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The Beatles: It Was 50 Years Ago

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

 

A catchy harmonica riff identified a new record that hovered around the lower regions of the British hit parade in late October 1962. It had a familiar ring to it: Bruce Channel had had a big hit with a similar motif earlier in the year on his classic Hey Baby, and throughout the summer an Australian singer named Frank Ifield enjoyed massive worldwide success with I Remember You, the harmonica again featuring strongly. The October opus was Love Me Do, the first vinyl offering from The Beatles: it was easy on the ear but certainly at the time no earth shaker. But what it did do was introduce the Liverpool group to a young record buying public that was then regularly buying records by an old guard of performers who hadn’t changed much during the preceding four or five years. 

On the surface Love Me Do seemed like an adequate enough debut record but no-one knew if it would be just a one-off minor hit with nothing much happening afterwards or if the foursome would succeed and make a name for themselves.Well, we all know the answer now — but back then what changes were afoot were manifesting ever so slowly …

Love Me Do had been released in early October with very little fanfare, just a few plays on national radio and a mini flurry of activity among the boys’ fans in their home city. On the same day, a slick spy movie hit the cinemas and although filmgoers were initially stirred they certainly weren’t totally shaken. Like The Beatles, the James Bond movie was entertaining and definitely different from earlier espionage movies, yet offered no hint of any long-lasting greatness.

Life was going on much as it had done for years: class barriers were very much alive, the drabness of post war austerity was still all around us, and everyone knew their place in a society that was steeped in rigid tradition and staidness. Not surprisingly, young people were beginning to seek change and make for themselves a life far distant from that of their parents: as I said, it was a subtle, gradual pulling away and in no way a fast, drastic revolution.

It was simply a desire to be different, a desire that came about as confidence and ambition grew among young people who were determined to throw off the shackles of the past and replace them with a more equitable, fairer, more meaningful way of life. All this was happening while we still wore drab clothes, still had standard haircuts, didn’t drink very much (we couldn’t afford it!), were always polite and respectful to our parents and our elders, and worked as hard as we could at school.

Up until the release of Love Me Do, the 1962 British music charts had been dominated by three performers: Elvis Presley notched up four best-selling records but they were weak compared to the gems of his dynamic Fifties supremacy; likewise, Britain’s Cliff Richard had four smash hits, but again they were not in the same league as those from the early years of rock ‘n’ roll.  It’s not that they were abjectly terrible records, it was just that they were somewhat predictable, lacking in innovation and freshness. But the biggest hit of the year was the previously mentioned I Remember You by yodelling Frank Ifield. It was a song that our parents loved. It filled the airwaves for weeks on end, so much so that there was no getting away from it. Its ordinariness defined the trough that rock and pop music had slipped into. British youth was ready for something new to happen on the music scene.

Meanwhile, the month of October was marked by an event that put music completely in the shade. It reared its ugly head just a few days after I’d celebrated my 17th birthday: it was the Cuban Missile Crisis, which for two weeks had the world holding its breathe, not knowing if all our hopes for a brighter future were about to be shattered by a nuclear holocaust.

Newspaper headlines and television reports warned us to fear the worst: we were on the brink of annihilation. I remember at the time wondering if there was any future to look forward to: I resented the fact that something outside of my control could bring about such devastation. It seemed so unfair. So, it was with a huge sigh of relief that I woke up one morning late in October to see on the television news that the standoff between America and the Soviets had been resolved peacefully and we could get back to some kind of normality.

By early December that year, The Beatles’ Love Me Do had peaked at number 17 in the British charts and the group had laid down tracks that would be considered for release in January of the New Year. One track was Please Please Me … and the rest, as they say, is history. Things would within the space of two years never be the same again.

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.

 

 

 

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