This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Beatle's landmark album, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Clubs Band." This means the number of people who actually remember the Beatles' arrival in America three years before that is a club that gets smaller every year. But if you were one of the lucky few to catch the first of those landmark appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, well, that's a club you can be proud to be a member of.
We think of this as a seminal event now but for as influential as the Beatles were to pop culture, to music, to people's lives, it's truly amazing how little coverage they got in the nation's newsmagazines. At least Newsweek managed to give this cover to the Beatles during the week that Beatlemania arrived ("Bugs About Beatles," February 24, 1964) in all its exhuberance less than three months after JFK was killed, setting off a national downer. Time didn't get around to a cover until three years later when they featured them in their Sgt. Pepper regalia as distorted puppets.
Here's one weird anamoly to start with -- the article inside about the four musicians we know as John, Paul, George and Ringo is called "George, Paul, Ringo and John." Go figure. And, boy, did Newsweek just not get it. They started that article like this:
"Visually they are a nightmare: tight, dandified, Edwardian-Beatnik suits and great pudding bowls of hair. Musically they are a near-disaster: guitars and drums slamming out a merciless beat that does away with secondary rhythms, harmony, and melody. Their lyrics (punctuated by nutty shouts of "yeah, yeah, yeah!") are a catastrophe, a preposterous farrago of Valentine-card romantic sentiments."
It's hard to believe, isn't it? The Beatles generation became so mainstream that nobody can imagine that people felt that way, but Newsweek wasn't just being stuffy, they were representing the overwhelming feelings of the vast majority of people over, say, twenty. I remember watching that Ed Sullivan Show where they performed for the first time. My father, not much of a music fan to begin with, dismissed them by saying he couldn't understand how anybody could stand to listen to "that goddamned caterwalling." Being part of the status quo, he just didn't get it any more than Newsweek did. The magazine's reporters ended their article with:
"The big question in the music business at the moment is: will the Beatles last? The odds are that, in the words of another era, they're too hot not to cool down, and a cooled-down Beatle is hard to picture. It is also hard to imagine any other field in which they could apply their talents, and so the odds are that they will fade away, as most adults confidently predict."
I've seen Paul McCartney play sold-out shows at Staples Center here in Los Angeles three times now. Somebody should have told him.