Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Layer 193 . 09.09.09 and Beatlemania

Beatlemania – A Girl Thing

High on the news agenda today is the release of the entire works of the Beatles on digitally remastered CDs. For several days now there's been high excitement and sheer hype, as well as lots of documentaries and magazine articles, about the Beatles. There's also going to be an announcement that Apple (computers) are going to start selling Beatles tracks on iTunes.

Beatlemania was essentially a girl thing. Whereas - the Stones, the Animals, the Kinks, the Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, being mainly scruffy and rough-looking long-haired  guys singing their interpretations of the blues and rhythm & blues in the early 60s, were primarily a bloke thing. I never knew a girl in the 60s who was a big blues fan. They did exist, and they went to gigs, but they were in the minority. Whereas the Beatles played to concerts that were overwhelmingly full of screaming teenage girls.

This is most apparent on the footage of the Ed Sullivan Show, where guys in the audience were vastly outnumbered by screaming girls. The few guys that are caught on camera sat in near-isolation and silence, and are practically immobile as the surrounding girls bounced around and screamed. Loudly!

The Beatles, post-Love Me Do with its bluesy harmonica – that's to say from their second single onwards - were primarily inspired by rock n roll, soul and Tamla. Which is not a bad thing! I loved those genres too. Theirs was more of a melodic, up-tempo, major chord kind of a thing; a Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Smokey Robinson, Holland Dozier Holland, Elvis, Carl Perkins, Lieber & Stoller, Berry Gordy and Buddy Holly kind of a thing.

'Merseybeat' was mainly a girl thing. Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Swinging Blue Jeans, Freddie and the Dreamers, Herman's Hermits and indeed the Merseybeats were pretty much a girl thing. They all produced some good records, and some good songs, but their appeal was primarily a girl thing, based on pretty boy looks, groovy clothes and catchy pop songs. Lots of guys got off on it as well. Lots of guys didn't 'get' the Stones, the Animals and the Fleetwood Mac.

Even by their fourth album, Beatles For Sale (1964), the Beatles were still recording for this 'LP' some classic rock n roll songs like Rock & Roll Music (Chuck Berry), Kansas City (Lieber-Stoller), Words of Love (Buddy Holly), Honey Don't (Carl Perkins) and Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby (Carl Perkins). At that time many of those songs were unknown to most Brits, and for that matter unknown to a lot of Americans too. The Beatles' recordings helped to popularise and promote them. The writers of those songs probably got rich on Beatles royalties alone.

For me the Beatles' best ever track was the sardonic 'Money', sung by John, and written by Bradford & Gordy.

"Money (That's What I Want)" is a 1959 hit single by Barrett Strong for the Tamla label, distributed by Anna Records. The song was written by Tamla founder Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford, and would become the first hit record for Gordy's Motown flagship label. - Wikipedia *


Here's a weird website -

Paul Morley's an interesting guy. Too far up his own arse, but interesting.

Why does this article (Imagine a world without the Beatles - Would anyone except Oasis notice the difference?) irritate me so much? It took a while to figure it out, but eventually I realised it's partly because of his writing style, but mainly because Mr M completely misses an important point.

He completely fails to mention an enormously important aspect of the Beatles' attraction, which is that they were extremely good looking (though Ringo was more what you'd called quirky or funky) and they were sexy as hell. Apparently. You can ask any girl from back then.

Of course Mr Morley wouldn't be aware of that because he was far too young at that time. Strange that he hasn't caught up in the meantime though.

I'll have to explain this as best I can, to the best of my memory. The Beatles' power and attraction came from a variety of sources, such as their charisma, their insolence, their charm, their iconoclasm (admitting to drug-taking!), their wit, and most of all their looks and their sexuality. None of these things had anything to do with their music.

On the musical front they sang well, they had great harmonies, they were original and inventive and eclectic. They were also aided and abetted by George Martin on the technical and creative front.

But how important were they musically? How much impact did they have on the history and the development of popular music? Let's start by considering the Stones and Hendrix, whose music was based on the blues and its derivative, rhythm and blues. Bear with this.

The Mississippi delta (acoustic blues) and urban Chicago (electric blues) were far more important than Liverpool or the Beatles in purely musical terms. The people who were the true originals and creative geniuses – those who created the templates and the musical standards for others to aim for – were a whole lot of  individuals ranging from Robert Johnson to Muddy Waters, and included blues and jazz greats such as John Lee Hooker, Louis Jordan, Cab Calloway, T-Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner, BB King, Ray Charles and Slim Gaillard.

Their legacy was picked up by the likes of Chuck Berry and Little Richard, and white guys like Eddie Cochran, Bill Hailey, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Elvis, and turned into rock n roll.

The British bands that loved, admired and were inspired to follow in the blues tradition in the early 60s were the likes of Alexis Korner, John Mayall, the Stones, the Animals and Fleetwood Mac. Lennon was also into the blues. Hendrix took the blues to new levels of expression and musical genius.

McCartney was more of a Chuck Berry and Little Richard kind of a guy – in a line of great vocalists, great showmen and great rhythm kings, who were also great with words and witty lyrics. Which is not a put-down by any means. Those guys also had originality and genius, but of a type that began and ended with the individual performer and song-writer, working within genres that others had created and developed. They didn't create or develop a genre, unless you think Chuck was an improvement on Louis Jordan, for example, or Paul an improvement on Chuck.

The Beatles were never great as musicians or performers, except maybe in their Cavern and Hamburg days, when they were fresh, new, raw and exciting.

They wrote some great songs, were great entertainers, and with George Martin they made some great records. And above all they had that charisma, those good looks and they had sexuality. Girls wanted to kiss them and make love to them. Girls wet their knickers with excitement.

They were photogenic and they could fool around in front of news, documentary and feature film cameras. They knew how to charm and how to market themselves, and they played the role of 'Beatles' to perfection, until they got tired of it, and it all became too much of a strain, individually and collectively.

Ultimately they became rock and roll casualties, vacuous and remote. NB Polythene Pam, Maxwell's Silver Hammer and Octopus's Garden – all on Abbey Road, reckoned by some to be a great album. Jolly little ditties do not a great musician or great songwriter make.

Even worse were Two Of Us (Riding Nowhere!), Dig A Pony(even with its name-check of BB King and Matt Busby), I Me Mine, Let It Be, Maggie Mae, I Got A Feeling, One After 909, The Long and Winding Road and Get Back – all of them on Let It Be, the final album. No wonder they gave up after that.

All of those tracks are complete unlistenable rubbish, and insulting rubbish - to think that they expected people to pay full price for half-baked uncreative, derivative crap like that. George Harrison, bless him, made some jokey references to 12 bar blues, Chuck Berry and Elmore James on 'For You Blue', but nothing any of them could do could possibly redeem that appalling album. This was Paul's big beard phase. Please!

The one decent song from those Abysmal Road sessions was written by George and didn't make it on to the album – only on to the 'anthology' that was released much later – All Things Must Pass. Amen to that.

Sunrise doesn't last all morning
A cloudburst doesn't last all day
Seems my love is up and has left you with no warning
Its not always going to be this grey

All things must pass
All things must pass away

Sunset doesn't last all evening
A mind can blow those clouds away
After all this, my love is up and must be leaving
Its not always going to be this grey

All things must pass
All things must pass away
All things must pass
None of life's strings can last
So, I must be on my way
And face another day

Now the darkness only stays the night-time
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
Its not always going to be this grey

All things must pass
All things must pass away
All things must pass
All things must pass away

This song became the starting point for George's great album of the same name, which he recorded immediately post-Beatles.

The strange thing is that in those desperate last days, apart from George, who clearly knew the gig was up, they were still trying to hark back to their roots, and they half-heartedly recorded Rip It Up, Shake Rattle and Roll and Blue Suede Shoes – tracks which also appeared only on the Anthology CD. Paul even came up with an appalling ditty called Teddy Boy, which Lennon understandably and mercilessly took the piss out of, even as they were working on it. This rock n roll medley was a precursor to the rock and roll album Lennon subsequently released as a solo album, but on the anthology it just sounds like a very sad and pathetic, and nostalgic, attempt to recapture the glory days, or possibly the pre-glory days, when they were just the Prefab Four.

Paul, post-Beatles, never wrote a decent song. John became a recluse. He reinvented himself and was on the way to a new and better place, making good and original music, when he was shot.

George, the 'spiritual' one, did very well to move onwards and upwards and became a considerable artist in his own right, ultimately making some brilliant music as a Travelling Wilbury.

But if it's profundity, originality and sheer artistry you need and you're looking for, then post-60s it's not music influenced by the Beatles you go to. You have to look to the real masters of lyrics and melody and soulful expression - Dylan, Cohen, Jagger/Richards and Springsteen. Maybe a dash of Van Morrison and Neil Young as well.

What the Beatles did better than anybody before or since was make huge numbers of girls wet their knickers, and Paul Morley is seemingly oblivious to that crucial aspect of their career and their fame. This was a not inconsiderable talent.

Their music was good, and sometimes very good. They could sing, and they created great harmonies. They looked good, they dressed well, and on a good day they were droll and acerbic, vaguely anti-establishment and vaguely counter-culture, in a millionaire kind of a way. You couldn't ignore them.

But in the end, if you were a guy, you didn't really want to wear a 'Beatle suit', or have a Beatle haircut. Whereas you did want to be a Mod, or a Rocker, and later on a hippie. The Beatles were important, but not that important. They were 'lovable', or likeable, and extremely marketable, at least during the period that Brian Epstein was their manager and they were so desperate to be successful they willingly did as they were told.

After Epstein's death, and after Yoko's arrival on the scene, they became a bit of a shambles as far as music, creativity and band unity was concerned. No doubt the ego inflation and the drugs didn't really help either. The deadening and the paranoia were very apparent.

And in the end, what did it all amount to? John became a recluse and a homemaker whilst his so-called 'artist' wife got on with becoming a businesswoman who took care of the family business. Paul recorded Mull of Kintyre. Ringo disappeared to America.

George was the one who got better and better, as any true artist should. Paul could never have passed an audition to become a Wilbury. As far as musicianship and songwriting was concerned he was way below the level of Dylan, Roy Orbison and even Tom Petty.

Paul's inclination was towards Michael Jackson and, well, Linda. Nothing wrong with that. Just not very credible as an artist, which he certainly had been, in the beginning, alongside John, George and Ringo.

You can hear Paul's uninspired version of  George's All Things Must Pass on Spotify, a performance he did at the 'Concert for George'  - though personally I wouldn't bother.

    Postscript – Money (from Wikipedia)

"I Need Some Money," a song John Lee Hooker may have been performing live for some time previous to 1959, has lyrics that are more than coincidentally similar to "Money (That's What I Want)". For example, even though the music is different, the first verses are:

"The best thing in life is free
But you can give it to the birds an' bees
I need some money, Need some money. Oh yeah, what I want"


"The best things in life are free
But you can keep 'em for the birds and bees
Now give me money, (that's what I want) that's what I want."

The question of which lyrics came first never seems to have been settled in any formal way; John Lee Hooker has full composition credits for "I Need Some Money", and it has been independently covered by other artists such as James Blood Ulmer and The Doors.


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