ONE LITTLE TRUMPET RIFF
I subscribe to an APA – Wikipedia calls it “a group of people who produce individual pages or magazines that are sent to a Central mailer for collation and distribution to all members of the group. APAs were a way for widely distributed groups of people to discuss a common interest together in a single forum before the advent of electronic bulletin boards or the internet.
In 2001 the subject of the APA I belong to, called WAPA (standing for “Western” and later “Wacky” and then, simply, “W”) was Beatlemania. I kept my contribution (or “zine”) for that WAPA and thought I would share it here.
Ye Gods, I could fill volumes with musings over the Beatles. Fortunately, volumes have already been written about them – from their music to their movies to their life stories to their children and brothers and sisters’ life stories to their affect on popular culture. This is my take on things…
The Beatles had an absolute impact on my life and my taste in music. When John Lennon was killed one classmate was surprised I went to school that next day instead of staying home mourning (much like Harrison’s recent death, I didn’t hear about it until the next morning in the car).
The first song I remember hearing and enjoying distinctly was Paul McCartney’s “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”. I was hypnotized by the trumpet riff in the middle of the song.
Some years later my brother went into the Air Force. He decided to give me his old albums – including the soundtrack to “Jesus Christ Superstar” and some Richard Pryor albums. Included in the stack were four Beatle albums – the greatest hits packages from 1973 (“Beatles 1962-1966” and “Beatles 1967-1970” known as the Beatles Red & Blue), “The Beatles” (known as the White Album – Red, White & Blue, get it?), and “Alpha & Omega”.
Alpha & Omega was a bootleg greatest hits package covering their career and included some solo work. The mixing was horrible (although I didn’t notice at the time), but it was a big enough seller that the Beatles decided they were missing the gravy train and released their own “best of’ – the aforementioned Red & Blue.
At that age I mostly enjoyed their work before 1967 – I have since grown to love their later experiments. Those four albums (ten disks in all) was quite a primer.
Alpha & Omega had a lot of album cuts you didn’t hear much on the radio. The solo works included “Imagine”, “Bangladesh” and “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” – “There’s that song!” I exclaimed. Oh how wonderful, I played it and played it, loving every second of it.
The tune probably influenced my decision to learn to play the trumpet beginning at age 11. The first thing I did when I got it home was practice the notes. I managed to finger the right notes for the trumpet interlude to “Admiral Halsey” and had it written out and played it well by the time of my first lesson.
The tune therefore led a life devoted to music – collecting albums, learning to play piano and guitar, and ten years as a DJ. All because of one little trumpet riff on a song by an ex-Beatle.
Album collecting in the 1980s was a passion for me. It was a rush to find some rare outof-print piece of vinyl — McCartney’s “Thrillington”, the various 1960’s soundtracks by Harrison & McCartney, etc. Plus bootleg LPs of concerts and outtakes.
One triumphant purchase I especially remember: I saved and saved and spent $40.00 for Paul McCartney’s “Back in the USSR”, released only in the Soviet Union. I got my copy from someone who smuggled it into the free world. I had a friend in law school, whose parents were Russian, read the album to me. I played tracks from it on the radio proudly boasting about its rarity. It was later released in the USon CD, complete with English translation of the liner notes. I still mope.
I had most of the tracks from the “Beatles Anthology” series on record almost a decade before their official release. It was one of the few times I wished I were still a DJ — I would have loved to have played “Some Other Guy” or “Mailman Bring me No More Blues” officially instead of tucking them between two other Beatle tunes (“We have this on a reel to reel, I have no idea where this came from.”).
As a teenager, I asked for the Beatles albums for Christmas and birthday gifts. My love of the Beatles naturally (okay, obsessively) led to my enjoying other rock groups — the Moody Blues, Rolling Stones and the Who, solo Beatle projects, etc. The radio would play Yes and the Eagles in between the sacred Beatles hymns. My life was listening to (and playing) rock and roll anthems.
In high school I started reading my first books about the Beatles — their lives and music. I realized we Americans had been shafted! In England, they would release an album with fourteen songs or so. In the US, they would take about six or seven of those songs, pad it with released singles and “B”-sides and make a new own album. In England, they released “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver” while the USreleased “Rubber Soul”, “Yesterday and Today”, and “Revolver”.
The Beatles didn’t like that arrangement — they spent long hours arguing over the position of the songs — to give the album an ebb and flow (a lost art nowadays). I wanted to hear the songs the way nature intended as well, and my quest for only the British releases ensued for the next several months. Everyone else in the country must have realized the same thing — suddenly British editions of the albums were (thankfully) easy to find. A record store next to a Panterra’s Pizza restaurant in Belleville, Illinoissold the British releases. Note this was decades before ebay. After several months and lots of pizza I completed by collection.
When the Beatle albums were released on compact disks, it was the British versions. The only exception was “Magical Mystery Tour”, this was the American version, with some added singles from the same time period.
Some years later “Yellow Submarine” was released. Side Two contained other previously-released Beatle songs from the movie instead of the original instrumental soundtrack music. The album is better for it. It was the last cassette tape I bought – excellent music to listen to in the car!
With the CD’s “Past Masters Vol. I & II” all of the Beatles officially released output are available on CD. With “Live at the BBC” and “Anthology I — III”, most of the unreleased work is available as well. Now the rarities are the old American albums we tossed aside in the mid-1980s — like “Something New” and “Hey Jude”.
To me Beatlemania describes the maelstrom of publicity surrounding the group. As much as the members griped about it later in life, they certainly enjoyed it at the time. Their arguments that the mania was horrific are hard to fathom — their interviews take place in a limo heading to a private jet to take them to their mansion in the Bahamas. Old joke: Fame is a curse, “I should be so cursed”.
In truth, one thing bad about the mania was it detracted from the music. It is obvious nowadays that talent has little to do with fame — as long as you smile for the camera and be seen with the right people at the right places you don’t have to worry about the music: let the producers and the A&R Men worry about selling records.
One forgets the most important part of the Beatles — they weren’t lovable mop tops, they were musicians and composers, damn good musicians and composers. The Beatles were not the first superstars to cash in on their success through marketing — Elvis, Johnny Ray, Sinatra and Valentino all graced covers of “teeny-bopper” mags — but the Beatles’ publicity machine certainly went to extremes. In Americathe machine was headed by, of all people, Pat Boone. He obtained the license to sell official Beatle items. “Black market” items were rife just as it is today (as all those parking lot T-shirt and shoe salesmen will deny).
Yes there were public appearances on variety shows and special magazine supplements, plush pillows, salt-and-pepper shakers, cake toppers, TV dinner trays, jigsaw puzzles; the list goes on and on. Books have been dedicated solely to Beatle collectibles.
Currently, it is almost expected for stars to grace shirts and throw rugs, have dolls made of them, and even al Saturday morning cartoon, but the Beatles were the first. Folkie-rock star Jewel wrote a book of poetry — John Lennon’s second book of poetry was released before she was born. Child actresses Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen had a syndicated cartoon. Ringo’s grandson watched reruns of the Beatles’ animated TV show long before. Singer Marian Carey’s movie flopped. “Magical Mystery Tour” flopped, but do you think “Glitter” will be called an “amazing portrayal of the times” thirty years from now (actually it is a portrayal of the times — plotless, soulless and very boring)?
And the comic books (you don’t think I could go this long without mentioning comics books do you?). The Beatles had an “official” comic in 1964 published by Dell illustrating their rise to fame. Later Dell published the comic version of “Yellow Submarine”. In the 1990s Revolutionary Comics did an eight-part series on the lives of the Beatles as a group and as individuals. It’s very hard to find, but worth it. Marvel Comics in the 1970s released a Beatle comic — no, they didn’t fight Galactus; it was another history of the group.
Otherwise the Beatles appeared as themselves only as an incidental part of the plot: they appeared in Laugh (Archie), Jimmy Olsen, Jerry Lewis and teen romance comics. Mostly comic book writers (fearing having to pay a royalty), just had four or five long hairs calling themselves all kinds of insectoid names — the Mosquitoes, the Roaches, the Bugs, etc.
The mania surrounding the Beatles was overboard even by today’s standards. But now it is, like the music and movies, also part of Beatle lore. We can either shake our heads or join in on the frenzy. See you at the flea markets!
Copyright 2013 Michael G. Curry