Derek Gentile: Get on the magical mystery tour


PITTSFIELD -- One of the first albums I ever purchased, at LaFlemme's Music Store in Summer Street in Adams, was "Rubber Soul" by The Beatles.

(I can't lie. The first record I ever purchased was "On Time" by Grand Funk Railroad. Sue me.)

Ironically, I bought the album because my mother had previously bought "Meet The Beatles" and "A Hard Days Night." It seemed a little wimpy to buy records that my parents liked. But these guys were really good!

On Sunday, the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show will be the subject of a television special. As well they should be. I have heard people say they don't like Bob Dylan, or the Rolling Stones, or Johnny Cash, but I don't think I've ever heard anyone say they didn't like The Beatles.

Even Frank Sinatra, who once said rock and roll music was "sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons," eventually covered George Harrison's "Something." He called it "the greatest love song of the past 50 years."

Growing up, The Beatles were certainly a big part of my life, but I was more interested in the Stones, The Who, The Kinks and David Bowie.

But, 50 years later, the influence of this combo is unmistakable. It will be interesting to see how well artists like Keith Urban, John Mayer, Joe Walsh and Stevie Wonder cover Beatles tunes on Sunday. But let's face it: We'd all love to see John Lennon and George Harrison, both now deceased, up there with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.

But why were they so darn good? Why so reverently spoken of?

A couple reasons, I think.

The first, and maybe the biggest, was that they wrote their own songs. Obviously, they didn't pioneer this, but they were, in the early 1960s, very much the exception rather than the rule.

This is my own assessment, but I think that personalized their music. Lennon and McCartney, and to a lesser extent, Harrison and Starr, wrote about their loves and ambitions.

To be sure, the songwriters of the ‘50s and ‘60s wrote some outstanding songs. Elvis Presley had a host of terrific writers, including the late, great Aaron Schroeder, formerly of Great Barrington. Barry Gordy's Motown artists also had their songs written for them.

I remember Frank Sinatra saying during a show I saw that he was just a "glorified saloon singer." His point was that he sang other people's songs.

The Beatles sang their own songs, which was unique at the time. It contributed to a sound no one had really heard before.

The other reason The Beatles had so much influence on America was that they were a sort of self-contained band. They produced their sound with three guitars and a drum kit, with Lennon sometimes providing a harmonica solo.

Kids over here were amazed and excited. They knew that a couple guys from the neighborhood could team up and start a band. The possibilities had suddenly opened up exponentially.

This is a little more esoteric, but as they matured as a band, The Beatles were not afraid to experiment. Some of the experiments, like "Magical Mystery Tour" didn't work very well. Others, like "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" worked spectacularly.

As a result, they were much imitated. (Who remembers "Their Satanic Majesty's Request" by the Rolling Stones? It's better to forget it, although there were a few decent songs on it.)

I have most of the albums and compilations and remixes. But when that show starts on Sunday night, I'm watching it.

To reach Derek Gentile:,
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile


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