Early critics of the Fabs (repost)<br>

Early critics of the Fabs (repost)

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In article <1lfe9p$kp5@agate.berkeley.edu> bh@anarres.CS.Berkeley.EDU (Brian Harvey) writes:

>Actually, most of the complaints that I heard about "trivial" Beatles
>lyrics, back then, centered *entirely* around three words: yeah, yeah,
>and yeah. I don't recall complaints about same-old-story problems;
>after all, the people who were doing the complaining enjoyed listening
>to the likes of Dean ("Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime") Martin.

The particular complaint I was thinking of appeared in Newsweek, February 24, 1964: "Musically, they are a near disaster; guitars slamming out a merciless beat that does away with secondary rhythms, harmony and melody. Their lyrics (punctuated by nutty shouts of 'yeah, yeah, yeah!') are a catastrophe, a preposterous farrago of Valentine-card romantic sentiments".

I must give the guy credit, at least, for using the word "farrago". That's not something you see in Newsweek *these* days. :-) Perhaps this reviewer had always been a curmudgeon. Perhaps, as you point out, he was so focused on the "yeah x 3" chorus of one song that he supposed (as many non-fans did at the time) that all their songs sounded like that. But it's the denigration of homilies of love that surprises me, because it's very likely that music of his own generation (Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Hoagy Charmichael and their ilk) also expressed these selfsame sentiments.

Noel Coward, the famous composer and playwright, noted in a diary entry that his singular experience at a Beatles concert (1965) was less than sentimental: "The noise was deafening throughout, and I couldn't hear a word they sang or a note they played, just one long ear-splitting din". One understands this, of course, since Coward was not familiar with the group's recordings and was subjected to the surrounding requisite shrieks of fandom. Yet when he asked to meet the Fabs backstage they refused at first, having read a Daily Mail piece that implied Coward "said unflattering things" about them. He had, of course, just not to the Daily Mail. :-) His opinion, after finally meeting the Boys, was that "it is still impossible to judge from their public performance whether they have talent or not. They were professional, had a certain guileless charm, and stayed on mercifully for not too long."

More vitriolic was Paul Johnson's "The Menance of Beatlism" in The New Statesman, 28 February 1964. Johnson refers to "this apotheosis of inanity" and shrilly decries events of history which had brought civilization to such a state, with Beatles fans termed "a bottomless chasm of vacuity", pop critics "barely more literate or articulate" than those who buy the records in the first place. The true hope of the future, Mr. Johnson makes clear, is the sensible contingent of teens who diligently apply themselves to the works of *true* cultural greats (Milton, Wagner, Debussy, Matisse, El Greco, Proust)---unlike those who embrace "music which not only cannot be heard but does not *need* to be heard". Can it get much worse than this? :-)

>Why did the grownups pick on "She Loves You"? Partly, I suppose,
>because those lyrics were easy to understand. But I like to think
>that it's really because the associated music was so strong that it
>became the Beatles' signature theme, the song you immediately thought
>of when the topic of the Beatles came to mind. And, of course, the
>characterization of that song as trivial was unfair in that it
>ignored the verses and just focused on the chorus.

In a situation where listeners were likely to hear only a smidgen of the tune, the chorus (which is repeated) is the inevitable candidate. This one, in particular, was thought to be reprehensible because it was slang, not cultured lyrical speech---certainly not poetry!

And I wonder whether there were other elements that prevented "grownups", so-called, from hearing the music as its fans did. The volume of playing was often mentioned, both in concert situations and on home record-players; perhaps the Beatles' emphasis on extremely energetic rock, rather than traditional ballad styles, was the key here. Considering the Fabs' relatively primitive stage equipment, it couldn't have been as loud as some present-day concerts are known to be. And the loudest sound of all, in real time, was the screaming of the fans. Naturally that would distract any unpracticed ear.

Perhaps some listeners found the Boys' accents to be an impedment to lyrical decipherment, though when I first heard them in December 1963 they didn't sound particularly British to me--just (just!) innovative. When they spoke, their origins were clear, but even so, their diction was not so impenetrable as a Glaswegian accent (some versions of which can challenge the most intrepid linguist). Yet I wonder whether some listeners---especially from the older generation---found their singing voices to be distractingly British?

More likely, older listeners paid no attention to lyrics due to the shock of the Boys' appearance, which could hardly have been more revolutionary if they actually *had* (as you suggested) kept to their leather gear. At least we'd seen Marlon Brando and his gang so attired. But America seemed utterly flummoxed to see four men in extremely stylish suits whose hair suggested that:

  1. they were rebellious; b) they were not masculine; c) they were a threat to civilization as a whole. Life Magazine had an introductory report on the Fabs in its January 31 1964 issue. While photo captions admitted that the Beatles played to royalty and commonfolk alike, that two group members wrote most of their songs, and that they were polite and professional in their performances, the main text emphasized the growth of Beatlemania in Britain, and how it was feared this same phenomenon would sweep through the States.

In fact, the faddishness of the whole shebang was at the forefront of commentary. Perhaps this was meant to dismiss any lingering fears. Fads, Life told us, have come and gone: goldfish swallowing, collegiates in phone booths, Davy Crockett hats. This too shall pass, soothed the editorial staff. And in fact, many of this fabled Older Generation didn't calm down about the Beatles' invasion until the release of the film "A Hard Day's Night", which taught unbelievers everywhere that the Fabs had a sense of humor about themselves, in addition to being musicians who apparently took their music quite seriously.

Of course, there were those of us who knew that from the beginning. :-)

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