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DOYLE: How the Beatles invaded our lives

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For some of us this was not an automatic conversion.

By Steve Doyle

I could fill up an entire newspaper with my confessions, especially if I embraced the “good for the soul” argument, but this one will shock many who know me or who have been around me for more than a few laps:

I was a slow adaptor when it came to the Beatles.

Yes, those beloved Beatles, the ones whose music courses through the tone-deaf chambers of my brain.

It’s sad to admit that I didn’t think much of them when they emerged on the consciousness of an elementary school-aged farm boy and changed the discussion of our times. I wanted to hold their hands, but I didn’t know if I wanted to love them do.

Recalling those times and those four mop-tops from Liverpool is the national pastime this week among most of us of a certain generation, with the half-century celebration of the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, which was watched by more people that Sunday than all of the top-10 network programs are today.

I saw that performance – which was a miracle in itself, given that I seldom was not in church on a Sunday night when Ed Sullivan introduced his “really big shew,” whatever that was – but I know my Dad watched religiously, I think because of a secret fascination with Topo Gigio.

Perhaps it was that night that I first understood that the Beatles made girls scream outrageously and incessantly, that they wore funny clothes and sounded a bit odd in conversation. I also vaguely knew they were John, Paul, George and Ringo (which must be said in that order).

But a boy then was making as segue in life from wanting to be Roy Rogers to wanting to be Mickey Mantle. He was focused away from the stage and onto the fields of play. He wasn’t musically talented or even sophisticated, other than like most people he knew what he liked. “Jesus Loves Me” was an oldie to him. He listened to WAKY because it was on, and because he was a hound dog for Elvis Presley, the Beatles didn’t immediately register. I mean, they were from “over there.”

They also stole the attention of every girl in fifth grade, who alternately loved Paul or John or occasionally George but never the towhead across the aisle. It was like we homeboys didn’t exist and our Billy The Kid jeans and burr haircuts suddenly were far from cool (which I’m sure they were).

Our parents and educators ensured that we would not be true Beatles emulators. First, they were appalled at that “long hair” (they would get a real dose in a few years, huh?). No hair on the collar. Two finger lengths above the eyebrows. Nothing on the ears. Rules.

I remember my folks talking about a post-high-school guy from our church who worked with my Dad and how he had a horrible “Beatles haircut.” No, that wasn’t happening with the rest of us, no matter how close to the cutting edge our locks were shorn.

Now I admit that I sort of liked those collarless suit jackets the Beatles wore, but you didn’t find those at Andriot’s or Lerman’s or Lincoln’s or Family Fair or anywhere else I shopped in those pre-mall days.

And then there was the music itself. How outrageous where these songs? I Want To Hold Your Hand? She Loves You? Yeah, yeah, yeah.

The common adult denouncement was that the Fab Four couldn’t even play their instruments and faked it all, as if any act on American Bandstand wasn’t Milli Vanilli before Milli Vanilli. Heck, Elvis couldn’t play his guitar much, either. What we ultimately came to understand is that Paul McCartney and John Lennon, to name two, could play just about anything and bring any element of music into any tune they conceived.

And, ultimately, the music was the key.

It became another measurement of coolness to have the latest and greatest Beatles 45 record debuting in the Top 40 that week. Most of them had a top-10 song on each side, and that was helpful, given that most of us couldn’t afford the $4 or so for those 33-RPM vinyl albums.

But here I failed again.

See, I didn’t like to be cutting edge. I was so insecure that I tried to find a niche that not everyone was embracing, like that was supposed to make me something special.

So while everyone was fawning over the Liverpool gang, I tended to embrace the second acts of the British Invasion, such as Herman’s Hermits. I followed Peter Noone and the boys, but that’s sort of rooting for, I don’t know, Eastern, when you really should be backing UK.

Here were my two sad initiations into owning Beatles music:

I bought a bunch of cheap-bin 45s and included in them was a Beatles cut: One side was “Aint She Sweet,” and the other was some long-forgotten tune sung by a guy named Tony Sheridan (he performed sometimes with them back in their Cavern Club days). Arren’t you jealous?

I didn’t truly cross over until family friend Sam Chandler handed down to me his Hard Days Night album, along with a few from other artists, such as the venerable Manfred Mann and Jan and Dean, which now belong to my older daughter.

And then my passion was born, and I’ve become such a mainstream Beatles fan that I have introduced their music to my children, I have loved watching old reruns of the Beatles cartoons (Ringo always stole the show) and, thanks to my wife, I own the Beatles Anthology DVD set and a cool-for-me t-shirt.

In the mid-1990s I even ventured to the Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando and sat among about 25,000-plus and listened to Paul McCartney make the old music and the new music like he never missed a chord, a beat or a turn. You would’ve thought he wrote a lot of those songs. Oh, wait….

One of my old pastors at Dover Baptist Church, Russ Barker, had the best line of who the Beatles were in the pantheon of music:

“I always tell the young people,” Russ said in his Georgia drawl, “that you know who the Beatles are. They’re the group that Paul McCartney was with before Wings.”

Yes, Paul created a legacy that endures into his 70s, and though it took a few decades, here I am, just one of the masses, fawning over the greatest, 8-year run in the history of pop culture, a run we all wish could be repeated over and over and over again, my friends.