Monday, July 01, 2013

'She Loves You' Reaches the Half-Century Mark

If there is one thing you can say about the Beatles, it is that they were exclusively a band of the 1960s — well, I guess that stopped being completely true when a couple of songs were released in the '90s that combined recordings of the late John Lennon and the three surviving Beatles, but it's mostly true.

Other than that, though, the Beatles simply can't be pigeonholed. They experimented with all sorts of styles and sounds, especially in the last two or three years that they were recording together. They were pioneers, huge influences on the bands that followed, and some of their fans will tell you that is what they liked about the Beatles' recordings. They weren't retreads of things that they had done before.

That may be why their songs still seem fresh, all these decades later. You may know the words to "Come Together," but it still has a contemporary sound, almost as if you are hearing it for the first time.

But that isn't true only of the songs the Beatles recorded in the mid– and late '60s. The early songs have their place in the evolution of pop culture as well.

In the Beatles' early days, though, their songs often were clearly commercial, designed to sell not inspire. It often seems to me that is what most 21st–century critics find objectionable.

Such listeners overlook an important point. You've got to give the people what they want before you can start giving them what you want, and the market for recorded music is controlled, as it always has been, by the folks in their volatile teen years. A catchy tune, a memorable refrain — that was what the public was looking for, and the Beatles supplied it in their early albums.

One such song was the one that was recorded 50 years ago today — "She Loves You."

Since the Beatles broke up, it's seemed to be fashionable to discuss or write about their later songs — "Hey Jude," "Let It Be," "Come Together," etc. — whenever the subject of the Beatles is introduced into the conversation.

Nothing terribly wrong with that except it disregards the early songs that brought the Beatles to America's attention in the first place.

Actually, I guess you could say it was Ed Sullivan who brought the Beatles to America's attention — and the 50th anniversary of that will be coming up in February.

But it was their music that hooked people. It was unlike anything that had been playing on the radio.

It's also what people were joking about in the mid–'60s. If you watch reruns of the popular TV sitcoms of that decade, you will occasionally encounter jokes about the Beatles. They were the hot group, the leaders of what came to be called the "British invasion" — and, consequently, easy targets for jokes.

One such popular joke was to mistake the group's name for a type of insect.

Another popular angle focused on the simplicity of some of their refrains. The refrain for "She Loves You," for example, was this — "yeah, yeah, yeah!"

When you hear the jokes that were made when "She Loves You" was at the top of the charts, they seem obvious and dated now, but they were real thigh slappers 50 years ago.

I've heard that the Beatles wrote the song after seeing a Roy Orbison concert in England on June 26 — which happened to be the day that John F. Kennedy delivered his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in Germany.

Shortly before his murder in 1980, John Lennon, in an interview, gave Paul McCartney the credit for the song idea. They had agreed years before to share the songwriting credit on their songs, even if one had contributed much more to the project than the other, but, occasionally, each told the real story behind various songs.

For Lennon, this was one of those times.

And anyone who read the lyrics before hearing the song probably thought it was hopelessly simplistic — but after they heard the song, they were hooked.

I observed recently to a friend of mine that many Beatles songs evoke the sensation of joy, but several of McCartney's songs so relentlessly shove joy down your gullet that you are begging for mercy in no time.

"She Loves You" was an exception to that. It had an infectiousness to it that listeners were powerless to resist.

Still does.

But it could — and can — be tiresome. Hence, I suppose, the jokes about "yeah, yeah, yeah."

But that's a tradeoff I'm willing to accept.

There aren't many jokes anymore about the refrain in "She Loves You," which was released originally as a single and, eventually, was included in compilation albums, most of which (i.e., the Beatles' collection of rarities) were released years after the Beatles broke up.

It does not share the spotlight with a dozen other songs on an album. It does not lean on others, nor does it fly on borrowed wings. It stands alone.

And that makes it a true rarity.