Jerry Velona

The Beatles - Yesterday and Today

I was one of the 73 million Americans watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show fifty years ago, February 9th, 1964. I was nine. My big sister was fifteen and had her camera out looking to snap photos of Ringo when he came on the screen. My recollection is the pictures didn't come out that well. She was ahead of her time in that regard except that the photos would have gone in her scrap book rather than on Facebook. My parents were in their mid-forties, which in those days was the pop-culture equivalent of being in your seventies today. Like most adults, they were not fans of the band but sat tolerantly and mostly silently as we all gazed at the images on our black and white Philco. It was one of those moments in the 60's (there were so many) where the time, place and memories are still firmly rooted in the brain.

We wore out the first American album Meet the Beatles. My favorite songs were Little Child, Hold Me Tight and the George Harrison tune Don't Bother Me. I still have all three of those in my IPod and hear them randomly on my shuffle playlist. I recorded a rockin' cover of Little Child a couple of years ago and you can purchase it here.  The longest song on the album, I Saw Her Standing There, clocked in at a robust two minutes and forty-nine seconds. Several of the songs were at or under two minutes. Interesting that at a time when people in general had longer attention spans, the pop songs were so short.

My Dad took my sister and her friend Star (no relation to Ringo) to see them perform at Shea Stadium in August of 1965 for her 16th birthday. To say this was a sacrifice for my straight-laced Dad is well beyond understatement. There's a fantastic video of this concert on Vimeo which I highly recommend. It's in color and HD and the sound quality is fantastic. Watching this video I was struck by how well they played and sounded with those tiny Vox amps and the pitiful sound system that was mostly drowned out by the screaming of tens of thousands of teenage girls. It's a shame that they mostly stopped doing shows after 1966. They were really an excellent live band.

I started studying the violin with my grandfather at the age of seven and began the piano with my Uncle Eddie, a good player and music teacher shortly thereafter. However, once the Beatles came to America, I didn't want to do anything other than play the drums and guitar.  Like most kids I had a tendency to have fast but not lasting enthusiasms about many things so my parents were skeptical about my newfound passion. But when I wore out the bongo drums they bought me and started building my own drum set out of various size boxes I found around the house, they decided I was serious.  They bought me a blue sparkle set of Ludwigs and I was off and running. I think there were many, many kids growing up in those years that got their start playing rock music in the same way and for the same reason.

In high school I played and sang in a band called The Happy Melons. We did a whole set of Beatles music including the entire Abbey Road medley. We played a lot of weekend dances and this was always the highlight of the evening for everyone. After leaving Berklee in the mid-70's I played in a group called The Space Opera Band. We also did a ton of Beatles and British invasion tunes which were always the best received - even the more obscure ones like How Do You Do It by Gerry and Pacemakers (also recorded by the Beatles).  Those songs have such resonance with so many people. It's no wonder there are still a lot of Beatle tribute bands around who do great business and make a lot of people happy.

I saw Paul McCartney at the Worcester Centrum in the late 80's when he finally decided to do some Beatles songs. He had a great band with a couple of guys from the Average White Band and Ringo's son Zac on the drums. Hearing Paul sing those great songs was a thrill, even with Linda on background vocals (sorry...may she rest in peace!).

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Berklee Performance Center to see a great live band perform The White Album in its entirety. It was put together by bassist Tom Appleman along with guitarists Joe Musella, Corin Ashley and others. They did it up right with strings, horns and all the quirky arrangements of those (mostly) fantastic songs. I took my two daughters Robin and Nina. One thing I've done well as a parent is to instill a love of good music in my kids. All three of us had a blast and Tom, Corin, Joe and all the musicians did a fantastic job and recreated the tunes extremely well - not an easy thing to do with such an eclectic record.

A couple of days before the big fiftieth anniversary of their performance on the Ed Sullivan Show, Dennis Elsas, DJ on WFUV in NYC did a half-hour retrospective on what it was like when the Beatles landed at JFK and the hysteria it engendered. Dennis has been around for a long time and was a DJ on one of the great, original FM rock stations WNEW-FM. He worked with some of the AM DJ's at the time like "Cousin Brucie"Morrow, Dan Daniels, Scott Muni and the inimitable Murray the K who proclaimed himself "the fifth Beatle" and pretty much glommed onto them the entire time they were in New York. Dennis played clips from some of the stations like WABC, WINS, and WMCA and you could get a palpable sense of the excitement surrounding the band at that time. I was listening to all that at a tender age and it brought back a bunch of great memories and many smiles.

Finally, it was fun to watch some of the Grammy Salute to the Beatles on Sunday night - on the same station, same time, exactly fifty years later - pretty amazing. I enjoyed the cover of Something with Jeff Lynn and Joe Walsh and Dhanni Harrison. A friend remarked that Dhanni should have sung it as he sounds just like his Dad and I agree. Paul and Ringo still look and sound great and obviously have a tremendous joy for life and music that has come across right from the start. I loved hearing about the stories when they walked through the Ed Sullivan Theatre with David Letterman.

Anyone who's a big fan should watch The Beatles' Anthology where they talk about their career in depth along with great footage and backstories. One of the things that struck me as I watched this years ago was how regular, dare I say "normal" the individual Beatles seem to be. When they talk about their fame they often do so with a sort of amused detachment that is appealing for it's lack of ego. I mean, after all, they are the frickin' Beatles for gawd's sake. Maybe the fact that they were brought up in modest, working-class households in England has something to do with that.  Someone supposedly asked Paul once if he could share two things he does when he sits down to write a song. Paul's reply: "First I sit down, and then I write a song". That's enough reason to love him right there.

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