It Was 50 Years Ago Today (But Few Noticed)

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

                  Today marks not only my dad’s 89th birthday, but also the 50th anniversary of the initial British release of The Beatles’ first single, “Love Me Do.” Unlike say, next year at this time when we commemorate 50 years since the Kennedy assassination, few who were alive then could really remember where we were, or what we were doing, when this near non-event occurred. And probably not that many cared at the time, for the single only peaked at #17, though it did manage an 18-week chart run. At the time of its release, #1 in UK was the instrumental hit “Telstar,” by The Tornados, which would soon after become the first UK Rock single to top the US charts, anticipating the British invasion by over a year. 

                  If it was any indicator, I absolutely LOVED “Telstar,” and still do to the extent that I’m sure it would place in my top 100 favorite records of all time if I were ever to attempt such a list. I knew at the time that The Tornados were from England, mostly because the single was released in America on the London record label, which would later distribute The Rolling Stones classic 60’s sides. There was something very different about “Telstar” from your typical American Rock & Roll instrumentals by surf groups like The Ventures, and maybe the geography had something to do with it. I do know that I played my copy, and its B-side “Jungle Fever,” to the degree where you couldn’t tell the difference between the surface scratch and the space age sound effects that start and finish the record.

                     So maybe “Telstar” was what initially piqued my interest leading to this time 50 years later, where I can now say that I’ve lived in this country almost a decade. If that wasn’t enough, I’d get another teaser in spring of ’63. I was home from school sick, and around 3:00, tuned in to “American Bandstand,” the pop music TV show which was then on every afternoon. A regular feature of the show was “Rate-A-Record,” which stayed with the show for several decades after. On this particular day, the first of two records featured was, as the host Dick Clark described, “Not a new record. This has already reached number two in England, but is just being released here. The group is called The Beatles, and the song is called ‘Please Please Me.'” 

                   Even though in retrospect it seems less significant of a Beatles song than most, listening to it that afternoon, I was almost as blown away by it as I had been by “Telstar.” I was fascinated by the lead and back-up singers’ “Come on” vocal interplay, the harmonica, the comparatively-for-its-time hard driving beat, but the “panel of judges” had about a 180º disagreement. “I didn’t like it,” chimed the first greasy duck-tailed teen, “the beat was too hard to dance to, and the words were kinda dumb.” Maybe he, like so many, didn’t realize until many years later that the lyrics were purportedly about oral sex. He gave it a 70 on a scale of 35 to 98 (no idea why those parameters were settled on), and the other two “experts” didn’t exactly disagree with him. I don’t remember the exact title of the other record that was competing against this piece of history, but I do remember it was by R&B singer Maureen Gray, who’d had her only chart record with “Dancing The Strand” about a year earlier. “I always liked Maureen Gray,” said Mr. Ducktail, and her record won out by a strong margin. Many times I’ve wondered if Ms. Gray was ever aware of her modest triumph.

                   It was from that day that I became a Beatle fan, and I heard the record once on local radio around that time, then saw it in the one big record store in Tucson, where I was living, but didn’t buy it. This was my first of many big mistakes in my record collecting career, for that single, on Vee Jay #498, was credited to “The Beattles,” and for that reason alone is now worth hundreds of dollars on the collectors’ market. The song would be re-issued a year later, when Beatlemania was in full swing, with “From Me To You” on the B-side (“Ask Me Why” was the original B-side), and peak at #3, but only because “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You” held the top two slots for about two months. I wonder if Mr. Ducktail bought a copy. 

                   “Love Me Do” also topped the US charts in June of ’64, a feat it never accomplished in UK. It would peak at #4 in a 1982 20th Anniversary re-issue, and hit #53 ten years later. I haven’t heard anything about a re-issue this time around, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it charted again.   

                Though The Beatles played a significant part in my life education, the decision for me to work and live in the UK was influenced by many cultural things that followed in their wake. Actually, by the time they broke up, I was totally into Soul music. However, they stayed together just long enough for the music’s historical impact to remain, rather than be diluted by inferior recordings that undoubledly would have come. Yes, it’s nice that The Rolling Stones are still more or less intact and celebrating their 50th anniversary this year as well. Yet of all their great body of work, how much of it NOT from their first decade do we really care about?


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