Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Life in Four Colors (Part Twenty)

My parents knew that I liked what little bit of Beatles music I had heard, so Mom reminded me on multiple occasions that the group was appearing on Ed Sullivan. Of course, we usually watched Ed Sullivan as a family anyway; there was always an act or two that I found moderately entertaining, there was something that would appeal to my parents, and Kim enjoyed the puppet shows or the acrobats or whatever (hey, she wasn't quite three years old at the time!...).

So I was there in front of the television when the group performed their first number--and rather than starting with their hit "I Want to Hold Your Hand," they chose instead to kick off the show with "All My Loving." I hadn't heard the song prior to that performance, but it didn't matter--from the opening chords and the first harmonies, I was hooked. I sat enthralled through that performance and the othe four songs they performed that evening. One of the songs they performed, "Til There Was You," was a number I had heard before... but not the way they did it. While they didn't radically alter the arrangement of the song, they added a vitality that was energizing in a totally different way.

And their appearance--the way they shared a mike, the tightness of the harmonies, the looks on their faces as if they were having the times of their lives--it was captivating. I was hooked. I had to own that album.

It took me almost a month to save up the $3.34 plus tax that the nearby Redford Five and Ten was charging for Meet the Beatles. Every day, Phil and I would walk the short distance from his house to West End Shopping Center, where I'd scan the Redford racks to make sure they still had a copy. I knew it was going to be mine, once I could set aside enough money. I even passed on a couple of ACG comics (their books were entertaining, but they were always B level entertainment, to be purchased only when there was a surplus of cash) and a model kit to help me reach the magic number of $3.45 (tax was 3% back then, and I had quickly learned the break points so that I could calculate the exact cost of each purchase before it was rung in... I never wanted to find myself a penny or two short).

Phil was luckier; he had mentioned to his parents that he wanted the Beatles album, so they bought it for him in late February, while I was still scrabbling for cash.

The thing was, they bought the wrong album.

Phil had said he wanted "the Beatles album," so his parents had stopped at Murphy's on Broad Street, where they saw an album by the Beatles. So what it if was on VeeJay records rather than Capitol? So what if it didn't have most of their hits on it? It was "the Beatles album," wasn't it?

So Phil and I would spend a few minutes every morning before school listening to his copy of Introducing the Beatles, and marvelling at the fact that there was this entire record of songs that we'd never heard of before. And within a couple of weeks, we had memorized every chord change, ever harmony, every rough spot. I soon settled on my favorites--"Anna," "Twist and Shout," and the driving "I Saw Her Standing There." (Phil's version of the album was the second edition, although we didn't know it at the time--it had "Ask Me Why" and "Please Please Me" on it rather than "Love Me Do" and "From Me to You," both of which were on the original release.)

When I saved up sufficient money to buy the record in early March (sorry, Kimberly--you got no birthday present from me that year! It was the Beatles' fault, honest!), I was thrilled to have a new album of hits to listen to--one that included the songs I had heard on the radio and had so enjoyed on the Ed Sullivan show. But I felt a little bit cheated, because one song--"I Saw Her Standing There"--was on Phil's album, too. It was like buying a comic that included a reprint of a story you already had--you were glad to get the new material, but couldn't help but feel disappointed there wasn't more.

We were also confused that one record was one VeeJay and one was on Capitol. The matter was further complicated when we bought the singles for "From Me To You"/"Love Me Do" and "She Loves You"/"I'll Get You," we saw that the former was on the familiar VeeJay label, while the latter was on the Swan label. What was the deal here? Two albums, two singles, and three different record labels? It was like finding Superman comics published by DC, Marvel, and Charlton!

Then a trip to the Record Shop on Broad Street revealed yet another Beatles single that we hadn't heard of--"My Bonnie" backed with "The Saints"--and this one was on yet another label, MGM Records. And it didn't even sound particularly Beatles-esque!

Of course, we didn't realize that a lot of this material actually predated the Meet the Beatles album; it would be a while before the American music magazines would clue us in on the group's history, allowing us to understand why everything was spread out on so many labels.

I was running low on cash for comics because I was spending it all on Beatles records!

Thankfully, Dad had a solution. Our lawn, which had been very slow to fill in once we had sprigged the front yard with bermuda, had finally begun to look lawn-like... and with spring approaching, Dad decided I was old enough to begin cutting grass for extra money. Add that to my $1.05 weekly allowance, and I could afford records and comics and cards and model kits once again.

I will always associate those early Beatles albums with Marvel Comics in particular, since that's what Phil and I read and re-read as we played those albums over and over and over again. The music and the comics became inexorably linked in my mind, and to this day I see one when I hear the other and vice versa.

(And I came to appreciate the robust sound of my copy of Meet the Beatles far more than the thinner sound of Phil's Introducing the Beatles. I had no idea that the deeper, more resonant sound was due to Dave Dexter, a Capitol A&R man who felt that the records needed some extra bass and reverb to give them a fuller "wall of sound" that would come through on the low-quality AM radio frequencies. It worked; I got to know those fuller remixed American versions so completely that when I heard the British versions a couple of decades later, they almost sounded like outtakes because they were so sonically Spartan compared to the versions I had grown up with.)

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