

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Paul’s reaction to Ringo’s pants falling down, ha ha ha.

That’s all for now. There’s so much more to come. Stay tuned for part two!

A Really Big Shew

“Now yesterday and today our theatre’s been jammed with newspapermen and hundreds of photographers from all over the nation, and these veterans agree with me that the city has never witnessed the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool who call themselves The Beatles. Now tonight, you’re going to twice be entertained by them–right now and again in the second half of our show. Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles!”

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(And just in case you weren’t sure, those really big arrows are pointing to THE BEATLES.)

February 9, 1964. A mere 79 days following the assassination of President Kennedy. Just two months earlier “Dominique” by The Singing Nun had been the number one single in the United States for four (!!!!) weeks straight. And a performance of five songs, with a total stage time of not even fifteen minutes, by these four ridiculously charismatic and talented long-haired Liverpudlians was all it took to change the musical and cultural landscape forever.

People remember watching this performance, a performance that signaled the beginning of the musical reign of The Beatles, a group who would mingle commercial success with artistry, musical experimentation, and pure talent like no other artist has managed to do since. But you do not have to remember watching The Ed Sullivan Show live on February 9,1964, and you do not even have to fully understand the musical and historical context of the time to recognize how seminal this performance was.

They–and their music–are buoyant, bursting with life, something the country sorely needed then (and more than likely has always needed and still needs). Just look at them! Aren’t their energy and smiles infectious? The answer is yes, yes, they are! And I want to dance around in my underwear because this music is so exciting and energetic and ALIVE!!

Okay, maybe not everyone would admit to feeling the latter, but I know ya’ll feel that way.

So here are a few of my favorite things about this performance, its cultural significance aside.

1. Meet the Beatles! 

I love how each Beatle is introduced, how we are supposed to want to learn their names, and how their individual personalities shine through. And I also love how Tom Hanks replicated this in That Thing You Do!, replete with the warning, “Careful, girls: he’s engaged!” under Jimmy’s name. And then I love how Jimmy bursts into the dressing room after the show and demands, “Which one of you BUTTS said we were engaged?” And I will have to talk about That Thing You Do! another time because I really, really, really, reeeeeaaally love it. Okay.

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It’s so appropriate that Paul is singing “Till There Was You,” one of those old-fashioned, cheesy sort of songs that he loved to integrate into the Beatles’ repertoire that lost its cheesiness and became oddly endearing once they put their stamp on it. It’s also appropriate that his eyebrows intermittently disappear under his hair because he’s raising them as he sings, melting millions (yes, millions) of girls. Not just melting girls’ hearts. He’s melting them entirely. That’s just the Macca way, ya’ll.

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I love how Ringo is initially so calm, cool, and collected, seemingly unaffected by the screaming girls, and then he just bursts into his big, contagious smile. Don’t you just love Ringo? I do. I really, really do.

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George! His smile is also contagious. And he just plays the guitar so effortlessly. And he just looks so effortlessly cool while doing so. But you don’t get the impression that he thinks he is so great (even though he is). He’s just….George! And would you believe that just earlier that morning he was too ill to attend rehearsals for the show? (Neil Aspinall filled so that cameras and lighting could be set up. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.)

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Awwwww. My precioussssssss! I know you’re married, but I just want to put you in my pocket for safekeeping.

2. The way Paul sings “I’ll aways be true-uh” in “All My Loving.”

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And how darn big his smile is while doing so.

3. Yeah, she loves you. And you know you should be glad. Whoooooo!

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Yeah!

Yeah!

Yeah!

Oh, I love it when they do that. Because I’m actually twelve years old.

Kenny Lynch, singer who toured with The Beatles in early 1963 said: “I remember John and Paul saying they were thinking of running up to the microphone together and shaking their heads and singing, ‘whoooooooo.’ It later became a very important, terrifically popular part of their act when they sang ‘She Loves You.’ But at the time they were planning it, even before the song was written, I remember everybody on the coach fell about laughing. I said, ‘You can’t do that. They’ll think you’re a bunch of poofs.’ I remember John saying to me he thought it sounded great and they were having it in their act.”

And millions of girls screamed. And millions of records were sold.

4. This little moment in “She Loves You”:

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Right before another chorus of “Whooooo” and “Yeah, yeah, yeah!”, John turns to George, and George breaks into this huge grin, and we see John begin to grin, too, as he turns back to the microphone. This just might be my favorite moment of the performance. I’m not sure why–maybe because it shows the camaraderie and affection between them, maybe because (once again) their smiles are just so dang infectious, or maybe because it is just another illustration of how adorable and precious this band is.

5. How the camera goes to Ringo during “And when I touch you, I feel happy inside…” during “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” 

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It’s just so appropriate. And oh so romantic. And so embedded into my being that I cannot listen to that part of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” without seeing the camera inch closer and closer to Ringo. That’s normal, right?

Oh, and then the camera totally goes to me in a former life:

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Yeah, that is so me. I feel that way every time I listen to this band. And by “that way”, I mean HAPPY! EXCITED! GLAD TO BE ALIVE!

Okay. Neeeeext!

In The Beatles Anthology, George remembered: “Later they said, there was the least reported–or there was no reported crime. Even the criminals had a rest for like ten minutes while we were on.”

I don’t know how accurate that report was. But I think it’s a fitting reflection of what the Beatles and their music partly represent–an escape from the ills and worries of the world into pure bliss. And they made millions of people feel that way 49 years ago today as they performed on a really big shew (translation: show, not shoe).

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P.S. Davy Jones, Monkee-to-be, also performed on the very same show as part of the cast of Oliver! (He was The Artful Dodger.)

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Jones later said: “I watched the Beatles from the side of the stage, I saw the girls going crazy, and I said to myself, this is it, I want a piece of that.” I think he got his wish. Can you believe it’s almost been a year since Davy passed away? We miss you, Davy!