My wish for today is that I could say something about The Beatles that hasn’t already been said. That’s about as likely as Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber singing something I want to hear, but here goes anyway. Whether the time frame is 1964 or today, 50 years on, those guys were too significant an event—not only to a nerdy, chubby, crew-cut, high-school junior in Meridian, Idaho, but to life in America as we know it—for me to skip on over it without a word.
I first heard their music in Weiser, believe it or not, as our little high-school band was returning home after some competition. Mr. Cherry—good old Mr. Cherry, our band director—got the bus driver to stop at a little diner just outside of downtown Weiser so we could get something to eat on the trip home. It was immediately obvious that the one waitress and one cook were not prepared for 40 kids—all with spats on our shoes and feathers in our caps—to come through the door at once, so the stop took considerably longer than Mr. Cherry would have preferred.
To kill time, I started going through the musical selection on one of those old jukebox rolodexes that were once in every booth, in every diner, in every town in America. There was the usual: Hank Williams, Frankie Laine, Tennessee Ernie Ford, a lot of Country, a few instrumentals (for the youngsters who don’t know what I’m talking about, an “instrumental” is a selection of music with nobody singing on it) and a smattering of rock 'n' roll. Martha and the Vandellas, probably some Everly Brothers and no doubt some Elvis.
My interest in pop music was a great deal more intense then than it is today. All kinds of music, actually. From the romantic syrup of Rachmaninoff to the big band swing of the Dorsey Brothers to the rhythm and blues of Little Richard. It all intrigued me, most of it excited me and some of it actually thrilled me. That thrill was enough to lead me into a 50-year career as a sometimes professional, sometimes semi-professional, sometimes amateur musician.
I didn’t know then what was in the cards for me as I flipped through the juke menu. I wasn’t dialing up any songs because there was nothing I hadn’t heard before and wouldn’t hear again, over and over, on the radio, and for free. Not until I came across “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” I wouldn’t swear to it, but I believe “... Hand” was their first American release, with “When I Saw Her Standing There” on the B-side.
I’d heard neither of them before. I’d heard about
them, though. And before a note of their music ever reached these shores, wild tales of The Beatles had. Shaggy boys in suits and boots who made girls scream for joy and abandon wherever they went—plenty enough to set a nerdy, chubby, crew-cut, Meridian High junior’s blood to racing.
There, in that little diner in Weiser, I listened (on my own dime) to the first Beatles’ music of my life. And by the time they hit that wonderful surprise raised-third-mediant chord close to the end, I felt a little like screaming for joy and abandon myself. I wouldn’t swear to this either, but I think it was in that moment—that wonderful surprise raised-third mediant chord (you know it when you hear it) that reset pop music’s bar and colored everything that was to come in America’s culture for decades—that I made a commitment to pursue such wonderful musical surprises for the rest of my life.
And I have. Sadly, those moments come less and less often, and it’s not only because I have changed. Music
has changed, too. Pop music, especially, has grown old and crabby and self-indulgent and it has come to repeat itself tiresomely, no matter how young and smug the brat is who’s performing it. But to this day, every time I hear a Beatles tune, be it “All My Loving” all the way through to “Let It Be,” I find it remarkable how fresh and hopeful and innovative their music still sounds.
Gobs and gobs and gobs have been said about The Beatles, written about The Beatles, ooowed and aaawed about The Beatles, but I find curiously little about The Beatles’ music. Certainly, the hair was novel, the suits were cute, the early antics were precious, the later drama was compelling, the untimely deaths tragic and the aftermaths a let-down. But it was their music that ignited our interest in the boys who made it, not the other way around.
After being a musician for 50 years, I am convinced most people are generally at a loss to describe exactly what it is about music that moves them so profoundly. I fall back on the old adage that music is how humans express all those sensations that can’t be expressed in any other way—and that is as true about music with lyrics and vocals as it is about the purely instrumental stuff. For that reason, it has never mattered to me what words were coming from The Beatles’ mouths (or any other singers’ mouths, for that matter) but what magic is being carried in that wind of sound that washes over us when we listen.
Over the seven or eight years of The Beatles' reign, their music matured—evolved
is a more appropriate word, and unfolded
is even better—but from the beginning, it sparkled with a magic that was unique to them, whether they were in their Moppets period, their meanderings through Psychedelic Land or their winding down as a foursome. Unique to them, yet it set free so many other imaginations—here, there and everywhere. It’s hard to guess where pop music, perhaps all music, would have gone—and where it wouldn’t
have gone—had not the Beatles ventured down so many alternate paths.
Hell, it’s hard even to guess where history itself might have gone without their stamp on it—without the spell they cast over it. We were looking for magic back then—still are
, if my sense of things is correct—and The Beatles delivered. With each new wonder they pulled out of their hat, we became ever more enchanted. It has been a most enduring enchantment, and I have to say one of the happiest things in my life is that I was here to see it.
Excuse me... to hear