The Beatles recorded quite a few covers early in their career, and it always felt like it was a bit beneath them. Those guys could write mega-hits in their sleep, sometimes literally. The Beatles doing other people’s material is like Rene Redzepi busting open a box of Easy Mac. Even when the original writer is a luminary such as Chuck Berry. I’m in no way comparing the quality of Chuck Berry’s songwriting to a boxed macaroni product. If Chuck Berry’ music was a food item, it would be something deceptively simple and invigorating, like a perfectly grilled steak. However, master songwriters don’t need to lean on material that’s not exactly up to their own level of sophistication. The Beatles in 1966 were way past writing three chord rock songs about the joys of rocking, as was Chuck Berry himself. None of which really detracts much from the basic fun of a basic song about dancing, just as most us never stop enjoying Easy Mac.
Did you know that The Beatles were a rock band? They invented feedback! Actually, no. In fact, The Beatles weren’t really a rock band in the sense that The Rolling Stones were a rock band, which is to say that they weren’t a blues band. They took musical cues from a wide array of sources, but the blues wasn’t really one of them. So there aren’t actually all that many Beatles songs that, you know, rock, in the sense of rock being rhythm-driven blues-based music. This is one of those few, and it makes you wish there were more. If they had managed to tolerate one another for a few years longer than they did, maybe they would have leaned into it more heavily. That would have been a really interesting direction to go in, but alas.
I can’t say another word about the historical significance of Beatlemania. I don’t want to read any more words about it either. The Beatles have evolved, as historical figures, from a head-scratching phenomenon in their own time, to being subject to hindsight analysis from every conceivable angle, and at this point with absolutely no stone left unrolled, have entered the realm of pure academia, where overly-researched subjects go to die. Which is to say that the entertainment value of ever more arcane reiterations of the same well known story has become very low. But over-familiarity shouldn’t in any way take away from the still-unparalleled fun of The Beatles’ music. It’s all about the music, ya know. And the music doesn’t really need an annotated companion volume. It doesn’t need all that historical context. It doesn’t need analysis. It just exists. Just enjoy it and don’t think so hard.
Out of all the things to love here – of which there are many – the thing I love most right now is the image The Beatles present of themselves in the video. Although they were, at that point in their career, treated as artistic demigods and were (as they remain) the most seriously respected rock artists in the world, they apparently still wanted to be seen as an adorable band of brothers who exist in a whimsical alternate universe full of mad tea parties. Perhaps that can be pinned on the simple reality that their degree of fame made them isolated even from their rock star peers, let alone civilian life. But it seems that even The Beatles themselves liked the idea that The Beatles were more than four guys tied together by a shared occupation, more even than a family; they were a singular unit of a sort that generally exists only in works of fiction. They were like characters in a children’s story, a set of toys brought to life by the imagination of some cosmic Christopher Robin, or a team of wacky-adventure-having boy detectives. The Beatles managed to mythologize themselves to such a degree, and so swiftly and effectively, that they became, in essence, living cartoons. While at the same time occupying the very highest creative pedestal. It was a stranger-than-fiction effect that even Paul McCartney looks back on in bewilderment.
This is the song people point to as the exact moment when The Beatles stopped being a pop group and started being something more. That may be overly simplistic, but it’s definitely a game-changing song. It was the first Beatles single with a harmony too complex to easily play live or mime to on TV. It’s not that it couldn’t be recreated live – Paul McCartney regularly plays it today – but that with the screaming and chaos, it just wasn’t worth it. It was also an adventures new step forward lyrically, McCartney’s response to critics who accused him of only writing about love. McCartney does have an affinity for only writing about love, to this day, but at the time, so did everyone else. The Beatles quickly proved that they could whip up a brilliant pop song about literally any random thing, and other songwriters followed suit, thus making the pop charts one hell of a lot less thematically monotonous.
“That was something I wrote when I was about seventeen. I lived at 9 Newcastle Road. I was born on the ninth of October, the ninth month. It’s just a number that follows me around, but, numerologically, apparently I’m a number six or a three or something, but it’s all part of nine.” – John Lennon
That’s about all there is to it. John Lennon just really liked the number 9, even at 17. He apparently found it deeply meaningful that between himself, John Winston Ono Lennon, and his wife Yoko Ono they had nine O’s. I’m sure that there’s some dedicated fans tracking the number 9 numerology running all through Lennon’s life. Obviously, this wouldn’t be the last time he’d reference it.
I think this one is interesting because it marks one of the rare instances in which The Beatles turned to the blues for inspiration. They were rather unique, among a sea tide of blues based bands, for not being in the least bit a blues based band. The Beatles were unrepentant pop lovers, who leaned on the rockabilly of Elvis and on the far less cool basis of pre-rock popular music. They didn’t care very much about pretensions of authenticity and somewhat looked down on those of their rivals who had them. I’m sure that element of purity helped them maintain their undeniable toppermost position in the rock pecking order for as long as they were a unit.