Saturday, October 14, 2006

Vinyl Tap: The Beatles - A Hard Day's Night

I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #21:

For something that was such a no-brainer, Beatlemania wasn’t always an instantaneous phenomenon. I played a little hard to get in 1964, but only for a little while.

The first inkling of something fabbish and four-ish flourishing in the proximity of my nine-year old consciousness came in the mail with Life magazine’s cover story of strange beings from planet Liverpool -- whatever that was -- coming to America to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show (to be squeezed in, no doubt, between Senor Wences’ creepy blonde-wigged hand-puppet act and yet another plate-spinner performance). I hadn’t even heard their music yet, but I was making uninformed, hasty judgements: Just the sight of this group -- vaguely menacing, somehow -- with the outrageously long hair and carefree air they assumed, provoked me to mar the mag and by extension deface the music as I picked up some colored markers to embellish with Groucho-style glasses, mustache and nose and such, Life's photos of Beatles. And what kind of name is that, anyway?  

I wasn’t alone with this knee-jerk sense of disdain and perplexity. The reaction from most adults I knew, including my parents, grandmother, and other family friends and neighbors, ranged from bemusement to uptight trepidation. And so it was easy to excuse my well-meaning mother when she bought (for 88 cents at the supermarket yet!) what she thought was a Beatles album, but was in actuality a deceptive rip-off LP by the Buggs (small print) playing songs with -- BIG BOLD PRINT -- “The BEATLES Beat!”

And it was equally amusing to poke fun at the two teenage girls at the end of our cul-de-sac who made a daily practice of sitting in their T-Bird convertible with the top down (the car’s top, alas), blasting the car radio to full Spinal Tapian volume whenever a Beatles song came on. With three Los Angeles AM pop stations from which to pick and choose -- KRLA, KFWB and “Boss Radio” KHJ -- it wasn’t surprising to tune into a Beatles song every few minutes (“KRLA Exclusive…KRLA Exclusive…” came the whispered but unmistakable clarion call announcing newly-released singles).

Between listening in on these certain-to-be high school hellion's requisite top-of-their-lungs Beatlemania scream fest, and my own incipient radio listening (even surreptitiously under-covers at night), I got a good taste of the ear candy changing the face of the pop-music world. Though I didn’t much take to the sweets of “I Want You Hold Your Hand” and even the better-yet “She Loves You,” I was immediately converted when I heard the wallop-packing “Please Please Me” -- which actually pre-dates the aforementioned singles. That was the clincher for me: the infectious tune, the harmonies, and the wordplay that always attracted me, then as now.

The floodgates were now open as recalcitrance turned quickly to capitulation; brilliant song after song sonically sapped all resistance as I willingly started to swim with the manic pop tide: “All I’ve Got To Do,” “Hold Me Tight,” “Not A Second Time,” "All My Loving," "Thank You Girl," "You Can't Do That," “It Won’t Be Long"...

And it wasn’t too long until the Beatles’ first movie, A Hard Day’s Night, came to the local Corbin Theater. Thirty-five cents gave a jam-packed haven-full of kids and teens right of way to a cinematic slice of pop heaven. The movie kicked off in a sudden and loud thunderbolt as the lights dimmed and the title song’s opening guitar chime by George Harrison (the quiet one -- hah!), burst forth, with a resultant rush of exhilarating immediacy sweeping over me and every single true believer in the theater. Furthermore, I swore I could single out among the cheers and screams my cul-de-sac teen contingent of burgeoning Beatlemaniacs.

The generously music-filled comedy simply triggered some of the most horripilating glee I’ve ever experienced in a movie -- I can still get goose bumps just thinking about it. And I also firmly believe the notion that the advent of the Beatles helped to assuage for many Americans the painful loss that had occurred just months before with President Kennedy’s assassination. The contrasting memory was an extreme one for me: I often compare the sudden anguish stemming from the November 22, 1963 announcement -- I was home alone, out sick from school and watching a Ritz Brother’s comedy on TV -- to the palliative pendulum swing afforded by A Hard Day’s Night's celebrative sight and sound.

I’m not going to review the movie here and, despite my original intention, I’m not going to review my abridged American sliced ‘n’ diced soundtrack album -- this time not by Capitol Records, but by United Artists -- that I promptly bought, playing it at full blast in a dueling-Beatles Jumilla Street harmonic convergence with the T-Bird Teens across the street.

My unplanned meandering into tangential memories here caught me up in the spirit of times past, I guess, and I think outside the mention of a few favorite songs -- “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Tell Me Why,” and “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You” -- I don’t really need to analyze, comment, and pick apart; if you're newly curious, do yourself a favor and buy the records -- otherwise I'm mostly preaching to the converted at this point. And there’s not much adding or adorning I can do to what you no doubt already know and feel about the ineffable incandescence of the music and personalities of the quiet one, the cute one, the funny one, and the “Sorry Girls -- He’s Married” one.

These particular Sullivan-style screened appellations do remind me, however, of a pop-culture calamity that nearly traumatized me for life. My family -- including my brother, a Rolling Stones fan! -- went out to visit some relatives on one of the CBS Sunday night utopian mop-topian appearances. It was my fervent hope that we would either leave for home in time enough to catch the show, or that we’d linger around late enough to turn on the television there and catch the historic event.

I should have known better.  At 7:55 pm the folks decided we were leaving for the hour-long drive home. No amount of whining and pleading and reasoning -- I threw in the parental scoff-worthy historic angle -- would get them to budge on their most irrational and senses-leaving decision. Were they insane? 

I barely forgave them for that lapse in no-brainer understanding, that fab four faux pas. And now that I think of it, I do have a bit of a grudge about that 88 cent empty promise that was that Buggs album, "Beatle Beat" or not. I have a feeling, therefore, that I’ll be self-indulgently brooding and dwelling on such long-ago sins of scarring omission -- for at least a few hard day’s nights, that is.


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