Thursday, September 17, 2009

GMVW # 89: "Wise Beyond Their Years"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 89:  Wise Beyond Their Years
Song:  Something by The Beatles
(Songwriter: George Harrison)
September 17, 2009

I’ve brought this up before (in the context of ‘luck’), but its worth revisiting: How was it that the Beatles became so successful?  I mean, here were four guys who formed a band not unlike so many who had done it before and since. They were from lower-middle class families, each with a below average education from what I can gather, so right off the bat, it’s clear that an Ivy League degree (or anything even close) was not a prerequisite for generating Beatlemania.

John, Paul, George, and Ringo were not born with silver spoons in their mouths (more likely something akin to plastic).  There was no regal British blood running through their veins. Opportunity was not knocking at their doors.

As discussed for Gem # 49, tragedy may have played a factor in the bands success (both Lennon and McCartney lost their mothers at a young age, and the band lost a founding member, Stu Sutcliffe, in the early days).  The times may have had something to do with it too, as the Beatles were part of a post-war generation with a chip on its shoulder, a need to prove to their parents who sacrificed so much that they had something of their own to show the world.   Hard work cannot be overlooked, nor can talent.  And yes, lady luck has to have played a role (again, Gem # 49).

But there was something more.

Last week Amy challenged me to connect with my Beatles roots for a Gem.  She was right on.  I had not really focused a Gem on this sensational band.  Sure, they have been discussed throughout, and a few songs have appeared as Gems.  And yet, I had not given the Fab Four their just dues.  But what could I say about the Beatles that has not already been said by others?  It seems their lives and music have already been covered ad nauseam.  If there was any new angle, it was going to take some thought. 

As it turned out, I had to go back to the beginning, recalling my first foray into a magical mystery tour that has had me caught in its wake for 35 years and counting.  Strangely enough, this initial seed proved not to be the music itself.  The initial seed was an album cover, more specifically the cover of the ‘Red Album’. And as I thought more about it, I realized this album cover was an inroad for me to understanding the reason for the Beatles success as well. I hope to explain below.

The ‘Red Album’, along with ‘Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band’, was the first real rock album to make its way into the Steeves’ household, thanks to Mom and Dad (and already recognized for the Mothers Day Gem, “Your Mother Should Know”).  I would later get beyond the trap and allure of ‘Greatest Hits’ albums like the ‘Red Album’ (as discussed for Gem # 19) but as this album was a ground breaker, I have no complaints, only praise.  It was my initiation into the Beatles early days, which greased the skids for all my subsequent rock album purchases, including most of the Beatles catalog.  Songs like ‘Michelle’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘Paperback Writer’ were the first songs I would play over and over again, lifting the needle up, backwards, and back down again.  While listening, I would read the words, song dates, and credits.   I would also stare at the album cover.

The cover of the album was pretty darn cool.  On one side was a photo of the Beatles circa 1963 on the stairwell of EMI studios, looking over the balcony, down at the camera man, and on the flip side were the Beatles in the same pose (same positions, left to right: Ringo, Paul, George, John), on that same stairwell, near the end of their collaboration in 1969.  As I would glance back and fourth, one photo to the next, it felt as if I were looking at eight people, not four.  This was fascinating to me.  The difference in their appearance, particularly John and George, but also Paul and Ringo, was striking.

Now, I’m not talking about age, hair growth, or the possible ravages of drug abuse per se.  I’ve seen all of these as being much greater factors when looking at change in others.  For example, the difference in Keith Richards is pretty dramatic when comparing a ’67 photo of him to a ’69 photo, which can be chalked up to all three of these factors (the good news for Keith: He’s barely aged since!).  Comparing these two Red Album photos however, I saw much more that should be attributed to the changes in the Beatles appearance.  And though I could not really nail it down at the time, what I was gaining an insight to were the faces of knowledge, experience and wisdom.  This was to prove to be very enlightening to me.  The changes in the Beatles were more in line with what you would expect to see in, say a grandparent when comparing their teen photos to their later years, particularly if that grandparent had been through much in the interim.  For the Beatles, however, there were only six years separating these photos!

How could the Beatles have changed so much in so short a time?  Yes, they had seen the world, and met with virtually all of the most famous people of their times.  They had become wealthy beyond their wildest imaginations.  But I believe what changed the Beatles the most during the group’s career came from within:  It was their openness, the breadth of their willingness to share their hearts, minds and souls with the world through the music they made together.  This more than anything was also why the Beatles were so successful.  They did not hold back one iota, which is a very, very hard thing to do.  Perhaps it was not so hard in the beginning, when they had ‘nothing to lose’, but as time went by it must have gotten much more difficult to maintain that openness.  The Beatles did it for eight years, an amazing run.  As George Harrison once stated, “They (fans) gave their money and they gave their screams, but the Beatles kind of gave their nervous systems”.

After absorbing this concept to some degree all those years ago while looking at and listening to the Red Album, it was so easy afterwards to connect with the rest of the Beatles music.  It was all about filling the gap between those two pictures, and boy has it ever been fun:  From the Dylan-esque White Album, to the psychedelic dream state of Sgt Pepper.  From the willingness to cry for ‘Help’, to the spiritual depth and beauty of ‘Long, Long, Long’; from the melodic ‘Martha My Dear’, to the intensity of ‘Oh, Darling’; from the brutal honesty of letting the cameras role as the band broke up in front of our eyes during the film ‘Let it Be’; to their amazingly classy regrouping for ‘Abbey Road’ (side two after ‘Here Comes the Sun’ is simply put, one, long, magnificent, subconscious, goodbye); from the original album-oriented music of ‘Revolver’ to the singles that defined a generation: ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘All You Need is Love’.  It certainly has been fun.

The Beatles were common ground for a family (Steeves) with very diverse musical interests.  They were the one band you could find in all of our album/tape collections.  This, I believe was the case in many other families. Come Together…. Yeah!

I could have picked any number of songs from the Beatles catalog to represent this week’s Gem, but I had to settle on something…. ‘Something’, yes that will do!  That will do just fine.

Thanks, Amy.  I needed that.

- Pete

Gem Music Video: “Something”  ** The four ladies in the film are Linda McCartney (Paul); Yoko Ono (John); Patti Boyd (George); and Maureen Cox (Ringo). **

“Don’t Let Me Down” on the rooftop of Apple Records


“Fool on the Hill”

About the Video: Original made-for-MTV-like video.  Used in the Beatles anthology film.

Video Rating: 2 (Although I can’t imagine there is anything better)

Best Feedback: John
You always liked "Rain."  I never quite felt the connection, but I remember you constantly singing that song under your breath.

Gave away all of my vinyl albums years ago, but I kept the first two albums I ever purchased--Beatles Red and Beatles Blue.


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