MMM 5 — Four lads who shook the world

Love Me Do was released 50 years ago – or at least, it was released 50 years before the day I started writing this, which technically is now yesterday.

Regardless, the Beatles’ first single is now 50 years old. I think it’s safe to assume those throngs of screaming girls are no longer holding out hope to have the Beatles’ babies – not when they’re 64.

I didn’t know about the anniversary when I planned to write my Oct. 5 entry about the Beatles; it’s just a happy coincidence. Really, I should have written about them earlier. Not that I’m writing in any order, or that I’m doing favorites first, but hey – when you get right down to it, the Beatles should be at the top of every list, regardless.

But on weeknights, I just don’t have the energy that it would take to do them justice. Come to think of it, I still don’t, and still can’t. How does a writer do justice to a band of such talent and influence? All I can do is share memories, like I’ve been doing for the other groups. Even that takes more than I’ve been able to put into this thing so far – I have too many Beatles-inspired memories. Some of them aren’t even my own; they’ve been narrated to me, because I was too young to remember them properly.

Last night, I wrote about my older brother Walter’s influence during my childhood. Tonight, I want to tell you about my older older brother – George – and his influence during my infancy.

I’ve hinted at my age before, but I’m going to have to just come out and say it now – I was born in August 1966. Obviously, the Beatles had long since made their grand entrance onto the American music scene – hell, they’d even fallen out of favor for the first time, just a few days prior – but the important thing to me is, they were still together.

They still had six albums in them when I was born – five of them released while they were still together. I only wish I could remember what it was like to hear a new Beatles album for the first time, while there was still the promise of more to come, and when I didn’t have to view it as an artifact.

Can you imagine what it would have been like to tear the shrinkwrap off of Sgt. Pepper or the White Album and to play it for the first time, having never heard a note of it on the radio? That was a privilege.

But I was three when they broke up, and I can’t remember any of it. It wasn’t for lack of effort on George’s part, though. He was still living at home – although I’m not sure that he or my parents could claim to be thrilled about it – and I know I heard my fill of Beatles, compliments of my big brother.

This was the late 60s, and George and his friends had somewhat embraced the counter-culture of the time. I don’t know if they considered themselves to be “hippies” but I’m pretty sure some of our neighbors applied the term liberally, and with derision. Maybe it was because of the dude who lived for a while in the back of George’s van.

It kinda looked like this, only without the logo and words. (Although the business name seems strangely appropriate….)

Somehow, George had gotten his hands on an old postal truck, which he painted flourescent orange and parked in the street in front of our house. Family legend has it that my parents found out about the guy living in it after he’d been there for a month, so they invited him inside to eat and bathe. I don’t know what became of him after that; he’s just a minor player in the history of George.

My first real memory of the van was climbing into it while George was in the house. You have to picture this thing as being built like a standard UPS truck, only much oranger. But it had one of those sliding doors on the passenger side – one that, when opened, leaves access to the van from top to bottom.

Anything could get into one of those vans when the door is open – even something normally too short to climb into a big truck. With the door open, there was a little staircase, making it all too easy – and all too tempting – for me to climb aboard. And once inside, it was just a small matter to get into the big driver’s seat.

There I sat, playing with the steering wheel, staring out the gigantic windshield, down the hilly street that we lived on – the very steep hilly street. I’m not sure exactly when or how I managed to disengage the parking brake; I’ve probably repressed that memory. All I remember is feeling a slight sensation of motion, looking out the door at the sidewalk moving by, and thinking, “Uh-oh.”

The next thing I knew, I saw George tearing out of the front door of the house, his long, straight hair seemingly parallel to the ground as it flew behind him. He jumped through the open door and pushed me aside as he fell into the driver’s seat, his foot furiously searching for the brake pedal. He managed to stop the van before it crested the sidewalk at the bottom of the hill, and there’s really nothing more exciting that happened after that.

This memory, of course, has nothing to do with the Beatles – but in my head, as I replay it, somewhere I’m hearing Helter Skelter in the background. “When I get to the bottom, I go back to the top of the slide, / Where I stop, and I turn, and I go for a ride…” is right there, in the middle of this memory. I don’t know if it was actually playing on the van’s radio – probably not, because it would have been irresponsible of George to leave his keys in the ignition – or if I just associate the White Album with him and the van.

I was two and a half when that album came out. I have a very faint memory of George singing Rocky Raccoon to me – undoubtedly the inspiration for me to make that my sons’ bedtime song many years later. Of course, I hope I don’t carry the same sense of danger with me, and I know I never smelled like incense when I sang it to them.

Apparently, George’s friends used to come over to listen to the White Album, and I used to climb upstairs to listen to it with them. One of my sisters once told me George had a friend named Steve Funk who came over regularly to worship at the rotating altar, and that whenever I saw him at the door, I’d run around the house, squealing, “Steve Fuck! Steve Fuck id heah!”

George and Steve wore their vinyl out, and I took in every scratchy note. I remember seeing the sleeves for the White Album, Yellow Submarine, and Let It Be spread around George’s floor – can still see them very vividly. I relished the artwork on Yellow Submarine, particularly – after all, it was a cartoon.

And I loved the songs on it, from the mindlessly catchy All Together Now to the acidic It’s All Too Much, which was nevertheless tempered by a very cool horn arrangement at the end. But my favorite song was Hey Bulldog – I think I dug the wicked-sounding piano that opened it, and of course loved hearing Paul McCartney howl like a dog, bringing that fit of screaming, maniacal laughter from John Lennon. I loved every second of that song.

But then I forgot about it. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because George moved out, leaving his albums behind on a shelf, where I didn’t know how to coax those marvelous sounds out of them. Or maybe I repressed all things Beatles after the near miss with the van.

A couple years later, we went to visit George at his house in the woods. When we pulled in, we saw a raccoon foraging around his wood pile. It looked up at us, then went right back to what it was doing. I was too young to pick up on any sort of threat, but I got the feeling my mom wasn’t happy at the fact that this raccoon didn’t seem visibly threatened by us. Until George rounded the corner, and picked the damn thing up.

My brother had a pet raccoon. A pet. Raccoon. He had rescued it from a trap, where it had lost one of its legs. It stayed with him, hobbling around his yard, coming and going as it pleased, often coming into the house through an open window. This was amazing, but what’s really dumb-founding is, when George told me the name he’d given the raccoon, I had no idea why. He called it “Rocky.” And that didn’t register with me. I had forgotten about all the times I’d listened with George, looking at album covers. I had forgotten the Beatles.

Years later, I met a couple of guys in high school who were big time into camping and hiking. I went on some overnighters with them, then made plans for the summer after our sophomore year – we spent a very memorable ten days hiking and camping out on the C&O Canal. One of their moms dropped us off at the start of the trail early one morning, and she made us listen to Muzac for the whole drive.

Once she’d dropped us off and we’d started walking, one of them said, “Did you hear what they did to Penny Lane? God, I hate it when someone turns the Beatles into Muzak!”

When I asked what Penny Lane is, I thought they were going to toss me over the bank. But they calmed down, and one of them suggested a time-passing game as we walked – we’d go through the alphabet, and when one player got a letter, he’d have to name a Beatles song beginning with that letter. The next player would get the next letter, etc.

They started with me, and I managed to pull All You Need Is Love out of, well, something else that starts with “A.” The next guy named Blue Jay Way – another tune I didn’t remember. Next came Can’t Buy Me Love, and “D” came back to me. I had nothing.

They were incredulous. One of them practically screamed, “What about Dear Prudence? You must have heard that; it’s only the second song on the White Album!”

I didn’t have the heart to ask what the White Album is. But they realized I didn’t know, and took it upon themselves to educate me. All that week, they named and sang songs, pointed out when one was playing on a store radio whenever we left the trail to buy supplies, and shared little tidbits of trivia. One of them spoke fondly of a “red album” and a “blue album” and I thought it strange that the Beatles: 1) named their albums by color, and 2) chose the color scheme most closely associated with American patriotism.

I didn’t realize, of course, that 1) the red and blue albums were compilations, 2) the Beatles hadn’t named those two, and 3) they hadn’t named any album by color; those monikers were nicknames given by fans. But I found out soon enough, deciding that the rest of the summer would be for my re-education.

No sooner were we home from the hike-athon than I was begging my mom to drive me to the Leesburg Kmart, so I could look over their album selection. When I saw the cover to Let It Be, most of the memories came tumbling back. I saw albums strewn about George’s nappy rug, and a scratched record spinning on his turntable. I heard the songs again in my head – everything except the tracks on Yellow Submarine.

I asked for the red, white and blue albums for my birthday, and set about soaking up every bit of Beatles trivia I could. I found a used copy of Nicholas Schaffner’s “Beatles Forever” and devoured it. Over the next few years, I bought every Beatles album I could find – except Yellow Submarine. I wanted Beatles songs, not George Martin’s score!

Regardless, I had an appreciation for just how amazing this band had been – what they’d accomplished, how they’d grown, and what their legacy was. I was a full-fledged Beatles fanatic. And there was a song that I remembered hearing in George’s room as a toddler, a song that had spoken to me even then. That song was Let It Be, an anthemic bit of musicianship and philosophy that could instantly put my soul at rest.

The song includes some of Paul McCartney’s best lyrics, and is downright beatific to me. Even Billy Preston’s keyboards sound like a church organ in parts, and on the album version of the song, George Harrison’s thunder crack of a guitar lead provides the fire and brimstone to Paul’s tender ministrations.

As loathe as I am to pick a “favorite” Beatles song – just wait until you see my list of also-rans for this one – I have to admit nothing can top Let It Be for me. It became my favorite album over time, too, and my college roommate and I used to argue about which album was their best – Let It Be or Abbey Road. (That’s kind of a trick question, because the answer is obviously Revolver. Unless it’s Rubber Soul.)

That roommate and I used to discuss the Beatles ad nauseum, to the point where it annoyed the people around us. At one point, his girlfriend bet us we couldn’t go for an entire weekend’s worth of parties without one of us mentioning the Beatles to the other. We made it, but just barely, and only then by speaking in code.

A mutual friend was talking to me about it once, and said while he doesn’t have the same appreciation that we do, he could understand the obsession and the constant analysis. “It’s like a puzzle to you guys, and you’re trying to figure it out.”

Brilliant. He’s absolutely right. It’s a puzzle, and one that I’m still working on at 46 – even though one more piece fell into place my senior year.

I was at a block party in an apartment complex when I ran into another friend of mine. I was trying to find a bathroom, and he told me he knew someone who lived there. We walked up to their patio, and my friend slid open the glass doors.

When I came out of the bathroom, he was kneeling in front of the entertainment center, looking through his friend’s LPs. “Hey, Dan, remember this one?” he asked, holding up Yellow Submarine. I was tipsy enough to lack inhibtion, so I answered, “Sure! Put it on!”

Four songs blew my mind that afternoon – the same four that had blown it when I was three. It wasn’t so much an “Aha!” moment as an “Oh, yeah!” one, with me remembering the brilliance from my childhood.

So that memory was now complete, but the puzzle wasn’t. (Still isn’t, in fact.) And, even though Hey Bulldog got my blood pumping, it still couldn’t unseat my favorite – the homage to Mother Mary (which wasn’t a religious reference, as this Catholic child had thought for so long, but was actually a reference to Paul’s deceased mother, Mary).

And if you aren’t sure which track I’m talking about, then check out the video  – there will be an answer…

Lyrics:

When I find myself in times of trouble,
Mother Mary comes to me,
Speaking words of wisdom:
“Let it be.”

And in my hour of darkness,
She is standing right in front of me,
Speaking words of wisdom:
“Let it be.”

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom: “Let it be.”

And when the broken-hearted people
Living in the world agree,
There will be an answer:
“Let it be.”

For though they may be parted,
There is still a chance that they will see.
There will be an answer:
“Let it be.”

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be.
Yeah, there will be an answer: “Let it be.”

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom: “Let it be.”

Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom: “Let it be.”

And when the night is cloudy,
There is still a light that shines on me.
Shine until tomorrow;
Let it be.

I wake up to the sound of music;
Mother Mary comes to me,
Speaking words of wisdom:
“Let it be.”

Yeah, let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be.
Oh, there will be an answer: let it be.

Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be.
Oh, there will be an answer: let it be.

Let it be, let it be, oh, let it be, yeah, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom: “Let it be.”

—–

Also-rans:

  • I Saw Her Standing There, Please Please Me
  • Twist and Shout, Please Please Me
  • She Loves You (Single)
  • It Won’t Be Long, With the Beatles
  • Don’t Bother Me, With the Beatles
  • Not a Second Time, With the Beatles
  • I Want to Hold Your Hand (Single)
  • A Hard Day’s Night, A Hard Day’s Night
  • Any Time at All, A Hard Day’s Night
  • I’ll Cry Instead, A Hard Day’s Night
  • Things We Said Today, A Hard Day’s Night
  • You Can’t Do That, A Hard Day’s Night
  • I’ll Be Back, A Hard Day’s Night
  • I Feel Fine (Single)
  • No Reply, Beatles for Sale
  • I’m a Loser, Beatles for Sale
  • Rock and Roll Music, Beatles for Sale
  • Every Little Thing, Beatles for Sale
  • I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party, Beatles for Sale
  • What You’re Doing, Beatles for Sale
  • The Night Before, Help!
  • I Need YouHelp!
  • Another Girl, Help!
  • You’re Going to Lose That Girl, Help!
  • Ticket to Ride, Help!
  • You Like Me Too Much, Help!
  • Tell Me What You See, Help!
  • I’ve Just Seen a Face, Help!
  • I’m Down (Single)
  • We Can Work It Out (Single)
  • Drive My Car, Rubber Soul
  • You Won’t See Me, Rubber Soul
  • Think for YourselfRubber Soul
  • The Word, Rubber Soul
  • I’m Looking Through You, Rubber Soul
  • In My Life, Rubber Soul
  • Wait, Rubber Soul
  • If I Needed Someone, Rubber Soul
  • Paperback Writer (Single)
  • Rain (Single)
  • Taxman, Revolver
  • Eleanor Rigby, Revolver
  • I’m Only Sleeping, Revolver
  • Love You To, Revolver
  • And Your Bird Can SingRevolver
  • For No One, Revolver
  • I Want to Tell You, Revolver
  • Tomorrow Never Knows, Revolver
  • A Day in the Life, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  • All You Need Is Love (Single)
  • I Am the Walrus, Magical Mystery Tour
  • Lady Madonna (Single)
  • Hey Jude (Single)
  • Revolution (Single)
  • Back in the U.S.S.R., The BEATLES (The White Album)
  • While My Guitar Gently WeepsThe BEATLES 
  • Blackbird, The BEATLES 
  • Savoy Truffle, The BEATLES
  • Hey Bulldog, Yellow Submarine
  • Don’t Let Me Down (Single)
  • The Ballad of John and Yoko (Single)
  • Come Together, Abbey Road
  • Something, Abbey Road
  • Here Comes the Sun, Abbey Road
  • You Never Give Me Your Money, Abbey Road
  • Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End, Abbey Road
  • Two of Us, Let It Be
  • Across the Universe, Let It Be
  • I Me Mine, Let It Be
  • I’ve Got a Feeling, Let It Be
  • The Long and Winding Road, Let It Be
  • Get Back, Let It Be

—–

I am the egg spin.

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About Dan Bain

Dan is an award-winning humorist, features writer, emcee and entertainer from Raleigh, NC. His collection of humor essays, A Nay for Effort, has earned him fans from one end of his couch to the other. Why not join them and buy one? (You won't have to sit on his couch.) Dan will donate 10 percent of the book's proceeds to education. You can check it out at www.danbain.net; thanks!
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One Response to MMM 5 — Four lads who shook the world

  1. Pingback: MMM 6 — Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans | Bain Waves

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