Music Post: The Beatles, 50 years later


In 1964, the year I turned 11, the Beatles made their first and second appearances on the Ed Sullivan. They had been a band for only four years, Ringo Starr had been the drummer for only two, and their first hits in Britain had happened the previous year.

I remember our family watching the Ed Sullivan Show while my four sisters talked about how dreamy the Beatles were and began calling dibs on individual members. My youngest sister Hazel protested when she was stuck with Ringo. We didn’t know then that Ringo would prove to be one of the nicest members of the Fab Four with the most durable marriage.

Early Beatles hits did nothing for me. There were exceptions. “I’ll Follow the Sun,” from “Beatles for Sale,” I liked. As a child I had no appreciation for “Yesterday,” which came out in 1965 on the slbum “Help!” The next album, “Rubber Soul,” in 1965, contained “In My Life,” which everyone including me now adores, but at the time “Michelle” was the tune that impressed me.

“Revolver,” in 1966, changed everything. “Eleanor Rigby” shook up rock, in its own way, as much as any single hit before or since. A string quartet? Really? (Actually a string octet.) But I also liked “Good Day Sunshine,” an early example of Paul McCartney’s interesting sub-genre of songs that sound like they were written generations before. “Revolver” let you hear strings on “Eleanor Rigby,” a tuba on “Good Day Sunshine,” and George Harrison playing sitar.

That brings us to 1967 and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The opening lyric starts with, “It was 20 years ago today,” prompting music writers this month to say, “It was 50 years ago today,” before telling you how important and wonderful this album was.

Most people like to talk about how swell “A Day in the Life” is, and I like it, too, but my favorite track from “Sergeant Pepper” is the chromatic (lots of chord changes) “Lovely Rita.” McCartney’s old-fashioned tune this time was “When I’m Sixty-Four,” which makes me so happy that when, on June 26, I turn 64, I won’t be losing my hair. The song, “With a Little Help from My Friends,” pleased me at the time because I root for underdogs and here was Ringo delivering a perfectly delightful hit song.

“Magical Mystery Tour” came out in America only a few months later, and it’s an even better album. It includes McCartney’s finest old-fashioned tune, “Penny Lane,” and another one, “Your Mother Should Know,” with a super-short bridge that has no words at all )a pop analog to the middle movement of the Brandenburg 3) and my all-time favorite John Lennon song, “I Am the Walrus.” If you prefer psychedelia, “Magical Mystery” has both Lennon’s “Strawberry Fields” and Harrison’s “Blue Jay Way.” As for “All You Need is Love,” you can appreciate it more knowing that part of it is in 7/4, part in 4/4, part in 6/4.

By 1968 I was in high school, that wonderful time of life where the music you listen to becomes the soundtrack of your memories, so the White Album – real title “The Beatles” – has a special place in my heart. I remember bringing it home and insisting that everyone sit down and listen to it. How many albums before or after offered such a variety of sounds and moods? My initial favorites were “Martha My Dear” and “Blackbird” and “Julia,” all from the second of four sides, McCartney’s “Mother Nature’s Son” from side three, and George Harrison’s “Savoy Truffle,” from side four. For some reason I have always detested “The Continuing Saga of Bungalow Bill.” And for fans of complex time signatures there is “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” rocking between double and triple meters.

In 1969 came “Abbey Road,” with George Harrison’s “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun,” Lennon’s “Come Together,” and McCartney’s “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” I didn’t appreciate “Because” at the time the way everyone does now. Did you know John Lennon said he based the melody on the notes of the “Moonlight Sonata” played out of order?

The Beatles broke up in 1970, the year I broke into radio shortly before starting my senior year in high school. “Let It Be,” the last studio album, includes, in addition to the title track, “The Long and Winding Road,” “Get Back,” and another George Harrison tune I’ve always liked, “For You Blue,” in part because of Ringo Starr’s perfect backbeat, but also because of Lennon’s lap steel.

So much music, and in six years, of which four years were sufficient to produce all my favorite pieces. Composers like Schubert and Chopin who died in their thirties had more time to make their music than that.

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