I grew up in the sixties, meaning I entered high school in 1965 and graduated in 1969. As is common to all generations, my music and attitudes grievously offended my parents. The Beatles were perhaps the most influential, such that my father still talks about that “Yeah, yeah, yeah” music.
We had many influential groups back then, many of which you can only find in the “Where Are They Now?” articles. The biggest competitor to the Beatles was probably not the Rolling Stones but instead the Dave Clark Five. It’s rare to hear their songs even on an oldies station today. The Rolling Stones, on the other hand, are still performing; I’m not exactly sure what my reaction to that is. Let’s face it, Mick Jagger was not aesthetically pleasing in appearance then, and remains the same today; I don’t want to know what creaking and cracking sounds accompany his gyrations if one were to be close enough to hear. However, in my freshman year of high school I remember I still recall “Satisfaction,” “19th Nervous Breakdown” and “Paint It Black.” Even so, I find that I define my high school years more according to the Beatles than any other band. Why?
Perhaps it was because the Beatles marked the change from mor ‘50’s greased hair swept back in a “DA” (terminology used around parents for “duck’s ass”), blue jeans and white socks to a different look. It wasn’t just the hair, it was the whole package. Dress boots, modern styled suits, and yes, the hair. By the time everybody copied that look and that style of music, the Beatles had moved onto new and different. As Broadway showcased “Hair” and television offered the “Mod Squad” and “Laugh In” the Beatles had moved on through the glitter of “Sergeant Pepper” all the way to “Abbey Road.”
I guess the reason that the Beatles marked my coming of age is because they joined me and changed with me during a key time of my life. They first appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in February, 1964. I was in 7th grade and America was just starting to heal from the assassination of President Kennedy. We needed something to look toward rather than looking back. The Beatles showed up just as I was beginning to really identify with rock and roll. Throughout high school as I tried to find myself they morphed at almost the same times as I did. As I progressed through high school, the Beatles stopped touring and concentrated on studio work. As I graduated, they started heading their separate ways.
I drifted away from their music for a while focusing instead on Jethro Tull, the Who, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Queen. I still enjoyed the Beatles’ music but it was more of a peripheral enjoyment. During my deployment one of the other Sailors was putting together a group to play Beatles music and I was included; it wasn’t due to talent but instead to a shortage of people who a) at least knew how to hold a guitar and; b) were old enough to know something of the Beatles. They’ve remained a resurgent favorite ever since.
As I look back, though, I realize that the interesting thing is that the Beatles never really influenced or inspired me. I enjoyed them, but the kinship is more due to the fact that they mirrored my own growth. As I entered my teenage years, they entered the world stage. As I went through stages, they changed their music style. As I left my youth and my high school friends to enter young adulthood, they went their separate ways as well.
Their music provides a timeline to years in which I was changing rather than the stimulus to create that change. Perhaps that’s why the music we grew up on music is so powerful it reminds us that “When this song was popular I was doing/facing/experiencing a particular event or challenge.
The good news is that when I hear a particular song today I can truly enjoy it because I know that whatever challenge was occurring when the song was new, I endured or overcame a challenge, succeeded at achieving a goal, or at the very least survived. I may have the scars, but I also have the music to remember these things.