I have seen the movie Yellow Submarine more than any other film. This is because, as a child, I had a BETA copy of the film that had been taped off our TV. Without exaggeration, I’ve seen the movie over 200 times. Unfortunately, my taped copy also contained the commercials that played on TV when they showed it, which means I have also seen this…
…over 200 times. (If I, in the future, ever do anything absolutely crazy that lands me in trouble with the law, please remember this fact and use it in my defense.)
It’s also because of this movie that I was acutely aware of who The Beatles were. While most of my 1st grade friends were learning the hard way that Strawberry Shortcake dolls do not taste as good as they smell, I was phoning local radio stations and pleading with them to play songs off of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
I was six when John Lennon was shot, and remember the moment when I found out. I was channel surfing (back then it was “switching the dial”) when I happened upon the news. I heard that Lennon was dead and starting sobbing. It was all so confusing. My primary association with him was as a cartoon character, and on some level I didn’t understand how that piece of animation had been murdered. It was all so complicated and awful. And probably why I genuinely feared for Scooby’s well-being from then on.
We are kicking off the celebration in honor of the digitally remastered Beatles reissues set to hit Amoeba September 9! Each Wednesday until September 2, we will present a segment of The Beatles' biography. Then, the week of September 2-9 will be marked here on the blog with a number of Beatles related posts with a huge variety of topics! You can begin with Part One of the fabled band's history if you missed it by clicking right here; then check out last week's Part Two right here. Now, we are on to Part Three:
BEATLEMANIA HITS THE US
It was now Brian Epstein’s job to break The Beatles in America, the world’s largest music market. To date, it had been a frustrating task. Capitol Records, EMI’s American arm, had declined to release the group’s records, pointing to US listeners’ historic indifference to English acts. The band’s material had instead been licensed to American independent labels – Vee-Jay, Swan, and Tollie – without any measurable sales.
But Epstein’s acumen and a propitious confluence of events reversed the band’s stateside fortunes. In November 1963, Epstein convinced Ed Sullivan, host of the top-rated TV variety show in the US, to book The Beatles for four appearances in early 1964, after Sullivan had witnessed a frenzied mob of Beatlemaniacs at London’s Heathrow Airport during a overseas trip.
The rechristened group took a major step towards professionalism in 1960 with the acquisition of Liverpool promoter and club owner Allan Williams as their manager. Williams had co-promoted shows with Larry Parnes, the powerful, insidious London-based manager of such unlikely-named teen idols as Billy Fury and Tommy Steele. He arranged an audition for The Silver Beetles (which now included drummer Tommy Moore) before Parnes, who hired the group for a tour of Scotland backing one of Parnes’ lesser charges, the third-tier singer Johnny Gentle. They returned from the chaotic spring trek broke and bedraggled, but schooled in the verities of life on the rock ‘n’ roll motorway.
In the summer of 1960, a chance meeting between Williams and a German club owner opened an opportunity for his group – now permanently known as The Beatles – to play a run of shows at a venue in Hamburg. Then minus a drummer and desperate for the employment, the band quickly drafted the handsome, diffident son of Casbah owner Mona Best, Pete Best, whose band The Blackjacks was in the process of dissolving. In August 1960, the quintet set forth on a fateful ferry voyage to the continent.
“This isn’t show business,” John Lennon said at the height of The Beatles’ success. “This is something else.”
Strictly in show business terms, the quartet from Liverpool, England rewrote the book on rock ‘n’ roll, which prior to the group’s 1962 recording debut was considered nothing more than disposable music for idle teens. While The Beatles were initially embraced by throngs of young fans (most of them female) -- in a phenomenon dubbed “Beatlemania” by the press -- with the same fervor previously accorded Frank Sinatra in the ‘40s and Elvis Presley in the ‘50s, the depth of their work quickly transcended their teen-idol genesis.
The songs penned by singer-guitarist Lennon and his collaborator, vocalist-bassist Paul McCartney – and, to a lesser extent, those authored by guitarist-vocalist George Harrison – expanded rock’s expressive capabilities, and broadened the audience for the music beyond its youthful base. Their producer George Martin transmuted The Beatles’ bold imaginative leaps in the studio, bringing theretofore unimaginable musical and technical textures to their recorded music. After sensationally announcing themselves with a string of irresistible hit singles that were greeted with unprecedented sales (which persisted until the end of the group’s existence), The Beatles established the long-playing album as the principal commercial format, and as a forum for artistic expression. And their massive popularity on a global scale inaugurated the era of the stadium concert. In sheer magnitude, their achievement remains unrivaled to this day.
Beatles fans take note: in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the release of The Beatles' White Album (in actuality their self-titled album), "the producers, engineers and technicians who worked on the LP recall their contributions" in a recommended documentary special by the BBC in celebration of the double LP set that was originally released on November 22nd, 1968 and was the fab four's ninth studio album.
Click here to check it out. Note that you will need Real Player in your computer. Meantime, check out some White Album related video footage (including some rehearsal/recording sessions) of John, Paul, George, & Ringo down below the track listing & YouTube album audio medley (immediately below). Luckily I found a copy of the album for just a dollar in the used vinyl bin at the Amoeba Music Berkeley store some years back (a numbered copy and in good condition too!). It is also available on CD-- both new and used. Get it if you don't already own it. And buy it at Amoeba!
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