The Beatles Final Years
Are you a fan of The Beatles
By now it should come as no surprise to anyone that I have this thing about The Beatles. I was a pimply nerd of fifteen when they rocked the musical world in 1963 and I have been a devoted, awe-struck fan ever since.
It should also come as no surprise if you have read my other two articles about the Fab Four (and if you haven’t why in the world haven’t you?) that I much preferred their earlier music. There was an innocence to their early songs that eventually morphed into more serious tunes that reflected the troubled times of the late 60s and perhaps that is as it should be. They did, in fact, serve as a musical background for that tumultuous decade and as such it is understandable that their music changed as the times changed.
We were so naïve and unspoiled back then. There were no school shootings to be concerned about and although there was certainly physical, emotional and sexual abuse during those years we were somehow protected from hearing about it. There seemed to be an unwritten agreement that the news agencies would not bring the hidden horrors of society into our homes during the first half of the decade. The figurative gloves came off, however, as the second half of the Sixties unfolded. The television executives found it very hard to ignore Vietnam and nightly while we were enjoying our macaroni and cheese dinners we were assailed by televised images of body bags and napalm. Cut for a commercial break and then right back they came with riots in the streets as the police and National Guard struggled to keep the masses from protesting atrocities and turning U.S. cities into sacrificial altars.
I was a fun-loving college freshman at Seattle University in September of 1967 and to say my eyes were opened wide in a few short weeks would be a gross understatement. My eyes were in fact forcibly pried open and subjected to a world I never knew existed in those first few months of my higher education and they would remain open for the remaining four years of that decade. When I finally graduated in 1970 I had lost my father and I had completely changed as a human being.
Through it all The Beatles somehow managed to write songs that were my words, my thoughts, but their music.
So let me take you back in time to a world many of you never experienced and yet, whether you know it or not, you are experiencing the effects of it still today. It was a time of massive social change; it was a time of personal epiphanies; it was the time of The Beatles.
SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND
On April 15, 1967 400,000 anti-war protestors met at Central Park in opposition to the Vietnam War. A civil revolution was picking up steam and seemed unstoppable. On June 1, 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released and a new revolution in music began. For fifteen weeks it held the top spot on the Billboard album chart and remained in the top 100 for an astounding 85 weeks. It wasn’t the sales, however, that made this album so remarkable. Using every technical device known in music, many of which had never been used in recording, this album blew the doors off of the established musical scene.
Every instrument and every vocal were manipulated in the studio. The songs themselves were probably inferior to many of the songs on “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver,” but the album as a whole stands as one of the most memorable and revolutionary recordings in history. With regards to Rock n Roll recordings a quantum leap had just been taken.
ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE
Written as a message to the world that more love was needed, this single was released on July 7, 1967 and reached Number One in five days where it would stay for five weeks. During the month of July race riots broke out in Chicago, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Baltimore, Newark and Detroit where forty-three died. It seemed as though the world was not listening to this simple message.
The Beatles performed this song in a live performance via satellite on June 25th, a six hour long “Our World” television special that was seen in twenty-four countries by over 400 million people. The message of love was loud and clear during the summer of ’67 but it became all too obvious that the message was being ignored as 1968 began.
A list of events from 1968 sounds like the preview to a horror movie. I’ll let the events speak for themselves.
· January 31 The Tet Offensive
· March 16 The My Lai Massacre
· April 4 Martin Luther King is assassinated
· June 5 Robert Kennedy is assassinated
· August 24-29 The Democratic Convention in Chicago
On August 26th The Beatles released “Revolution,” as blatant a political statement as was ever heard from the Lads From Liverpool and as such caused discord between John and Paul. Lennon was adamant that the song should be recorded and Paul had major concerns about the backlash that might follow.
By the time of this release I was shell-shocked and quite torn by this tune. On the one hand I had seen my political heroes gunned down and I was feeling empty and disillusioned by the whole political process and by extension sickened by protest in general. On the other hand it was obvious to even the most casual observer that only a major revolution worldwide could end this madness. Consequently I have had a love-hate relationship with this song for forty-four years.
THE WHITE ALBUM
Released on November 22, 1968, this album was actually called “The Beatles” and yet has always been known as “The White Album.” Ironically the original title could not be further from the truth because it was a reflection of a rock band in the process of breaking apart. Every song was individually written and performed with the other members used only as background.
Thirty songs and a total of ninety-four minutes of play time, this album became the greatest selling double album of all time and was really a return to the early days for The Beatles. Very little experimentation went into this album but also very little group collaboration.
Not surprisingly, considering my conflicting feelings by this time, I loved this album when it was released. I think much of the sales and certainly my allegiance can be attributed to a return to the simple days as though the public was hoping that by listening to these songs all the troubles would go away. It was not to be but it certainly was a lovely thought.
LET IT BE
On April 10, 1969 Paul McCartney announced that The Beatles would be breaking up. One month later “Let It Be” was released and quite frankly it is a miracle this album and title song were ever recorded. The bickering among the band members was at an all-time high and several times individual members refused to come in for recording.
I and millions of my closest friends were by this time sick to death about the news that The Beatles would be breaking up. A musical era seemed to be ending and yet the world events that spawned many of the Beatles’ songs were still happening. It was confusing; it was disheartening; and it was depressing as all hell.
AND SO IT GOES
The world did move on. Watergate dominated the news for a couple years, resignations and more killings and more injustice held the headlines well into the 70s. One more album by the Fab Four was released, namely “Abbey Road,” and then we all moved on with the business of living. Those of us who lived through that decade went on to careers and marriage, divorces and embracing the establishment. The concept of changing the world was replaced by the concept of buying and selling the world while ideals and dreams were traded in by many for profit and reality.
Rock bands came and went and life plodded forward and yet….and yet….The Beatles remained. Lennon was assassinated, Harrison died and still The Beatles remained.
Today they are still with me and millions like me who recognize pure genius when it is presented to us and are ever so grateful that we were there from the beginning and had the opportunity….the privilege….to witness history in the making.
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)