MONDAY MORNING, 50 YEARS AGO, Mrs. Petersen’s fourth-grade classroom, and all the little girls are agabble. They can talk of nothing but The Beatles and The Beatles and The Beatles and they’re so cute! oh my god they are soooooo cute! I cannot believe it, they are so cute!
Like the girls, I was 10 years old in 1964 the morning after The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. In my family’s little crackerbox house in Ohio, Sunday evening was dinner, The Wonderful World of Disney, and Big Ed. By age 10 I was reading the newspaper in the morning, but only the sports page—have the Cincinnati Reds traded for anyone?—so I was unaware of Beatlemania. But my parents were not. I can recall them changing the channel to CBS at 8 pm with bemused anticipation, eager in their low-key way to see what all the fuss was about with this new English group. My parents never used the word “band” unless it was preceded by “marching.” The Beatles were not a band, they were a group, or a combo—people in 1964 went to nightclubs to listen to jazz combos.
The Liverpool combo played five songs: “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Between the third and fourth numbers, Georgia Brown, Oliver Kidds, Frank Gorshin (remember The Riddler from Batman?), and Tessie O’Shea performed, and didn’t they leave a mark. Of the five, the only song by The Beatles I remember from that night, the one that made the lasting impression, was “She Loves You.” After the first two songs, I think I had the sense of The Beatles as singers of shiny, happy pop music like the other shiny, happy pop music that came out of my new transistor radio (WSAI, 1360 on your AM dial!), this time played by four guys with funny haircuts. But “She Loves You” grabbed me in a visceral way that was a new experience of music for me. It’s a stretch for me to remember why it had such an effect, but I suspect it was the raw energy, the detonation of exuberance that is the chorus, a chorus so exciting it couldn’t be held until after the first verse but had to be the first thing in the song. Something in my proto-rocker’s brain stirred the instant I heard that.
(Paul’s father had suggested changing the chorus to “she loves you, yes, yes, yes.” Priceless. Makes me love Paul’s dad.)
I listen to “She Loves You” now and still get excited. It’s just a great pop song. Of course, as an adult and former musician I appreciate nuances lost on my 10-year-old self. The point of view—not “she loves me” but “she loves you,” someone talking to a hapless or heedless friend. Some regard the song as friendly advice, but I hear a darker interpretation—listen, dumbass, if you won’t respond to this girl who loves you, I bloody well will, because I want her, too. I love the last chord, with John and Paul singing the third and fifth but George singing the sixth, not a common pop chord but an inspired moment. The guitars, more raw now than they seemed then.
My dad never figured out what all the fuss was about. But my mom liked The Beatles, funny hair and all. I shouldn’t have been surprised. She was this short, fat woman with an eighth-grade education who now and then would boogie around the house to Fats Domino, which she called “dirty music.” I love that. Dirty music.
In the fourth grade, I had no particular interest in girls. I was two or three years away from looking at a girl’s legs in white fishnet stockings—they were all the rage by 1967—and thinking huh. But in Mrs. Petersen’s class, I sure did notice how the little girls responded. Somewhere in my pre-adolescent brain I filed a useful piece of knowledge—the girls surely do like rockers. Noted.