Niagara Gazette

December 22, 2013

SINGER: A half century spent with the Beatles

By B.B. Singer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — We’ve been celebrating, or really lamenting, the 50th anniversary of the terrible JFK tragedy; but also recognizing via a slew of books, music collections, and programs the Beatles’ first incursion on this side of the Atlantic in that same period, and now a half century old as well.

No one of a certain age in Western New York can forget exactly where he/she was when they first encountered the Beatles’ revolutionary recordings. I myself heard their initial album released over here during the Christmas holidays of 1963-64. It was being played on the turntable at a party, snow petalling the ground outside, and I was completely wowed by each cut.

So apparently was a still youthful Brian Wilson, on top with his Beach Boys, but freaked by how every tune on these early Beatles’ LPs was marvelously done, and for the era, original, if within America’s rock n’ roll lineage the four Brits had absorbed growing up in Liverpool. Wilson now felt his Beach Boys would have to keep up, and due to the Beatles’ originality and standards, the world, and not only the musical world, had suddenly changed enormously.

Hair styles in the general male public began to follow theirs, and somehow, they kept navigating musically ahead of the pack through that revolutionary decade, until at the end of the ‘60s their own end as a group came into view.

All four were important cogs in the wheel, but obviously Lennon and McCartney had a special, symbiotic chemistry — as songwriters and “musical editors” for their iconic group. To most, Lennon seemed the tougher of the two, but Sir Paul has noted that this was only external — on the inside, he was in fact stronger than John. He also said that they touched each other’s souls working up all the incredible tunes they did together.

Nostalgia for this moment in pop culture history has run amok, but really, that moment is long gone. The ‘60s was a decade of overturning prior norms, but today, the stakes in the world are much higher. It’s almost as if we’ve gone from the poetry era to one of prose, and increasingly dire prose at that.

It simply won’t help to try and unearth certain Beatles’ cuts that never made it to the light of day. We’ve already done oldies to death — I’ve said this before; and when an entire civilization is struggling for survival, as ours is, it’s long past the time of being “in your face” and shocking the older generation via music.

However, Paul Anka has declared that each generational contingent does require its own sound. Which oldsters then deride? Well, there were graying bandleaders of the Swing Era, who in the ‘60s lamented that they had “done more” musically (as one put it) than did the Beatles with “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” etc. Perhaps such fare sounded puerile to the Goodmans or Ellingtons, bubble-gumish ...

However, the Beatles did make an undeniable impact as musical pioneers, and when they “hit,” no one could fully ignore them. (Witness the excitement their first appearance on Ed Sullivan created, a show virtually everyone watched on Sunday nights.) The difference today is that the musical scene is much more diffuse, and there’s no artist or group one could call significant in some degree to pretty well everyone. And maybe standards have gone down as well?

But that gets us into the old argument about everything being relative (which by the way, I don’t believe), and if I join that argument by arguing that things were indeed better back when, then I lay myself open to sounding like a bitter, aging codger.

So I guess we should just celebrate the boom in current Beatles books, TV programs, and the rest for what it is — an exercise in nostalgia. And for a time whose views and illusions should now be considered outmoded? Probably, but who can avoid some rose-colored looking back? It gets you through the day! 

B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.

B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.