On November 6, 1965, Marsha Houghton, Joe LeRoy, (those two were going steady–Marcia had Joe’s ring, an engraving of a knight’s head, with wads of tape so it fit Marsha’s finger) Debbie Moss (on whom I had a mad crush–she was the nicest beautiful girl–she was actually stopped on Fifth Ave. in NY while walking with her mother and recruited for a jewelry ad that subsequently appeared in The New Yorker magazine), Dr. Moss and I set off for Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo. We kids were attending a Bob Dylan concert. I would say in retrospect that Marcia and I were the real Bob Dylan fans. We had the albums, we had the posters, we knew the songs and all the lyrics. Joe and Debbie came because it would be fun to attend a concert. Tickets–I checked on this–were $4.
Joe LeRoy told some really funny jokes enroute. To this day, almost 50 years later, they are the only jokes I can ever remember.
We stopped for dinner at Howard Johnsons. I had chicken pot pie. I don’t recall what my dining companions. It must have been a Saturday night because otherwise, Catholics were still forbidden to eat meat on Friday.
We had decent seats at the concert and Kleinhans was not some huge theater.
Bob Dylan walked out alone on the stage. As I recall, he stood in front of a closed curtain. A tall stool stood next to the mike stand. Dylan’s different harmonicas were parked there.
Dylan didn’t say much of anything and he hardly moved at all. I think he swayed a bit is all. He sang and played. I don’t know that he even introduced the songs. The crowd was respectful and appreciative.
There was an intermission.
Then things got interesting.
When the curtain opened, Bob Dylan had a backing band. They were an anonymous group to this audience but they had a name then, The Hawks, and they had a big name, The Band.
I cannot recollect the songs performed that night or the order in which they were played. But as soon as the amplified set began, a significant number of audience members began to boo and chant. A girl fairly close behind us clanked a cowbell in disapproval. Cowbells seemed to be the weapon of choice. I wonder now how they got in to the hall with them. They were pretty big. They normally made a lonely, wavery pasture sound, something between a bong and a clunk. But they are very disruptive when struck with a drumstick.
It seemed unbelievable to us that anyone would want to drown out the sound of a concert they had paid $4 to see. And the protestors had the fans who supported Dylan’s crossover act calling out “Hurray for Bob Dylan! Hurray for Bob Dylan!”
The four of us, being 14 or 15, were nonplussed to be swamped with audience issues while trying to hear Bob Dylan.
The Scorese Dylan documentary No Direction Home relays our Nov. 65 concert experience but with an English accent. Those were peculiar times and Bob Dylan is not at all pleasant and seems completely inarticulate but I will say he shines in comparison to Pete Seeger.
In 1965 Bob Dylan released Like A Rolling Stone as a single in the 45 format. The song was 6 minutes long. This was shocking. No single…etc, etc. and many radio stations would fade it out at 3 minutes. A typical Beatles song would run 2 ½ or 3 minutes. 2 to 3 minutes was the accepted length of a 45 single.
Why? Well, just because.
Actually, no, not “just because.”
There were two reasons for the 3 minute recording limit. First was the fact that the Victrola phonograph was powered by a spring and it began to wind down after 3 minutes. Which was fine because the 10” shellac record (the standard record format prior to WW2) could only hold three minutes of music.
The recording process in that era was known as “hot wax.” The term relates to the fact that a platter of soft, warm wax was placed on a turntable. As a needle settled on the revolving platter, a red light went on in the recording studio, alerting the musicians and singers that recording had begun. As they played and sang, the needle grooved its way (the origin of the word “groovy”) for three minutes and the recording ended. So a recording session was laborious, intense, expensive, and carefully rehearsed: it was a case of get in, get it right, get out.
It’s noticeable on some old blues songs that the recording ends abruptly: there’s no fadeout. It was three minutes or bust. Not until after WWII, with the capture of German recording tape and tape recorders, the advent of vinyl records and the use of electric phonographs that it became possible to have a longer recording. A 12” album of music was possible. The nervous-making red recording light still stays in use in the recording studio but it’s more or less irrelevant in the age of inexpensive recording tape. An now recording tape is obsolete.
But the tradition of a 3 minute single remained..Like A Rolling Stone was the exception to the rule until The Beatles released Hey Jude–7 minutes long- in 1968.
Once a road was built to accommodate the American automobile, it was only a matter of time before an appropriate sort of music came along for the ride. It was inevitable that a new, fast moving way of life and the excitement of the open road would have an infectious musical accompaniment.
No song better complements the great American highway and the sense of possibilities and promise it holds than the Bobby Troup classic, Route 66. In no other country or culture on earth could lyrics comprising little more that a litany of place names make the spirit soar and swing: “Flagstaff, Arizona, don’t forget Winona…” Troup and his wife Cynthia literally wrote the song on a 1946 American Automobile Association road map as they drove west from Lancaster, PA bound for Los Angeles and a songwriting career.
The highway that the Troups connected with several days into their trip got its start in downtown Chicago, Illinois: Jackson Boulevard at the Michigan Avenue intersection. Between Jackson Boulevard and the highway’s end at Santa Monica’s, Ocean Avenue (at its intersection with the Pacific Ocean.) were old wagon roads, animal trails, and Indian paths. Stitched into a unified highway, Route 66 became the 20th century equivalent of the transcontinental railroad with the difference that it was not some company’s property; it was everyman’s road. You didn’t need a ticket. Just your automobile or your thumb and away you went.
“Get your kicks on Route 60” would be unlikely to spark a hit song. But in 1925, when the demand for some sort of orderliness resulted in a uniform designation for a highway from Illinois to southern California, the original name assigned was U.S. Highway Number 60. It was comprised of sections of the Ozark Trails and the National Old Trails and in 1926, maps duly labeled the combination of dedicated roads as Route 60.
But a fuss ensued. The Midland Trail, from Kentucky to Virginia, was also Route 60. Governors got into the fray and the proponents of the western highway eventually accepted the alternative “66” for their road. After all, it was a bigger number. Then too, it sounded faster, and its pronunciation provided a pleasing and memorable sibilance. Route 66 it was.
Soon distinctively patterned wooden signs appeared beside the road in Peoria, in Albuquerque, in Joplin. A combination of a shield and a sheriff’s badge and emblazoned with a sturdy “66” graphic, they were patterned after the sort of markers oil companies had been providing for the convenience of their motoring customers. These companies provided free maps and thoughtfully installed their own private route signs to aid the motorist traveling unfamiliar, unmarked roads. Soon the Bureau of Public Roads adopted the idea and the handy devices sprang up all along America’s highways.
Route 66 was a symbol in its heyday. It was the route west, to California, for those trying to leave their ruined dustbowl farms and towns. They went in the direction nomads have always taken hoping to follow the sun to a place where its light was eternal. John Steinbeck drove the road, gathering details for his novel The Grapes of Wrath as he went. He then sends the Joad family along Route 66. In the movie version of The Grapes of Wrath, scenes of the real pre-war Route 66 grace the screen. A little later and a slightly more hip author Jack Kerouac, traveled extensively on Route 66. Kerouac took a lot different trip than the Joad family in his classic novel, On the Road.
Progress, prosperity and the resulting interstate highway system gradually made Route 66 seem old fashioned and cumbersome. Eventually, inevitably the cobbled together interstate was superseded. By the late 1960’s, parts of the original highway had grass growing through the pavement. Almost as an afterthought, in 1985, “66” was deactivated as a U.S. Route number. Though Route 66 lived just fifty-nine years as a highway, it survives as a perfect part of an American lore that probably never really was but ever shall be.
As a matter of interest–and further enshrining Route 66 in the rock and roll ethos–Paul McCartney and his then fiancé (and now wife) Nancy Shevell, planned a trip. They rented an SUV and toured the country, their itinerary: driving on or paralleling old Route 66. And a final, additional rock and roll Route 66 tidbit: the Eagles were “standing on a corner,” namely the northwest corner of Kinsley Avenue and Second Street in Winslow, Arizona.
Our small crowded map company office is not very office-like. It is never visited by any business associates. Our important customers are not local and are not near enough to bother visiting us, nor would they have any need or reason to. So the office décor is relaxed and personal. Large shelves full of books, walls hung with pictures–from old, framed classroom images of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to color posters advertising The Beatles at the London Palladium, 1963. Photo calendars, tiny Civil War era flags, Statue of Liberty holding forth a working light, little circus figures, Civil War posters, D-Day maps, artifacts, political signage, posters advertising a 1977 Jasper Johns exhibit, framed photographs of Buddy Holly, grandfather Charlie McDermott in his WWI uniform somewhere in France, U.S. Grant, Antietam battlefield, PT Boat calendars…all visible from the corridor.
People tend to poke their heads in.
One of these people is a very nice chap named Mark Voorheis. He lives in nearby Friendship, NY. A very small town and like all of Western New York, it has seen better days a long, long time ago. Despite this small town residency, Mark is very much a man of the world. Heavily involved in Friendship affairs, the Underground Railroad, the Gatling gun in front of the American Legion, the library board, genealogy, the Civil War, veteran issues and knowledgeable to an extraordinary degree about all of them. Mark had actually attended a Beatle concert in 1966 in Boston and gave me his annotated program of the event. It’s hard to waste your time with anybody who pops in. Everybody who settles in to talk has some fascinating interest, background, area of expertise…and most have more than one.
Mark Voorheis stopped by one afternoon in late 2006. He was in the vicinity. His ultimate musical idol is Jerry Lee Lewis. He was talking Jerry Lee Lewis, highly recommending the Hellfire (?) biography and urging me to read it. (I did. Jerry is not exactly a charming cad. Pretty much just a cad. Though John Lennon stated for the record that The Beatles never recorded anything to compare with Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, which canonizes Jerry Lee and covers a multitude of sins.)
We were talking music and enthusiasms. I mentioned that I collected bootleg Beatle albums. My first “bootleg,” passed to me by a friend in 1969, was The Beatles’ original Get Back album. It had been released in a plain jacket only to select DJ’s but then the trade release was nixed and the whole project was delayed and revamped. Ironically, this early version of the album, never officially released, was vastly superior to what was eventually “reproduced,” lathered up and released as Let It Be.
As with all the conversations carried on at our shop, this one wandered. Eventually it came to rest on another murky release around the same time period. I brought up the strange case of The Masked Marauders album. It had been clearly established that it wasn’t a supergroup recording anonymously but what it in fact was, I’d never heard.
Mark rather casually remarked that “The Masked Marauders” was he and his brother and a couple of his brother’s friends who sang and played on that album. Mark, sitting across from me, was, specifically, the droll voice that intoned the opening, “Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl…”
This he also remarked casually.
Thus the whole masked Marauders story emerged. Rhino records had, I learned, released a CD of the original album and supplemented it with voluminous liner notes (or whatever you call the copy that accompanies a CD) containing everything there was to know about the genesis of the recording, the deliberate mystery about it and some really quirky bits, such as the fact that Sharon Tate (Charles Manson’s victim) was originally to have graced the cover.
The startling local angle to this 60’s rock ruse and legend was passed along to the Olean Times Herald newspaper. Reporter Tom Donahue wasn’t as staggered by this breakthrough as I had been but he appreciated the exciting development and covered it with a fine and finally accurate account of a story which had percolated in my life for nearly forty years. I wonder what rock and roll mystery could wash up next at our door.
Dateline: St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY, Sophomore year, 1969.
In the enclave of a college campus the real world only intruded when you allowed it to come in. Otherwise the routine of classes and studies, prelims and papers, professors and deans, absorbed the days’ business. Fraternity life, heavy affairs of the heart, the University Center juke box and hanging out there generally, a couple of local bars with their bands on weekends, rumors of drug busts, esoteric games based on the configuration of the nine cement blocks that made up the front landing of the fraternity house, stale lukewarm coffee, endless smoking and bumming of smokes while carrying on rambling, deeply existential discourses long into the night… mostly rounded out our existence. This synopsis applies most specifically to XI Chapter of Phi Sigma Kappa.
The living room of the house featured leather chairs and sofas beautifully softened through years of hard wear till they were as comfortable as a warm lap. The electronic feature of the living room was a beautiful stereo with immense speakers set up around a big brick fireplace. This was the centerpiece of the living room. A black and white television, a clear indication of fraternity priorities, occupied a decrepit , dark, dreary room deep in the back basement, beyond the boiler and past the empty coal bin.
These were the days when music was everything and musicians were king. Movie stars, other “celebrities” (the word didn’t exist yet) carried no weight. They were like sidewalk entertainers. Performers and bands were the cultural icons of those days. They filled the cultural firmament but their comings and goings were furtive, their lives a murky mystery, their 45 single releases and their eagerly awaited albums the only real glimpses we got of them, apart from Rolling Stone interviews and the very rare, dramatically photographed LIFE magazine spreads. The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and pre-eminently The Beatles occupied the cultural pinnacle.
These people were like misty magic creatures from out of the night. Their album covers were studied for hidden messages, tell-tale images, bizarre clues. Each appeared on the others’ album covers. Cognoscenti informed the uninitiated.
“The faces of The Beatles are here—upside down in the bark of the tree that Dylan and the swamis are standing in front of.”
“See. The rag doll has ‘Rolling Stones’ written on her. And there’s Dylan in the photomontage.”
“If you look really closely, that little clump in the background of the Rolling Stones’ new album is The Beatles.”
“Why is Paul standing with his back to the photo? Because it’s not Paul!”
“The badge, see the badge? It has the initials OPD. Officially Pronounced Dead.”
“See. The word Beatles on the wall? Not ‘The’ Beatles. Just ‘Beatles.’ Now see on the wall. What’s that shape? Yes. Exactly. The number 3. You’re seeing 3 Beatles. I tell ya. He’s dead. Paul’s dead.”
“I don’t know. Sometime about the time of ‘Sergeant Pepper.’”
Musicians got together. Played on one another’s recordings.
“That new Donovan song. Mellow Yellow. Paul McCartney is on it. He does some background vocals and that’s him, he plays bass.”
“That really good blues guitar on George Harrison’s song. That’s not Burt Weedon. It’s Eric Clapton. George isn’t denying it.!”
“Isn’that Mick and Keith singing during the broadcast of All You Need Is Love ?” Rumors flew. He was here. He was there.
“That’s Brian Jones playing saxophone on The Beatles single.”
So it was in that enchanted atmosphere that earnest rumors began to fly and were eagerly believed. An album was circulating—the rumors were cascading from a winking, smirking, suggestive article in Rolling Stone magazine no less—that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and [pop star of choice] had gotten together and secretly recorded an album of old chestnuts—Duke of Earl for one—and some one-off compositions like Can’t Get No Nookie. They came together under the moniker “The Masked Marauders.” What to make of this? And where to get it?
A friend from the independent republic of Ithaca arrived at school. The album had turned up there in an alternative record shop. Where else? The album cover offered no clues. A sort of Psycho design, black and ominous.
The signs were propitious. On his most recent album Nashville Skyline’ Dylan had murmured to his producer in the intro to one of the songs, “Is it rolling Bob?” …i.e. is the tape running.
A voice with the same intonation on ‘Masked Marauders’ asks, “Is it rolling Al?’
We listened to every nuance, every note, every aside, every chord, every word.
“Yep. Not much question. This was it.” The songs were a little bawdy, a little bedraggled, clearly some good musicians were having fun, spoofing, goofing off, playing the sort of music you lean into, watching each others faces, laughingly catching one another’s mood, reacting, rocking back and forth, shuffling off the pressure of being a star, enjoying the fun of being a musician in a shaggy little band.
Yep. That had to be Mick. Listen to that. Oh yeah. That’s John Lennon all right. That’s John. Nah. You can’t mimic Bob Dylan. That’s Dylan. No question. Hey man. I know Paul McCartney when I hear him. Since I was 13. I know Paul McCartney and that is Paul McCartney. Listen guys. Mick is incomparable. That’s Mick.
Strangely enough, there were guys who were certain Paul McCartney was dead who were also absolutely sure that was Paul McCartney on this record. Go figure. We’re in college.
Only, and of course, it wasn’t. It wasn’t Paul. It wasn’t John. It wasn’t Bob. It wasn’t Mick. Was it???? Finally and definitively , No, it wasn’t.
No. Life went on. Groups broke up. They got religion. They got glammy and clammy. Everybody got older and then everybody got old. And then almost forty years later, way off in upstate New York—Olean—right on the Pennsylvania border, in the small office of a map company in an old hotel lobby on the hardscrabble main street of town, the whole dark mystery was dragged into the light.
The Ten Best Rock & Roll Albums of All Time – A Completely Subjective List in No Particular Order
The Beatles. Please Please Me. If this had been the only album The Beatles ever made, they would still be in contention for being one of the best r&r bands of all time. It starts out with Paul’s jubilant count in –unique at that time I believe- to “I Saw Her Standing There.” In his last live appearance ever, John Lennon, at that moment bitterly at odds with Paul, couldn’t resist covering this galloping rock and roll number. Anybody could have written “Yesterday.” There are very few composers capable of penning a genuinely rocking song. This first Beatle album ends with “Twist and Shout.” I’ve actually heard it said that The Beatles, as compared to the Rolling Stones, never really rocked. Anything the Rolling Stones ever recorded is just pitter patter compared to The Beatles’ rendition of “Twist and Shout.”
The Bo Deans. Love and Hope and Sex and Dreams. The most authentic and atmospheric and enigmatic album I know of. Somehow it conveys the impact of a thousand nights playing to the same anonymous, faceless, enraptured audience at a hundred different blurry bars on freezing nights in a wintery mid-west. The spare arrangements don’t need another note or another instrument. The lyrics are so grounded and revealing–they’re obviously the true stories of the band–their real girls, their dream girls, their families, their days, their nights, their loves and their losses. And the stellar drawl of their voices make it all valid. When this album ends, you have to look around to remember where you are. Produced by T-Bone Burnett, with its gritty vocals, brusque arrangements and cow girl atmosphere, this just might be the sturdiest, most utterly romantic album ever recorded.
The Rolling Stones. “Some Girls.” This album salvaged the1970’s musically, coming out just as that dreadful, rotted and decayed decade was at last grinding to a stop. Keith and Mick picked through the wreckage, salvaged bits and pieces of music, dabbed at styles, collated images, pieced together a trenchant commentary, wired it all up, got juiced, then spilled the entire mess into a microphone. In the early Sixties, when you had to take sides, I unhesitatingly chose The Beatles. No looking back there. But in the 70’s, as the former Beatles ricocheted off each other and squabbled through the decade, the Rolling Stones coalesced and came up with this shudderingly coherent record.
Buddy Holly & The Crickets Legend. A Double album in a strangely desirable package. My first acquaintance with Buddy Holly came in 1966 when my favorite song on the USA Capitol release of The Beatles’ “The Beatles Sixth” album (and ever since then my favorite single recording of all time ) was “Words of Love.” I was slightly taken aback when the credit was one “Buddy Holly” and not Lennon, McCartney. Jump ahead eleven years to a record store on First Ave. in the E. 80’s (?) and this “Legend” album appeared as I flipped through the racks. I recalled “Words of Love.” Good enough for The Beatles, good enough for me. I asked the clerk, “Buddy Holly? He’s all right or what?” “He’s great.” “Really? He’s great?” “He’s great.” I bought the album, got it to my apartment, and played it through. Through and through. Again and again. Lots of liner notes, photos. I’ve been a knocked out Holly fan from that moment to this. When I hear any Buddy Holly song, as it comes to an end, I can hear the next song as they’re sequenced on the “Legend” album. I still think The Beatles’ cover of “Words of Love” surpasses Buddy’s version. The lead is less twangy and the singing–John Paul and George on a single mike at midnight on the outskirts of London–is breathier and more ardent, but “Legend” introduces Buddy Holly’s music in a staggering tour de force. The best of Buddy Holly is very good indeed and the album as a package of music and information, with its cover design, creates a wonderful ambiance, part of my criteria for greatness. The songs meld together perfectly. Norman Petty, who produced most of these tracks, was apparently a bit of a stinker but in the late 50’s in the middle of nowhere he was masterfully releasing timeless recordings.
Coming up: Elvis Presley Sun Sessions, Bob Dylan Nashville Skyline, and Blood on the Tracks.
The figure I have read is 1200 or more. That’s the number of times it’s estimated that The Beatles had performed together (anyway, John, Paul & George) by the time they appeared, relaxed and confident, on that first Ed Sullivan Show, 49 years ago this Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013.
But their appearance three days later in Washington at the Washington Coliseum stands out from every other Beatle appearance I’ve ever seen. Used as a venue for boxing matches, the Coliseum was likely the first time The Beatles had ever played in such an enormous venue, completely surrounded by a huge, enraptured but well behaved crowd and it was the first time that they had to rotate so they’d face everybody in every direction. It provides some perspective on what The Beatles did for the stature of rock & roll to see Ringo himself struggling to tug his drum set around to play to a new sea of faces.
This is the only Beatle performance I’ve seen where The Beatles are in as tumultuous a mood as their audience, the first I’ve ever seen where The Beatles seem on the verge of being washed away by the sea of screams and cheers and contagious (even the performers caught it) excitement. The film shows constant little furtive flicks of light, like meteors, whizzing across the camera lens. Jelly beans. The hard shelled American kind, not the soft gummy sort the English kids would throw. Ringo’s drum sticks visibly split and shatter as he plays. Ringo was especially worked up for the concert. He said afterwards he would have played all night for that crowd. As a final reminder that it wasn’t until The Beatles’ success that rock & roll reached the heights of big time entertainment, the black and white concert footage ends, “bang” like that, abruptly in mid-song. The movie camera had run out of film.
Last year a gentleman named Mike Mitchell emerged with a series of photographs he’d taken as, I believe, an 18 year old amateur photographer, when he attended the Coliseum concert. He apparently moved freely around the perimeter of the stage snapping pictures of The Beatles performing without anyone shooing him away… if true, another indication that rock & roll was still in its “this too shall pass” stage.
Jump ahead 48 years. Mike Mitchell discovers the roll of film he’d shot, develops it and plans to auction the resulting pictures off at Christies. The Wall Street Journal covers this story and runs one of the photos. It’s this photo. John and Paul, plugged in and fancy free, dapper and spiffy, from the Coliseum concert.
Having seen the Coliseum concert in it’s entirety—at least everything the Maysles’ brothers captured—many times, and having watched the significant segment that The Beatles included in their Anthology DVD’s many times, something about the showcased photograph didn’t seem right. Reviewing the filmed footage with this single photograph in mind, several things seem to be amiss.
John Lennon is, in real life, slightly taller than Paul McCartney. He’s noticeably smaller than Paul in this photo, even taking into account the fact that he’s standing slightly back from Paul.
The round stage at the Coliseum was ringed with mikes and mike stands. No mikes in this photo. John would occasionally wander away from a mike and step forward to sing his bit, but not Paul and not both of them.
John Lennon is clearly actually singing in the photo and not merely mouthing a lyric but he’s singing into a void. Again, no mike.
Where is the background in the photo? It’s a black void.
Perhaps someone can clarify or explain the photo and what it all means.
Paul McCartney, in spite of characterizing himself as a composer of “silly love songs,” is in fact a superlative lyricist. In my opinion, McCartney’s best lyrics set very comfortably in the company of John Lennon’s and Bob Dylan’s. And perhaps in some ways they’re even better than his two contemporaries.
The acclaimed lyrics of Dylan and Lennon don’t usually survive contact with an unadorned piece of paper. Dylan’s phrasing of his lyrics on the recordings make them valid but they sure sound nutty when someone like Joan Baez covers his songs respectfully and pronounces the lyrics carefully. Ditto for John Lennon. Strawberry Fields, A Day in the Life, Across the Universe…lovely and meaningful songs but what we’re talking about is lyrics here. Isolate John’s lyrics and all you’ve got is gobbledygook.
In no particular order, here are a few Paul McCartney lyrics–coherent, evocative and quotable–that surpass Bob Dylan’s and John Lennon’s.
From I’m Looking Through You: I’m looking through you/ Where did you go? / I thought I knew you/ What did I know?
From Rocky Raccoon: Her name was Magill/ And she called herself Lil/ But everyone knew her as Nancy.
From Back in the USSR: Show me round your snow peaked mountains way down south/ Take me to your daddy’s farm/ Let me hear your balalaikas ringing out/ Come and keep your comrade warm.
From Get Back: Wearing her high-heeled shoes and a low neck sweater/ Get back home Loretta.
From Maxwell’s Silver Hammer: P.C. Thirty One/ Says we’ve caught a dirty one.
From Helter Skelter: You may be a lover but you ain’t no dancer.
From Her Majesty: I want to tell her that I love her a lot/ But I gotta get a bellyful of wine/ Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl/ Someday I’m gonna make her mine.
From Two of Us: You and I have memories/Longer than the road that stretches out ahead.
From I’ve Got a Feeling: All I was ever looking for/ Was somebody who looks like you.
From She Came in Through the Bathroom Window: And so I quit the Police Department/ And got myself a steady job/ And though she tried her best to help me/ She could steal but she could not rob.
From You Never Give Me Your Money: One sweet dream/ Pick up the bags and get in the limousine.
From Lady Madonna: Friday night arrives without a suitcase/ Sunday morning creeping like a nun/ Monday’s child has learned to tie his bootlace/ See how they run.
From Hello Goodbye: You say yes/ I say no/ You say stop/ And I say go – go – go/ Oh no/ You say goodbye/ And I say hello.
From Let It Be: And when the night is cloudy/ There is still a light that shines on me/ Shine until tomorrow/Let it be/ Let it be.
From The End: Oh yeah !/All right !/ Are you gonna be in my dreams/ tonight?
Do you see what I mean? These are phrases that can punctuate casual conversations. They’re useful hi-lights for everyday use. They have a classic touch. You’d be surprised how handy it can be to drop “You may be a lover but you ain’t no dancer” into some cocktail party chit chat. Or get folk’s attention by an impromptu quoting of “Her name was Magill, and she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy.”
The Beatles, among their other numerous qualities, often managed the rare accomplishment of surpassing the original artist(s) when they did a cover version of someone else’s songs. The most obvious example is their version of Twist and Shout. They literally created a new song out of the Isley Brothers’ goof-off rendition. The Isleys did a thin, tinny, high pitched, almost a novelty take on the song. The Beatles instrumental line-up and John Lennon’s vocal transformed the song into one of the all time great rock numbers, a surging instrumental and vocal performance…rock & roll with no holds barred and the floodgates open.
Other bands and singers may have made more noise or screeched higher but I’m still incredulous when I listen to the Please Please Me album version of the song and still more taken with the rendition performed at the 1963 Royal Variety Show after John’s “… the rest of you just rattle your jewelry…” quip. It’s a stunning performance before probably the worst possible rock and roll audience. These weren’t screaming teenagers and shrieking girls out front. These were the Royals and their ilk if you can imagine it.
My fictional rock and roll group The Sparrows in Sidereal Days, The History of Rock & Roll, A Romance, are enthralled by both the song and the performance when they see The Beatles perform it live on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1963. The Sparrows are conditioned to the frantic, gimmicky antics of the stars of the day, the Jerry Lee Lewis’s and the Little Richards, who kicked and screamed and careened around the stage during their wild numbers. The Beatles and John Lennon stood literally stock-still and let loose the massive barrage of controlled shock waves that was Twist and Shout. It was the sedate stage presence of The Beatles while launching into this staggering song that leaves the fictional Sparrows limp with admiration.
(In a hundred years, if it becomes necessary to explain rock and roll to generations as yet unborn and unknowing, I would suggest that the last living fan dust off Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode, Buddy Holly’s Peggy Sue and The Beatles’ Twist and Shout and stand back to see what happens.)
Less successful – in fact I would have to say, unsuccessful compared to the original – was The Beatles’ take on the American girl group The Cookies’ song Chains. The original is a perfect acoustic rhythm guitar arrangement with classic hand claps (credited in Sidereal Days to the fictional Sparrows grateful for any excuse to be in a recording studio) and the great vocals by the Cookies. It’s a nice easy swaying song with its spare instrumentation accompanied by the innocent but helplessly sensuous vocals of the Cookies.
The Beatles offer up the weakest track in what I still consider just about my favorite of all their albums, Please Please Me. They forgo the steady strum that paces the Cookie’s version and they replace the Cookies’ sultry voices with their bright British vocals. On this cover, Chains, The Beatles prove once again the old adage that nobody but nobody is perfect. Even The Beatles.
The best, and I mean the absolute best article I know of on The Beatles, appears in the August 27, 1966 Saturday Evening Post. It’s entitled “The Monarchs of the Beatle Empire.” The author, James Morris, clearly gives the impression that he is an older, slightly sniffy Brit, distinctly posh and old school, who has been reluctantly and gradually charmed by The Beatles. (The Beatles after all had been household names in Britain since early 1963.) His article is a vaguely aloof, slightly snobby effort to explain how and why this happened to him and what he thinks of them. This generational and class distance that he maintains from his subjects, this sort of ironic affection combined with a wry and witty writing style fit perfectly with his subjects. The Beatles are perfect subjects for James Morris’s approach, being, themselves, rather ironic characters who never took themselves too seriously.
A photo of The Beatles standing together holding up their MBE’s for photographers is given a perfectly appropriate caption, “Standing in a Beatle version of attention, Ringo, John, Paul and George…” It’s the Fab Four casually holding out their awards, unabashedly bored.
Another accompanying photograph is of The Beatles onstage but it’s a shot of them as seen from above. We see them from directly overhead, the amplifiers, a piano, the drums, the pre-amps, chairs, microphones, spare guitars set on the stage floor behind the amps. What catches the attention of the author, and startling to the reader, is the profusion of electrical cords and cables that are strewn about the stage as The Beatles perform. The cords and The Beatles throng to the microphones, to the amplifiers, to pre-amps, to the guitars. The Beatles perform amid a swirl of electrical spaghetti. The photo caption cheerily observes, “Plugged in and fancy free, The Beatles cut loose during a concert inParis.”
A third photo is of John Lennon and Harold Wilson. The caption, “Standing beside Prime Minister Harold Wilson, John Lennon, somewhat a head of state himself, gives an enigmatic ‘V’ sign.”
The clever impishness of the captions rather successfully matches the knock about, off-the-cuff humor of The Beatles themselves. The author manages a literary tightrope of being both erudite and hip.
Morris writes, “No history of the 1960’s will be complete without a Beatle footnote, and, above all, no future history of England will be true to itself unless it has a paragraph, fond or scathing, frivolous or profound, about these irrepressible scions of what Winston Churchill loved to call “The Island Race.”
This is good stuff. Not the pap of the fanzines, not the au courant pop-dash of the Rolling Stone type magazines.
Morris writes knowledgeably of the place of Liverpoolin post-war Briton and notes that The Beatles released the humor, the brash and bouncy irreverent interior monologue that characterized the denizens of what the rest of Briton considered a dreary cultural backwater. The Beatles “…Mersey accent, which not long ago would have seemed to most Englishmen barbaric, now falls with an attractive bite upon the ear.”
Though sick and tired of the “disrespect” so prevalent in post-war Briton, in plays, in novels, in protests, “…The Beatles’ disrespect has been of a different kind. It is eminently genial. Somehow or other it does not often give offense.” Morris goes on to say that The Beatles “…have expressed something that most of us inEnglandhave instinctively felt – that the old values did need a cheerful dust-down. Why should we all be manly? Why should life be quite so real, quite so earnest?”
James Morris brings back the marvelous fun of those early Beatle days and makes it perfectly clear once again what cheerful avatars they were before their immense fame began to encrust them and the cultural vultures broke through their delightful and astonishing nonchalance.