Picture yourself in a boat on a river

with tangerine trees and marmalade skies….

Too existential for you? Okay… Picture a young girl, about 11 or 12 years old, discovering her parents’ record collection on a boring, hot summer afternoon. She runs her fingers down the spines encountering names she has never heard of before—names like Herman’s Hermits and Ian and Sylvia. She pulls them out and stares at the covers of clean-cut boys in neck ties and dark suit jackets and long-haired, pensive youths kneeling on sunny beaches. Uninspired and unaware of their context, she pushes them back in and continues moving down the line.

Eventually she comes to a record with a red spine and a long, strange name. Intrigued, she pulls the record out and stares at the sea of faces on the cover, the bright colors, and the psychedelic vintage military uniforms. She takes the record and goes off to find someone who can tell her how to work that record player…

Now this was not my first brush with the Beatles. I had been singing along to them without knowing it in the back seat of my mother’s car since I was old enough to talk. I had taped their spy-spoof movie, Help!, off of the Disney channel a year or two earlier during my “I figured out how to use the VCR all by myself and proceeded to tape everything in sight” phase (yes, I was that kid). I even owned a couple of early Beatles albums on cassette acquired through the generosity of an older cousin who took me to a record store in Harvard Square and asked, “What do you listen to?” The Beatles was honestly the only name I could think of at the time, a name that had somehow stuck during hours and years listening to the oldies station with my mom.

But every Beatles fan remembers the first time they listen to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Ask around and you’ll see I’m right. I remember pulling the cardboard record cover out from its resting place and thinking how funny Paul McCartney looked on the back cover, standing with his back turned while his band mates grimly stared at the camera. I remember opening the gatefold and the bright yellow background of the picture inside. This was an original pressing from 1967, purchased by my father back in his college days. I was intrigued to say the least. This was not the Beatles I had known before. They had been some of those clean-shaven young men in suits, like so many featured on the records in my parents’ collection. But here they were, in crazy colored outfits holding french horns and sporting bushy mustaches. I had never before realized that a band could change their image, let alone their sound. But when I put needle to vinyl, my world expanded a little bit.

I must have listened to that album for weeks on end, memorizing every word. I distinctly remember the day in the fifth grade that I got Lovely Rita Meter Maid stuck in my head and realized that I knew every note of the piano solo. To this day, it is still one of my favorites.

Little did I know that this would start a life-long admiration for the Fab Four. And undoubtedly I will explore more of them here in time. This should not surprise any of my friends who may happen to read this. Although they may be surprised when it turns out that this entire blog isn’t devoted to the Beatles…

But of the many memories that in time I would come to associate with this band, one is particularly dear to me. Being ten years older than my youngest sister, I was the resident babysitter and ofttimes third parent. I did my fair share of diaper changing and thankfully was cognizant enough to realize I couldn’t treat her like a baby her whole life. But in the line of duty, I read many bedtime stories to her. And I don’t remember how or when exactly this started, but somewhere between the picture books we made up a game: Name that Beatles Song. I would sing a few lines from a song and she would try to guess the title. It turned out that I wasn’t the only fan in the house and eventually she got so good at it that I had to start in the middle of second verses. Fourteen or fifteen years later, we still look back fondly on that game.

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2 responses to “Picture yourself in a boat on a river

  1. I love how you never forget your first encounter with your favourite artist. Incidentally, have you read ‘Revolution in the Head’ by Ian McDonald? Amazing in depth look at the story/ies behind The Beatles, song by song chronologically.

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