When ever I hear “She loves you” it gives me goose pimples, lifts the wee hairs in the back of my neck and I am right back there: walking up the corridor from the Gym hall after lunch break in the Island school of my teens, taking in the sharp breeze blowing up from the loch and the tang of malt and peat from the distillery, down at the pier with the boys trying to sink a bottle with stones, the sloping football pitch, the bus journeys home and the girls, especially the girls. It was the birth of Beatlemania, but being one of the perverse sort, I decided to actively dislike them and even wrote and presented a piece of prose for the English class dismissing their music as childish and shallow. The sporting teacher offered me an armed escort when I left.
It didn’t take long, however, before that changed. There was “All my loving” with its brisk chug-a-chug guitar coming in on the minor and the simplicity and freshness of the whole thing. And then there was “ I feel fine” with the deliberate feedback from John’s Rickenbaker. I knew then that this was something special it was no flash in the pan. The other Mersey beaters came and went but the Beatles moved onward and forward changed and surprised yet still kept that wonderful tightness that all bands aspire to. There was “Help” “Yesterday” and “We can work it out” in 1965 with its driving tempo and the change to the waltz at the end of the middle eight. A year later it was “Paper back writer” with the exciting harmonies and the Long section on a single chord before finding release on the sub dominant. Then there was “Eleanor Rigby” of course, “For no-one” “Here there and everywhere” and all the way to Sergeant Pepper and “A Day in a Life” with that crazy climactic ending. It could only be downhill from there. Nothing could eclipse that moment. True there were some good songs that followed, and the bands performance on the roof, but it was clear the show was over.
Peter Jackson’s documentary “Get Back” tells the story of their demise and takes the mountain of recordings from the original sessions at Twickenham, Apple studios and the Savile Road roof concert to make a film which is just about as long as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I imagine it would bore the pants off all except the most passionate of fans, as there seems hours and hours of irrelevant chat and mucking about where nothing actually happens. It could be watching paint dry. For me, however, having played in bands and worked with musicians and spent hours in recording studios, it was fascinating to see how they worked. What was very revealing was how ordinary and unexceptional they seemed. The musicianship, the melodies, the harmonies and the lyrics of themselves seem very mundane. When I think of the skill of some of the guys, I have had the privilege of working with, who were willing to play my material and all with busy day time jobs, John, Paul, George and Ringo seemed quite unremarkable in comparison.
Something happened of course when they finally got going. They were so much greater than the sum of their parts. There was the acid and alkali reaction, the cheery melody and the biting sarcasm between McCartney and Lennon, the underlaying and decoration by Harrison and, what I hadn’t realised before, the pivotal role that Starr had on the sound. Starr was left-handed and had to learn on a right-hand drum kit. This meant that he had to stretch awkwardly arm over arm to hit the Tom-Toms and the result was a fraction late in the beat. This meant the others were a fraction ahead which gave the whole its distinctive tension. And when you create tension in the listener’s ear you have them in the palm of your hand. Beatlemania was all about that.
Looking back, it seemed that they lit up and super charged the grey decades of the sixties, with excitement and colour and life to reach tremendous heights of ingenuity and creativity and then, as quickly, dim and fade. In some ways they speak of the tragic transitory nature of life. “A day in a life” for me, their finest achievement, epitomises that with the final chord saying “That’s all folks”. Out of the bag there was no way to get back to where they once belonged.