Prelude to The Beatles

The Beatles present a particular challenge for presenting in any sort of order. On my shelf, the albums sit chronologically, but that has no relation to how I experienced them, coming to The Beatles a few years after they broke up. On the other hand, if I try to go in autobiographical order, the order in which they entered my life, well, I’m afraid time has taken its toll and memory isn’t always so clear. So, my approach to The Beatles may be a mix.

The Beatles - Hard Day's Night Button
The Beatles – Hard Day’s Night Button

So here’s how The Beatles happened. I mean, I grew up in the ’60s, so of course, The Beatles. They were culturally ubiquitous, unavoidable, and you certainly knew the singles if you didn’t know the albums, but you knew the albums too. The Beatles invented caring about the albums.

I didn’t grow up in a house with music. At all. Radio was only on in the car, and usually mostly what I could hear was my mother telling me to turn it down. There was barely a turntable in our house, with a small selection of horrifying Christmas records, inexplicable soundtracks from Camelot and Dr. Zhivago, and a Bill Dana “Jose Jiminez” album that I still have.

Aside: I went with a group of friends to see the wonderful “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice,” and afterward we marveled at all the exposure to music she had growing up, how it all came together and contributed to her incredible legacy, and that occasioned me to overshare that that’s just one more thing about my family of origin that makes me angry. Rather than a family, shared heritage, listening was a private act, done as quietly as possible, and there was no sharing or discussion or anything. While it was clear I had some musical ability and interest, zero was done to encourage that. Now I feel a little bit of, “what the fuck, people?” At least the kids raised by wolves were encouraged to howl.

Until 1972, when I got an AM clock radio and discovered the world of Top 40, I had pretty much no connection to music at all. By then, the band was long broken up and had embarked on their variously interesting solo careers. I knew all about the Ed Sullivan show and the British Invasion and everything they did to revolutionize music. I knew the Beatles environmentally, but not personally. As I became more musically literate through the ’70s (we won’t talk about how that proceeded), there were the occasional re-releases of Beatles songs that hit the airwaves, and some friends had the Red (1962-1966) and Blue (1967-1970) collections. I had a moment with a copy of “Revolver” borrowed from the public library around 1973, and was awed by the music on that album, but not so awed at the time that I actually bought a copy for myself. So, again, I knew them, but I didn’t know them. I wasn’t obsessed.

I would be. In 1978, I arrived at Syracuse University with a crate full of John Denver, CSNY and James Taylor records, to be played on the squarest turntable that ever existed – an odd Panasonic low-profile console with super weak internal speakers, borrowed from parents who never ever used it. If memory serves, my roommate came with no records at all, but luckily we soon proved to have similar musical tastes, and when he came back from (I believe it was) that first Thanksgiving break, he brought back the Red album and the Blue album — the two double-disc collections that introduced a generation of seventies kids to the greatness that was The Beatles. (My snobbery against collections would kick in later).

John and Paul buttons
John and Paul buttons

We immediately became ALL ABOUT THE BEATLES. They kinda broke our little 18-year-old brains. (My god, how young we were.) We listened to those records constantly, combining them with certain drinking rituals such as rum and coke night (it was a thing; I believe it occurred on Tuesdays). There was plenty of other music played as well, but The Beatles was the most of it. Then on Christmas break, I drove over to the Two Guys Department Store in Schenectady and bought the horrible silver-covered “Rock ’n’ Roll Music” compilation, because I didn’t really know most of the Beatles albums yet and it had a lot of songs that weren’t on the Red or Blue albums.

Momentary aside: Two Guys had a huge and quite good record department. Their prices weren’t great, but weren’t astronomical either, and they had most everything that was popular. They did, however, fail a key yet simple test (established by yours truly) that separated the serious record store from a store that just stocked records. Call it The 10cc Test. 10cc had an album called “The Original Soundtrack.” If 10cc’s “The Original Soundtrack” could, in fact, be found in the soundtrack section, you knew you were not dealing with a serious record store. Many stores that seemed like they knew what was up failed that test.

George and Ringo Buttons
George and Ringo Buttons

So I brought Rock’n’Roll Music back for the spring semester, and that was like touching match to paper — our Beatlemania set off in full force. We were in love, we were obsessed, we were obnoxious. Beatles came blasting out of our dorm room at all times (thank god those dorms were really soundproof). They were practically all we talked about. Yes, Cocaine Kurtz (listen, that’s what the nametag on his door said — it was 1979): we understand, there’s a band called The Cars and you will wear a needle through that first record of theirs, but . . . HAVE YOU HEARD OF THE FUCKING BEATLES?

Yeah, it was like that. People avoided us, with good reason. That obsession with The Beatles spread into the entire British Invasion (see previous entries regarding The Animals), but nothing commanded our attention like the Fab Four did.

To this day, I don’t own the Red or Blue albums in any format. I probably should, just for nostalgia’s sake, as I’m sure the play order is emblazoned on my brain. But as I amassed a thorough collection of every commercial Beatles release and a few other odds and ends too, I never saw the need for a collection of songs that almost all appeared on albums somewhere (yes, there were some non-LP singles and B sides. I’ve got them all, somewhere). So, while it would be emotionally logical to start with the Red and Blue collections, first listened to lying on my friends’ dining room rug in the mid-’70s and then lying on my dorm bed just a couple of short years later, I can’t.

Instead, we have “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music.” Or maybe I’ll start with “Revolver.” Or maybe I’ll just go chronologically after all. But this entry has been long enough, so we’ll save that for next time.

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