Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"With a Little Help From My Friends:" The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny) by Kathleen Krull


The four young Liverpudlians--John, Paul, George, and Ringo--at loose ends in the late 1950s, didn't know they had a "ticket to ride." But once they found each other, they began to make music like no one had ever heard.

Their talents were different: John was a wordsmith with a predilection for mental hooks--puns, alliteration, and lyrical layerings of meaning. Paul created melodies that stuck in people's minds, powerful musical hooks for hit songs. George was a gifted and driving guitarist: and when they found Richard Starkey, soon to be Ringo Starr, they finally had that backbeat that punched that ticket and set the Beatles on the road to musical history. "Love Me Do" was the band's first recording and people did--they loved the Beatles' sound from the beginning.

Even in their band's name, the group had the originality and wit that marked their work. A play on the name of their favorite 1950s band, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the Silver Beetles became the Beatles as they created the Mersey beat, a distinctive English rock and roll sound. The Beatles' first songs were indeed similar to the upbeat, young-love, danceable Buddy Holly playlist, but it wasn't long before the group took rock and roll where it had never been before, incorporating the bluesy, rockabilly, R & B sound of early American rock with more complex themes and harmonies which became the hallmark of the sound of the English invasion, and the music was never the same.

In their new picture biography, authors Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer touch on this innovative quality of the Beatles' music, but as their audience hook, they focus on the Beatles cheerfully irreverent humor--expressed in their interviews, lyrics, and movies. When asked by a reporter what they called their mop-top hair-dos, John Lennon replied that they weren't hairdos; they were hairdon'ts, and this easy-going rebelliousness, rather than offending, endeared them to the public. Weary of silly questions thrown at them, instead of pompous, press release answers they chose to mock the fan magazines' queries:
Q: "How did you find America?"

Ringo: "We went to Greenland and made a left turn."

Q: "How do you find all this business of having screaming girls following you all over the place?"

George: "Well, we feel flattered."

John: "... and flattened."

As Richard Rodger's famous lyric put it, "How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?" It is difficult to capture the elusive but iconoclastic legacy of the Beatles for today's youngsters in one sitting. Author Krull, a veteran of the bio-picture book, has chosen to single out one quality--their playful humor--around which to organize her narrative of the Beatles' early career. In this task she is ably assisted by the caricatural style of artist Stacey Innerest, who creates comical images of the Beatles in their mop-top, pegged-pants phase, showing their later bell-bottomed, hirsute selves on only one page in which the four file symbolically into the recording studio to begin their musical final phase.

But in their closing, Krull and Brewer do point to the significance of the Beatles as artists:
Nothing was quite the same after Beatlemania.  Other British bands became popular  but the witty wordplay of the Fab Four put them in a class of their own.  They were trendsetters: everyone wanted hairdos like theirs.   But most important, they're considered by many to be the greatest rock-and-roll band of all time.  Constantly adapting their own music in an extraordinary display of styles and subjects, the Beatles changed music forever.

So put on "Yellow Submarine" or "Good Day Sunshine" and give children an idea of the wry wit and  innovative musicality that made the Beatles the dominant musical force in the second half of the twentieth century.  Laugh, sing and dance along with the evergreen music of the Fab Four. and kids will get it. As my six-year-old granddaughter said on first hearing "Here Comes the Sun," "I can't keep my ears off of that song!"  

Lennon would've loved that line.

Krull and  Brewer append a time line and bibliography of books, films, and web sites for older children who want to find out more about the Fab Four.

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