John. Paul. George. Ringo.
It's difficult to imagine a time when those four names were not burned into popular culture's lexicon.
But in 1964, The Beatles were just starting their ascent to word super-stardom. They had yet to break America with their astonishing debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, which lifted them to super-stardom. Twenty-three million households saw that performance, a record at the time.
In March of that year, the band began shooting their hugely-influential debut movie, A Hard Day’s Night. Shot in a faux-documentary style by Richard Lester, it featured the band playing “themselves”. A relatively low-budget, six week shoot that was seen as a quick cash-grab by United Artists, looking to tap into the growing reservoir of fans. The film’s overall quality ensured it was anything but.
The Beatles may now be thought of as squeaky clean, wholesome rockers that are a safe bet to play for all ages and sensibilities, but a closer look into their lyrics and legacy will probably make you think twice about that perception. Somehow "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" wasn't actually their most explicit moment ...
The Huffington Post has done quite a few dives into The Beatles over the last year and here are a few of the more scandalous details that somehow still aren't common knowledge.
Ignore the evidence of your own ears, dismiss the comments of eyewitnesses, scorn the testament of other musicians, reject the opinions of critics and historians, science has spoken: The Beatles were not really all that significant.
There is something very pompous and disdainful about the presentation of new research from the Queen Mary University of London and Imperial College suggesting the Fab Four did not spark the musical revolution they have long been credited with. “They were good looking boys with great haircuts but as far as their music was concerned they weren’t anything new,” according to Professor Armand Leroi, senior author of the paper. Now he sounds like a lot of fun at a party.
The impact of hip-hop's arrival on the pop music scene eclipsed that of the Beatles-led British invasion of 1964, a computer analysis of 17,000 songs has found.
The unusual study found three revolutions on the charts: the 1991 emergence of rap and hip-hop on mainstream charts; the synth-led new wave movement of 1983, and the advent of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who and other British rockers in the early 1960s.
Although the Beatles -- paced by the songwriting of John Lennon and Paul McCartney -- enjoy perhaps the highest place in critics' esteem, the researchers found the hip-hop movement -- from pioneers like Afrika Bambaataa to megastars like Jay-Z -- more profound.
It may seem foolhardy to compare Ben E. King, who died last week at age 76, with The Beatles. Their music and their backgrounds seem so totally different.
But King, himself, did that when this writer interviewed him for a 2005 Paste story about the late 1950s/early 1960s pop music associated with New York’s Brill Building. And he expressed hurt and complaint when he discussed what the Beatles did to the world he knew.
As the urbane baritone singer with both eloquently clear diction and an underlying streak of poignantly soulful gruffness, first with The Drifters and then solo, King worked with a record company (Atlantic), producers (Leiber and Stoller) and songwriters (Pomus and Shuman, Goffin and King, Phil Spector and Bert Berns) associated with the Brill Building’s heyday. He also was an excellent composer himself, co-writing “There Goes My Baby” and the gospel-influenced “Stand By Me.”
What makes a song timeless? It could be the harmony, the subject matter or something intangible that defies explanation. Creating a song may seem easy enough -- add some drums, bass, guitars and vocal -- but some musicians go above and beyond to deliver a unique listening experience. Berklee College of Music experts applied their expertise to figure out what instruments were used in Rolling Stone's Top 100 Songs of All Time. The instruments employed most often shouldn't surprise you, but what about the timpani, mouth harp or sleigh bells?
In 1962, the Beatles did not pass the audition.
January 1 of that year was supposed to be the Beatles’ huge break, as manager Brian Epstein had secured an audition with Decca Records. Decca A&R rep Mike Smith had attended the group’s December 13, 1961 Cavern Club show. Liking what he heard, he approached the Beatles and Epstein to record an audition tape for the label. The recording session was set for December 31, 1961. What followed was a virtual comedy of errors.
First, road manager and assistant Neil Aspinall agreed to drive the boys from Liverpool to Decca’s West Hampstead Studios. However, the group encountered a snowstorm during the trip, resulting in Aspinall getting lost. When they finally arrived at 10 p.m. December 31, they had been on the road over ten hours. Epstein (who had arrived earlier via train) and Smith rescheduled the session for the following day, hoping the boys would be well rested.
Celebrated at the time as a partial Beatles reunion, Paul McCartney’s “Take it Away” certainly starts that way, with an off-kilter rhythm courtesy of Ringo Starr and all of the tasteful hallmarks of a George Martin production — right down to the stoic piano accompaniment. But there was more to this standout track from Tug of War, released in April 1982.
The song’s most interesting new element, really, comes from 10cc alum Eric Stewart, whose presence clearly sparked Paul McCartney to dabble in some of that group’s now-famous layering of background vocals. “Take It Away” ends with a soaring loop of wordless sighs from a thousand Pauls, Erics and Lindas. A darker undertone surrounds the album, too, no matter how high that coda rises. That had more to do with the Beatle who wasn’t there, rather than the ones who were.
Pink Floyd recorded its 1967 debut just one studio over from the Beatles at Abbey Road studios. But that’s where the similarities between Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band end, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters says.
“I remember when Sgt. Pepper came out, pulling the car over into a lay by, and we sat there and listened to it,” Waters tells KLCS. “Somebody played the whole thing on the radio. And I can remember sitting in this old, beat up Zephyr Four, like that [sits for a long period, completely agape].”
You can hear the immediately influence of the Beatles’ “Lovely Rita” on “Pow R. Toc H.,” from Piper at the Gates of Dawn. But Roger Waters, then still in ascendency as the principal creative force in Pink Floyd, says his entire approach to songwriting was forever altered.
One day in 1968, Paul McCartney was driving his Aston Martin DB6 to visit John Lennon's son, Julian, when a song came into his head. There was a reel-to-reel tape recorder installed in the car's dashboard for moments just like this, so he turned it on and started recording.
This would have been the very first recording of the song that became "Hey, Jude." That Aston Martin is still around, and the carmaker let me take it out for a drive.
Indeed, this nearly 50-year-old "Goodwood Green" sedan was in very fine shape. The smooth wooden steering wheel felt good in my hands. The shifter slipped easily from gear. Fortunately, I'd been in England a few days by that time and had finally gotten used to driving on the "wrong" side of the road and shifting gears left-handed.