Fifty years after The Beatles reshaped British social history and culture with their first foray into the charts with Love Me Do, reporter Simon Robb examines why they continue to exert such a powerful influence, even on 20-somethings like himself.
Watching the ripened Apple label rotate on my portable Philips turntable, I was transported into a world of silver hammers, weeping guitars, blackbirds and long winding roads.
The four chirpy boys from Liverpool’s Merseyside beat, unwittingly fronted the rock music revolution and shaped an entire generation in less than a decade. An achievement that has remained evident in the last five decades.
The Beatles may evoke different memories, favourite lyrics and catchy guitar riffs for each one of us, but my personal journey into mop tops, black suits and colourful alter egos, catapulted me into a dream like state that could only be broken when the needle reached the record’s inexorable centre.
This was not attributed to drugs, alcohol or sleep deprivation – not at all, The Beatles music alone was enough to take me away from the tribulations of small town existence. Cursed with a functional family, my life is seldom of riveting tales, celebrity encounters and big breaks, but listening to ‘Tomorrow Never Know’ for the first time opened my eyes and mind to infinite possibilities, beyond Essex - where I lived before moving to Sussex - and into a realm of fantasy and adventure.
How many holes does it take to fill the Albert Hall? How can a horse dance the Waltz? And how did Lucy end up in the sky with so many diamonds? These questions I’ve never been able to answer, but sparked endless ponders. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Ringo’s wayward imaginations are directly responsible for my wild ideas, retro fascination and ultimately, my career in writing.
One of my earliest childhood memories is rummaging through my parents’ record collection in the loft and discovering Revolver, misplaced between battered copies of Demis Roussos and Nana Mouskouri.
When dropping the needle onto the record’s outer edge, I could hear a man’s voice emerge through the crackles and pops. A single guitar chord struck and Harrison’s ‘Taxman’ triggered my musical awakening in an instant.
It may have been recorded in a smoky studio in 1966, but to me it felt as though they’d taken to the stage for the very first time in my parents’ living room. I listened to it front-to-back over and over with my legs splayed out before the fireplace and back against the coffee table.
It was totally new to me – at this point I didn’t know that the band had long since split up; that Paul McCartney had become a devoted vegetarian; that John Lennon had been shot outside his apartment in New York; that Ringo Starr was the narrator of Thomas the Tank Engine; or that George Harrison had formed the super group, Travelling Wilburys.
After collecting all their albums from boot sales and charity shops, my new obsession with the Fab Four didn’t stop there. I wanted to look the part, too. I couldn’t convince my dad to buy me a pair of Lennon’s circular specs, because I didn’t wear glasses; my mum reassured me that Debenhams didn’t sell flared jeans for little boys; and Beatle boots were certainly not appropriate attire for junior school. I was officially born into the wrong decade. The go-go 90s were dragging me further away from the swinging 60s; it was out of my hands.
I attempted guitar lessons for a few years, hoping that one day I could pick up a Gretsch, like Harrison’s, and knock out Here Comes the Sun in true rock star fashion. However, I was forced to play a morbid Travis number for the school assembly one morning, backed by a portly drummer. Before I reached the chorus a string snapped free, lacerating my cheek and killing my music career in an instant, including any chance of joining Ringo’s All-Starr Band.
Once the embarrassment and the five centimetre scar across my face had faded, I was asked to write about my hero for an English assignment. Without very much consideration I chose George Harrison. He may not have been part of the Lennon/McCartney powerhouse, but I saw him as a lone ranger, like myself, struggling to be heard amongst the crowd.
I didn’t care that nobody in the class knew who I was talking about; or that the teacher mistook Harrison for The Beatles’ record producer, George Martin. I didn’t even flinch when someone declared that if I liked him so much that I should ‘marry him’ – simply talking about a guitarist from my all-time favourite band kept me buoyant in a sea of ridicule. I was awarded top marks, which included a gold star; a small success in my path towards those endless possibilities.
Now The Beatles are marking their 50th anniversary in the public domain. I can only wonder if I’m able to achieve my lifetime goals and experience just an ounce of their acclaim and longevity. If so, I would retire to the hills a happy man. If it feels like my quest for success is looking bleak, all I need to do is pull out my records from under the bed, spin the turntable and play ‘A Little Help From My Friends’ – John, Paul, George and Ringo, that is. They always seem to be there, forever in the grooves of my vinyls, filtering through my speakers and into the open air. If The Beatles has taught me anything, it’s that you can be whoever you want to be, regardless of criticism and classroom onslaught.
Now as an adult and still listening to The Beatles on my Linn Sondek turntable I may never experience the 60s first hand; play on a stage before thousands of adoring fans; or even look the part, but at least I’m reminded that if four unlikely lads from Liverpool can make it, so can I.
So I’d like to leave you with this – the Albert Hall has a volume of 3,060,000 cubic feet – so if a typical hole equates to one foot, you can only imagine how many holes it would take to fill the place. If each hole could represent a Beatles’ fan, then I can safely assume that the question is irrelevant – every hole would have been fulfilled a long time ago.
Now it’s your turn
I’d also like to hear your stories about the boys from Liverpool. Did you buy all their records? Attend any of their deafening concerts?
Who was your favourite and why? What was your reaction to John Lennon’s ‘bigger than Jesus’ remark? Where were you when he was shot?
Were you lucky enough to meet John, Paul, George or Ringo?
Drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call to share your memories, 01403 751238.