Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Beatles, Sergeant Pepper And Jelly Babies..

Here are the Beatles with very fetching moustaches and beard in 1967. The Liverpool lads had come a long way from the days of pudding basin haircuts and suits. A rumour doing the rounds courtesy of an advertisement which appeared in several children's comics in 1966, was that the lads were partial to jelly babies!

But in 1967 they seemed much more serious - I mean, kinda far out, man!

Farewell to the jelly babies, hello to the facial hair, geeky specs, kaftans and love beads!

Recently I found pages from a January 1968 magazine in my mother's attic. I don't know exactly what the publication was, but the pages featured an article about the Beatles, torn out and kept by my mother many years ago. This extract from the article may be of some interest to Beatles fans now...

The cover on a recent LP album called Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is a photomontage of a crowd gathered around a grave. And a curious crowd it is: Marilyn Monroe is there. So are Edgar Allan Poe, Lawrence of Arabia, Mae West, Sonny Liston and eight Beatles.

Eight? Well, four of them are wax dummies, models of the Beatles as most people remember them, with nicely brushed long hair, dark suits, faces like cheeky choirboys. The other four Beatles are very much alive: thin, hippie-loving, moustachioed, bedecked in bright, bizarre uniforms, their eyes glittering with a new awareness tinged with a hint of the old mischief. As for the grave in the foreground: it has BEATLES spelt out in flowers.

With characteristic self-mockery, the Beatles are proclaiming that they have snuffed out their old selves to make way for the new Beatles. And there is some truth to it.

Rich and secure enough today to go on repeating themselves - or to do nothing at all - they are instead creating some of the most original, expressive and musically interesting sounds being heard in pop music.

Serious musicians are marking the Beatles' work as a historic departure in the progress of music. Composer Ned Rorem claims that the Beatles' haunting composition "She's Leaving Home" - one of 12 songs in the Sgt. Pepper album - "is equal to any song that Schubert ever wrote." Conductor Leonard Bernstein's appreciation is just as high; he cites Schumann.

Like all good popular artists, the Beatles have a talent for distilling the moods of their time. Gilbert and Sullivan's frolics limned the pomposities of the Victorian British Empire; Cole Porter's urbanities were wonderful tonics for the '30's; Rodgers and Hammerstein's ballads reflected the sentiment and seriousness of the Second World War era. Today, the Beatles' cunning collages piece together scraps of tension between the generations, the loneliness of the dislocated '60s, and the bitter sweets of young love in any age. At the same time, their sensitivity to the absurd is sharper than ever.

The Beatles' early music had exuberance and an occasional oasis of unexpected harmony, but otherwise blended monotonously into the pop scene. "I Want To Hold Your Hand" - the Beatles' big-hit single which has sold five million copies since 1963 - was a clich├ęd lyric set to an unimaginative tune. But the boys soon found their conventional sound and juvenile verses stultifying.

John Lennon, the group's chief lyricist, began tuning in on folk singer Bob Dylan. It wasn't Dylan's sullen anger that Lennon found appealing so much as the striving to "tell it like it is".

Gradually, the Beatles' work began to tell it too. Their 1965 song "Nowhere Man" ("Doesn't have a point of view, knows not where he's going to") asked, "Isn't he a bit like you and me?"

An even sharper departure from Big Beat banalities came as tune-smith Paul McCartney began exhibiting an unsuspected lyrical gift. In 1965, he crooned the loveliest of his ballads, "Yesterday,", to the accompaniment of a string octet - a novel and effective new genre, baroque-rock.

Still another form, raga-rock, had its origins after George Harrison fell for Indian music, studied with Indian sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar, and introduced a brief sitar motif on the 1965 recording "Norwegian Wood". Now everybody in pop music is experimenting with the sitar.

All the successes of the past two years were a foreshadowing of the Sgt. Pepper album, which more than anything else dramatises the brilliance of the new Beatles. In three months, it sold a staggering 2.5 million copies. Loosely strung together on a scheme that plays the younger and older generations off against each other, it sizzles with space-age electronic effects and sleight-of-hand lyrics. Above all, it proves that the Beatles have flowered as musicians.

Now that the Beatles' music is growing more complex and challenging, they are losing some younger fans. But the new Beatles have captivated a different and much more responsive audience. "Suddenly," says George Harrison, "we find that all the people who thought they were beyond the Beatles are fans." That includes not only students, but parents, professors, even business executives. Indeed, if the teenagers once made the Beatles plaster gods, many adults now make them pop prophets, and tend to theorise solemnly about their significance. One psychiatrist has said that the Beatles "are speaking in an existential way about the meaninglessness of reality."

Not so long ago the pop scene was going nowhere, becalmed in a doldrum of derivative mewing of Negro music by white singers. Then in the early 1960's the Beatles, together with other British groups, revitalised rock 'n' roll by closely imitating its Negro originators. As the Beatles moved on, sowing innovations of their own, they left flourishing fields for other groups to cultivate.

Of all the vital and imaginative groups, none has so far matched the distinctiveness and power of the Beatles. True, their flirtation with drugs and the drop-out attitude behind songs like "A Day in the Life" disturbed many fans, not to mention worried parents. But although all four Beatles have admitted taking LSD at least occasionally, Paul McCartney has said, "I don't recommend it. It can open a few doors, but it's not any answer. You get the answers yourself."

When the Beatles talk, millions listen - and callow as their ideas sometimes are, the Beatles exemplify a refreshing distrust for authority, disdain for conventions and impatience with hypocrisy. Young people sense a quality of defiant honesty and admire their freedom and open-mindedness; they see them as peers who are in a position, and who can be relied on to tell them what they want to hear...

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