Those were the days when ‘Beatles mania’ — the famous line-up of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — that swept western music world was slowly creeping in into Indian university campuses. Their cheerful faces with a moptop hairstyle, their highly original, irresistibly catchy synthesis of early American rock and R&B were the topics for chatting among the gatherings at the cafeterias in the campuses. How often we used to gossip at length over their songs, “Please please me”, “I want to hold your hand”, and of course that all-time favourite, “Hey Jude” and so on.
As their popularity soared high by early 1964 invading even the US pop market, their band acquired the nickname of “the Fab Four”. They, breaking many sales records, went on producing innovative albums … Rubber Soul (1965), Revolver (1966), and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band (1967), etc.
I enjoyed listening to songs from these albums from one radio station or the other — of course, mostly Radio Ceylon/BBC. Of course, amongst them how longingly I used to wait for listening that “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad / Take a sad song and make it better / Remember to let her into your heart / Then you can start to make it better…” that starts with Paul singing “Hey” closely followed by piano... then as Paul’s singing the first verse gradually builds up, George’s guitar and Ringo’s tambourine follows. Later the drums step in … In all, it’s a fine blend of orchestration that is pretty simple with few chords so beautifully arranged. This song was said to have been written by Paul McCartney to comfort Julian, son of John, from the stress of his parent’s separation… and obviously, the powerful lyrics — “The movement you need is on your shoulder” — the depth of which well reflects in the inspirational tone of Paul et al. makes its listening more sublime. You would simply get immersed in it… that by the time it reaches the outro, you will join the singer’s Richard’s style shrieking humming, “nah nah nah nah nah nah nah …” Indeed, it is its simplicity and the long chorus, “nah nah nah nah nah nah nah …” that evokes emotions… just like those earlier songs, “A day in the life” and “Strawberry fields forever”.
Then comes my other favourite of 1967: “All you need is love”, the song that the Beatles played for the first time live for ‘Our World’ programme on June 25th 1967 in front of some 400 mn television audience in as many as 24 countries. It was primarily written by John Lennon. Though it was supposed to be a live show, Beatles have played it live from Studio Two from Abbey Road using a pre-recorded backing track but with live of Lennon’s vocals, Starr’s drums, McCartney’s bass guitar and Harrison’s lead guitar solo. Its composition is unique: its chorus had only one note and it has a 7/4 odd time beats. But it was such a success that it shot to No. 1 in at least 10 countries, besides becoming an iconic anthem of unity and love, particularly for hippies and the American youth that was agitating in the campuses against Vietnam war.
Then came the album, Abbey Road, that was on 26th September in UK and 1st October 1969 in the US. Within no time it started making waves on either side of the Atlantic. In all, the album contained 17 tracks. Harrison’s ‘Something’ and ‘Here comes the Sun’ became quite popular. So is the case of Starr’s ‘Octopus’s Gardener’, Lennon’s ‘Come Together’ and the closing medley of unfinished songs, mostly of McCartney.
Thanks to my wife’s Sharp transistor, this time round, I could listen to some of the tracks from this album right in the house, that too, …. reclining on the floor holding transistor on the chest. What an experience! In those days, nights in Rudrur research farm were pretty cold …at times night temperatures would fall below 50 C, and having come from a coastal town, I was kind of unable to put up with night’s chill in that old lime-mortar house under the grove … and listening to “Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter / … it seems like years since it's been here / Here comes the Sun, and I say / It’s alright” coming from the so soothing a voice of George that it sounded pretty reassuring. And the acoustic guitar of George with a capo on the seventh fret worked wonders. It was simply amazing. In that chilly night it was irresistible not to sing along .....
I also had the chance of listening to that song, “Something in the way she moves / Attracts me like no other lover” written and sung by George perhaps, under the influence of his obsession with ISCON cult and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s meditation programmes….etc., had become very popular pretty soon. Many have indeed thought that George wrote it keeping Krishna in mind. It even sounded as “The greatest love song ever written” for Frank Sinatra but it didn’t impress me so much.
I also remember to have heard the song, “Because the world is round it turns me round” from this album that begins with a distinctive electric harpsichord intro followed by Lennon’s guitar played through Leslie speaker. It bears close resemblance to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, which Lennon claims to be deliberate. For, he listening to Yoko playing ‘Moonlight Sonata’ on the piano, seems to have asked her if she can play those chords in reverse, and impressed by it wrote “Because” around them. And the lyrics sans imagery, sans ambiguous references, but a great play on words — “Because the sky is Blue, it makes me Cry/ Because the wind is high it blows my mind” — speak for themselves. It is one of those few tracks where Beatles used moog synthesizer, played by George, as a mini bridge.
This album that was recorded when the band was all set to breaking up owing to internal strife and bitterness, is considered as the absolute pinnacle of Beatles. And there is another very interesting and unusual feature associated with this album: its cover – the cover that doesn’t feature the name of the band of the Album. It was almost anonymous but for the picture of the four Beatles — John Lennon leading bandmates Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and George Harrison across Abbey Road — walking in unison over the pedestrian crossing outside the studio in which the album was recorded.
The idea of putting a picture of the four on the front side of the cover said to have emerged from a sketch that McCartney drew of stickmen on the zebra crossing. The picture was taken on August 8, 1969 at around 11.35 am — a time chosen for avoiding the gathering of fans, who know that Beatles usually turnup at the studio in the mid-afternoon. Standing on a stepladder, Iain Macmillan, the Scottish photographer, shot about six frames, while a policeman stopped the traffic. The photoshoot was over in just about 10 minutes. Of the six frames shot, the one in which all the four were stepping in unison was selected for the sleeve.
Incidentally, this picture also fuelled rumours: “Paul is dead.” For, some watching Paul walking barefoot with a cigarette in his right-hand despite being a lefthander, believed him to be an imposter and jumped at the conclusion that he is dead. But for that, the cover became an iconic sleeve and indeed became a classic that is cherished even today. It’s not for nothing that the fans of Beatles from across the globe assembled at the zebra crossing near London’s Abbey Road Studios on 8th August 2019 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Beatles making one of the most iconic album-covers of all time. ….
Abbey Road Studios in St John’s Wood of North West London that was built in 1829 was used by Beatles to record 190 out of their 210 songs and thus became a pilgrimage centre for the Beatles fans. It has drawn innumerable fans of Beatles from all over the world and once been there, many of them used to walk over the zebra crossing. The crossing, having been selected for Grade II protected status, gained national importance too.
That was the era which, of course, came to an end with the four breaking away after the release of Abbey Road and going on their own individual way — that saw Beatles having started off with Skiffle and the 1950’s rock and roll churning out different genera: pop ballads, psychedelic rock and of course, with the shades of classical influences here and there without of course, missing the mass appeal — have become so special for music lovers that it catapulted them as the best-selling band in history with sales of over 800 mn albums worldwide. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. The band had received seven Grammy Awards and an Academy Award for the best original song score for the 1970 film Let It Be. And as all good things have to come to an end, Beatles’ fame too slipped into time past. Even my wife’s Sharp is now up in the attic.