Tag Archives: Help!

#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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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