I was 24 when I first realised it was possible to criticise the Beatles.
The Beatles were the first band I ever fell for, my parents played a lot of Beatles at home; it’s quite sweet, they have two copies of every single up to a certain point and then just one copy after that. My friends and I really got into them following all the publicity after John Lennon’s death. I wanted to be Ringo. I’ve been into them to varying degrees ever since of course, it comes and goes as does the facets of them I like, at the moment it’s pop Beatles. My kids have already had a Beatles phase and I have fond memories of us sitting around as a family belting out the songs out of the Beatles Illustrated Lyrics book* together. Who else can you do that with? the Stones didn’t write enough tunes, the Monkees only have 2 good ones and my kids aren’t up to quite tackling the Marilyn Manson song book yet – ‘altogether now children, ‘And I don’t want you and I don’t need you / Don’t bother to resist, or I’ll beat you”.
Working in Liverpool, as I do, they are kind of difficult to avoid. Working in Matthew Street, site of the original cavern Club**, as I did for a few years they are impossible to avoid – every single business is named after the Beatles and you had to fight your way through a throng of gaggling tourists from Japan, Germany, the US, Spain to get a sandwich at lunchtime. In fact my friend Mark, one of those slightly scary people who can tell the 1962 mono mix of ‘Love you Girl-Girl’ to the minimally different japanese mono mix released the following year, can proudly boast that his mother saw the Beatles play lunchtime sets at the cavern more than once and knew them well enough to say hello to. Mrs 1537 had a newsagent’s door held open for her by Paul McCartney when she was about ten. You can’t escape them here.
So revered were they that it genuinely came as a shock the first time I read some criticism of one of their LPs – I mean you can’t criticise them – they’re Beatles! I genuinely believed before that you had to accept and bask in their glory, regardless of whether you were listening to ‘A day in the Life’, or ‘Drive my Car’; honestly it had never occurred to me that liking Rubber Soul (which I don’t) wasn’t compulsory. In all honesty I’m still adjusting to this concept and feel that if I am remotely critical I am sinning in some obscure venial way.
After singing all their kids songs and loving all their pop songs as a child, I started buying, as all groovy teenagers usually do, with the grand psychedelic LPs and filled in the gaps after that. A Hard Day’s Night is the earliest Beatles LP I own and the last one I bought, in August 2008. I know the earlier ones have some good tracks on them, but they are a little too much of their time for me – I’ll stick to the early singles and BBC sessions thanks. Do you wanna know a secret? (let me whisper in your ear) I’ve never seen the film, I know it’s supposed to be the only good one (although I loved Help! when I was little). This was their first LP full of their own material.
The title track is one of those ten, or so tracks that on any given day I could describe as being my favourite Beatles song – it always has been since I was about 7. Come on – just the opening chord announces the full genius of the band, let alone the slightly smutty lyrics, the brilliant urgency of the whole track, the title even! Let’s face it folks, many lesser bands have come and gone, lived and died without producing anything that remotely approaches how good this song is. Sadly, talent isn’t sprinkled equally over us all at birth.
(Found this on YT, it amused me briefly, hopefully you too)
I also have a major soft spot for the harmonica-led ‘I Should Have Known Better’, like a lot of their better pop songs it is just so simple ‘So I should have realized a lot of things before / If this is love you’ve got to give me more’. But this fades into oblivion compared to ‘I’m Happy Just to Dance With You’ which I’d never heard before buying this LP, sung by George there’s just something about the slightly off-key chords they use here, the vocal harmonies and the sweetly romantic lyrics
I don’t need to hug or hold you tight
I just want to dance with you all night
In this world there’s nothing I would rather do
’cause I’m happy just to dance with you
surely, we’ve all been there at some point? or am I just a hopeless case? as my main mode of dancing involves an awful lot of very enthusiastic arm-waving, dancing with me all night would probably merit a gum shield for the lucky lady in question. You also have to love the Ramones-like 1:56 time^.
As for the rest, the two most famous tracks, the raucous (by 1964 standards) ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ and the simply beautiful ‘Things we said Today’ (I love the line ‘deep in love, not a lot to say’) are the best by far, followed swiftly by ‘Any Time At All’. None of the rest is bad, but how much you’ll like it will depend on your tolerance of the musical mores of the time, although I do have a soft spot for the lyrically menacing ‘I’ll Cry Instead’; personally I tend to skip it and head off for the psychedelic hills (they pulse purple and orange paisley).
*a great source of breast pictures and rude cartoons during my childhood.
**the building I worked in was the one that the original Cavern was knocked down to build – it all started out somewhere in our underground car park.
^yes I know how they got their name!