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Neil Wynn – Fifty Years Ago Today

Fifty Years Ago Today

…I was sitting on a bus going to school in Edinburgh and my pals Tumsh (a Scottish thing – Turnbull!) and Ginge were talking about this record they had heard by a group with the strange name, the Beatles. the record was ‘Love Me Do’ not a number one hit, but the begining of a significant shift in popular music. What was it about the song, and the others that followed, that caught on? Was it the interesting harmonica opening, the bass line? the Everlys’ type harmony buit with a different accent? Or was it the strange mixture of black American music with British skiffle/rythm n’ blues styles? Whatever, it was, it had an enromous impact on a generation and was quickly followed by the emergence of other groups with the Liverpool sound (Mersey Beat), then as rhythm and blues spread from the Rolling Stones to the Animals (and even to a little known group called Tiny and the Titans in Edinburgh), African American-based music was re-discovered and exported back across the Atlantic. This didn’t begin with the Beatles, but they certainly took it to a new level. Who would have thought for example, that the words of another Beatles’ song, “When I get older losing my hair, Many years from now”, would have such resonance to those who were riding the buses in 1962?? Just doesn’t seem that long ago ….


Christian says:

Anniversaries are funny really. We seem to have a thing for large round numbers. It’s quite understandable that a lot is being made of the fifty years since the release of ‘Love Me Do,’ the Beatles’ first single, given the group’s status in the history of popular music. However, in many ways, the song itself was by no means revolutionary. It was not the first of its kind, as many British musicians had been toying with the sounds of the 1950s already, and so the sound of the song was not particularly innovative. Also, British musicians had been borrowing from and experimenting with American music for many years, in jazz, swing and ‘skiffle.’ So what is it about the song that is attracting all this nostalgic reverence for the fab four? Is it just that fifty years have passed? I don’t think so.
‘Love Me Do,’ while not wholly revolutionary in terms of its sound, was revolutionary in musical and cultural terms. We see the coming together of a number of factors such as the fact British musicians were using American influences, the growth of frenzied fandom, and importantly, the beginning of original song writing by musicians themselves (this was truly revolutionary at the time). However, most important of all there is an unsayable quality, something that is difficult to pinpoint, something that can’t quite be explained in the coming together of four Liverpudlians and making fairly simple music. They had (for lack of a better term) an X-factor. They had a universality, appealing to audiences across a wide spectrum of society. In musical terms at least, I know everybody likes the Beatles, even stubborn ‘music fascists’ such as jazz musicians! This very quality makes the task of describing the success of their early years much more difficult than explaining their adventures of mixing art and pop in the late sixties. Why did they become so huge singing songs like ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’??
Ask any music fan why the Beatles are so important, and I am positive most will say that it is because they influenced everybody else, but they will struggle to explain why. As a musician, I think its because they were relatively unskilled but nonetheless wrote and sang some beautiful melodies, mixed a broad range of styles, and wrote catchy (not in a pejorative sense) songs. But this doesn’t explain half of it. This is what makes them fascinating to look at. I hope that younger generations are intrigued by the press’ focus on the 50th Anniversary of the song to go and listen for themselves. From there they will be able to learn about a range of different aspects about our musical past, from the 1960s and the influence of American music, punk in 1970s (when Joe Strummer sang ‘phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust!’), to Oasis in the 1990s. But most important of all, they will get to listen to some great music.

nawynn says:

you are probably right about the composing bit – although worth remembering that half the songs on the Beatles first two albums were covers of US songs. I think the sound also had a freshness to it, but the timing was also important as Britian began to emerge from Austerity to Affluence and a new young generation with some money appeared. the other important thing was I think that this was British, not simply an american import even though influenced by American sounds.

Christian says:

I agree that the timing was important, but I think it was interesting that you see a coming together of little girls going crazy, with a group putting together something that was a bit different. In other words, a mixture of the traditionally separate ‘commercialism’ and ‘artistry’…

nawynn says:

girls went crazy for Frank sinatra … and Elvis … and Tiny and the Titans!!

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