Exploring Madison's Music Scene
Feb 17, 2014
10:51 AMLocal Sounds
Fifty Years Later, the Beatles Still Reign
I missed the first broadcast of “The Beatles: The Night That Changed America” but was able to see most all of the rebroadcast on CBS last week. It is an event certainly worthy of tribute; the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. Yes, I am old enough to have seen it. My memory is a bit foggy now but I distinctly remember my parents calling me into the room to view it on the black-and-white. I remember watching with some indifference as we tuned in to Ed Sullivan every week. I remember my dad making remarks about the hair—remarks he still makes regarding hair and fashion! He must’ve had his first panic attack when I insisted I would no longer be sporting a butch cut. It might have been the second broadcast a week later but somewhere along the line I decided THAT was the coolest thing I had ever seen and THAT was what I wanted to do.
The fiftieth anniversary rekindles the predictable debates about the true merit of the Beatles and the band's effect on popular music. Those who would deny the impact of this singular event, however, have their heads in the sand, whether the Beatles’ music means that much to them or not. I remember a conversation with my friend and Sled Dogs bandmate Dunes who was talking about an exchange he had with someone about the Beatles. Apparently his acquaintance did not care for the band, and I clearly recall Dunes saying, “How can you not like the Beatles? That’s like saying you don’t like air.”
And maybe that’s the point. Undeniably the best songwriters in pop music history, their influence is so pervasive it might even go undetected in the same way you don’t notice that you’re breathing. Until it stops. But here’s what I know after watching the broadcast:
- “Yesterday” is the most recorded song in history. It is such a good song that it can survive butchering, such as Katy Perry’s version witnessed in the television special.
- In fact, the beauty of the Beatles’ songwriting and arrangements is that the songs will always sound terrific no matter who is singing them. Witness the over-the-top rendition of “Fool on the Hill” by the Eurythmics, who reformed for the occasion (and then presumably un-reformed immediately after).
- Dave Grohl (Nirvana/Foo Fighters) has nothing if not good taste. His version of “Hey, Bulldog” with ELO’s Jeff Lynne was a real treat. One of my favorite unheralded Beatles songs.
- George Harrison was disrespected during his time in the Beatles but had his day when all the songs the Beatles turned down wound up on his smash All Things Must Pass album. “Here Comes the Sun” never loses its charm and never will.
- “Something,” another Harrison composition and a song that Frank Sinatra referred to as the “greatest love song ever written,” was wisely included on Abbey Road and ranks as one the Beatles’ finest recordings.
- Damn, John Legend is truly one of the greatest singers I have ever heard. His version of “Let it Be” with Alicia Keys was beautiful.
- I don’t get the popularity of Imagine Dragons. Their reduction of John Lennon’s masterful “Revolution” was a disgraceful display of mediocrity, a symptom that affects much of what we are being led to believe is good these days. Oh well, at least they didn’t get Mumford and Sons to do it. Or fun.
- Predictably, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr stole the show. Starr looked fitter than Mick Jagger and had such energy. McCartney’s current touring lineup and continued excellent recorded output is remarkable. He still sounds and plays great. It’s fifty years on—try finding someone who doesn’t recognize these two names.
- Joe Walsh was stunningly good in this show. Like McCartney he can still hit the high vocal notes with power and his guitar playing was completely up to snuff. The guitar showcase “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (another Harrison jewel) was great and the duel with Walsh and Guy Clark, Jr. in the coda was highly entertaining. The performance also featured Grohl on drums and begged the question, “Where the hell was Eric Clapton?”
- The house band was excellent, particularly guitarists Peter Frampton and Steve Lukather (Toto), though everyone onstage in that role was stellar.
- When the Clash sang “Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust” they were not referring to the music.
McCartney perhaps said it best in one of several taped interview segments with Dave Letterman in which they stood in the empty Ed Sullivan Theater and reminisced about that historic occasion fifty years earlier: “It took a lot of things coming together at once to make the Beatles happen.” Amen. It’s a little sad to think that history will not repeat itself, but it sure has been a privilege to live through it.