Sunday, February 8, 2009

All My Loving

Today, kiddies, is an anniversary that I couldn't possibly let pass without comment-- the 45th anniversary of the Beatles' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. I hardly think it's an exaggeration to say that this appearance was the single greatest thing that ever happened in the history of western civilization.

As a younger Beatles fan, I've always had to take the singularity of this broadcast partially on faith, but clearly, it was a different world in 1964, and those early Beatles songs that we now hear in elevators and malls and vapid oldies stations were utterly revolutionary at the time. It just didn't sound like anything else-- it certainly didn't sound like Bobby Vinton and some singing nun, who were currently topping the charts in the States. But on this night, 73 million people watched the Beatles-- which was half the country, which I would like to see a stupid Superbowl try to match-- and crime actually came to a halt and no one stirred from in front of their TVs, and for roughly 10 minutes in America it was all peace and perfect freaking rock & roll.

Well, actually, if I'm to mess with the myth slightly, it could have been more perfect than it was. The band's first appearance on the show is quite good, but it's always bugged me that there's clearly something wrong with John's mic-- you can barely hear his vocals on "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand." Luckily, the girls in the crowd and at home all knew how the songs were supposed to sound anyway. And no matter what the captions said, I'm sure the girls did not give a fig that John was married-- if he was the Beatle they ran into in a dark alley, he'd have been as lovingly mauled as any of them.

OK, so the story about the Beatles in America is that "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was begrudgingly released as their first single on Capitol (there'd been several attempts to crack the U.S. market with smaller labels) the day after Christmas, 1963. Proving that the execs at Capitol were morons for having waited so long, the single was a ludicrous success, as was the Meet the Beatles album that followed in January (and began the tradition of Capitol bastardizing every Beatles release in the name of greed, evil, et cetera). Ed Sullivan just got lucky here-- he'd booked them a few months before their American hits, having seen the Beatlemaniacal crowds in England on a visit and figuring there had to be something to them, at least as a novelty act. By the time of the Beatles' first appearance on the show, America was ready to, well, MEET them. They were not disappointed. From here on out, the world was destined to be a much more fun place. Here's the complete broadcast.

So what was the song the Beatles introduced themselves to America with? "All My Loving." I'm still not sure why. In a rare misjudgment by one of the greatest commercial geniuses in the music industry, Paul initially thought the song was just OK, and it was never intended to be anything more than an album track on With the Beatles (and of course, later, Meet the Beatles). Perhaps by the time they were on Ed Sullivan he'd realized the song was much, much better than that. In fact, any band of the time would have killed to have a song this good to release as a single-- whereas the Beatles were like, whatever, make it track 3.

Paul wrote this while the band was on tour in Britain with Roy Orbison, and apparently he wrote the words before the music, a rarity for him. From there it came together pretty much perfectly. That very fast triplet figure in the guitar keeps the song breathless with excitement, such that the break before Paul's entrances seem like gasping for air. When the guitars go back into duples at the chorus it's like a sigh of happy relief-- we can swing a little more now. Then the two-part harmony on the last repeat of the verse takes the song from happy to the realms of the ecstatic. Which, when you think about it, doesn't suit the sort of sad words at all-- not that that really matters.

Anyway, "All My Loving" clearly was a favorite-- there's a good version on Live at the BBC, and the Ed Sullivan version is on Anthology. It was a frequent number in their live set. Plus they put it into a scene in A Hard Day's Night. It is, in fact, a great scene, featuring Ringo dancing with a strange jumping man and the arrival of Norm and Shake to kick the boys out of the club-- though even Shake can't keep from dancing. (Note that everyone singing along is a beat off.)

Anyway, happy February 9th-- be sure to get in a bit of dancing today if you can!

"All My Loving," released in the U.K. side A track 3 of With the Beatles, November 22, 1963; in the U.S. side A track 6 of Meet the Beatles, January 20, 1964.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

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