Thursday, June 3, 2010
Here Comes The Sun, And Why The Beatles Were Something New Under It.
Like the Kennedy assassination two months before, I clearly remember where I was and what I was doing the first time I heard the Beatles. I had just turned 13 in January, 1964. I was playing basketball behind a house on Iron Belt Road in Cartersville, GA., when “I Want to Hold Your Hand” came on the radio. I stopped dribbling and listened, stunned. Something totally new and different from anything I’d ever heard had entered my young consciousness and I felt happy, (clap, clap) inside.
I couldn’t have said what made them so different other than the happy inside part. They were British, but not in their singing voices. Two guitars, a bass, and drums; nothing new. Buddy Holly and the Crickets, who along with every other major figure in the 50’s rock era, the Beatles covered. They also covered country, “Honey Don’t,” and popular standards, “A Taste of Honey.”
They’d take a stab at anything, but only recently have I realized what I think made them so radically different. They covered songs by African-American female groups: “Boys” and “Baby it’s You," by The Shirelles, “Chains,” by The Cookies, and “Please, Mr. Postman,” by The Marvelettes. No American male group--unless possibly transvestite performers--of the time, would have considered doing that.
Of course we had male groups singing ethereal harmonies, most notably the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean, but they sang about macho things: cars, surfing, and girls. And although the Four Seasons and The Everly Brothers sang about love, it was from a definitely masculine point of view.
Of course I didn’t think of any of that when I heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” What I heard was that Lennon/McCartney harmony, and a song that made me feel happy (clap, clap) inside.
Now try this. Listen to “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” No, I don’t mean go play it, I mean listen to it in your head. If you’ve ever heard it, it’s there and you haven’t forgotten it.
Now substitute The Shirelles or The Marvettes for Lennon/McCarthy. You don’t miss a beat do you? It’s exactly the same sort of song they’d have sung, right down to the clap-clap. Same with “Love Me Do,”” Please, Please Me,” and much other early Beatles.
(George Harrison famously settled a lawsuit filed by the owner of the Chiffon’s “He’s So Fine” alleging Harrison had borrowed the melody for his “My Sweet Lord.”)
By the time we get to “We Can Work It Out,” and “Two of Us,” one can’t imagine The Shirelles singing those songs; mainly because the songs are so much better, but the black female sound is incorporated into this more sophisticated sound. Those songs wouldn’t exist without “I Want to Hold Your Hand” preceding them.