Beatlemania: A fan's journey

The short version, from an introduction on a forum:

The Beatles were part of the soundtrack of my childhood but it wasn't until i was about 18 that I first heard most of their albums on vinyl as distinct units, as opposed to cassettes of The Red and the Blue. Later on I met up with another Beatlemaniac so we could practice our attempts at Beatle harmonies :D I've been through many phases of Beatle fandom, which taught me a lot about the phenomenon of being a fan itself. I was once a fervent Johnnist then a Paulist then a Johnnist again and now I've just given up and decided I prefer Ringo to the others! A good drummer is very, very hard to find any time. I've read a bunch of the books, collected a few of the bootlegs, reissues, remasters etc. I saw Ringo and his band at Festival Hall in Melbourne 50 years after he first played there, which fits for me because the only Beatles record we had in the house was the Australian pressing of Beatles for Sale with the nice big picture of Ringo playing that night!

The longer version:

Growing up as a Gen Xer, you knew the Beatles was this Big Thing because the music you heard was wonderful and shiny but your parents weren't that into it. Well my Mum was a bit more into the pop side of things, my dad was always a jazz cat. Apart from the one Beatles record, there were a bunch of other records with other people covering Beatles songs, like Moog plays the Beatles, Sergio Mendes covering the Beatles, you get the idea. It was very weird. I only vaguely remember Abbey Road but remember Let It Be much better. The singles, particularly The Long And Winding Road were a big memory of 1970.

Later in the 1970's The Red and the Blue compilations came out. I never paid that much attention to the Red, because we didn't get it for ages. The family had a Liverpudlian friend who was a complete Beatles fanatic and would only ever play early Beatles and I can still hear that freshness as "Aunty" would grab us for an impromptu dance to From Me To You. However, the Blue cassette got played to death on Dad's Falcon 500 player as we travelled from the Deep North to my grandparents in Melbourne every summer. And that's where it stayed for a good many years, right up to when I left home in my tumultuous final year of highschool.

I went to live with a friends family and they had an amazing record collection. All the Beatles albums on vinyl. As an 18 year old the combined effect of Revolver Sgt Peppers, White Album and Abbey Road was incredible. Within a year I had taught myself the guitar, within two I was playing bass guitar. It wasn't all the Beatles by that time of course, but the sheer impulse to play came from hearing those albums in proper context for the first time. By then I was devouring any literature on the Fab Four I could lay my hands on.

The bible of the time was Beatles Complete, the basic words and music to everything. Another crucial read for me was Mike McCartney's memoir Thank U Very Much which seems to have been recast as The Macs for the US market. All of this sparked a Beatle fandom, my first serious fandom, despite liking a whole range of music and artists. One of the features of such a fandom is an obsession with the artists themselves and believing you have some kind of insight into the relationship between their personalities and artistic output. I think of it as larval stage fandom in the sense that you do grow out of this kind of intense preoccupation, particularly if you are a musician, since in my experience the obsession is more with the songs and the recordings.

And thus it proved to be. The Beatles didn't just influence me musically, they've been a well of inspiration for a couple of generations now, including many other of my favourite musicians, and they don't all necessarily sound like their influence either. Speaking strictly as a bass player, there are a lot of useful melodic tricks you can pick up from McCartney. One of the most subtle is how the bass relates to the main melody. It's the key thing I think about once the rhythm is accounted for. If you're lucky the two go together naturally but sometimes you have to think a bit out of the box, and it's important to understand when and when not to. Would Tomorrow Never Knows with a melodic approach? (listen to 801 Live and their amazing cover and decide for yourself!). But this is a tangent!

The Beatles weren't just a musical influence, they were a cultural force. They helped to popularize many of the liberal socially progressive norms we take for granted today, and this side of their influence is poorly understood. Most only see their magnetic charisma and the importance of fashion in popular culture. The Beatles weren't Boomers themselves, but they did influence Boomer attitudes and still do, and that is something else that isn't understood. They were pro-integration (something entirely overlooked, which I find astonishing for such a difficult period in African-American history), non-bigoted, and while not exactly non-sexist at least supported individual freedom for all. They weren't without limitations themselves, but they had the power to popularize an individual outlook on life, which spoke to everyone and still does. You can find similar positive messages from other bands even going back to the Beatles time, but they had the biggest megaphone and had the greatest general influence. Even something as banal as Indian clothing and incense is popular in Western culture as a direct result of their interest: there is a shop in my country town selling nothing else than Asian material that competes with two other shops metres away from it selling similar things.

So there's a description and explanation of my Beatlemania, long may it thrive! I hope it informs yours too, or may encourage you to explore their impact.

Last updated: 2016-05-14

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