In My Own Life

20 Indirect Beatle Memories

by Bill Gibron

23 November 2009


We all carry our fandom differently. Indeed, certain cultural loves or obsessions manifest themselves in various ways. All you have to do is look around your house or apartment, your living room or office, and how you express your aesthetic appreciation is everywhere to be seen. In my life, for example, music has been more than important. Ever since I discovered my parents Magnavox portable ‘Hi-Fi’ system in the Summer of 1968, I have fallen for the romance of the record. Weekly trips to Sears to pick up the latest Top 10 singles (as slated by local radio legend, Chicago’s WLS) as well as occasional explorations into a soon beloved ‘long player’ (almost always by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass) were part of the routine. As I got older, the parameters broadened: subscriptions to Circus and Cream; a preference for albums over singles; and that glorious day I discovered British imports and the dinosaur-destroying punk of the UK. Today, every room is filled with music—CDs across my office wall, a closet full of vinyl taking up valuable storage space.

But my most fervent sonic fandom remains locked into four lads from Liverpool. I can clearly remember long, pot-fueled arguments with friends over impact, flawlessness, and social consciousness. I actually scolded someone for suggesting that there were “bad” Beatles songs. I remembered my joy at discovering an old original Corgi Yellow Submarine that someone had given me decades before—and my subsequent depression when it was lost again, this time forever. I suffered through the shitty Bee Gees/Peter Frampton failure known as Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band on the off chance that the otherwise horrifically misguided film would live up to their musical reputation. I was wrong…wrong, wrong, wrong. And during my gig as a college radio DJ, more adventurous cuts from the group (like “Tomorrow Never Knows” or “Love You To”) were surreptitiously sandwiched in between the latest from Sioxsie and the Banshees or The Anti-Nowhere League.

For me, however, the connection to The Beatles goes far beyond mere sound. It’s more than their mop top image (and my father’s vehement denial of any haircut which even attempted to resemble such a shaggy dog dynamic) or merchandising. Unlike other bands that have come and gone, the actual fabric of my life is laced with unusual—and even eccentric—reminders of the Fab Four’s impact. I’m sure if you look around, you too can notice the way in which your favorite band (or movie, or book) has influenced and infiltrated your life. From the items you cherish to the constants that call your sphere of influence ‘home’, we all carry our devotion in our own unique way. Below, you will find 20 reminders of why, for me, The Beatles forever stay part of who I am. Some of the examples are obvious. Some are downright odd. But together, they argue for an irresistible authority that hasn’t dissipated in nearly four decades. In no particular order, let’s begin with:

The Beatles Cartoon Series
In my elementary school, the debate was relatively simple—which was better: The Beatles cartoon series or the animated adventures of Gary’s own The Jackson Five. Neither show employed the real voices of the musical superstars and both were cheesy in a kind of random, slightly surreal, comically incoherent way. But what did we care—we were kids. For many, Michael and the boys won out—they were fresher, more part of the present popular scene. Other, however, embraced the Fab Four’s pen and ink outing as part of the immediate past. Today, neither holds up as entertainment or art. They exist as mere memories, and historic artifact. 

“Hey Bulldog” by Fanny
My father had a friend who owned one of the largest record shops in Chicago – Rose’s—and. every year, he would send us a box of what we’d now call “cut-outs” – LPS, 45s, and those notorious antiques, the 8-track tapes that nobody really wanted. One of the first titles I ever remember obsessing over was 1972’ Fanny Hill, by the all girl band Fanny. Their cover of the Yellow Submarine track, complete with fuzzy guitar, fleshed out female harmonies, and driving rhythm inspired me to dig further into other Fab Four “obscurities. It was from there that I discovered other lost gems like “It’s All Too Much” and “Only a Northern Song.”

Never Hear the End of It by Sloan
I frequently refer to this exceptional album by the Canadian power pop quartet as the “failed run through for Abbey Road, Side 2”. Indeed, the band follows the Fab For-mula of having all the tracks run together, creating a flawless canvas of classic songwriting that envelopes you in genius. And just when you think the selection couldn’t get better, along comes the last five tracks which turn the otherwise brilliant LP into a masterpiece.

“Here Comes the Sun” by Ritchie Havens
I have fond memories of lying in bed during the Summer of 1971 and hearing Ritchie Havens soulful, elegant cover of this George Harrison classic. The rasp in his voice, the power in his performance, brought out elements in the song that the underappreciated Beatle contributor could only have hoped for. As he did when he appeared at Woodstock two years earlier, Havens took whatever he needed from the current counterculture and reconfigured it in his own image. The results remain electrifying.

The Entire XTC Catalog
As a true music fan, it remains the unlikeliest of Holy Grails—that is, finding a band that comes close to matching the majesty, the invention, the craft, and the pure pop artistry of the Beatles. The first time I heard Drums and Wires by what was then an obscure band from Swindon, England, I knew I had found my replacement. Thirty years later, they are my favorite group of all time, surpassing their obvious inspiration in my book. I have often argued over the similarities between the two bands. Both started out as cocksure rock outfits. They eventually grew more and more enamored of the studio. Both stop touring to become insular and experimental. And both delivered some of the best album-oriented aural bliss ever. Messrs. Lennon and McCartney, I give you your equals—Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding. Together, you have made my musical life.

“Start!” by The Jam
Paul Weller was never a pure Beatles fan. As the media-appointed “Modfather”, he was more indebted to the work of the Who and the Kinks (which his band, the Jam, frequently covered). Still, when the group released this, its 11th single in the UK, few were ready for the outright “rip” of George Harrison’s “Taxman”. While the bass buoyed along in mock mimicry, guitar solos replayed the inventive “backwards” work of Revolver era mop tops. It was merely a one-off homage, however—but what a great one it was. 

All This and World War II
It remains the oddest of oddball ideas—take colorized stock footage highlighting all facets of the last Great War and score it to songs by the Beatles. Since the heavily litigious group would never agree to having their versions of the tracks supply the soundtrack to Hitler, famous mid ‘70s names like Tina Turner, Peter Gabriel, the Brothers Johnson, and Helen Reddy offered up the cover versions. Even today, in bootleg form, the film is a horrifically hot mess—weird juxtapositions, off the mark translations, and just plain sound/cinema cue insanity. I gladly own a copy of my very own—along with the gatefold LP of all the tunes. It’s like treasuring a copy of an autopsy.

“Beyond the Valley of A Day in the Life” by the Residents
Long banned because of its singular make-up (the entire track is nothing more than sampled loops from notable Beatles songs reconfigured to create a wholly new aural “experience”), this amazing piece of avant-garde performance art has long used to fuel speculation that the San Francisco noise rockers were actually the Fab Four incognito. Even their first album was called Meet the Residents. To make matters even more confusing, they ditched one of their singular ‘eyeball’ character costume designs when John Lennon was shot, going instead for an equally unnerving (and telltale) skull. To this day, no one knows why the ‘60s cultural icons never sued the Residents over this decidedly dark sound collage. It definitely paints the superstars in a whole new light.

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