I was only 7 when the Beatles conquered America on the Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 10, 1964. I was not a fan at the time, but my cousin Debbie — who was two years older than me — soon succumbed to their charms. And so, apparently, did every teen-age girl in the country.
Strangely, it wasn’t until after they’d broken up, in 1970, that I began to notice them seriously. Oh, I always liked their songs, even their initial hits like “Help!” and “A Hard Day’s Night” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” But it wasn’t until I became of high school age that my musical tastes developed to the level that I realized that the Beatles weren’t just good — they were very, very good.
Their most popular songs still seemed fresh in the 1970s, as most of them still do today. But it was their lesser known songs that, when I began buying up their albums — from Rubber Soul to Revolver, from Magical Mystery Tour to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, from the White Album to Let it Be and Abbey Road — really got me going. Yes, I loved their middle and late classics — “Penny Lane”, “I Am the Walrus”, “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Get Back” — but their more obscure tunes (as if any Beatles tune could be called obscure) sounded, on average, just as outstanding as their biggest hits. The White Album blew me away with its eclectic mix of styles. I loved “Rocky Raccoon” and “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” I even liked John Lennon’s strange “Revolution No. 9”, which is not really a song at all — just a lot of random noise inspired in part by (no surprise here) Yoko Ono.
During my college years, I wore out my Beatles albums. If I had a nickel for every time I relaxed between classes listening to Side Two of Abbey Road, I’d be a rich man.
Over the past week, America paused for a moment to reflect on Feb. 10, 1964, when a musical revolution began with the Beatles’ first U.S. appearance.
Ironically, the day after the Sullivan Show appearance, John, Paul, George and Ringo were roundly blasted by the biggest music critics of the time — which often happens when the snob set gets confronted with something it can’t or won’t understand.
But soon it wasn’t just teen-age girls who fell for the Beatles. And that was because the Fab Four grew. They wrote amazing songs with music and lyrics that moved far beyond what rock musicians had created until that time.
Mostly, for me, it was the songs — the sheer volume of songs, their growing complexity.
The Beatles were the best. By far the best. And I think it’s kind of nice to reflect upon that in this day and age where mediocrity is so often celebrated at the expense of more accomplished artists.
The Beatles, we have since learned, had warts. They were hedonistic, they could be cruel. They treated women badly, at least during their early years. My favorite Beatle, John Lennon, had more insecurities than you could shake a stick at.
But when it came to the four of them as they existed together, the unpleasant sides of their personalities could in no way overshadow their incredible collective talents.
By the time I left college, married, and began to raise a family, my fascination with John Lennon gave way to a more nuanced attitude toward him. But I will never forget the day in 1980 when he was assassinated. Years earlier, my college roommate awakened one day and said he had a dream, and he predicted that someday — he didn’t know when — John Lennon would be killed.
He called me that day to tell me the news. It really did feel like the end of an era.