My own tastes in music came about largely as a result of two things: firstly, having Beatles For Sale
hard-wired into my DNA; and secondly, having an older sister with at least one or two cool records.
We were never much of a hi-fi family. Growing up, we had a portable mono record player which was succeeded by a second-hand all-valve radiogram. After that came a really
cheap stereo turntable with what looked like a home-made amp. The records around the house consisted of a collection of old 78s, a dozen or so 45s, my mum's Sinatra collection, and the aforementioned Beatles For Sale
The 78s included the wrong
version of "Purple People Eater"
(in those days, rival record companies would often put out the same record, gaining sales from ignorant fools like my dad, who would ask for the record by title rather than the artist) and St George and the Dragonet
by Stan Freberg, which we've spoken of before. Every now and then, we'd get out the 78s and run through the stack, playing them all, but lingering especially over Stan Freberg. I loved the look of the 78 at full spin. It seemed like total madness.
Apart from "My Boomerang Won't Come Back," the stack of 45s included the "All My Loving" EP by the Beatles, plus "Can't Buy Me Love," "Help," and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." We also had "Two Little Boys" by Rolf Harris and "The Young New Mexican Puppeteer" by Tom Jones.
In the absence of anything else to appeal to me at the time, Beatles For Sale
got played to death. Although we had "Songs for Swinging Lovers," I had no real idea for a long time that Sinatra did anything other than "My Way" and mumble Rod McCuen poetry. During the Reprise years, the classics of the Capitol era were a long way in the past. Reprise kept putting out "Greatest Hits" collections, but of course they were always the greatest hits ...since around 1963. They didn't even have the taste to include the Sinatra/Basie "Fly Me to the Moon." I remember it being a bit of a thing, growing up, how my dad would keep buying records hoping they would have the correct
version of "Fly Me to the Moon" on, and -- given his history of buying the incorrect record -- kept getting it wrong. It was either that, or they couldn't remember the name of the song, so searched in vain.
Anyway, in case you're wondering, this is the one
you want, and a marvellous record it is, too.
My sister, after her David Cassidy phase, switched to the likes of Lou Reed (a massive leap!), so she had a copy of Transformer
and a Velvet Underground compo (which for some reason I remember as having a velvet wallpaper type cover, or did I dream that?). So when I hit my teen years and commandeered the Beatles records in the house, I also scooched her collection and borrowed Transformer
, and Ian Hunter's
first solo record, though it was really a collab with Mick Ronson.
And, at this frozen moment in time, with the mono record player stashed in my teenage bedroom, with the cream of the household records stolen away, I made my first actual record purchase. The back story to this was the ever-present Beatles For Sale
and the received wisdom in my family, that the Beatles were all right up until "Help," but then they went "all funny." I cherish that memory, because it helps to remember stuff like that when you try to understand the 60s. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking of the 60s as an era of sexual liberation, with "revolution in the air," and the whole country swinging along with London and Carnaby Street and Apple records.
The truth is, the high watermark for record sales as far as the Beatles were concerned was, "She Loves You," with "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" standing as their longest stay at #1. From 1966 on, they were no longer universally loved, and were instead controversial, with critics out to slag them off, and the British public divided in their opinions. If you're lucky enough to see the film Let it Be
you should note that there really are men in bowler hats on the street below their rooftop concert, looking every bit as outraged as you'd expect a cartoon character version to be. In 1969, the Blue Meanies were a very real thing.
As Simon mentions below,
the idiom of the Beatles up to Help!
is already hard for people "well under 30" to understand. In a few more years, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" will be, for young people, like listening to Sinatra mumble Rod McCuen was to me.
So our house was like many others in the parental opinion that Something Went Wrong with the Beatles. And it seems inevitable and obvious that my first record purchase was also my first act of teenage rebellion: Beatles 1967-70
also known as the Blue Album. To me at the time (1976/77), it was a totally unknown quantity: I didn't know any of the songs, had non preconception of how it would sound. You didn't hear records that old
on national radio at the time, and it's hard to imagine how long ago 1970 was, in 1977.