I've been asked to reflect on my enjoyment of The Beatles' music, in the wake of the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of the release of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
I grew up in a Christian family, in which we had a collection of old 78 records of Scottish music, Mario Lanza's Student Prince LP, soundtrack recordings of film and Broadway music like Oklahoma! and Brigadoon, lots of recordings of gospel music, such as Tennessee Ernie Ford and George Beverly Shea, children's records, and one Classical LP - of Strauss waltzes.
I heard The Beatles' music for the first time when they came to Australia in 1964. We watched a program called Around The Beatles on TV and I started trying to play their songs on my piano and piano accordion.
At the end of the year, my friend Leonard and I were invited to go around the classrooms in our new school in Belmont playing two Beatles' songs on guitar and piano accordion. I Should Have Known Better was pretty easy, but the chords of If I Fell were harder to play, because of the way they are laid out on the accordion's buttons.
The following year, at Debbie Wilson's 13th birthday party, I was captivated by Things We Said Today. I liked the sad sound of Paul McCartney's voice, the rhythmic acoustic guitar part, and the way the song alternates between minor and major keys. I was hooked.
On 25th June, 1967 (or was it 26th in Australia?) I got up very early to watch The Beatles in the first world telecast ever singing All You Need Is Love. Sgt Pepper had already been released in the U.K. and US, but we were still waiting for it in Australia. I think I may have had an EP or two of Beatles's songs, but I didn't have any LPs. I asked for a copy of Sgt Pepper for my fifteenth birthday, on 16th October. Mum thought $5.25 was a lot of money, and when the price went up to $5.50, she nearly reneged on the deal!
I was so excited, I kept going on and on about getting this record, and in the end, Mum gave it to me a few days before my birthday, and none too graciously. I think she wanted to get me off her back!
I adored the album. I loved everything about it. The cover was fascinating, with so many different famous people on the front, and it even included the lyrics on the back cover. And the record cover (known as a gatefold) opened up, with a huge picture of The Beatles on the inside. I played it over and over on our monophonic record player.
It sounded like nothing I'd ever heard before. I was a bit behind the times, and had never heard Revolver, the groundbreaking album released the previous year, though I knew two of the tracks, (Yellow Submarine and Eleanor Rigby ) which had been released as a single.
Sgt Pepper has so many interesting features, in addition to the standard rock band instruments, including the sound of an orchestra tuning up, a crowd laughing, a rooster that turns into an electric guitar, a group of animals chasing one another, an almighty orchestral crescendo, a brass band, a harp and string group, snippets of fairground music, a harpsichord, harmonicas, Indian instruments cleverly combined with syrupy orchestral strings, some cheeky clarinets, a piano chord that seems to go on forever, and a mysterious run-out groove of indecipherable chatter.
Over the years I have learnt a lot about music by listening to Beatles' songs and attempting to play them. A Hard Day's Night taught me about the place of dissonance in music, as I played that C chord with an E on the bottom and an E flat on the top when you sing "you know I feel all *right*" Penny Lane introduced me to the way changing the way a chord is laid out, can create a whole new feel to the same set of notes, as in the first line of the chorus which goes like this:
"Penny Lane is in my *ears* and in my eyes." I had to spend 35 cents buying the sheet music, to figure out what the chord on "ears" is, and discover the chord didn't change - only its arrangement, or voicing.
I think that The Beatles have inspired so many people to create interesting music, but I was never happy with the way they promoted drug-taking so enthusiastically. How many people have got into a variety of drugs, owing to The Beatles' influence?
Watching the Anthology DVDs, they came across as arrogant and self-serving. Reading books about their lives by people who knew them best, reveals that they have not been good role models. Though they wrote songs about peace and love, there was not a lot of that in their interactions with one another, especially in the later years.
As a Christian, I have always been aware that I could enjoy The Beatles' music, without wanting to be The Beatles, or taking their advice on how to live.
In 1969, when I was in Fifth Form [Year Eleven], I had the privilege of attending a camp at Gilbulla, in which people like The Kinsfolk (two Begbie brothers and a sister) got us to think about the influence of popular music on our lives. During the weekend, someone told us that Christians shouldn't be suckers - and fall for everything, nor wowsers - who were too pure to enjoy God's gift of music, but should be thoughtful critics. In my more than fifty years of listening to The Beatles' music, I have found this to be excellent advice.
I'm eagerly awaiting the remixed release of Sgt Pepper in a few days time, and am eager to listen to the album and the outtakes, read about its creation, and watch the restored Making of Sgt Pepper DVD, which George Martin, their genius producer, put together about 25 years ago. And, Yes! I've already bought the T shirt.