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1967: The Who and The Beatles

by David Soulsby, author of the novel, "Somewhere in the Distance"

 

IF YOU were looking for an electrifying ‘top of their game’ live act in 1967, you didn’t have to cast your sights any further than The Who. They were a four-some to be reckoned with: full of bombastic attitude and ambition and showmanship…but more than that, they were exceedingly fine musicians to boot. They sprung on stage and performed raw, mean, thunderous rock ‘n’ roll that could not be ignored…

The Beatles had the clever, toe-tapping, delightfully-melodic songs, the Stones had the pulsating, animalistic, howling songs, but it was The Who that had the chest-pounding, lung-searing, ear-deafening songs, songs that rocketed and roared, slapping against the audiences’ faces like sharp tentacles hurling from the stage, the thunderous roar of the guitars and drums reverberating through their bodies from the bottom of their feet to the top of their heads, a truly awesome visceral and cerebral experience.

The band’s chemistry was what gave it its musical majesty: the tough, no-nonsense vocals of Roger Daltrey; the incisive, scorching guitar work of Pete Townshend; the restless, manic drumming of Keith Moon; and the effortlessly easy blast of bass from John Entwhistle.

Enthralled crowds at nine New York concerts in March witnessed the grandeur, knowing they had been privileged to experience performances of pure, perfect, passionate, pounding rock. And by the end of June, with a groundbreaking appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival under their belt, the group’s US standing was set to soar into the stratosphere.

And so it was that, by the end of the summer of 1967 (the Summer of Love), the south Londoners finally made it big in America. It was no surprise to the British fans who loved them, though, like me, they were more than just a little puzzled that the lads hadn’t made the massive transatlantic breakthrough earlier…but like most good things, it was better late than never. And after that, there was no looking back.

It just got better and better and by the end of the year the classic The Who Sell Out album cemented their greatness. And, of course, there was much more to come…

It’s strange how seeing one of your favourite groups gain immense fame and adulation can work like a two-edged sword. There’s a piece of you that wants your favourite band to break away from its humble roots and soar skywards, while there’s an equally strong emotion that makes you sad that the group is no longer simply yours. Looking back, that’s how I felt. Selfish, I know, but only human.

SHAFTS of bright sunlight perform a jerky dance on the pavement as they pierce through the gently rustling trees, while sheets of discarded newspaper swirl and dart between the traffic on the shimmering tarmac. Some vehicles slow momentarily as their curious drivers glance at the colourful, chattering crowd lined up in an orderly fashion outside a record store.

It’s the first day of June and what will become the most iconic rock album of all time is about to be eagerly snatched up by fans impatient to own a copy on the first day of sale. The buzz going round the expectant throng is that something very special is about to happen…

The Beatles’ classic Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band heralds a new era in music making: albums can now be concepts, dabble with ideas and themes that would have been thought non-goers only a few years earlier; cover designs can encapsulate art in experimental and dynamic ways; lyrics can be surreal and challenging; and musicians can take off in whatever direction they want, free to mix all forms of music into rich palettes of seemingly infinite variety. It’s not the first time that they’ve been able to do these things, but the door is now well and truly open.

I have to confess, with a slightly red face, that Sgt Pepper was the first Beatles album I owned. Of course, I listened to their music from the very start but never got round to buying any of their records (not even singles). I didn’t think I needed to. There sound was everywhere, on the radio, on TV, whirring in your head. I was too busy with the likes of The Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, The Searchers and Jefferson Airplane to give the Fab Four too much of my attention. The Liverpool lads were massive and all conquering that’s for sure, but I didn’t consider myself an out-and-out fan. How preserve was that?

But Sgt Pepper changed all that. It was a vinyl album that got played and played throughout that summer, and beyond.

Later that month I was one of the estimated 400-million viewers who watched The Beatles and a host of personalities sing All You Need Is Love on the first international satellite show on TV. It was fun and it brought the world together in unison, if only for a short time!  Of course, the Vietnam War was still raging and civil unrest was becoming an increasing part of daily life all over the world, but the song’s sentiment was a worthy one. Perhaps a bit too simplistic but The Beatles hearts were in the right place.

David Soulsby lives in Romford, Essex,David Soulsby England, and is now retired after 46 years as a journalist. During his career, he worked on local and national newspapers and magazines, and in the Sixties met many of his musical heroes, including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Sonny Boy Williamson, James Brown and Mel Torme. He’s now freelancing as a writer and proof-reader, working from home. He’s the author of Somewhere In The Distance, a novel about four friends growing up in the Sixties.

 

 

 

 Somewhere in the Distance

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