One of my earliest memories in life is of sitting in the living room with my mum, in front of our radio, which was the size of a small car (well, it wasn’t, but it was huge), listening to the fledgling BBC Radio One. The reason for this was the excitement of the new Beatles single which was about to be debuted for the first time. And then it started:
“You say yes, I say no
You say stop and I say go go go, oh no
You say goodbye and I say hello”
It is hard to describe to those who weren’t there just how exciting those days really were. Before 1967, there was the BBC Light Programme, which was mostly ghastly stuff from the shows and where a Max Bygraves song would have been thought of as cutting edge and slightly dangerous, the Home Service, which was Radio 4, and the Third Programme which was Radio 3. If you wanted the rapidly evolving “pop” music, you listened to the “pirate” stations operating mainly from the North Sea, illegally, to Radio Luxembourg, Fab 208. The BBC was very slow on the uptake.
The arrival of a new Beatles song was an event. People crowded around their radios to hear their latest gem, and almost always a new Beatles single was a musical triumph. They never let us down. And so it was with “Hello, Goodbye”.
I say all this because today would have been John Lennon’s 75th birthday, the man who wrote the “B” side, “I Am The Walrus” and many of the Beatles’ edgier tunes. McCartney was the genius of the melody, Lennon was often, though not always, harder in content.
As I kid, I was a George Harrison man, for reasons I never grasped. Perhaps it was a kind of teenage crush or maybe I just loved his guitar playing. As I grew older, I came to idolise Lennon.
When the Beatles split, so their music grew and grew apart. Macca made some good albums, culminating with the brilliant “Band on the run”, whereas Lennon made some great ones. Harrison made one great album, “All Things Must Pass” but it was Lennon’s “Imagine” that stood out, not just as a great Lennon album but one of the great albums full stop. It is all killer, no filler. The title track is one of the greatest songs ever written, but “Jealous Guy” is there too. The angry, furiously angry,”Give Me Some Truth” is there and Lennon’s assault on McCartney, “How Do You Sleep?” still shocks. No record collection is complete without it.
His “Rock and Roll” album is mainly covers of 50s and 60s rock and roll classics, confirming Lennon as a truly great rock and roll singer, right up there with Presley, Lewis and Little Richard and his cover of Ben E King’s “Stand By Me” actually manages to eclipse the original, building as it does to a “Whole of the Moon” type crescendo.
But in 1980, at the age of 40, Lennon was gunned down and killed. He had just returned to making music and he was taken away with many of his great years potentially ahead of him. Lennon would have been the same age today as Tom Jones, so you can imagine what the world has lost with his premature passing.
There is no law that says you have to like the Beatles, but it is undeniable that popular music would not be where it is today without them.
I am sure a pre teen audience still gets excited when New Direction churn our more product but when the Beatles brought out a new song, the whole world sat up. I wish John Lennon was still here to we could thank him and wish him a happy birthday. He was truly a great.