2 PM: Scott Erickson
3 PM: Joe DeJesu
For the next 12 months, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog will each month move track-by-track through the magical LP that was Rubber Soul. Many people consider Revolver to be The Beatles’ “transitional” LP. Others, including myself, think the pivot point in The Beatles’ career was Rubber Soul. John Lennon, in fact, stated that Rubber Soul was “the album on which The Beatles began dominating the recording process.” (Hertsgaard, 168-169) In almost every way, the late 1965 LP was a bold directional change. Let me explain…
They had more than a month to devote to the new LP — a luxury never before afforded to the lads. Please Please Me — comprised of a few original songs and a plethora of numbers from their old Cavern Club show — had been honed on the Helen Shapiro Tour bus and recorded in a single day. The songs for A Hard Day’s Night had been written in between concerts in a Georges Cinq hotel room in Paris, January 1964. And the country-and-western themed tunes for Beatles for Sale had been hastily churned out prior to the 1964 North American Tour, refined in “catch-as-catch-can” moments on tour, and recorded in a handful of days immediately following the tour. Never had the boys ever been given a full month dedicated solely to the planning, writing, polishing, and recording of a new LP.
But the results of such an extravagance were well worth the wait…and the devotion. Rubber Soul was, according to New York Times and Rolling Stone journalist/author Mark Hertsgaard in A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of The Beatles, “…the finest album to date, and some say, [The Beatles’] finest album ever. With Rubber Soul, The Beatles offered, for the first time, an album with virtually no weak spots. It was made up of songs that were immediately captivating and enduring.” (p. 167)
The motifs of the late autumn 1965 LP were significantly more mature than the subject matter found on earlier albums. The popular themes of “she loves you,” “I love you,” and “you love me” were superseded by complex, mature, adult themes: struggling relationships (“Think for Yourself,” “What Goes On,” “Girl,” and “I’m Looking Through You”), casual dalliances (“Drive My Car” and “If I Needed Someone”), adultery and female-scorned liaisons (“Norwegian Wood” and “Drive My Car”), deep-seated jealousy and anger (“Run for Your Life”), and lingering self-doubt (“Nowhere Man”). But the album’s catalog was also graced with emotional songs of friendship and love, such as “In My Life,” “Wait,” and “Michelle.” And there is even a track, “The Word,” which celebrates agape love, that universal bond that could ultimately bring us all together.
Not only are the themes of Rubber Soul more developed and considered, but the music itself is also enriched with variety. The enchanting harmonium work in “The Word,” “We Can Work It Out,” and more subtly, in “If I Needed Someone” is sublime, as is the harpsichord-sounding piano in “In My Life.” Harrison’s sitar work (once pared down a bit from the overpowering first takes) makes “Norwegian Wood” soar. And McCartney’s fuzz bass in “Think for Yourself” enhances the power of Harrison’s lyrics. Wonderfully, the Beatles signature techniques, such as handclaps and three-part harmony, are still present and still viable as the boys retain their unique identity. Indeed, in Rubber Soul, nothing is abandoned but much is added.
Given the opportunity to focus entirely on their work, the late 1965 Beatles raised an already-elevated bar. Their lyrics became edgier, allowing the listener to investigate myriad levels of meaning. Their story songs offered multiple conclusions. And as they embraced global influences (such as The Byrds in “If I Needed Someone,” The Yardbirds in “Norwegian Wood,” and Dylan on many of the new tracks), the boys rose to equal their peers and surpass them.
Noted Beatles music experts have widely varying theories about why Rubber Soul affected (and still continues to affect) listeners so powerfully. Some point to the music; others, to the unique Scouse wit, and still others, to poetic lyrics. And all of this mattered. But one can’t ignore the importance of the record’s inherent vulnerability as a tremendous point of connectivity.
In almost every song on the Parlophone LP, one or more of The Beatles is admitting weakness. And in the words of St. Paul, “…when I am weak, I am strong.” John, Paul, George, and Ringo find a universal connection to their fans in simply confessing that they — just like the members of their audience — often feel isolated, lonely, afraid, frustrated, angry, and unfulfilled. The Fab Four are no longer “fab.” In Rubber Soul, they become human. They emerge “a bit like you and me.”
In his classic work, Tell Me Why, Tim Riley states, “Rubber Soul intensified the bond with the audience…it drew [The Beatles] closer to their listeners, as the frenzy of their tours continued to isolate them.” (p. 153) By freely admitting their own flaws, failures, and fears, The Beatles bridged the gap that the stadium fans were always trying to hurdle. The band dismantled that barrier. In Rubber Soul, the fans and The Beatles find an avenue to “come together.”
I can’t wait to explore this album with you as over the next twelve months we walk, track-by-track though Rubber Soul. Up first, we’ll take a fresh look at “Drive My Car” with noted author, Dr. Kenneth Womack (author of the best-selling new work, John Lennon 1980) about this clever opening track. Join us in just a few days, and our Rubber Soul adventure will begin!
::: By Jude Southerland Kessler :::
As we, here at the Fest, continue our look at The Beatles in their months together, we wish you all peace…not only globally, but locally. The traumatic stresses of disease, isolation, financial loss, injustice, and violence have shaken us all over the last sixty days. We face a world filled with need, fear, anger, and resentment. As we walk through June 2020, what can we learn from The Beatles in four of their Junes together? What advice might they silently offer us? Let’s find out…
June 1964 – After 13 long days absent due to illness, Ringo was finally prepared to rejoin The Beatles’ first World Tour. Collapsing amidst a photo shoot on 3 June, he’d endured a nasty bout of tonsillitis and 11 days in University College Hospital, London. Now, however, Starr was suited-up to fly Pan Am from London to Australia to reconnoiter with his Liverpool mates. During Ringo’s absence, Jimmie Nicol (an excellent drummer in his own right, who very fortunately knew all of The Beatles songs and wore Ringo’s exact suit size…see The Beatle Who Vanished by Jim Berkenstadt for more info) had been standing in (er, sitting in) for Starr in Holland, Hong Kong, and Australia. And so, for one brief day on 14 June…there were myriad publicity photos of The Beatles with two drummers! But right away, Richard Starkey was back on the podium, banging away and flashing his winning Scouse grin. His throat was still a bit ragged but his humour was intact. When a reporter asked him, “Do you think your tonsillitis might change the group’s sound?”, Ringo chortled and said, “Only for a few days when I can’t sing…if you can call it singin’!” And the Fab Four were reunited.
June 1966 – June was always Brian Epstein’s “month of choice” for World Tours. And 1966 was no exception to that rule. On 23 June, The Beatles left London Airport in Heathrow bound for Germany…the country where they’d cut their teeth as teenagers, performing in Hamburg. Their first night in Hamburg — August 1960 — the four Beatles (with Pete Best as their drummer) played to 6 very disappointed male customers who’d strolled down to the dark end of the Reeperbahn to see strippers — only to find 4 singing British boys instead! Somehow, The Beatles won over even those reluctant patrons, and in just a few weeks, the lads were so popular that they were promoted to a much larger venue: the Kaiserkeller. Now, two years later, John, Paul, George, and Ringo were billed as headliners in the stately halls of Munich and Essen, and tickets sold as quickly as they were printed. One reporter, disdaining the price of admission, callously asked John Lennon, “If you had to buy a ticket for your own performance how much would you pay for it?” John, in typical Lennonesque fashion, swiftly returned, “Oh, we know the manager, so we get in free.” The charm that had courted reluctant punters way back in 1960 was still very much alive.
June 1967 – Done with touring forever, June of 1967 held not a World Tour this time, but a worldwide event! The Beatles had been chosen to represent Britain in the prestigious 25 June One World television special, slated to be broadcast live via satellite to 400 million viewers on 5 continents. And the song they’d selected to sing was truly, as Brian Epstein observed, “spine-chilling…the best thing they’d ever done.” It was, of course, John Lennon’s “All You Need is Love,” written specifically for the momentous affair. On 21 June, the boys began working on this landmark song in studio. Heads together as one, they prepared the anthem of peace, eager to send it out to a world heavily laden with the Vietnam conflict, Civil Rights unrest, military coups, wars, and entrenched divides. With a deep longing for concord, the boys tried to convey a simple message that would speak to all nations. As John later said, “It was a fabulous time…peace and love, people putting flowers in guns.” But as The Beatles, that night, focused globally and not locally, none of them realised that evening, that 21 June marked the very last time that Brian would ever be with them as they created in EMI. A pivotal moment went unnoticed.
June 1968 – After weeks and weeks of severe depression following John’s separation from Cynthia and from his son, Julian…weeks in which John Lennon actually contemplated suicide, the end of June 1968 found him finally rebounding with a new zest for life, as he prepared his You Are Here art exhibit slated to open on 1 July. The theme of the show was new beginnings and rebirth. As John and Yoko planned to dress entirely in white, to release 365 balloons to the world containing hopeful messages, and to zero in on John’s newly focused avant garde artiste side rather than his rocker image, “original” was the order of the day. John was, in effect, “starting over,” initiating a new life with a new lady at his side and a new message of peace. After months of agony, John had found a way to move forward.
You know, just when we think we’re alone in our struggles, we find it: the very mirror image of our griefs in the lives of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The burdens we face, they faced. Every one.
Illness. Ringo’s ongoing struggles with health began early in life as he spent a myriad of formative years in sanitarium healing from the after-effects of a ruptured appendix and peritonitis. Then later, at age 13, he was back in hospital and long-term care again with complications from pleurisy and “effusion on the lung.” Even as a young adult, Ringo was frequently niggled with severe tonsillitis until he finally underwent surgery in December 1964. Yet rarely, if ever, do we hear Ringo complaining about the lost years in school with friends of his own age. Rarely does he moan over the lost days and weeks he might’ve spent with his family or the isolation of sanitarium life. Instead, he talks about the nurse who supplied him with a drum and the positive outlook those years gave him. To quote Hunter Davies in The Beatles, “[Ringo] never remembered himself unhappy. He thinks he had a good childhood.” (p. 148) Hmm!
Criticism. No one faced more venom from the press and public than The Beatles did. At first, journalists were gleefully “on board,” promoting and praising the British phenoms. But by late 1964, the press was hungrily seeking a chink in the Fab Armor. They were whispering about “Beatle dissention” and possible break-ups, about the Lennons divorcing, about unfair ticket prices and unkind treatment of the fans. The Beatles lived in a fishbowl, always under scrutiny. And for the most part, (yes, there were days when the boys, too, were resentful) they faced it all with humour and wit. Under adversity, The Beatles endured.
Global darkness. 1967’s grim world must have seemed unbearably oppressive to our boys. By June of ‘67, 448,800 young souls had been lost in Vietnam. June race riots in Detroit left 43 slain. Marches on Washington and rampant U.S. draft card burning events filled the headlines. In June, the Six Day War erupted in the Middle East, and the Nigerian Civil War boiled over in July. Turning their eyes globally, the boys might have missed the joys at their very elbows: the singular gift of a night in studio with their devoted manager, Brian Epstein. They might have been so intent on speaking out to a hurting world that they failed to treasure the simple and fleeting joys given to them, so close at hand. In this, too, there is wisdom for us to gather.
In each of these instances, The Beatles remind us to move forward…to keep reinventing ourselves, to keep pushing ahead. If one life phase subsides, then we can emerge into “Something New.” If the world threatens to overwhelm us, we can turn to those we love at hand. If we are heavy-laden, we can seek humor, music, faith, and friendship. We can work it out.
The Beatles never ever had a day without enormous obstacles to overcome: family losses, health challenges, public criticism, unrelenting work schedules. Yet, by simply putting one foot in front of the other, they kept going. It is a phrase we Beatles fans repeat without really thinking about it…but this month, we must make it our mantra: Shine On. You can do this, one step at a time. Shine on!
::: By Jude Southerland Kessler :::
If you haven’t watched “Outlander,” you should.
This science fiction/romance TV series is addictive — perhaps because, unlike many programs, it is both uplifting and inspiring. This isn’t to say that there aren’t complications, hitches, and plot lines that make each episode’s ending nail-biting…but overall, the story is one of a life’s devotion.
The series theme song, “The Skye Boat Song,” is a lovely and haunting adaptation of an old Scottish ballad about “bonnie Prince Charlie,” but the words have been altered to tell the tale of the show’s female protagonist, Claire Randall. And as I was listening to it a few nights ago, I was touched by one line that described this beautiful and bold healer as “merry of soul.” What an incredible tribute to be thought of as “merry of soul”! I know a few people who fit that bill.
One (perhaps) fictional figure who certainly matches that description is the quite seasonal Santa Claus. With his hearty “ho, ho, ho’s” and his year-in-year-out dedication to giving gifts to one and all, he is described as having “dimples [so] merry.” And ah, that magnificent smile of his! It makes me grin, just imagining it.
The Beatles, too — well, The Beatles of 1958-1964 — were also “merry of soul.” With their mickey-taking and inside jokes, silly walks and dances, sly innuendos and double entendres, and their enjoyment in making music, they drew us, unashamedly, to them. They were utterly joyous.
I think of them insisting, over Brian’s reluctance, that they make a 1964 holiday record for their fans. I think of them singing that nonsensical “Good King Wenceslas” and then, stepping up to the microphone to read their personal Christmas greetings. Merry! So many scenes from those early years were exactly that! You can’t watch The Beatles on the Feb. 1964 Washington, D.C. stage-in-the-round without absorbing their sheer delight! You can’t hear them on Live at the BBC, Vol. 1 without feeling their pleasure in being exactly who they are.
Right now, I’m working away on Vol. 5 in The John Lennon Series, where 1965 begins to take its toll. The book will be entitled Shades of Life because by this point in their career, John, Paul, George, and Ringo had begun to feel the tug and pull of Beatlemania — the grind of making a yearly film, doing two annual LPs, going out on a second World Tour, enduring yet another North American Tour, and grinding out one more U.K. tour while also giving interviews, doing television specials, starring on radio shows, and living complicated private lives. The unrelenting schedule was stripping these young men of vibrance and colour. The boys were becoming grey automatons — working incessantly, without a bit of bright.
I can empathize. I bet you can as well. Life is taxing. Having moved 32 times in the last 42 years, and facing yet another move this year, I am tired. Spending most of my time doing things I have to do rather than things that I want to do (such as write) and dealing with an auto-immune disease that complicates what I eat, drink and do, I’m frustrated.
Struggling to “right myself” after several rather significant lifestyle gut-punches, I’m cynical. It’s been a long time since I’ve been “merry of soul.” “Weary of soul” is more apt. Maybe you feel that way, too.
But tonight, as I walked in the just-before-Thanksgiving night air and watched twinkling Christmas lights going up in our neighborhood, saw huge campers being readied for “to Grandmother’s house we go” road trips, and heard the laughter of visiting children romping through front yards, I reminded myself that “Outlander”’s Claire had every reason to be “weary of soul”…and yet, she wasn’t. Like a person unjustly incarcerated for years, she missed out on so much that she could never recapture and enjoy, but instead of focusing on what she’d lost, she focused on what she still had to enjoy.
The Beatles were like that. Certainly, in the post-1966 era, they experienced argumentative and unhappy moments. But Beatles Guru, Mark Lewisohn, reminded us last year at the Monmouth University White Album Conference that the White Album wasn’t entirely written under an umber cloud, that the boys were still friends in Rishikesh, at George’s home in Esher, and in the studio days ahead. Even the fractious moments we see on “Let It Be” were only part of a larger puzzle — with intricate pieces of camaraderie, dissention, happiness, and agitation snapping together congruously to form a whole. There were still plenty of times, Lewisohn reminded us, where merriment had its home in the hands of The Beatles.
After all, when one stands back and summarizes the Fab Four’s career, what does one find? Love. Love, love, love! Innocent love in “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You,” “Do You Want to Know A Secret,” and “Love Me Do.” Romantic love in “Something,” “Here There and Everywhere,” “Please Please Me,” “Eight Days A Week,” and “This Boy.” Love denied in “For No One,” “Girl,” “Not a Second Time,” “Yes, It Is,” and “I’ll Follow the Sun.” Sexual love in “When I Get Home,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” and “I Want You.” The love of friends in “In My Life,” “With A Little Help From My Friends,” and “Yellow Submarine.” The heartbreak of love in “If I Fell” and “Yesterday.” There’s even a tongue-in-cheek fondness for the Queen in “Her Majesty.” You can think of a hundred other examples. Because for The Beatles, it all boils down to love…in the end.
Perhaps “Outlander”’s popularity can be explained by the fact that in this angry and argumentative world of blame and shame, we yearn for a place where love truly is “all you need.” And perhaps The Beatles surpassed all other bands in history, in part, because no matter what, they lived out their greatest mantra: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
In moments of wonder and moments of despair, one thing remained: they were merry of soul.
Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com
::: Message from Fest Founder Mark Lapidos on two Beatles anniversaries and Thanksgiving :::
Dear Fellow Beatles Fans,
I have very clear memories of both of these releases. I was a junior at Adelphi University and had a car. I went around to the guys in the dorm to see who wanted me to pick up a copy of Magical Mystery Tour on the day of its release and their choice of Mono or Stereo!!! There were a bunch! I was calling the nearby Record World store at Roosevelt Field every day. When it arrived (11/27/67), I immediately went to pick up both mono and stereo copies. The problem was their first shipment was stereo copies only. I was fuming. What was I going to do? In 1967, we were (falsely) led to believe that you couldn’t play stereo records on a mono record player! So I just HAD to purchase a stereo record player on the spot, so I could listen to it. It was definitely worth it.
Three years to the day, (11/27/1970), came George’s first proper solo album, and what an album it was! One of the greatest of all time, by anyone!! I was working at the Sam Goody Record Store in Paramus, NJ and the shipment was delivered the day before we were allowed to sell them. At the end of the evening of the 26th, I went to my manager and told him I wanted to buy it before I went home. He said no (He was in his 40s and just didn’t understand!). I repeated myself (another sales person, Ralph, was by my side with the same need). I said to the mgr, either you sell me the copy now or I am going to just take it home anyway. He finally realized how important this was to both of us. I stayed up half the night listening to it and trying to take in so much music in one sitting.
Only four years and one day later, November 28, 1974, John surprised the sold out Madison Square Garden by joining Elton John to perform John’s #1 hit, Whatever Gets You Through The Night, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds (that Elton took to #1) and “a song by an old estranged fiance of mine, called Paul”. They ripped into an amazing version of I Saw Her Standing There. Because of a ticket mixup, I was not at this performance. I was extremely upset when I found out John actually did show up!!
It is hard to imagine these three events were 45, 49 & 52 years ago! Where does the time go? I don’t know, but right now, it is time to wish every one of you a very safe and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!
Peace and Love,
Mark (+Carol, Michelle Joni, and Tilly)
By Jude Southerland Kessler
The Beatles, not being American (of course), didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, per se. But somehow, as we near the close of the year, all of us tend to reflect on things for which we are grateful. And although John is so often caricatured as “John Lemon,” a tart and sardonic figure, he was, in reality, very appreciative of special people, moments, and belongings. After all, isn’t that what his song, “In My Life” is all about? Here are just a few precious elements of John’s journey here on earth things that he loved. Perhaps this will inspire you to make a similar list of your own.
And I think we can all begin by listing The Fest for Beatles Fans which draws us together twice a year as family…and for Mark, Carol, Tilly, and Michelle Joni, who very lovingly gave us this “Home Away From Home” in our lives.
Of course, all of The Beatles were John’s mates. During John’s tenure at Liverpool College of Art, George was John’s “younger brother,” shadowing John everywhere he went! And once Ringo and Maureen had married and moved out to Weybridge, Surrey (where John and Cynthia lived in Kenwood), Ringo and John became close companions as well. Each of The Beatles mattered throughout John’s life, long after The Beatles had dissolved.
“There are places I’ll remember,
All my life, though some have changed,
Some forever…not for better…
Some have gone, and some remain.
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall.
Some are dead, and some are living…
In my life, I’ve loved them all.”
Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com
I can still hear The Byrds’ crystalline, jingle-jangle sound as they brought Old Testament wisdom to life:
Turn, turn, turn…
There is a season,
Turn, turn, turn…
And a time to every purpose under heaven.”
The year that they took “Turn, Turn, Turn” to Number 1 on the charts, my mother was a Home Economics teacher at Bolton High School, Alexandria, Louisiana, and I was in the 6th grade, where I spent my days madly in love with The Beatles. For me, the Byrds’ song had a gorgeous melody and a real hook, but honestly, the words were kind of…well, scary. “A time to break down” made me uncomfortable. “A time to weep,” when gruesome reports of Vietnam filled the nightly news, scared me. And “a time to be born, a time to die” was terrifying. The lyrics were so foreign to me then, so far removed from the childlike emotions I understood.
But now, “a time to die,” has become all too real. I lost my remarkable mother five years ago, and my dad, three years after that. Three of my dearest friends in The Beatles World are mourning the loss of their moms right now. And many others of us have losses fresh in our memories. Our sweet Carol Lapidos, for example, posted on John Lennon’s birthday a “Happy Birthday!” to John and Sean…and to her dearly departed father-in-law, Mark’s dad, as well. All of us are missing someone cherished. All of us are learning — first-hand — about the complicated emotions intertwined in loss, mourning, and remembrance. All of us are finding our way in this new season.
In 1965, when I first heard the Byrds’ lovely and haunting rendition of the words from the book of Ecclesiastes, I knew so little about death. I had only lost a grandfather whom I had never had the opportunity to really know. But a year later, I lost my quiet and faithful companion, my sweet cocker spaniel, Beau…and the reality of “a finite existence” began to sink in. Separation and acceptance became more tangible than they had ever been, and I started to value the importance of memories. In 1966, I learned to grieve.
And at a mere 13-years-old, the one healing unguent that got me through the pain of loss was The Beatles. Their music made sadness bearable. Their sound assuaged pain. Getting lost in the melody of “This Boy” or “In My Life” stopped the tears. The Beatles were a panacea.
And you know what? Very little has changed. Today, my friends and I (all ardent Beatles fans) are calling upon the same balm to tend our wounds. Fifty years later, we are still turning to the soundtrack of our lives as we — the ones left behind in this place called Earth — recall, remember, and re-target our lives. The Beatles still seem, somehow, to understand as John spools out his own heartbreak in “Yes, It Is.” As the boys seem to offer “a way forward” in “I’ll Follow the Sun.” Their lyrics, though written for them and about them, somehow fit our lives so well. We feel an inexplicable kinship with these four lads from Liverpool, lads we’ve never met and yet, have always known.
In that vein, I sat down a few years ago and wrote a poem for a friend who was walking through her own “Valley of the Shadow.” I so hoped that the words would strengthen her heart, and today I hope that wherever you are on your journey, she and I can share them to touch your spirit as well.
My safe place,
My known against the unknown,
My run-to, go-to shelter after midnight,
My flickering light up in the window,
Far back as I can go,
Far forward as I can imagine,
Reverse and forward,
Stop and pause…
They were always there:
A net beneath me,
A hiding place,
A room sequestered from the world
A vault where I could hide.
I huddled close beside them
And deftly hid my head,
Nowhere Man and Silver Hammer,
Mr. Moonlight, Lovely Rita,
Celebrated Mr. K
Performing feats on Saturday…
And standing in the gaps
Of the Helter Skelter in my brain.
Pretty little policemen, guard me.
Octopus’s garden, hide me.
I’m on my way home,
I’m on my way home…to you.
In the play-out tracks,
I heard they had a message
(Backwards perhaps and not in tune)
And I am there as well,
Covered in music,
Wrapped in lyrics,
Sheltered in their sound
You can find me.
I am there,
If you are there with me…
Turn up the music. Turn up the hope. Turn up the volume and shout aloud these words that I would love to say to you in person: “You are not alone. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.”
Winston Churchill said to all of us, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Remember that seasons change. Nothing stays the same. If you are in a season of distress, it will dispel. If you are in a season of pain, it will fall away. If you are in a season of sadness, hang tight. We are a Beatles family, and together, we can do what we need to do.
Turn, turn, turn…you can go on.
Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com
By Jude Southerland Kessler
Over the last nine months, Recipe Records author Lanea Stagg and I have been asking our guests on the She Said She Said podcast one “bonus question” at the end of each interview: “Tell us who your favorite Beatle is and why?” And in posing this query, we’ve stumbled onto a trend.
Our female guests have all instantly piped up with a specific choice — generally Paul or Ringo, although once in a while, George, and even more infrequently, (the best Beatle!!) John. Our male guests, however, have tended to respond with a pause and then a response something like this: “Welllll, I don’t really have a favorite.” Or: “Hmmmm, it’s hard to separate the group. I mean, it takes all of them to make the music, right?” This “choosing a Beatle” question almost seemed foreign to them.
A month ago, I wrote an article for Culture-Sonar discussing the disappointing number of times that John Lennon’s songs are being aired on many Beatles streaming and radio stations…bemoaning the current “disappearing act of John Winston Lennon.” And the Facebook responses to this article’s observations were truly educational for me. Female readers answered with, “I’ve observed the same thing, and it’s aggravating!!” Or: “Well, Paul’s catalogue is much larger, so of course, he’s going to get more air time!” Or: “What if you were a George fan?! George was rarely heard from in the ‘fab days,’ much less now!!!!” You get the drift.
But my male readers (though not all!) saw my observations as rather “divisive.” One particularly well-written and insightful comment stated, “Interesting article, but I hate to hear the segregation of the songs through ’embryotic’ ownership. Beatles songs are Beatles songs. Start cutting them up and dishing them onto separate plates, and that is not how I want to remember them.”
This comment really set me on my heels. It made me stop and think. Because “in my life,” as it were, The Beatles have always been very distinct individuals, openly competing with one another, and good-naturedly vying for the attention of their fans. (Think, for example, of John “hmphffing” disgustedly on Live at the BBC Vol. 1 when he reads aloud a piece of fan mail that says, “Love to the boys…especially Paul!”) From the very first day that I was introduced to The Beatles and was given, by my elementary school friends, only two hours (“until recess”) to “fall in love” with one of them, The Beatles have been quite separate and very individual. I have never thought of them as one indivisible unit.
In August, as I drove cross-country to the Chicago Fest, I mulled over my lifelong devotion to one particular Beatle (clearly, John) and about that similar “singular Beatle” response from my friends throughout junior high and high school. I smiled remembering that my friends and I, back “in the day,” readily identified ourselves as “John girls” or “George girls,” etc. And even as adults, little has changed. In fact, not so long ago, Lanea Stagg and I aired a well-researched “John vs. George” debate on our She Said She Said podcast, discussing four of John’s songs from the White Album in contrast to four of George’s. And we saw nothing amiss in the act of adamantly “standing by our man.”
Terry Crain, author of NEMS and the Business of Selling The Beatles in the U.S., 1964-1966, will tell you that merchandisers realized this “Favorite Beatle” phenomenon from Day One. Indeed, the entire purpose of selling “I LOVE PAUL” or “I LOVE RINGO” buttons was to make money off of female fans who quite definitely connected with one particular Fab.
Going back now to re-watch YouTube videos of The Beatles landing at various locations throughout the 1964 North American Tour, I see scads of female fans holding signs lauding one Beatle over another. I see girls passionately screaming not the word “Beatles!!!!!!!!!!!” but weeping and shouting, “George!” or “Ringooooo!” or “John!” or “Paul!” And I see those same girls wearing sweatshirts, T-shirts, buttons, and hair bands with their favorite Beatle boldly emblazoned on the garment. From these earliest days of Beatlemania, the great majority of female fans (though not all) were unashamedly choosing one Beatle and his songs over the others.
Once ensconced at the Chicago Fest last August, I began asking those who visited my booth in the Marketplace one question: “Do you have a favorite Beatle?” And just as I had begun to surmise, less than 10% of male fans identified with any Fab in particular. In fact, they looked at me with befuddled expressions and said things such as, “Well, I’m a drummer, so I guess I’d have to say, Ringo…but uh, really, I like them all.” Or: “Well, I like John’s straightforward approach to life, but I mean, I don’t have a favorite Beatle, per se.” The majority of them simply stated, “Nope, I like them all.”
Beatles historian, Sara Schmidt (author of Happiness is Seeing The Beatles: Beatlemania in St. Louis), who is currently writing a book on the Beatles Fan Clubs in America, recently told me, “At the Fests and other places, I usually give those attending my talks a free photo of one or all of The Beatles at the end of my presentations. And what I’ve discovered is: women almost always select a photo of one particular Beatle. They don’t bat an eye when I give them a choice. They say, “I’ll take George.” Or “Give me Ringo.” But men generally select a photo of the entire group.”
The Beatles knew this. In fact, in 1965 when 16 Magazine’s editor, Gloria Stavers, flew to the Bahamas to interview The Beatles on the set of “Help!”, she asked John Lennon, “To what do you attribute your incredible success with these scads and scads of female fans?” And John’s very direct response was, “Well, I’m a man, aren’t I?” Yes, indeed.
Undeniably, a sociological, sexual connection does exist between the four handsome, charismatic, and often flirtatious young men known as The Beatles and their female fans, while a great many male fans (though certainly not all) tend to be drawn to Beatles gear, Beatles discography, and that creative collective known as The Beatles who created Beatles music. That being said…The Beatles World is varied and colorful in its many textures, shades, and hues, and there are all sorts of variations in between the majorities. There are plenty of women who like the Fab Four for their music only and plenty of men who find The Beatles attractive.
And all of us, despite our unique vantage points, can agree on this: A song without Ringo’s “Match 10” force and power would be lacking. A song without Paul’s bass brilliance would miss something wonderful. A song without George’s magical lead would fall short. A song without John’s grit and extemporaneous genius would be ho-hum. The Beatles are undeniably different but equal.
And so are we. It takes the different but equal outlooks of males and females to create the extensive, over-awing fan base that has kept The Beatles “front and center” for nigh on 60 years now. We may view them in slightly different ways, but our devotion is the same. And when I raise objections about the small quota of John’s songs in the film Yesterday, it doesn’t negate my pride in the fact that a 2019 film is still lauding “The Boys” as unparalleled. Whether you view The Beatles as an inseparable group or as a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of unique, individual musicians, it matters not. In fact, what a “blah” world this would be if we all saw things identically. Like the horrid, same-same world that Charles Wallace, Meg, and Calvin encountered in Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle In Time, such an existence would be terrifying.
Let’s celebrate our differences and enjoy The Beatles as we will. There is no right way to sing “yeah, yeah, yeah.” There is no one direction to Strawberry Fields or Blue Jay Way. There is no single ticket for the Magical Mystery Tour. And thank goodness, there is room on the bus for everyone.
From Fest Founder Mark Lapidos…
SEPTEMBER 7, 1974 – 45 YEARS AGO THIS WEEKEND: We opened the doors to the first Beatlefest at the old Commodore Hotel on 42nd St, in NYC and Beatle fandom changed forever!!! I couldn’t possibly know at the time, because it was only a one convention idea! But, the public spoke and we listened! I can remember so clearly that Saturday morning. I was so nervous it made me sick. Not knowing what was going to happen, and how it will work out had caught up to me that morning. The program sheet was just printed the day before! The convention was set to start at 1PM.
At around 11AM, the doorbell to the suite rang. It was Tony King, VP of Apple and their official representative, who arrived with the films and the signed musical instruments from John, Paul and George. Ringo had sent signed drumsticks a few months beforehand. We chatted a bit before he took out 6 signed copies of The Penguin John Lennon book of his poetry. John wanted them to be auctioned off for the charity he designated – The Phoenix House Foundation (a drug rehab organization in upper Manhattan). He then took out a 7th book that John signed for me, with a wonderful inscription and some doodles, beginning with To Mark, September Beatlefest 1974! I was now coming out of my funk a bit.
It was Tony’s next utterance that lifted any anxieties or fears out of my being. He said, “John wants to come down tomorrow to pick the winner of his guitar.” I don’t remember my exact response, but this was a dream come true to the max! To say I was thrilled beyond belief is a major understatement!! I think I jumped up and told Tony I need to get ready to go downstairs. I arranged for John’s entrance through the kitchen and into the balcony overlooking the Grand Ballroom and had a microphone set up just for him. A NYC policeman who, by the rarest of coincidences, happened to be a childhood friend, who had come over to congratulate me, helped to make this happen. 1:00PM was upon me and I was on my way down to the ballroom. I stopped at the balcony floor, maybe 5 minutes after the doors opened and I looked out over the ledge. That moment in ingrained in my brain forever. I gazed at the completely and totally jammed packed ballroom full of Beatles fans and that it was I who had come up with this crazy idea. My energy level shot up to 100% and never stopped the entire weekend. Quick side story: The films were almost ready to start when someone asked me about the projectionist. A blank look come over me as that was a detail I hadn’t thought of. I can’t make this stuff up. At that moment in through the door a union projectionist comes in and said his boss read about the event and we were showing films. He said, “where do I go?”, and without a moment’s hesitation, I pointed to the projection area and off we went. John changed his mind and chose to go to his farm in upstate NY on the Sunday, but he was interviewed on that Saturday, and he mentioned me and the event (Lisa Robinson /Circus Magazine).
From this acorn of an idea, grew into an annual event here, and 3 years later in Chicago, plus ten other cities around the country over the years – 132 FESTS and counting! What we (my family and many who are like family to us) have created is like a Beatles Thanksgiving for many thousands of fans on any given weekend. This is the true joy of what we do!
Happy 45th Anniversary!!!
Peace and Love,
Mark’s thoughts about this day and month, 55 years ago:
Most fans know the general history of The Beatles arrival in America, The famous airport Press Conference where they totally won the press over, the jam packed streets outside the NYC Plaza Hotel, George had a fever and his sister Louise helped get him ready for the Sunday Ed Sullivan Shows, The photo jaunt through Central Park on Saturday, etc, etc. However, The Beatles had the Top two songs (I Want To Hold Your Hand & She Loves You and the Top 2 albums (Meet The Beatles and Introducing The Beatles) pretty much by the time they took the stage on February 9th. I was examining the Billboard Top 100 Charts from early 1964 and found quite a few not so well known tidbits. By the end of February, there were the earliest signs of the British Invasion to come – The Searchers (incl former FEST Guest Mike Pender) with Needle and Pins, Dave Clark 5 with Glad All Over and The Swinging Blue Jeans (incl former FEST guest Terry Sylvester) with Hippy Hippy Shake. However, it took a Lennon/McCartney penned tune – World Without Love by Peter & Gordon (many time FEST guests) to make it all the way to #1 by a Brit group other than The Beatles. It was in June, 1964. By mid March, there were 7 Beatles songs in the charts including My Bonnie with Tony Sheridan, which peaked at #26. #86 was a song by the Swans called The Boy With The Beatle Haircut. #87 was a different song called My Boyfriend Got a Beatles Haircut by Donna Lynn. The next week, The Four Preps had A Letter to The Beatles hit the charts at #87 , while The Carefrees (featuring Cher!!) saw their song We Love You Beatles entered at #73. We all know The Beatles had the Top 5 songs the first week in April, but they also had the Top 4 songs the week before! I found an unknown oddity the week of March 14. The Supremes had the #100 song with Run, Run, Run and it peaked at #94. This was 4 months BEFORE Where Did Our Love Go starting its climb to #1 that summer!
On the album side, Meet The Beatles was #1 by the time they hit the stage on Feb 9th. By the time their third Sullivan show aired, they had the top 2 albums (Introducing The Beatles). That remained #2 for 9 weeks behind, you guessed it – Meet The Beatles. The Beatles spent 30 weeks in 1964 at the top of the Billboard Top 200 Charts (11 weeks for Meet, 5 weeks for 2nd Album and 14 weeks for A Hard Day’s Night). In February, Peter, Paul & Mary had 3 albums in the top 20, but folk music peaked and the British Invasion began its amazing run. Newcomer Barbara Streisand had her first two albums in the Top 10 and thus, began her historic career at the same moment in time The Beatles did, in the U.S.
So, as Top 40 radio was playing a Beatles song every other song, all over the country, another historic event happened. It also took place in Miami Beach the same time The Beatles were there. U.S. Olympic Boxing Gold Medalist in 1960, Cassius Clay stunned the boxing world by knocking out heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Of course, the world would come to know him as Muhammad Ali. The Beatles became the most famous people in the world for the rest of the decade and WAY beyond, even 55 years later. Muhammad Ali was right behind them in world celebrity. 1964 was the year! I remember it well.