52 Guitars: Week 6
A Significant Aspect of My Life, Explained

What They Said in '64

You may have noticed the mention here and there over the past few days that February 9th of this years marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Here is what some critics had to say. (Thanks to Robert W for pointing this out to me.)

I remember watching the show; I guess the word had already gotten out. I remember my mother saying that they were undoubtedly wearing wigs. Their first[1] LP release in the U.S., Meet the Beatles, came out around the same time. I'm pretty sure I never bought it. I liked what I heard of them on the radio, but I was more interested in folk music--I was a bit snobbish about it, actually--and my first few album purchases were in that vein: Ian and Sylvia's self-titled first album, I think.

What strikes me now is how very rapidly things changed. Three years later, the Beatles had produced Rubber Soul and Revolver and were working on Sgt. Pepper, and the hippie phenomenon, existing only in or around a couple of big cities in 1964, was appearing everywhere.

[1] Actually, Meet the Beatles was preceded by ten days in the U.S. by Introducing...the Beatles. But it's Meet the Beatles that most people think of as their first.)


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My parents bought me "Meet the Beatles" for Christmas of 64. Boy, if they only knew what a chain reaction they were innocently provoking...

And it occurred to me the other day that for the next 15 years or so it is going to be the 50th Big Deal of all the important events of my youth. Which is kind of weird.

I found it disconcerting when I reached an age where I could remember a good many things that happened 50 years ago, and not just childhood memories. It gets more so as the 50-years-ago me gets older.

I owned Introducing the Beatles. I got it at a used record store in the 1970s.

I remember my dad hating the Beatles because of their "screaming."

I also remember being shocked (at the age of six or seven) when my mom told me Yesterday was a Beatles song.

My mom bought Sgt. Pepper for herself.

I remember feeling pretty amused about 10 years ago when a Catholic lady in her 50's or 60's talked about how nice it was in a shop she had been in, as they were playing The Beatles.

Contrast this with the "screaming" Robert's father hated. :)

I don't think my parents or grandparents liked them, but I mostly do (although I loathe Lennon).

Lennon's fine as a musician, or at least he was at his best. But as a guru, not so fine.

The Beatles *did* scream. Even when not more or less literally screaming, as in "I Saw Her Standing There", in their up-tempo songs, which was most of them, they shouted out their lyrics at the top of their lungs.

"Yesterday" was the point where even those who hated rock-and-roll had to admit that somebody in that group had a real melodic gift.

I had to dig way into the back of the closet where I keep my LPs, but I found that I do own a copy of Meet The Beatles, a used copy acquired long after the fact. Not sure I've ever played it. I probably thought "Well, it's a classic, I should have a copy" rather than "Oh boy, I really want to hear this again." It looks to be in fairly decent shape, and is mono, so possibly part of the original release.

Mac, not necessarily. They pressed mono versions of the LPs for decades.

"decades"? Really? I don't recall seeing mono vs. stereo editions past the late '60s or so, though there have been reissues for purists in recent (relatively) years.

Well, maybe you are right. I know that the Beatles themselves (or at least George Harrison) considered the mono mixes to be truer to the Beatles' intentions. Harrison didn't like the stereo mixes.

Well years later my parents took me to see Yellow Submarine on my ninth birthday - Jan 1969

I was 21. Wait, no only 20 in January. I rather liked the movie. I wonder what I would think of it now.

According to Wikipedia, mono LPs "had almost disappeared in the United States by the end of 1967." I would have guessed a year or two later, but that sounds reasonable. All the Beatles's stuff and some others have been reissued in mono on cd, which seems rather weird.

The mono mixes are sometimes significantly different from the stereo mixes. Some people (including apparently GH), prefer the mono mixes. For instance, sometimes there is a different guitar obligato.

I think Harrison's comments are mentioned in that article, or maybe it was another I read while looking for info. I expect in most cases the difference in sound quality wouldn't be significant to me. It doesn't have anything to do with stereo vs. mono, but "Let It Be" (song, not album) has two versions with completely different guitar parts, and I like one much better than the other.

Yeah. There are at least three different "official" versions of Let It Be. Some of the different mixes are only on mono.

In January 1969 I was about the size of a peanut :)

Yes I don't doubt that they were screaming, really, I just thought the shift in opinion among mature persons was pretty funny.

I had a great urge to go see it on youtube. :)

And I only loathe Lennon as a guru, not a musician.

Well, that makes me feel very slightly less old than if you'd said you didn't exist in January 1969. :-)

I'll have to seek that out, too. Looking at the track listing on Meet the Beatles, I'm struck by the number of tuneful-by-anybody's-reckoning songs that are on there, and I wonder which ones they did on the Sullivan show. If it was just "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You," I could see why the reviewers would have said things like "appallingly unmusical." Those are pretty raucous songs. "I Want To Hold Your Hand" is actually a sorta weird song, musically. Not the usual rock tune and chord progression.

Well, that makes me feel very slightly less old than if you'd said you didn't exist in January 1969.

That's something. :-)

I'll have to listen to those other ones again.

First week
"All My Loving";
"Till There Was You",
"She Loves You"
"I Saw Her Standing There"
"I Want to Hold Your Hand."

Second week
"She Loves You"
"This Boy",
"All My Loving"
"I Saw Her Standing There",
"From Me to You"
"I Want to Hold Your Hand."

Third week
"Twist and Shout"
"Please Please Me"
"I Want to Hold Your Hand."

They were on Ed Sullivan three weeks in a row? I didn't know that. That is a mostly raucous lineup, and when you compare it to most other pop music of the time, especially anything that might have been on the Sullivan show, I guess it did seem pretty harsh. Still, the second song was "Till There Was You," which is perfectly conventional. It's a show tune.

This Boy is lovely.


Everyone says the Beatles were the sound track to the 1960s. To me, they were so in a very real sense. The girls in my mother's shop on Greenwich Avenue played Beatles records all day and all night. Even my father believed that an exception must be made for the Beatles: one was allowed to say that 'all pop music is inferior to classical music except the Beatles', but any attempt to widen the franchise further would, he claimed, result in cultural chaos. I can remember my father (who died February 15, last year) explaining to my brother and I what synchopation is by reference to 'Lovely Rita Meter Maid'.

But he did have an odd view of the Beatles, claiming that Brian Epstein 'must have' written their songs.

! If he'd said George Martin he would have had a more plausible case.

why did I write 'Brian Epstein' so confidently? I was quite pleased with myself for remembering the name. I meant generically 'their manager'

I was slightly surprised at that.

I like their raucous ones!

I wasn't aware that these anniversaries were coming up, so it's a nice coincidence that I've just embarked on a listening project that includes (along with a bunch of other stuff) a chronological listen through the Beatles' catalogue. As I was planning it, I was a little surprised to realize that I don't think I've ever heard some of their albums, including Rubber Soul and Revolver.

To be honest, I don't quite understand why the Beatles are so highly regarded. I know someone who is a serious musician, with extensive musical knowledge and withering scorn for vast tracts of popular music, but he loves the Beatles. He thinks Ringo is one of the best drummers in music. For myself, I honestly can't think of even one of their songs that means much of anything to me.

But maybe that will change as I sit down to listen to them again.

I'm not the biggest fan of the Beatles. Although I liked them at the time, they were never as important to me as, say, Dylan. And after their day had passed I didn't listen to them much. But there really are good reasons for their being so highly regarded, as I think you'll discover. Rubber Soul and Revolver are two of their very best. Though to my taste the latter is marred by a couple of gimmicky tracks, I still might pick it as my favorite Beatles album.

It may be that admiration and respect for their achievement, as opposed to simple enjoyment--the former being somewhat objective, the latter a matter of taste--is to some extent dependent on seeing them in the context of the times.

Yes, I know they have an important place in the history of 20th century music, and to some extent I appreciate their songwriting talents, but have I ever played one of their songs just for the pleasure of hearing it? I don't think I have. Maybe "Back in the USSR" once or twice.

Dylan is a natural foil. He wrote dozens of songs that I go back to again and again. On a purely musical level he may not be as interesting, but he can hold my attention in a way that the Beatles never have.

Agreed. There is little in the Beatles that is very profound, imo. To me the best of their stuff sits at a nice midpoint between lightweight pop and something deeper.

"On a purely musical level he may not be as interesting, but he can hold my attention in a way that the Beatles never have."

"There is little in the Beatles that is very profound, imo."

That is the key: lyrically, the Beatles are mostly pedestrian, rarely getting beyond "clever." They aren't poets.

Musically...they aren't prolific like the Greats, nor do they get to the level of musical sophistication that the Greats displayed, but they are WORLDS above almost anything in their genre, and in pop music in general.

They hit it on songcraft (esp. McCartney). They had a beautiful and subtle sense of harmony (esp. Lennon). Although they weren't virtuosi on their instruments, they really had a SUBTLE touch which esp. played well in ensemble. They had the kind of sensitivity for each other that great jazz musicians have.

George Harrison's guitar playing was sheer genius. He had a sense of countermelody.

It was that they were excellent on so many levels musically, even if they weren't savants. Plus, they had a broad reach. They weren't stuck in one type of music. And then combined....

I was listening to just the isolated bass on "Because" the other day, and McCartney's playing, though not complicated, had such a subtle touch at each turn of phrase.

Some of it was gimmicky. A lot was throw-away. It is hard to listen to an entire album with pleasure, save, perhaps Rubber Soul (except I can't stand Run for Your Life), and Abbey Road, which nails it throughout.

Hmm, well, I'm somewhat less enthusiastic than you. I agree they were gifted in all those areas, but not to a degree that sets them that far apart from others. I definitely wouldn't put Harrison at the genius level.

Craig's comment about his friend's view of Ringo's drumming is interesting, as I think I recall reading here and there that he didn't always play the drum parts on the records, that McCartney sometimes did it. No idea if that's true or not.

Tune in tomorrow or the next day for a post about Meet the Beatles.

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