The Fab-Four Score


I heard the quirky, sublime harmony of Paul McCartney and John Lennon intertwine on "Hey Jude" last night, reminding me again to write about The Beatles.

Far lesser musical lights have labels on this blog, and it's been bugging me that the greatest pop-music band in history doesn't. Many folks consider The Rolling Stones to be the greatest rock band ever, and they might be right — I'm not a huge Stones fan, to be honest, although they definitely rock and are indubitably iconic. The Beatles, however, during a relatively brief career that spanned the era in which classic rock-&-roll ("She Loves You") gave way to flat-out hard rock, hold the roll ("Helter Skelter"), also proved masters of old-fashioned balladry, psychedelic experimentation, and so much more ("Strawberry Fields Forever"). They wrote anthems, they wrote grooves, they wrote ditties, for Pete Best's sake. Has any other group of musicians been so talented at turning out so many different styles of infectious, accomplished, influential music? And I include in that group not just Lennon, McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, but producer George Martin as an indispensable enabler of most of the Beatles' joint career.

So here's my First Beatles Story.

cover of The Beatles' 1967 album 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' cover of the soundtrack to the 1978 movie 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'

A generally vilified movie called Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band came out in the summer of 1978, when I was seven years old, my sister was five, our parents had just separated, and we were living with Mom at our grandparents'. We loved that movie. It was told entirely through song and mimed action except for the narration of George Burns in the persona of Mr. Kite, mayor of Heartland — home of Billy Shears, played by Peter Frampton, and the Henderson brothers, played by The Bee Gees, who together made up the titular band. Like The Beatles' own animated Yellow Submarine and the more recent, more serious film Across the Universe, most of its characters' names were taken from Beatles songs; in addition to the above, there were love interest Strawberry Fields, the malevolently mean Mr. Mustard, and of course Lucy.

When I say we loved it, I mean we really couldn't get enough. The movie version of Grease had come out only a month before, and both films' box office benefitted substantially from my family's repeated trips to the theater. Sister and I also owned the soundtracks — neither of which followed the source movie's song sequences, but that hardly stopped us from performing tribute shows regularly.

Mom didn't find the kitsch of the film offensive, and besides enjoying it on its own merits along with us she took the opportunity to formally introduce us to the original versions of the movie's songs on the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road albums. One rainy night, I believe on our way home from a screening, Mom bought the records and we listened to them during a thunderstorm in my grandparents' living room. Hearing these alternate versions of songs we'd quickly learned by heart was strange, but they grew on us.

The movie wasn't my first-ever exposure to The Beatles; Mom sang "Yesterday" regularly, and I remember learning "Octopus's Garden" in school, but I'd never associated them with anything bigger. After the summer of Sgt. Pepper, though — which actually lasted far beyond that season, thanks to our album, airings on television, and, believe it or not, a novelization of the movie that I still own — the Beatles quotient in our lives grew with each new record my mom shared with us or each song she'd sing for me from her Beatles piano/guitar songbook so that I'd have a melody on which to hang the fascinating lyrics.

Mom, Sis, and I took in a Beatlemania show in Philadelphia shortly after our move there from Wildwood, and in the coming years I'd appreciate the full spectrum of, as the old joke goes, the band Paul McCartney was in before Wings. It all started with what legions of fans consider a practically sacrilegious spool of celluloid, however, proof that there's no bad way to meet The Beatles.





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5 comments:

Batcabbage said...

Wow, what a freaky co-incidence (or, more likely, not one). I'm a pretty big Beatles fan, but I seriously only discovered the existence of this film about a week ago, on one of the Interweb's millions of list-based sites, detailing things from pop culture, freakish natural occurrences, and what movies are better than other ones. I'm going to try and track down the Pepper film, if only to satisfy my curiosity. My first thought, upon learning of the film, was that of John Cusack in High Fidelity: "Is that Peter Fucking Frampton?" The concept just seemed so out there to me: Peter Frampton, the Bee Gees, and Sergeant Pepper's. So, so strange. I can't wait to see it.

Joan Crawford said...

I was obsessed with the Beatles when I was 12. I spent any money I came across on records and posters. My parents worried silently but figured it could be a lot worse. My room was a shrine to them - people would enter and say "My God...it's like a shrine in here!" Still love me some Beatles.

Blam said...


Oh, it's strange, Batcabbage; it's strange. The 7-year-old in me is still unapologetic for having gotten hooked on it, especially not having had any reference point to The Beatles (as musical gods or otherwise), but I know now it's a total campfest — albeit with some genuinely good covers.

One of the longest-standing blogposts I've begun and never finished was a review of Across the Universe on its own merits and through the lens of the Sgt. Pepper movie, which I really need to finish; I'm definitely curious as to how this thing comes across to a grown Beatles fan 30-odd years later (probably not flatteringly), so I'll finish that post, you get ahold of the movie, and I'll hope to see you in a later comments section. 8^)

Efthymia said...

Hey, at least you were 7.
My dad and his best friend LOOOVED the Bee Gees (I'm pretty sure my dad has every album the Bee Gees ever produced. He even has an Andy Gibb album, just because he was their brother.). When this film came out, my dad's best friend rushed to see it; he got to the cinema at the last moment, all panicky, and asked the ticket-selling-person (I'm sure there's a term for them, right?) "Are there any tickets left?". He was given the stink eye along with his ticket, and walked into the cinema to find out that he was all alone. :)
Personally, I find their version of 'Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite' to be pretty OK, and it's one of my favourite Beatles songs -I've never listened to any of the other songs on that album, however, even if it's always been in the house.

As for the Beatles, I love them so much. I agree that the variety of music they made in just 7 years is remarkable, and just the fact that this music exists makes the world better.

Blam said...


I think a fair amount of the songs hold up just as interesting covers, Efthymia. "Oh! Darling" fronted by Robin Gibb is surprisingly good. Aerosmith's version of "Come Together" (as Future Villain Band) works, as does Alice Cooper's creepy take on "Because" (as Father Sun). Earth, Wind, and Fire's funky "Got to Get You Into My Life" was released as a single. Billy Preston's "Get Back" (as… a weathervane of the original Sgt. Pepper come to life) is great on its own, too.

For me, though, "Get Back" and the whole section of the film it's in, with "A Day in the Life" and "Golden Slumbers", takes me right back to being in the theater with my sister and a cousin of ours with tears in our eyes. It really as that emotional for us as kids.

I've often wondered how I'd have taken the movie had I been an adult with Beatles knowledge under my belt, whether I'd have loved it still in all its kitsch and fun set pieces and wacky casting or found it an utter travesty as is the general opinion. At 7 years old I was, credit to both my mother being who she is as a parent and to my own weird self, already a fan of both George Burns (who as Mr. Kite narrates) and special guest star Steve Martin, so it was all right up my alley.