Thursday, February 25, 2010

Two Guys in a Band

I have been watching a DVD set that has the four appearances of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show back in 1964 and 1965. As Mr. Spock would say, it's "fascinating." They did three weeks in a row in February of ‘64, on their first trip to the States, then another week in September of ‘65. When this actually took place I was in diapers, enjoying Gerber’s fine products.

The three weeks in '64 are interesting. Ed Sullivan, the host, seems very nervous. He’s worried that the crowd of teenagers might erupt into something . . . rude? Dangerous? It’s hard to tell. But he’s pretty nervous. He keeps saying “be quiet” He had to get those commercials in.

On the first show John Lennon doesn’t sing lead on anything, which seems weird. John liked to be out front. But Paul sings all the leads. I wonder if John was sick? Maybe he had a cold and couldn’t sing so Paul took the lead? John makes up for it on the next two shows, singing most of the lead vocals. And his mic is up front, on an angle with George an Paul behind. This gave an interesting angle for the camera, but it also placed John prominently in front of the rest of the band.

And then there’s the show in September of ‘65. It’s a year and a half later but a lot of things are still the same. The crowd is still going gaga. Girls looking like they’re going to pass out, screaming like in a horror movie when the guy with the axe jumps out to chop up the girl. They scream and their hands come up next to their face. What is that? Ed Sullivan is still nervous that things might get out of hand. The audience still putting up with the other acts, just waiting for the Beatles to play.

Then the Beatles come out and you can tell that year and a half has passed. The hair is a little longer. And the way they play, you get the impression they’ve seen the Rolling Stones and feel threatened by the experience. The Stones first record was released in April of ‘64. But, whatever the reason, the Beatles rock harder. John is playing the Rickenbacker 325, painted black. Then Paul does “Yesterday” all by himself, which John doesn’t seem to like much. He makes an odd comment about it. He’s trying to be funny but he’s really just acting a bit strange. Is he nervous or just giddy from the experience? Is he on something?

But then they do another song, and during this song there’s a really great moment. John Lennon has moved back to sing in the same mic as Paul McCartney. Paul is on harmony. They’re into the song, and for just a second they make eye contact. Instantly they’re both grinning, as if the two of them are in on a private joke. And the joke seems to be this: Man. Can you believe this? Can you believe what’s happening to us? How did we get here? This is nuts, don’t you think?

Two young friends, in their early twenties, playing songs in a rock band, and suddenly it’s become something huge and impossible to account for. Somehow, they’re in America playing on a tremendously popular TV show with people screaming their names. And, somehow, they are the stars of the show.

When they look at each other like that, it’s a very sweet moment. Like kids on Christmas morning, they're amazed to be there and having the time of their lives. Not icons. Not rock stars. Not a piece of history. Just two guys who liked to play music together blown away by what their passion has led them to.

I think that moment says a lot about why the whole thing worked. It reveals the heart behind the songs that are still listened to by so many people. At least until the drugs and the egos started to get in the way.

They enjoyed what they were doing.

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010


  1. i wish i could say that i enjoyed what they did as much as everyone else.

  2. For me it has been an exploration of songwriting, and a very interesting one. I was not a big Beatles fan back in the day, but I've learned to appreciate the talent over time as I've gone through the different recordings. The sheer volume of songs they produced in what was actually only a 6 year stint as the Beatles is amazing in itself.

  3. very true. i've never probed into their stuff very much. the one disc of theirs that i always wanted to at least try was sgt. pepper... . from the little i do know, this was an album unlike their catchy 2 minute pop songs that made them so popular.


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