Almanac Music: The Beatles and me

Sunday at the Adelaide Grand Prix. Former Speaker of the House Arthur Whyte and his wife Mary were on pit straight. Respected folk from Kimba, local royalty. Every lunchtime Arthur went to the Kimba pub. Blistering heat or punishing cold, he’d have a stout. Just one. Mostly. Arthur lived to ninety-three.

Being outgoing and with a healthy curiosity in people Mary exchanged pleasantries with the man in the neighbouring seat. He was gentle, possibly even a little shy. Sounded English. He made gracious inquiries, asked about life in Australia, in Kimba, on farms. Nigel Mansell seemed to be leading the race, and with the octane thunder booming about them Mary reciprocated.

“So, what do you do?” Gosh, what was his name again?

“I’m a musician.”

“That’s nice. So which instrument do you play?”

The cars were making astonishing noise. It was hard to hear. “I play guitar.”

“That’s lovely. Do you play on your own? Or with others?”

Mary took a sip of her tea. He was an agreeable chap. “I just play by myself now.”

“That’s probably easier. So you were in a group?”

“I was.”

“Oh, yes. What was the name of the group? I probably won’t know them, but you never know.”

“They were called the Beatles.”

*
Mum and Dad had a radiogram. Wooden, heavy, solemn in appearance. The turntable sunken into its teak depths. I remember Creedence Clearwater Revival and Anne Murray and The Carpenters.

But what I recollect most vividly is a 45. In the digital age when artefacts like vinyl are discretionary, these seem primeval, unnecessarily real. It was “Love Me Do” with the B-side “PS I Love You.” Both songs crackled constantly when you dropped the needle, but were exhilarating. John Lennon’s harmonica was rowdy while Ringo’s drumming crashed out of that old radiogram.

I was only five, but I was in.

*

The first cassette I owned was It’s a Long Way There by the Little River Band. I’m pretty sure my first record was Ripper ’77; on which the highlights are, “This Is Tomorrow” by Bryan Ferry and, “A Mean Pair Of Jeans” by Marty Rhone. As catchy as it was my cousins Boogly and Froggy and I thought “Blue Jeans” by David Dundas the superior denim-themed pop confection. We’re still right.

When I wake up in the mornin’ light
I pull on my jeans and I feel all right
I pull my blue jeans on
I pull my old blue jeans on (cha-cha)
I pull my blue jeans on
I pull my old blue jeans on (cha-cha)

Fresh from uni and working on the West Coast I bought my first CD player, second-hand from old school mate Fats with whom I shared a passion for Bush Biscuits, tepid Southwark, and Mondo Rock. Acutely aware of my personal responsibility I went into Allans music along Rundle Mall- just up from the Malls Balls. I bought two CDs- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The White Album.

Living by myself in a big farmhouse I blasted these out into the dusty summer dark; brutally cold July mornings; before cricket; after school. These provided a soundtrack to my early twenties after I’d left home, and was making my way.

*

Having spent a week in Penang my girlfriend (now wife) and I then flew to London. It remains the world’s best theme park. Is there a better way to spend a day than walking the ancient streets before flopping exhausted, in a Soho boozer?

In exquisite St Johns Wood, Abbey Road’s frontage appears modest, giving no indication to the history, and the thrilling, unparalleled creativity that’s occurred within. But the fence across the front is remarkable for it’s a giant thank you card to the Beatles, electric with graffiti and black-texta tributes. It’s re-painted every week or so.

“Strawberry Fields Forever” unfailingly takes me back to this time and place. I especially love George Martin’s cello arrangement; it’s blue skies in Hyde Park, a string of Routemaster double-deckers along Oxford Street, and planter boxes bursting with late spring colour on the façade of a Themes pub.

*

What are the most exciting moments in music? Guns ‘N Roses’ “Paradise City” and Axel Rose’s whistle urging his band into the song like a mad football umpire? The Who and Roger Daltery’s apocalyptic scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again”?

No, it’s George Harrison’s Rickenbacker guitar opening to “A Hard Day’s Night.” The chord’s undeniable, an invitation, a golden promise. Fifty years on, it’s still rock music’s most iconic grab.

*

My favourite Beatles’ album has changed as I have. Curiously, I’ve moved retrospectively through their discography. Starting at the ambitiously expansive church of The White Album, I moved to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and was then besotted with Revolver, and especially George’s spectacular guitar work on “And Your Bird Can Sing.” Is there a sunnier riff in rock?

Where am I now? Rubber Soul.

The record’s a confident transition by a band sensing that the boundaries might be further than even they’d imagined. It’s a languid listen, but there’s telling experimentation- most notably with Harrison’s use of sitar on “Norwegian Wood.”

But it’s “You Won’t See Me” which is the album’s standout. At 3.22 it was the longest song the band had recorded. It’s perfectly placed, appearing at track three.

It connects to Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In it the author explores some dark themes that are critical of much in America- the greed, the selfishness, the appalling lack of responsibility, but he delivers these bleak ideas beautifully, in achingly gorgeous prose, and I’m always struck by the poignant contrast between method and message. It stays with me, haunts me. I like art which displays a thoughtful divide.

For me it’s the driving jauntiness of Paul’s piano, Ringo’s tambourine and inventive drumming, and the uplifting harmonies of Lennon and McCartney. “You Won’t See Me” has up tempo hooks in counterpoint to the gloomier nature of Paul’s seemingly autobiographical lyrics, documenting his challenges with then girlfriend Jane Asher, who might still be the most famous former girlfriend in rock music. This song marks a maturation for the Liverpudlians. It’s colossal fun.

When I call you up, your line’s engaged,
I have had enough, so act your age.
We have lost the time that was so hard to find,
And I will lose my mind, if you won’t see me
you won’t see me.

In time I’m sure I’ll bow before other Beatles’ albums, other Beatles’ songs. Just like I always have. The labyrinthine beauty of their palace ensures this.

But tonight, as my family sleeps, I slide on my headphones and press play. Again.

About Mickey Randall

Favourite film: The Shawshank Redemption Favourite song: Khe Sahn Favourite holiday destination: Gold Coast Favourite food: steak Favourite beer: VB Best player seen: Dogga Worst player seen: Frogga Last score on beep test: 3.14159 Favourite minor character in Joyce’s Ulysses: Punch Costello

Comments

  1. Fine work, once again, Mickey. So articulate, so considered. Delightful opening anecdote. LRB’s best ever song was the first track, It’s A Long Way There, on its debut album – thanks especially to Rick Formosa’s guitar work. As for songs about blue jeans – good lord. Or should I say My Sweet Lord. And as for your Beatles’ insights, they remind me that there is always so much to learn. Cheers.

  2. Thanks very much Vin. The opening anecdote is among my favourite ever stories. There’s so much about it that is fantastic. Apparently George and Mary struck up a rapport; it became a friendship.

    I agree that this is LRB’s best song and the guitar solo makes it, and seems uncharacteristic given the MOR direction the band’s career then took. My other link to the song is that Glenn Shorrock came from Gawler, just down the road.

    Like you I love that we can re-discover and learn new things about music, even the Beatles!

  3. Luke Reynolds says

    I thought you were a Stones man Mickey, are you even allowed to like both?!!
    Took me years, and well into my 20’s, to appreciate the work of The Beatles. Always enjoy discovering something new with each listen.

  4. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Hey Mickey, pretty sure that Glenn Shorrock settled in Idmiston Street, Elizabeth. He was always destined to live in SA, as his middle name is “Barrie”. The Twilights started out as Beatles copyists – full circle.

    I used to love the Beatles cartoon on the Channel Niners, the voices weren’t theirs but the songs were. I’m gonna buy that on DVD one day.

    One of my first singles was “Let It Be” – got it for my 10th birthday. It was a bit more enduring that the other single I received, Hans Poulsen’s “Boom Sha La La Lo”. I somehow ended up with some of my aunty’s singles, including “Help”, later on.

    Magnif’ once again.

  5. DBalassone says

    Lovely Mickey. Listening to the Beatles is still a great source of joy for me too. My 7 year old daughter has pinched my Magical Mystery Tour album and forever has the songs ‘Fool on the Hill’, ‘I Am the Walrus’, ‘Hello Goodbye’, ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘Strawberry Fields’ on repeat.

    Have you heard of the ‘Strawberry Fields test’? It was invented by Mike Scott (of Waterboys fame). Listen to the song Strawberry Fields, close your eyes; what do you see? I see a swamp with frogs croaking, surrounded by trees (John may be sitting in one), under grey skies, the Strawberry fields are nearby. Would love to hear what you (and indeed what other knackers) see.

    It’s such a visual song.

  6. Thanks Luke. I reckon you can and must like both the Stones and the Beatles. In his latest book Bill Bryson argues that if the world were only one country then because of its contributions to literature, music, art, science etc. it should be England. Revolver and Exile on Main Street are prime exhibits. I reckon I agree with him. It’s an interesting idea, and over a couple of front bar beers, worth debating.

    Swish- Perhaps Glenn Shorrock should have lived in Gawler! Of course, I went to the Shorrock and LRB Wikipedia pages in following up your comment, and learnt that LRB has had no less than seven drummers. Is this more than Spinal Tap? I was a big fan of the Beatles’ cartoons too, but know little of Hans’ back catalogue. I’m onto him. Thanks for that.

    Was tempted to include the quote from one of the Gallagher brothers whom upon first meeting Sir Paul McCartney said, “Yeah, it’s fooking great. He’s a hero of mine. I mean, Wings are one of my favourite bands.”

    DBalassone – one of the joys in this is playing the albums to our boys. To and from Semaphore yesterday they heard Rubber Soul and then A Hard Day’s Night (a bonus of the 30 minute album!). I’ll undertake the Strawberry Fields test and report back. Brilliant. Thanks in advance.

  7. I’m old enough to remember the school notice board where you had to list your name under “Elvis or the Beatles” then “Stones or the Beatles”. I was the Beatles every time. The innovation and creatlvity of Lennon and McCartney is a bolt of iightning out of a clear blue sky. Like Mozart they had influences, but nothing really explains that quantum shift in music emerging out of Liverpool.
    “While my Guitar Gently Weeps” is one of the few reasons to listen to “The White Album”. Went to that concert tour by Josh Pyke etal a few years ago, thinking I must have missed something at the time. Nah, just 80% drug addled crap. Abbey Road and Let it Be were considerable amends, but like you I’m a mid period Revolver/Rubber Soul man if forced to choose between the children.
    Martin Scorsese’s “Living in the Material World” documentary on George is wonderful. He was a great man in so many aspects of his life. It must have been like trying to kick a goal with John Coleman and Tony Lockett in the same side. Thanks Mickey.

  8. Saw Little River Band and early Split Enz (pre Neil Finn) at the Festival Centre in Adelaide sometime in the 70’s. Glen Shorrock earned my undying admiration walking around the bars after the show in a T Shirt that said “Riddled Liver Band”. Must have been an Elizabeth boy.

  9. Thanks Peter. Scorsese’s documentary is utterly compelling. This is in no small part due to the absence of a narrator, as the participants all speak for themselves and have plenty to share. I’m a middle period fan too, and listened to Let it Be last week when I started thinking about this. It has some gems, but also sounds tired, and I got the sense that, on some songs, none of them were much interested. There’s a handful of songs on All Things Must Pass, including the title track, which illustrate how good George could be. Still you can’t have three boys wonder in one band.

    Little River Band is surely a contender in those “good band, crap name” lists drifting about on the ‘net.

  10. John Butler says

    The Beatles, ….they’ll never catch on.

    I remember possessing a cassette of Ripper 77 at one stage in the distant past Mickey. Probably not long before I acquired a copy of ELO’s New World Record.

    Times change.

  11. Glen Potter says

    Fantastic, Mickey. I’d like to say your piece brought back memories but I concede I have never stopped listening to The Beatles. It started in the mid/late-70s when I was four or five, My father had Sgt. Pepper’s and Abbey Road on vinyl and I would listen to them all the time. The lyrics on the back cover of Sgt. Pepper’s taught me to sight-read. I must have been the only kindergarten kid who even knew the band existed. I’d plug in those monstrously-cupped headphones (which via Womack and Womack in the 80s, are now back in vogue) and listen to them all the time. Once, aged around 8, headphoned-up, drawing to the close of Abbey Road, I decided to impersonate Ringo and his brilliant drum solo in ‘The End’, and bang the floor as if it were a set of ‘Ludwig’ drums. Much to my shock, my parents and sister were staring at me like I’d gone insane, and I drew some derision. The old record player had technology not so readily found on modern devices. Experimenting with the balance dial, allowed me to single-out the violin on Sgt. Pepper’s, ‘She’s Leaving Home’. Just beautiful. Please do the same on Lovely Rita. The ‘chka-chkas’ are worth it. Love anything from Rubber Soul (Nowhere Man, If I Needed Someone), Revolver (Taxman, She Said She Said, Got To Get You Into My Life – love George’s short lead-break late in the song, amid the fanfare of brass), Sgt. Peppers (loved to waltz with my kids when they were young in The Benefit of Mr. Kite; learnt how to spell ‘kaleidoscope’ from Lucy In The Sky), Magical Mystery Tour (Strawberry Fields – my favourite song; and of course, ‘I Am The Walrus – Goo-goo-ga-job!’), The White Album (Dear Prudence – wow! Love Doug Parkinson’s take on this one too; Happiness Is A Warm Gun; Helter Skelter), Abbey Road (too numerous to mention), Let It Be (I’ve Got A Feeling – man!).
    I once bred a racehorse and called it ‘Rocky Raccoon’. Unfortunately, Rocky met his match. Poor Rocky.
    Loved your eloquence. Always a delight. Especially when you wax about a dear-favourite.
    Loved the anecdote too. That’s a beauty.
    Glen Potter

  12. Thanks JB. I have my own “they’ll never catch on” moment. I publicly declared that Radiohead were a one-hit wonder after “Creep.”

    Here’s the tracklist for Ripper 77-
    Bryan Ferry – This Is Tomorrow
    Bee Gees – Love So Right
    10cc – The Things We Do for Love
    Marcia Hines – Shining
    Jon English – Lay It All Down
    Roger Daltrey – Written on the Wind
    Yvonne Elliman – Hello Stranger
    Taste – Rebecca
    Atlanta Rhythm Section – So in to You
    Julie Covington – Don’t Cry For Me Argentina
    Side 2
    Status Quo – Wild Side of Life
    Marty Rhone – A Mean Pair of Jeans
    Hush – Nothing Stays the Same Forever
    Steve Miller Band – Rock’n Me
    Graham Parker and the Rumour – Hold Back the Night
    Trevor White – All You Wanna Do is Dance
    Peter Gabriel – Solsbury Hill
    Supernaut – Young and Innocent
    Gladys Knight and The Pips – So Sad the Song
    The Studs – Funky Feet

    Thanks Glen. Some great personal details there. Wonderful. Do you also think that the image of the big headphones is being ruined by the Australian sports star like Fev, Kyrios etc who are photographed in these?

    Alas for Rocky Raccoon but I reckon a young colt called Bungalow Bill could do well over 1200 though!

  13. I had (might still have) at least one of those Ripper 70 something albums. They had the photo of the girl with the back side ripped out of the shorts didn’t they? Glen, the first song my boys ever learned was ‘Love me do’, so I can confirm at least two others who were Beatles savvy in Kindy. We actually pondered if it was ok to not teach the kids nursery rhymes, but I think it’s given them a great perspective on musical history. They’ve both grown up with an appreciation of the old as well as the new. Although not Beatles related, I did laugh one day picking up my son (nearly 19 now) from Kindy. When you signed the kids out, there was an exercise book that would describe the activities of the day for the parents to read. This particular day, the entry went something like, “Some kids made mud pies, some had reading corner and L.P. White sang American Pie to the teachers. ” Loved the post Mickey, fantastic to hear everyone’s music related stories.

  14. Brilliant, Mickey.
    As a fellow Beatles devotee I devoured every word. And loved it.
    It reminded me that I must put pen to paper about my mum and dad (who are respectively only 17 and 18 years older than me) and their adventures when the Beatles came to Melbourne. Suffice to say, I grew up in a Beatles household.
    One of my favourite personal photos is a pic of myself and my three sons crossing Abbey Road.
    Luke – the argument that you can only love the Beatles OR the Stones is a fallacy. I also love the Stones (particularly 68 through 78).

  15. TG White- I can confirm that Ripper 77 featured a pair of ripped shorts with the songs written across a female buttock. As Spinal Tap cried in defence, “It’s not sexist, it’s sexy.” Or something like this. A friend once said that one of the great things about having kids was inflicting your culture upon them. Particularly when in the car I try to intersperse their choices with mine. How else will they learn if we don’t share! Did L.P. White sing American Pie in its entirety? That would be impressive! Thanks.

    Smokie- Isn’t it bloody hard work getting the Abbey Road photo? All those cars and black London cabs? I once thought it would be easier if that stretch was pedestrianized, but then you wouldn’t earn your photo. I maintain that Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main St. is the best run of form in rock history. It’s Bradmanesque, and the Beatles didn’t equal this, as great as they were. A most beer-worthy topic!

  16. Trucker Slim says

    Great stuff Mr Randall. The Beatles are all that and more. When our kids were young we resisted bring The Wiggles etc into the house. Why would you when you could play The Beatles. I love that McCartney has loosened up so much in the last ten years, jamming with the Foo Fighters, singing with Kanye. He gets the lineage.

    The Playboy Interviews With John Lennon and Yoko Ono is one of my fave music books. At the time (1981) it was most revealing, Lennon had such an ‘honest’ voice, for better and worse.

    Personally I think The White Album is their standout record. It is overflowing with invention and wit and the music load is shared. Yes it is bloated but its heights are quite dizzying.

    The Abbey Road photo is a must, as is the Beatles tour in Liverpool. We did the taxi tour, rather than the bus. A right scouser named Garry was our guide. He couldn’t stand The Beatles, this was just a way of making a buck but he was funny as. refused to play The Beatles as we toured around but kept us laughing all the time. And he knew his Beatles stuff and history. The big eye-opener was seeing the markedly different levels of affluence that each of The Beatles grew up in. Ringo was bog poor working class. George lived in a council flat not to much better off than Ringo. Paul was middle class and John, most definitely. That these four lads could find a common bond in the late 50s early 60s when England was still so class conscious is remarkable in itself. What they produced (including Ringo) was beyond belief. (Yes, I’m a big fan of Ringo. I believe the mighty Max of the E Street Band is as well).

    Cheers

  17. Thanks Rick. I didn’t know that the Beatles came from such different backgrounds. The optimist in me says their common passion overcame the class barrier, but, yes, it’s still remarkable. Like you I’ve always had a soft spot for Ringo and his seeming unlikeliness. Living in England I sent home via email monthly updates on our travels and life and gave each one a title incorporating the name Ringo. It was 2003-5 and some of these were

    Tiger appoints Ringo caddy
    The One About Chandler, Monica and Ringo
    The Famous Five and Ringo become untidy in Cornwall

    You get the idea. The Beatles- another conversation to have at an Almanac lunch this year! Thanks Rick.

  18. The sociological and psychological backgrounds of our heroes is always fascinating. John Lennon may have been more financially middle class living with Aunty Mimi, but never really knowing his mother and father left the biggest impression on him. That made him the rebellious troublemaker, intensely creative artist and fighter for justice.
    In a similar vein I found Keith Richards’ “Life” autobiography vivid and compelling in the first half about his upbringing, post-war England and the early days of the band. Second half – fame, money, drugs, women, general bitching – YAWN.

  19. DBalassone says

    Rick, re backgrounds isn’t there also a strong Irish link to John, Paul and George? Interesting.

    Mickey, I love the Stones sound 1968-72 too (‘Torn and Frayed’ is my favourite), but to compare that run to the Beatles 1965-69, um, yeah, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree. For me, nothing comes even close to what the Liverpudlians achieved in that period.

  20. the ghost of old tom joad says

    Yep, Stones 68-72 doesn’t touch the sides of Beatles 65-69. But Stones were a helluva band. Beatles were astonishing, Thanks Mickey for this fine piece

  21. Now I’ll admit it seems odd for someone to pen a love letter to the Beatles, and then belatedly argue that the Rolling Stones were better, in a certain time frame. My point is that the Stones albums are more consistent. The word I used is “form” and I argue that during the periods in question the Beatles certainly hit plenty of centuries, but also made a few ducks- on The White Album and Let It Be in particular, while the Stones probably didn’t hit as many hundreds, they didn’t leave the crease on zero either on the albums in question.

    But then again it could be like arguing which Waugh twin was superior.

    Thanks for your thoughts. It’s a ripping debate.

  22. Poofta Bear says

    Mikey you forgot about Abba.

  23. I am defeated, you won the war.

  24. 2009 in England with wife and her sister.
    From Australia I had booked a National Trust tour of Paul’s and John’s homes in Liverpool. At Paul’s a musician from New York asked to play the piano in Maccas lounge-room and he played 6 McCartney songs! After the National Trust tour we then booked a black cab tour that took us to Ringo’s house, which we were allowed inside. Then to George’s Arnold Gve home, Penny Lane, Quarrybank School, Strawberry Fields, Eleanor Rigby’s grave, the church hall where John met Paul etc. After the 3 hour cab tour finished, we walked to the Cavern where musicians were playing Beatles music.
    It turned out that this day was Beatles day in Liverpool!
    That night we met a group of school teachers at the pub. Their school was performing at the Echo theatre they invited us and we sat second front row for the concert, where every act had to play Beatle’s songs along with a Beatles tribute band and the symphony orchestra.
    What a day!

  25. Thanks ozman. That’s a near perfect day. Wonderful to think that, on this planet, extraordinary things can come from ordinary places. And if you lob in Liverpool, best do it on Beatles Day! I wonder what role the geography and even the psycho- geography played in their young lives?

  26. Marcus Holt says

    As a young teenager I was Beatles-mad, and realised that I had absorbed all their lyrics as if by osmosis through hearing my older brother playing their records (vinyl) when I was still in primary school. As a rite of passage the first LP I ever bought was Sgt Pepper. The cartoon on Saturday mornings was mandatory. So many great memories, so many brilliant songs. It’s an impossible task choosing favourites, albums or songs, but I’ve always loved Paperback Writer, even when I was so young/naive/stupid that I thought the lyric was “Take a back right turn”. Eleanor Rigby is hauntingly beautiful. Hey Jude is anthemic. Come Together is joyous. Let it Be, serene. I could go on but this piece reinforces one of the great mistakes of my life. Despite living in London for two years in my early twenties, the only time I went to Liverpool was to see my beloved Tottenham play at Anfield and Goodison, and I never even thought to take a walk across Abbey Road!!!! It’s a measure of how besotted I was (still am to be honest) with Spurs (only missed one game, home or away in two seasons, including FA Cup and UEFA Cup Finals) that my mind never strayed to other English possibilities. Never saw Wimbledon, Stonehenge, Lords or the Crown Jewels while I was there!
    Next time I will be more diligent, with The Beatles tour of Liverpool number one on my list.

  27. Marcus Holt says

    PS. The day John was shot remains one of the saddest days of my life. Working at Tom Hull’s Mansworld in Cairns when the news reports started coming in. I was devastated. I couldn’t stay at work, and immediately went and bought the cassette version of Double Fantasy. Recent events, Bowie, Frey, remind me how powerful the passing of our musical heroes can be.

  28. Thanks Marcus. Lovely recollections. I’m sure most people could declare their failings as tourists. We didn’t visit Westminster Abbey despite walking past it dozens of times. You can only act as you see fit.

    Pleased to hear from a fellow Tottenham fan. I lobbed in England in 2002 without a team and was determined not to simply jump upon Man U, Chelsea etc. just because everyone else had. In Hertfordshire lots loved Arsenal, including the father of a girl I taught whose dad was a translator and knew Henry and Vieira. So, in desperation, I asked some lads one afternoon, and was told, “Sir, you should go for Spurs as they do alright. But they don’t cause no harm.” I cold see no reason to refuse their argument so went with it.

    Lemmy, Bowie, Frey, Weiland- it’s been a rough trot. Like you I remember where I was when I heard of Lennon’s passing. I was working my after school job in Kapunda’s butcher’s shop – Menzels- when it came over the radio around 4pm. I’m pretty sure Mum had just bought his Double Fantasy album. Thanks Marcus; enjoyed your thoughts.

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