Thursday, July 16, 2009

"God bless them Beatles for what they done"

Let it Be meets the Beatles' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

An older but energetic Paul McCartney made a triumphant return to the Ed Sullivan Theatre last night, where he rocked Broadway atop the Late Show with David Letterman marquee.

There was clearly an excited vibe among the Late Show audience last night - even Bruce Willis showed up to do a Top 10 list, "just to meet Paul McCartney." And Letterman came off as an excited, nervous schoolboy - perhaps the only time I've seen him like that on the show.

"When we were kids, we would go to the school library and look up all the information we could find on the Beatles," Letterman said to a bemused Paul, who - as always - spoke about "the four lads who shook the world" in stride.

When Letterman asked him why he'd never been on the Late Show before, McCartney joked, "Because I don't like the show."

Chris Farley's famous SNL sketch with McCartney came to mind: "Member when you were with the Beatles? That was awesome!"

First and last and always

It must be depressing to be a musician and to consider that no matter what you write or record, or how famous you become, you will never be as great as the Beatles. They did it first, and they did it best.

My bible, the Rolling Stone Album Guide, gives 15 of the Beatles' albums a four-and-a-half or five-star rating, and neatly summarizes their influence:
"They invented the idea of the self-contained rock band, writing their own hits and playing their own instruments. They invented the idea that the world's biggest pop group could grow up into arty, innovative musicians. For that matter, they invented the idea that there was any such thing as the world's biggest pop group. They also invented drugs, beards, bed-ins, India, concept albums, round glasses, the Queen, breaking up, and vegetarians.
Not bad for a start. Then, there's the music:
"The Beatles left behind more great music than anybody can process in a lifetime. Sheer abundance is part of their story: Life with the Beatles means vaguely disliking a chestnut like "Nowhere Man" or "Blackbird" for years until it sneaks up and gets into your blood for good.

"Just check out "I Want to Hold Your Hand," which explodes out of the speakers with the most passionate singing, drumming, lyrics, guitars, and girl-crazy howls ever - it's an insult to the Beatles to say they never topped this song, because nobody else has either, although the lads came pretty close themselves with "You're Going to Lose That Girl." It's the most joyous three minutes in the history of human noise."

To this day, the best test to see if a person is deserving of your companionship is the simple question, "Do you like the Beatles?" If the person says, "No," or - even worse - "I like the Beach Boys better," run for your life.

Conversely, you can also ask, "Do you love Jar Jar Binks?" And if the person says, "Yes," same deal.

The Beatles mystery

I credit the Beatles with the reason I love music (and life?) so much today. Sorry, Mom, it wasn't the piano lessons.

In grade eight, when time isn't so valuable a commodity, I used to lie on the floor with the headphones on, mostly listening to my Mad Magazine floppy vinyl records, like "It's a Super Spectacular Day," which played a different ending each time you played it, depending on which groove the needle hit. Clever.

One day, the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club album cover caught my eye. What the hell was this? Was it the Beatles? Another band covering the Beatles? A greatest hits? What did this have to do with "I Wanna Hold Your Hand?" Why was Bob Dylan on the cover?

Julian Cope talks about having a similar experience in his excellent book Japrocksampler. As a kid, he puts on the Beatles' 45 of "I Saw Her Standing There," and Paul yells out the opening line: "She was just 17, if you know what I mean..." And Cope thinks to himself, "No, I don't know what you mean."

One of the things that's missing from music today is that mystery; you can e-mail Gwen Stefani, and you might even get an e-mail back. All of the musicians' personal information is posted on MySpace ad nauseam. If you hang around after a show, the odds are really high that you'll meet the band and get an autograph.

Back then, the mystery is part of what sold the music. When I listened to the Beatles, I couldn't even conceive of them as human beings living on the same planet as me; music this good must've come from more intelligent beings from another dimension!

Back to Sgt. Pepper: I listened to it until the grooves wore out, and my life was never the same again. Soon after, I went to see "Beatlemania" at the Winnipeg Concert Hall - a lame version of the Beatles, but as close as I would come until Paul McCartney played the Stadium on May 23, 1993.

Or as I call it, "the day that God came to Winnipeg."

The weather was perfect - the Beatles being God, they can control the weather - and I'll never forget the awe I felt when McCartney hit the stage. "Holy crap: this is the guy who played the Ed Sullivan Show. And who wrote "Yesterday" and "Hey, Jude." And once stopped at the Winnipeg airport with the Beatles, because the plane needed refueling."

Probably the greatest moment of my life was belting out "Penny Lane" with Paul McCartney at the Winnipeg Stadium, beer in hand (me, not Paul). Sure, everyone else was singing along too, but to me it was a duet, and I won't let anyone burst my bubble.

I should also point out that the lamest controversy of the show was drummed up in advance, courtesy of Peter Warren and CJOB radio, who heard that Sir Paul was showing a short anti-animal testing video before the show, which featured some quick shots of animal abuses.

The big question on CJOB that day, "Will you walk out of the concert during the video?" Wah, wah, wah. Yeah, I'm going to walk out on a Beatle because you told me to do it, local radio star. Then again, I did go to Portage and Main when the Jets were leaving town, and I'm not even a hockey fan. OK, we're even, CJOB.

The day after the stadium show, I went to Polo Park to buy the one Beatles CD I didn't own ("Yellow Submarine" - yuck), and the place was packed with people who attended the concert the night before, buying up as many Beatles CDs as they could carry. This was 1993, almost 40 years after the Beatles played the Ed Sullivan Show. Amazing to consider, especially in the era of the free download.

A world without Beatles?

But seeing McCartney on Letterman yesterday reminded me that there will soon be a planet Earth on which no Beatles will exist. That will be a dark day indeed. Because Paul and Ringo have lived into comfortable old age, it's not likely that when they die we'll see the public grief that we saw with the death of Michael Jackson or John Lennon, for that matter.

But when the media asks "Will there ever be someone as famous as Michael Jackson?" I have to laugh. The world already has someone as famous as Michael Jackson: Paul McCartney and the Beatles before him.

The world will never see the likes of them again, unless some super-intelligent aliens from another dimension appear and blow us away with something better. Until then, I'll take Sgt. Pepper.

In the song below, Daniel Johnston - pays tribute to the Beatles in his own, inimitable basement tape.

"God bless them Beatles for what they done!"


  1. I knew you would post on this! I have to agree, the excitement level on the show was palpable.

    Just a note on the so-called "Late Night Wars," Dave was number one once again last night, and he has pretty much pulled even with Conan in overall ratings. This could be the show that sees him pull ahead for good. When Leno had Hugh Grant on after his hooker scandal in the 90’s, it put him on top for the majority of his time on the Tonight Show. What with Dave's resurgence and the fantastic guests he's had as of late, it wouldn't surprise me if he stayed on top after this.

    Also, McCartney ended up playing a seven song set for the crowd in front of the theatre. You can find the video on the Late Show's website:

    Oh, and Craig Ferguson was hilarious afterward, as usual. I don't even watch NBC anymore!

  2. Yep, Ferguson was also great last night. It's a pretty solid two-hour block, I must say.

    Conan is still struggling on the Tonight Show, though I think he'll find his way, just like he did last time.

    Jimmy Fallon, though: he's gotta go.

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  4. Since this post has more than one subject on the go, I shall stick to the Beatles. One thing that has always fascinated me is how the Beatles and artists like Elvis and Sinatra were so prolific in album creation compared to today's artists.

    The Beatles released 12 studio albums in the U.K. in 8 years, all the while touring all over the world. Artists like them have such great catalogues of music because they gave us so much to enjoy. Now you're lucky if you get an album every couple years from your favourite artists. Albums today probably take more time being mixed than the entire process did back then.

    I think that's one of the reasons that we'll never see artists like that again. Now it's more about the celebrity, money, fame, and the "game" than it is about the music (Keep in mind this is just a generalization of all music. There are many exceptions to this comment) At least the truly amazing music of the Beatles and their kind lives on and on.


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