Let me share a little anecdote about the day The Beatles went from being my favourite band to necessary life-support. It’s going to get a bit personal:
It was a lonely train ride back home.
I had just represented my school in the Annual Maharishi Vidya Mandir Schools Meet-Up Fest Thingy Or Whatever in Hyderabad (I can’t for the life of me recall what it was called, so let’s just pretend this is it). I was part of the Assam contingent that was mostly made up of multiple schools from Guwahati with me and my classmate being the only ones representing our hometown, Silchar. The problem with not being able to speak or understand the language of the majority is that you’ll always be the butt of their jokes, especially if the majority are all schoolmates and you’re a pushover inviting ridicule without resistance. It was bearable until the penultimate day when it took a turn for the worse; I was humiliated and ragged, and I won’t go into details here but it was a horrible night. The aftermath was even worse. Unable to think and utterly miserable, I went to one of the teachers in charge to bail me out of the situation who immediately told me not to make a big deal out of it (“They were just having fun. Cheer up.”). Without the backing of my own spineless teacher, I resorted to ask my mother to intervene which resulted in me being shifted to a separate room and being completely ostracized for the rest of the trip for being a snitch. Like I said, it was horrible.
So, there I was lying down all alone on the topmost bunk in our compartment. I could hear the others singing and enjoying themselves even through the earphones. It was probably the lowest point in my life. And that was when I first heard The Beatles’ ‘A Day in the Life’.
It was divine providence. The moment Lennon’s dreamy vocals drifted in, I knew this was going to be a special song. But it was the line “I’d love to turn you on” that really put me in a trance. I couldn’t see or feel anything around me. I couldn’t remember what had happened to me in the past or what was happening at the moment. Nothing else existed in the universe except these lines reverberating around my mind, from one ear to the other. The spell was shattered right away by the epic build-up to the crescendo; it terrified me. I got up, eyes wide, refusing to believe a song like this could ever have been recorded; it wasn’t like anything I had ever heard before. As if to ease the tension, McCartney’s jaunty piece came next. I slowly realized, knowing my Beatles history, that this was special in more ways than one. This was a song that had substantial input from both Lennon and McCartney, something that is considered a rarity in the later, more experimental Beatles years. Lennon took over the reins again in the song, wondering how many holes it would take to fill the Albert Hall. And then those lines, “I’d love to turn you on”, again. The terrifying crescendo, again. The Final Chord. And then, nothing.
It’s just 4 and a half minutes long (unless you count the lull before the high-pitched sound and the weird “Never could be any other way”) but it felt like hours. I was transfixed for what seemed like eternity. The Beatles had made me forget about the worst period in my life. It was an ethereal, spiritual experience. I hadn’t felt that way before and I haven’t experienced anything even close to what I did that day since. This might all look exaggerated for effect, but believe me, this is the first time I’ve been able to properly put into words what I experienced and even this doesn’t do it enough justice. I’m forever indebted to The Beatles, even though they don’t know it yet (and also because half of them are dead).
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to the history of my personal Beatlemania. The very first memory I have of listening to a song and singing along to it is of ‘Yellow Submarine’. My father, owing to his exquisite taste in music, made sure that I grew up listening to The Beatles, Mohammad Rafi (he’s perhaps the biggest Rafi fan in the world), Simon & Garfunkel et al. But I took to The Beatles instantly; the simplicity of the tunes, the simple yet fun lyrics and the upbeat nature of the early Beatles songs got a 5-year old me hooked and I would never let that go. It would be another 10 years or so till I delved deeper into their discography, especially the post-1966 albums, but I had found love. Also, remember the Maharishi Vidya Mandir Schools I mentioned above? They were founded by The Beatles’ spiritual guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who took them into his Ashram when they visited Rishikesh in 1968. I didn’t know that fact when I joined the school and funnily enough, The Beatles were never mentioned in the 7 years that I spent there. Yes, I was the only Beatles fan in the entire school (now that I recall, there was also a senior who liked The Beatles but we didn’t talk much) and it was kind of frustrating how no one shared my taste in music. There was absolutely no one I could talk to about them. So, I started forcing my friends to listen to The Beatles with moderate success. And I should tell you it’s hard work when your friends come out with statements like “ThE bEaTles r gayyyyy! Listen to Nu Metal Black Screamo Glam Deathcore!” and “This is boring. Honey Singh’s better.” The first statement was the general reaction of my Metalhead friends while the second one was actually said to me while I tried my best to hold back tears of extreme disappointment.
It’s quite easy to forget, now that I’m in college and every other person is a Beatles fan, that I had to go through that phase all alone. A beautiful memory I have of my first semester here is belting out Beatles songs with amazingly talented musician-seniors in class. They were practising among themselves and started playing ‘Hey Jude’ (I think. I don’t remember) and I joined in. The thing to note here is that my first sem was an absolute nightmare. This random sing-along had been the only bright spot in my life in a long time. The Beatles always find a way.
The Beatles also helped me figure out that my high school girlfriend was cheating on me but that’s a long story, and I think it’s time I stopped making this blog post all about myself. Moving on.
The most important aspect of The Beatles which regularly and rightfully puts them on various lists of the Greatest Artists of All Time is their evolution from the mop-top Rock ‘n Rollers at the height of Beatlemania from 1962-1964 to their brave, experimental phase from 1965 onwards when they expanded their musical horizons to explore everything from Music Hall, Psychedelia and Prog Rock to Indian Classical Music. They are also considered to be the progenitors of what is now Heavy Metal (‘Helter Skelter’). All in the space of 7-8 years. It boggles the mind how they consistently put out multiple singles and albums year after year with each one of them storing absolute masterpieces. Compare that to musicians today who normally take 2-3 years for a single album, most of whom can only dream of emulating The Beatles’ prolificacy (Leaving aside the quality and timelessness of the music). What’s truly inspirational is the journey they took to become the most popular and most influential band of all time.
On July 6, 1957, John Lennon met Paul McCartney for the first time. They bonded over their shared love for Rock ‘n Roll and the untimely death of their mothers (a brilliant film to watch if you want to know about the origins of the Beatles and especially, John Lennon would be ‘Nowhere Boy’) and formed the songwriting partnership Lennon-McCartney that would go on to become the main creative force behind The Beatles’ output and would quickly cement their place as the most successful collaboration of all time. George Harrison joined shortly after. John, Paul and George would take the bus every week and visit a man from the other side of town who would teach them complex guitar chords. These lessons are apparent in The Beatles songs. What may seem like simple, catchy songs are actually pretty complex; once you play them, you comprehend the complexity of the chord patterns, the time signatures and the strumming. They were well ahead of their time: they were one of the first self-contained rock bands, writing their own songs and playing their own instruments. Ringo Starr would complete the jigsaw later on in 1962. And the rest is history.
Another aspect of The Beatles that really attracts me is their sense of humour. YouTube any of their interviews and you’ll get at least one mischievous or witty remark or just plain Lennon slapstick humour. One of the funny quotes that spring to mind is Lennon telling off Royalty and other rich members in the audience during the Royal Variety Show in London on Nov 4, 1963, “For our last number, I’d like to ask your help. Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And for the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewellery”. This sense of humour and charm was perfectly captured in the movie, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ which is in itself a very influential piece of cinema. It chronicles a day in the life of The Beatles at the peak of Beatlemaniaand though it is scripted, the humour shines through, no less helped by the beautiful soundtrack. The Beatles movies would require a separate blog post, so I won’t go deeper into this. Just know that the ‘Yellow Submarine’ movie has inspired countless animators, chief among them The Simpsons and Futurama creator, Matt Groening. Also, since we’re talking about humour and movies, George Harrison would later produce Monty Python’s Life of Brian, a classic satirical film (and my favourite) written and performed by a group of comedians whose influence on comedy has been compared to The Beatles’ influence on music.
Since this is already a bloated blog post, I can’t write about all The Beatles songs I love (even though I REALLY want to) but I sure can devote some space to my favourite album.
Abbey Road. The last album to have all four members working together (Let It Be is technically their last album but it was recorded before the Abbey Road sessions and released after the band had disbanded) with all four of them penning songs, which is again a rarity. Harrison’s contributions, ‘Something’ and ‘Here Comes The Sun’ went toe-to-toe with Lennon-McCartney’s songs and are as good as any song penned by the duo. Lennon himself claimed ‘Something’ to be his favourite song on the album while Frank Sinatra called it “the greatest love song ever written”. It’s a real testament to the band’s greatness that their third songwriter wrote masterpieces such as these.
Of Lennon’s songs, ‘I Want You’ has to be my favourite on the album. The lyrics are concise and simplistic consisting only 14 different words, with Lennon reasoning in an interview to Rolling Stone, “When you’re drowning, you don’t say, ‘I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me.’ You just scream.” The repeated arpeggios coupled with the Mantra-like lyrics only add to the hypnotic effect as it intensifies during the coda and you expect something akin to the crescendo in ‘A Day in the Life’ but it never comes. The song ends abruptly and you’re left wanting more.
Another Lennon contribution, ‘Because’ is my father’s personal favourite. The track features three-part harmonies by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison which were triple-tracked to give nine voices in the final mix. It’s an eerie/dreamy love song that you have to listen to experience The Beatles’ mastery of pitch-perfect harmonies. The ‘Love’ album remix is especially beautiful for it only has the voices with nature sounds interspersed and no instruments. Would recommend that.
‘The Abbey Road Medley’ concludes the album, a 16-minute medley of several short songs segueing into the other; a callback to McCartney’s original idea for Sgt Pepper’s. It closes with the aptly titled ‘The End’; the last song collectively recorded by all 4 members before they disbanded. It features the only Ringo drum solo in the entire Beatles catalogue followed by a rotating sequence of three guitar solos, the first two bars played by McCartney, the second two bars by Harrison and the third by Lennon. So, all 4 Beatles get a solo on their swansong before the iconic lines are sung, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” And with that, The Beatles had ended for good…
Or so you thought. Just 20 seconds after the final notes of ‘The End’, a hidden track called ‘Her Majesty’ starts playing, about Paul’s desire to woo the Queen. It’s just like The Beatles to undercut such an epic sendoff with a joke. But that’s exactly why I love them.
I wish I could write more but I understand you might have stopped reading after the third paragraph. But I have so much more to say about them, it’s never going to be enough. The Beatles are intricately linked to my life. From the toddler trying to sing along to ‘Yellow Submarine’ to the angst-laden teenage years with no friends to share my taste in music to now when I try to write songs myself, they have been an influence on my life and my decisions more than anyone or anything in the world. The fact that the person I idolize the most was shot dead 14 years before I was born and yet I know everything about him and his music, is what keeps me going everyday; the will to leave behind something and not die a pointless death.
I think the best thing about The Beatles is that the core theme of most of their songs was Love (they used the word 613 times in their songs!). It’s as positive a message as you’re ever going to get.
So, let me end this with one of my favourite Beatles lyrics:
“I am the eggman, they are the eggmen. I am the walrus. Goo goo g’joob.”
The Beatles starter kit for beginners:
1. I Want To Hold Your Hand
2. All My Loving
3. Norwegian Wood
4. Within You Without You
5. I’m Only Sleeping
6. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
7. For No One
8. I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
9. Across The Universe
11. Strawberry Fields Forever
12. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
14. Here Comes The Sun
15. A Day in the Life
Movies: A Hard Day’s Night, Yellow Submarine, Nowhere Boy, The Beatles Anthology.
That was Sourjyo, a teddy bear of a senior at college. Sourjyo also writes songs and you should totally check out his SoundCloud link here because it’s awesome and he’s awesome. I have found some of my favourite artists through indie links at SoundCloud and Sourjyo might just become yours. Here’s a picture of Sourjyo himself honing his craft:
And here’s what he wrote for (this is almost the last time ever I will write this omfg. ALL THE EMOTIONS.)
See you tomorrow for my post oN THE ARCTIC MONKEYS. I’M SO EXCITED IT ISN’T FUNNY. NOT THE LEAST BECAUSE I ACTUALLY FINISHED IT ON TIME.
Also, today’s the 46th anniversary of the release of Abbey Road, the album! How cool is that?