Category Archives: 1960s television

#195 – Act Naturally

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#195 – Act Naturally by The Beatles

Acting naturally

– I’m going to say something that might just make your country granddad kick over his rocker, summon the hounds and reach for his musket. But before he starts ruffling rhinestones and planning to mount me as a hood ornament on the family bass boat, allow me to plead my case as being sincere. This is coming from a Classic Rocker who still loves his mother, the American Flag and believes Elvis is The King.

The British made country music cool.

Okay, I’m not saying it was totally uncool since The King, Jerry Lee and The Man In Black were all inspired by the country greats. They took it in a different direction by adding their own personal roll from black-owned rhythm and blues to make it rock.

And for a young baby boomer with northern roots and an urban outlook, members of the country branch that the rock and roll originators were listening to had never been played on my vinyl turntable.

Acting unnaturally

What had been fed to us up north through black and white televisions did nothing to help country’s image compared to what we were watching during the swingin’ mid-1960’s. The Ed Sullivan Show, Shindig and Hullabaloo featured British Invasion acts and American pop stars that set the standard for what we found cool at the time. The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five and The Animals were among the first wave of invaders, while Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Byrds, Lovin’ Spoonfull and other U.S. favs did their best to hold the home turf.

That was a big jump over a big swamp when you think about how country’s image was ingrained into our young minds only a few years before. Region was a major factor and television was our only connection.

As a northern boomer I didn’t pine for the sound of a steel guitar. I also didn’t know the roots of other important musical genres like Delta Blues, Chicago Blues or Memphis Blues. There really was no exposure for this type of music until The Stones borrowed our homegrown Bo Diddley beats, Chuck Berry riffs, Muddy Waters howls and Little Walter harp and sold it back to us. But that wasn’t country music. For many of us who were geographically removed from the real deal, our country music education came from television.

And it wasn’t always good.

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My earliest memory of country music was courtesy of Cousin Ernie. Even today with reruns of I Love Lucy moving into its seventh decade, Tennessee Ernie Ford playing Lucy’s cousin remains a preserved image of how sophisticated people (Lucy and Ricky lived in the modern metropolis of New York City) saw country folk. Cousin Ernie hemmed, hawed and whined his way through bumbling country bumpkin, fish-out-of-water situations, before laying his corn-fed wisdom on the Ricardos and (Fred and Ethel) Mertz resulting in a countrified happy ending.

Cousin Ernie

And to top it all off, the couples would dress up in American Gothic style complete with bib overalls and Lucy’s blackened out front tooth in joining Cousin Ernie to sing a yee-haw hootenanny of a song.

By 1964 did any of us really want to grow up to be the Cousin Ernie we were watching in reruns? Not if we could be one of The Fab Four in A Hard Day’s Night instead. And I won’t even mention The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction and a few years later the classic cornball humor of Hee-Haw.

Except I just did…

These television shows were not the best images of where The King and his court of rockers first gained their love of music.

And to throw even more salt into a generation gap wound (call off the hounds gramps) our television inspired perceptions could be extreme. On a typical Saturday evening with only three networks to choose from, you could watch The Porter Wagoner Show featuring a big-haired, big-country, big-everything Dolly Parton (I saw her in concert many years later and fell in love with her) or The Lawrence Welk Show. Based on their urban or rural leanings, grandma and grandpa were fans of one or the other. Since I have no recollection of what could possibly have been on the third channel, I’m guessing a lot of the boomer generation in my neck of the woods spent the hour outside riding our bikes and creating adventures.

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Years later we used these adventures as worthy excuses to tell our kids to quit sitting in front of the TV and go outside. But I won’t mention that.

Except I just did…

“I don’t need rehearsing.”

By 1965 the original rock ‘n’ rollers had been put out to pasture and wouldn’t really return until the rock ‘n’ roll revival shows later in the decade. The Beatles were a pop group that gently led us into rock ‘n’ roll. The Rolling Stones were a blues group that dragged us there. But they knew something we didn’t. They thought country music was cool. And for many of us our first eye-opening television exposure to this phenomenon happened on Sunday, September 12th when Ringo Starr sang Act Naturally with his own buckaroo backup band on The Ed Sullivan Show.

The song naturally appeared in my waking mind on June 6th. The reason, outside of being a very catchy tune, was that I had just heard it the day before. I can’t help thinking how funny the mind works as I herd this into the recent memory category of Dream Songs.

Fans in the UK had already been countrified by this song in August 1965 when it was included on side 2 (the non-soundtrack songs) of the album from the Beatles’ second film Help! Since the U.S. version included the (non-Beatles) instrumental background tracks and only songs included in the movie, we hadn’t heard it.

Well, okay… most of us hadn’t heard it.

Max Volume

The Beatles performed Act Naturally during their earth-shaking appearance in front of 55,600 fans at New York’s Shea Stadium on August 15th. That crowd had never heard it either and wondered what song the band was playing. And with girls screaming at max volume, many could leave the concert and still say they hadn’t heard it.

After Shea it was replaced by the more familiar I Wanna Be Your Man for the rest of the summer tour.

My first impression that night watching Ringo sing his first and only solo on The Ed Sullivan Show was that John Lennon and Paul McCartney had written a special number to promote Help! The film had been released in August and we all knew Ringo was the featured Fab being chased by an Eastern cult.

They’re gonna put me in the movies!

That wasn’t the case. Act Naturally was written by Johnny Russell and Voni Morrison. It was a hit for Buck Owens & His Buckaroos in 1963, reaching No. 1 on the country charts. Buck later became one of the co-hosts for Hee-Haw and the circle continued.

To check out Buck singing Act Naturally in 1966, visit this LINK on YouTube.

I Love Cousin Lucy

The Beatles’ version definitely had a country twang that separated it from the rockabilly they also favored with songs like Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby and Honey Don’t. And by the way, let’s thank the countrified roots of the great Carl Perkins for penning both those classics.

Act Naturally was definitely country, but with the limited exposure we’d had with Cousin Ernie and Uncle Jed, combined with The Fab Four’s 1965 pop star status residing in the stratosphere, it was tough to pin down that genre after only one listen – even without the screams experienced at Shea Stadium. When it was released as a single two days later on September 14th on the B-side of Yesterday, I went outside, hopped on my bike and bought my first country record.

And it was a lot cooler than Cousin Ernie and Cousin Lucy (with a blackened out front tooth) had made it seem only a few years before.

Here’s what fans may have heard – or might have missed depending on their seating section’s scream level volume. Ringo Starr & His Beatles Buckaroos singing Act Naturally during a very hot summer evening at Shea Stadium on August 15, 1965.

 

 

To purchase the UK version of the Help! movie soundtrack with Act Naturally visit Amazon.com.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

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#197 – I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home)

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#197 – I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home) by Grand Funk Railroad

 – There used to be a small diner in the small town where I grew up. There were only eight stools attached to the floor in front of a counter and when they were full you stood and waited for one to open up. If you waited or decided to go “take out,” you crammed into the tight space between the stools and a wall until your order was made, bagged and rung up on the cash register. Then you looked for another place to sit down and eat.

As weekend working stiffs starting our senior year in high school during the early fall of 1970, my two best friends and I would meet at the diner every Saturday around 11:30 am. If there was a lunch rush, which meant more than eight people because it was a very small town, we’d beat the competition by grabbing our stools before noon.

At the wise old age of seventeen we had already figured out how to maneuver a time clock for our benefit.

3 plays 4 a quarter

The diner had a jukebox, though I can’t remember where it fit in such a small place. There were also a couple counter jukeboxes attached to the… well, counter. We would grab our stools, flip through the pages of songs, insert a quarter (three plays as opposed to only one for a dime) and punch in the codes. It was mandatory to have a soundtrack while talking and lunching on greasy hamburgers, fries and cokes.

The cook’s work area wasn’t any larger than where we sat tight to the counter. He had the usual grill and space for the general chaos it took to whip up our lunch orders. And there was always a ham in a slow cooking rotation over the grill. This detail has stayed with me because while leaning over the counter talking with us one Saturday, the cook suddenly turned, sneezed loudly, and then continued our conversation.

The three of us decided not to order the ham.

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The Beatles At Shea Stadium

The story behind their greatest concert and making the TV special

20% OFF Retail Price with FREE Shipping (Continental U.S. Only)

Signed by the author and only through the website – BeatlesSheaStadium.com

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I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home) was an every Saturday play on the jukebox that fall, along with Cinnamon Girl by Neil Young and Crazy Horse. The third song for our quarter was selected by whichever one of us was fastest to punch in the code for whatever he wanted to hear.

This 1970 hit by Grand Funk Railroad mentally takes me back to these diner days. It also took over my mental state on the morning of May 23rd. I’m sure it hasn’t been decades since I’ve heard it, but it’s been long enough for the song to punch its way into the subliminal category of Dream Songs.

Detroit Suburbs? Just a guess.

Grand Funk was a hot new band at the time. Since our small town on the south shore of Lake Erie wasn’t far from their home base of Detroit, we knew their story. Okay, to be factual they were out of Flint Michigan, but close enough. Two of the trio, Mark Farner (guitar) and Don Brewer (drums), had morphed their way out of the band Terry Knight & The Pack. Terry’s Pack was known for their remake of I (Who Have Nothing) and I had watched them on the Cleveland based pop music television show Upbeat. So it was kind of cool to see these same guys with “mop tops” in the mid-1960’s morph into 70’s rockers. As Grand Funker’s, Farner had hair down to the middle of his back and Brewer added about a foot to his height with an Afro.

But to be honest, I wasn’t completely sold on Grand Funk. Later that fall they came out with a live double album called… well, Live Album. I bought it and… well, didn’t care for it. Hey – we all have our own tastes in music and I didn’t say that to upset any GF fans. To each his own. But as far as my tastes, I’ve always been a huge fan of Keith Richards and John Lennon on rhythm guitars. Grand Funk was a 3-piece at the time and when hearing a band playing live, I like a fuller sound.

The title says it all

So when I had the opportunity to see Grand Funk later that same year in Cleveland, I turned it down. And that story takes me back to the diner days. Or maybe in this case, it was diner daze

Our 3-piece band of pals would use our Saturday lunch breaks to review Friday nights. We were basically good kids, but also typical teenagers. We’d all been decent athletes playing basketball and running track, but small minded people in small towns during the late 1960’s could make it tough to be both a jock and a rocker. For example, I remember my hair being – maybe – about two inches long on top, but still off my ears and shirt collar (school dress code). But our small minded basketball coach delighted in tugging the hair on a few of us that didn’t follow crewcut athletes as fashion icons and thought Mark Farner and Don Brewer looked cool.

Of course as he snuck up on us for the hair tug he felt compelled to say, “You look like a girl.

Geez coach, maybe that’s why more than a few of us felt compelled to cut you from our team and head for the music department. By my second year in high school I could play the heck out of a trumpet. My luncheon buddies obviously felt the same way and manned the saxophone section.

The band director never said anything about our hair. And we were having a lot more fun than running laps or doing pushups because we missed a foul shot.

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To kick the fun up another level, we joined the marching bad. On a personal note, if you had asked whether I’d like to ride a school bus to an away football game with a bunch of sweaty guys in smelly uniforms or sit next to cute girls on the band bus, my answer was (and still would be) a no-brainer. It was the same for my two pals.

But to repeat myself, we were typical teenagers. That means we weren’t exactly angels. So as a means of pushing the envelope when it came to respectable behavior, one of my pals took a bottle of Triple Sec from his parents’ liquor cabinet. If you’re not familiar with that particular brand of booze, let’s just say it’s not meant to be consumed on its own. It’s usually mixed with Tequila and a sour mix for Margarittas.

But for a couple seventeen year old guys, that was a lesson that still had to be learned.

Nasty Stuff!

I was invited to join them for a Triple Sec drinking session before marching with the band during a Friday night home football game. To keep my stellar reputation in tact… okay, I won’t go that far with an angel routine, but I turned them down. One of the cute girls on the marching band bus had agreed to a date and I was picking her up on the way. I would see them at the game.

I won’t go into all the gory details except to say – yeah – they were seen. Two saxophone players who had completely drained a bottle of Triple Sec before joining the band to march across the field were very noticeable. The result was a three day school suspension for each.

And of course, the rest of us laughed and LAUGHED! That’s what teenagers do and we did it well.

The next day at our Saturday lunch meeting I had never in my young life seen anyone that hung over. I helped fill in the missing pieces from their staggering performance the night before while listening to I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home) and Cinnamon Girl. I don’t remember the third song that morning, but I’m sure it was my choice since I doubt they really wanted to hear anything louder than a pin dropping.

One of the benefits of being suspended from school means you don’t have to go to school.

So one of the them took the opportunity to buy tickets for the upcoming Grand Funk Railroad concert in Cleveland. He snuck into the school that afternoon, because one of the disadvantages of suspension was not being allowed to walk through the front doors, and hid out in the band room. I got word he was there and met in one of the rehearsal rooms where he told me he had an extra ticket for the concert.

Sure, I’ll go! But then he dropped a bomb louder than a pin dropping. It wasn’t a gift – I had to pay him for the ticket.

They had a blast!

Sorry pal. I don’t remember the cost and I know it was nowhere near what a concert ticket costs today, but I was on a weekend worker budget. I had already bought tickets to take my cute marching band girlfriend to the annual Christmas rock concert held at Cleveland’s Public Hall. And also based on Live Album, I took a pass on Grand Funk.

One of our other buddies coughed up the cash and they had a blast.

As for our Christmas concert, the headlining act got stuck in a snowstorm in Pittsburgh and missed the show. Sad ending? Not really. The replacement was Little Richard. And since that show has gone down as one of the many highlights of my concert daze, I’m sure we compared notes over who had the better time while lunching on greasy burgers, fries and cokes in the diner the next Saturday. Right after we punched in the code for I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home) on the counter jukebox.

Here’s a video of Grand Funk performing I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home) live at New York’s Shea Stadium in 1971. And you know what? They sound pretty darn good! Maybe I should’ve taken that ticket…

 

To purchase Greatest Hits: Grand Funk Railroad with I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home) visit amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

Beatles Program

 

#199 – Leave It To Beaver Theme Song

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#199 – Leave It To Beaver Theme Song

 – The television sitcom Leave It To Beaver portrayed the television image of Middle America in the late 1950’s and early 60’s. Everything was perfect. The family unit included a nice house, a mom and a dad, and two kids. Dad supported the family; mom took care of the family and any problems the kids were in could be solved by the family within a half hour episode.

Were things really that simple? Maybe on television, but not in real life.

The 1960’s, as many of us remember the decade, was simmering in the background. The show was broadcast into our living rooms each week in glorious black and white beginning October 4, 1957 until signing off on June 20, 1963. Elvis was still pre-army when viewers first met the Cleaver family and when the final episode aired we were only five months away from JFK’s fateful trip to Dallas.

In May 1963 Bob Dylan released his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, with songs about civil rights and nuclear war. In August Dr. Martin Luther King declared “I have a dream” in Washington D.C. and went on to be named Time Magazine’s Man Of The Year. And The Beatles were gearing up for a televised surprise attack on our senses that came on February 9, 1964.

Along with many other factors including The Space Race, The Cold War and The Vietnam War, our generation was in for a change. A BIG change. The sitcoms – and many are considered classic and still very entertaining – were far from being reality shows for the era.

The Cleavers

Leave It To Beaver was one of the moving picture postcards of The American Dream delivered into our living rooms every week. As referred to above, it was broadcast in black and white. But when you think about it, there really was no “black and white” on television during these years. Except for African Americans appearing as guest stars or supporting players, the first black leading character on a network series didn’t happen until 1965 when Bill Cosby starred in I Spy with Robert Culp.

As a member of the younger edge of baby boomers (I was five years younger than Jerry Mathers, who played Theodore “The Beaver” Cleaver), Leave It To Beaver was one of my weekly looks at the outside world. But it really didn’t seem that much different from where I was growing up in northern Ohio. School, friends, girls (not always the same as “friends”), dealing with teenagers and respecting adult authority were about as deep as things got. I was fortunate that my parents were always more open than some of the others. My mother was from Detroit and they both enjoyed taking me on weekend excursions to other big cities such as Cleveland, New York and Chicago.

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20% OFF Author Signed Copies!

The Beatles At Shea Stadium

The story behind their greatest concert and making the TV special

20% OFF Retail Price with FREE Shipping (Continental U.S. Only)

Signed by the author and only through the website – BeatlesSheaStadium.com

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In all honesty, that’s where I’d see minorities. But the cities to me were exotic places with energy, excitement and adventures on every block and didn’t seem to exclude anyone because of color, sex or religion. As a young visitor in those days before the race-related riots of the 1960’s, I was never exposed to any inner city problems. Like the Cleavers and their social circle in Leave It To Beaver, it was life in a protected bubble. But these youthful real world experiences in big cities helped me form the opinion there were no reasons why we all couldn’t – or shouldn’t – live together.

Not The Cleavers

So when I write about the dramatic changes that still make the 1960’s the most talked about and studied decade of the Twentieth Century, The American Dream and The American Reality on how the 60’s played out serve as bookends. Start with Leave It To Beaver and end with the film Woodstock and you’ll understand why Boomers are so passionate about this decade of change.

For the first generation to be accused of having television as an adult authority figure, sitcoms were our windows to the outside world. And just like race, sex and religion, what we learned from television went a long way in defining how we look at the world – and how the world looks at us.

One of my favorite (and funniest) personal examples happened more than twenty years after Leave It To Beaver faded off into rerun land. I was living in New York City and breaking into the comedy biz. Before ending up with my career “behind the scenes,” I did stand-up comedy. But once again in all honesty, I lacked the necessary edge that in my opinion makes seasoned NYC comedians the funniest. After one particular bleak performance on stage at a famous comedy club, a couple of my black comedian friends (while laughing) told me I was too “white bread” to be truly funny. I was too Ricky Nelson from Ozzie and Harriett, which is another television postcard of 1950’s and 60’s American Dream.

And you know what? I laughed with them because it was true. There was no way around the stereotyping. But looking back, even my friends didn’t get it right. I was more Theodore “The Beaver” Cleaver in the 60’s than the cool Ricky Nelson from the 50’s.

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The Leave It To Beaver Theme Song (actual title; The Toy Parade) is a classic example of the catchy tunes that lured viewers to their television sets and can still set off nostalgic memories for the boomer generation. I’ll even go out on a limb and say most of us can hum it all the way through (there are lyrics, but never heard on the show) just like we can sing I Want To Hold Your Hand and She Loves You. This particular TV tune waxed nostalgic in my waking mind on May 9th. Since it doesn’t fit the classic rock requirements to be on my digital playlist, I can’t remember the last time I heard it and The Toy Parade falls onto the subliminal side of the Dream Song List.

Eddie Haskell

One comic element of Leave It To Beaver that has stayed real for me through the decades is the supporting character Eddie Haskell. If I were to ever list my all-time favorite television characters, he would have to be in the Top 10. Played by Ken Osmond who later left showbiz to become a police officer, Eddie Haskell embodies the heart, soul and devious mind of every wise guy kid who ever stirred up any type of trouble and tried to schmooze his way out of it by being overly polite and agreeable toward whatever adult authority was coming down on him.

My dad, who had a wonderful sense of humor and could make me laugh until I cried, would compare my friends and me to Eddie Haskell whenever we tried to talk our way out of whatever predicament we had gotten ourselves into. And I also used it to describe my son to anyone that might remember the legendary TV name.

Since he was born in 1995, I’m sure Paul has no idea who Eddie Haskell is. But when someone from my generation gushed over how nice and polite he was while growing up, I reminded them of this iconic television character. They knew immediately what I was talking about. Kids can still be typical kids before the BIG changes of adulthood and no different than we were growing up in the 60’s. And similar to when we started asserting our independence while moving into our teenage years, there were many times at home when I felt I was talking to Eddie Haskell in all his American Dream wise guy glory.

The only glitch in the process was that I had grown out of my Eddie Haskell phase. I’ve reverted back to being The Beaver.

The theme song arrangement changed during the years, with the final season using a “swing” style. Below is the opening sequence to Leave It To Beaver from season four, which is the one that scored on this list.

If you’re a dedicated fan, you can purchase the complete Leave It To Beaver series on DVD from Amazon.com. Also separate seasons and episodes are available through the link.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

Beatles Program

August 15, 1965 – The Beatles At Shea Stadium

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– It started earlier than you might think…

sidbernstein

Sid Bernstein

During the winter of 1963 Sid Bernstein, a New York producer and entrepreneur, decided to expand his horizons by taking a course in Political Science. The instructor said if students wanted learn about democracy they need to study Great Britain, so Bernstein trekked down to Times Square every week and bought the British newspapers.

After reading updates about the government, he turned to where his real interests were – the entertainment section. He noticed the name of a pop group called The Beatles. At first the articles were small, but each week they continued to grow in size. They also included two words about their performances that caught Bernstein’s eye:

SOLD OUT!

To his producer’s way of thinking, these were the same words that described fame-predicting appearances by Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, two of the BIGGEST names in showbiz. Since expanding his horizons could also mean taking a chance, he located the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein and booked the group – then unknown in the U.S. – for two shows in February 1964 at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Epstein Beatles

Brian Epstein and “The Boys”

When dealing with Epstein there were always stipulations. If The Beatles were not getting radio airplay in the U.S. by December 1963, the deal was off. It was a long wait, but as history tells us they made the deadline. I Want To Hold Your Hand broke the airwave barrier, they were scheduled for three February appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show – and Bernstein SOLD OUT both shows at Carnegie Hall.

Following the Beatles summer and fall 1964 tour of North America, Bernstein took another chance and scheduled them to appear in the brand new, state of the art Shea Stadium in Flushing, Queens. Again there were stipulations that included no advertising without a paid deposit, but Bernstein made a bold guarantee and backed it up by selling 55,600 seats through word of mouth. Once again…

SOLD OUT!

Nothing on this scale for a pop concert had ever been attempted before. Elvis had performed a handful of stadium shows leading up to his army induction, but the largest had been in front of 26,000 fans at The Cotton Bowl. The Beatles had to more than double that number to fill Shea Stadium.

Dressing Room

Away from the crowd

On August 15, 1965 The Beatles landed on top of a building at the neighboring New York World’s Fair and were delivered into Shea Stadium via a Wells Fargo armored truck. The dressing room was crowed with visitors including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and future kingpin business manager for Apple Corp and three of the four Beatles, Allen Klein.

If only Brian Epstein had known…

Their entire visit to New York, beginning Friday, August 13th through Tuesday, August 16th, was filmed for a Beatles In New York (not the title, but the idea) television special. Only backstage and concert footage was used for the final version.

Introduced by Ed Sullivan, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr ran to a small stage set up over second base on the baseball playing field and performed ten songs in about thirty-seven minutes. Whether anyone heard them depended on where they were seated, if they were screaming – or if they were next to someone screaming. Many of the male fans thought they sounded great. Many of the female fans don’t remember.

Shea on stage

Never before in the history of popular music…

Filmed in 35mm, the quality of the concert footage is similar to blockbuster Hollywood movies of the era. For comparison, The Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock movies were filmed in 16mm.

The resulting television special, The Beatles At Shea Stadium, was planned for holiday (Christmas) airing in December 1965. One member of the Beatles inner circle approved the version submitted by Ed Sullivan Productions, while five others didn’t. A secret recording session took place in January 1966 to correct the sound and the special wasn’t broadcast in the U.S. until a year later. By that time fans were only weeks away from the release of Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever by a mustached, psychedelic-clothes-wearing, pre-Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The film has been restored, color-corrected with both the overdubbed and original audio remastered for mono and stereo. It has yet to be released.

But on television that January evening in 1967 they were still the mop-topped Fab Four riding high on the release of their summer 1965 film, Help! And they played, sang, laughed and sweated during a hot New York August night in front of a SOLD OUT audience of 55,600 fans.

It was 50 years ago on August 15, 1965.

It was the birth of stadium rock.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

February 9, 1964

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I was taken by complete surprise. Well, almost.

Jack Parr

Jack Parr

I had heard of The Beatles before February 9th only because my mom let me stay up late the night Jack Parr aired a brief clip during The Tonight Show on January 3, 1964. It had to be a Friday night and not a school night, but I’m not sure. And it wasn’t because we knew The Beatles were going to be on. Again, I had never even heard of them. We just enjoyed watching Jack Parr. For me it was his sense of smug humor (for lack of a better term). I always thought it was a bit risqué to watch his show because I was still a preteen and he was for adults. It reinforces my opinion that my mom was a little more with it than other parents who wouldn’t let their children stay up late to watch when Parr was host of The Tonight Show.

I also thank her and my dad for taking me to a Beatles concert. Again, I’ve heard too many stories from other young fans “under parental control” who were not allowed.

Other than Parr’s brief clip I have no memory of hearing anything else about The Beatles until February 9th. There was too much other “stuff” going on. I’ve been very clear about my recollections of this time in past Classic Rocker columns and my books The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. We were still dealing with a very bleak time in our country’s history following JFK’s assassination in Dallas on November 22nd. We watched the funeral and news updates on television and heard discussions at home and in school about The Cold War and The A-Bomb. Even my neighbor had a bomb shelter and as a preteen baby boomer it was obvious things had changed very quickly.

I often describe my memories during these days as being in black and white. That probably comes from remembering and still seeing reruns of newsreels and television shows from that era being broadcast in black and white. The Beverly Hillbillies, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Patty Duke Show. You know the ones I’m talking about, so no need to mention them all. All the shows were in black and white which undoubtedly affects my memories.

I didn’t even know anyone who owned a color television in February 1964 – not even my neighbor with the bomb shelter. But having a color television wouldn’t have made a difference. The Ed Sullivan Show was broadcast in black and white.

Ed Beatles 2

Rehearsal pre-fab

My dad, mom, little sister and I had been on a four day family vacation that started on Wednesday, February 5th. It was a driving trip to Washington, DC and we arrived home in the early evening of Sunday February 9th.  I had no plans to do anything except eat dinner and avoid doing any homework until the last minute. As we did just about every Sunday at 8 pm we all sat down in front of our only television (“The black and white one,” as John Lennon described A Hard Day’s Night at their legendary Shea Stadium concert about a year and a half later) to watch The Ed Sullivan Show.

Dad, mom and sis were on the couch. I sat on the floor with my back against the couch. I remember it as vividly as where I was when my fifth grade teacher announced to the class President Kennedy had been shot. There are a few dates you’ll always remember if you were alive at that time. These are two of the earliest for me.

It would be cool to say we watched because of The Beatles, but don’t remember it that way. We always watched Ed Sullivan. Like for many of us in the U.S. he was part of our television family on Sunday nights.

As the first performers, he announced The Beatles.

Beatles Ed Sullivan

A moment in time

For myself at that moment and for millions of others watching, our world immediately went from black and white to color. It was that dramatic. To use a comparison from my book The Beatles In Cleveland it was like the film The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy was swept away from a black and white Kansas and unexpectedly dropped in colorful Oz.

And The Ed Sullivan Show was broadcast in black and white!!

Beatles music has been listened to, analyzed, discussed, broken down, recreated, and even taught and studied in universities since. There’s no need for me to do that now. The influence is still felt over half a century later.

But it wasn’t just the music. They had an image unlike anyone else before them. You can talk about how shocking Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince appeared twenty years later, or even more recently with Lady Gaga, Lil’ Wayne and Miley Cyrus. In February 1964 the Beatles’ “look” was shocking compared to what was considered “normal” at the time.

To put it into a baby boomer context based on our television viewing habits. No man in 1964 had hair like that except for Moe from The Three Stooges.

John Lennon MarriedInstead of letter sweaters and slacks, the Beatles wore business suits with tight pants, skinny ties and boots with pointy toes and high heels (Cuban heeled Beatle Boots). It was shocking! And I only learned their first names because they were flashed under their individual shots on the television screen. The music was lively and happy, the Beatles bounced in time and the girls screamed. Then it was over.

Well, not quite for me. Where we lived in northern Ohio, the dividing line between Eastern Standard Time and Central Standard Time in 1964 was drawn between Cleveland and Toledo. That meant we had two separate television markets airing shows an hour apart. At 8 pm EST I watched the Beatles live on The Ed Sullivan Show. An hour later at 8 pm CST I tuned into the Toledo CBS affiliate and watched it again. I did that for each of their three appearances that month.

Beatles Ed 2

Long haired rock’n roll

I was able to watch their U.S. debut on The Ed Sullivan Show twice that same night. It was also rerun later that year, but then I never saw it again until buying a bootleg videotape on 8th Street in Manhattan more than twenty years later. Now like many other fans, I own a legit DVD copy of The Ed Sullivan Show appearances and pretty much have every moment memorized.

The very next day it was also obvious things had changed.

On the Wednesday before, I had left school early for our drive to Washington, DC. There had been no mention of The Beatles in my classroom or anywhere that I can recall.

On Monday morning following The Ed Sullivan Show most of the girls in my fifth grade class had Beatles fan magazines hidden in their desks and their television debut was the main topic of conversation. The guys tried to act cool about it – or at least that’s my perception because we weren’t supposed to be attracted to them like the girls were. They were in love and lust. But I remember listening to their conversations and know some of the guys, me included, wanted to be like The Beatles. It seemed a lot more fun than kicking a ball around the playground.

I’m sure it was also within that first week one of the guys in my class came to school with a Beatles wig. I bought one myself and still have it. There were also a lot of Beatles trading cards, photos, magazines and other merchandize brought to school that would be considered valued collectors items today.

Beatles Bowing

From black & white to color

Of course, there was the music. By the Saturday following their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show I owned the LP Introducing The Beatles as a gift from my parents after listening to me beg for a week. The next Saturday (after more pleading) I had a copy of Meet The Beatles. Somewhere within that time frame I came up with the sixty cents (somewhere in that $$ neighborhood at that time) for the 45 rpm record I Want To Hold Your Hand b/w I Saw Her Standing There.

The floodgates were open and haven’t been closed since. It was February 9, 1964. It all changed that evening and nothing was ever the same again. Thank you to John, Paul, George and Ringo. It’s been a memorable journey to say the least.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and the author of The Beatles In Cleveland and The Beatles At Shea Stadium

Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com at THIS LINK.