The Washington Post
Meet the Beatles: A Cultural History of the Band That Shook Youth, Gender, and the Worldby Steven D. Stark
"They were magic," said their
Here they are-John, Paul, George, Ringo-the band that inspired and changed popular culture forever. In this revealing and provocative new account, Steven D. Stark puts their impact into unique perspective by revealing both the personal details and the larger events that made them into the twentieth century's greatest cultural force.
"They were magic," said their producer George Martin, and most of us would agree. But the band has become so shrouded in cultural mythology that it is difficult today to really understand how or why. This book explains that why-unpacking the legendary band's aura and examining the ways in which the Beatles' own lives were inextricably tied to the cultural, youth, and gender revolutions they helped create and lead during the 1960s.
Based on extensive research and more than a hundred new interviews, Meet the Beatles offers a compelling fresh interpretation of their story, beginning with their childhoods in England and the profound effect on their outlook and music caused by the deaths of Paul's and John's mothers when they were young. It documents their subsequent special bond with women-from their teenage fans to the mothers of their friends to close partners Linda and Yoko. It illustrates the central importance of drugs, both for them and the youthful counterculture they led; why their unusual hairstyles set off a cultural revolution; how the band came to create a new vision of the role of women; and the unique conditions that allowed these four to conquer America faster than any other cultural phenomenon in history. It explains why the group's popularity has never faded-even now, more than four decades after they first hit the charts.
From Liverpool and Hamburg to Ed Sullivan and Shea Stadium, it's all here-from the improbable decision to fire their original drummer and bring Ringo into the band to why they broke up and who was responsible. After reading Meet the Beatles, you'll never think about the Beatles or listen to their songs the same way again. Live the magic once more.
The Washington Post
- HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt
Meet the Beatles
A Cultural History of the Band That Shook Youth, Gender, and the World
The British Are Coming!
In the beginning there was the scream.
It was high-pitched, wailing, the sound of pigs being slaughtered, only louder. So me in England compared it to the air raid sirens that had been so prevalent during the war only two decades before. Oddly, it was both joyous and hysterical; it could be heard sometimes over a mile away. It was continuous, yet punctuated by crescendos. Its decibel level was so high that it broke the equipment measuring it, and the next day, some found their ears still continued to ring.
"I've never heard a sound so painful to the ear," one observer at the time said. "Loud and shrill. It was like standing next to a jet engine. It physically hurt."
Of course, years earlier there had been stories about the girls who shouted for Sinatra and then for Elvis. But this screaming was different -- the beginning of a new era, an expression of cultural change.
"We screamed because it was a kick against anything old-fashioned," remembered Lynne Harris, a fan of the Beatles at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, where they were essentially the house band in the early sixties. "They represented what we could do with our lives."
"It seemed to me a definite line was being drawn," said Bob Dylan. "This was something that never happened before."
At first, the screams were triggered whenever the Beatles played their music, especially when they sang falsetto together and shook their long hair; the screaming was a kind of similar answer to the high tones the girls were hearing. Soon, however, it grew to encompass anything connected to the group -- their impending arrival at a hotel or airport, their appearance on a movie screen. Without it, at least initially, the group might well have been seen as just another flash in the pan. It became so much a part of the trademark of the Beatles that when the band produced its own Anthology history series in the 1990s, the episodes began with just the screams and everyone knew exactly what they were, what they were for, and what they referenced. Years later, Neil Aspinall, their confidant and roadie, would say of their tours, "It was just a permanent scream."
"You literally had to hold on to your seat," said Marcy Lanza, a fan at the time." The noise was so loud that everything swayed and vibrated."
It drove some in the inner circle a bit crazy. "Shurrup!" John Lennon, all of twenty-three in 1964, would yell at the top of his lungs in response, but no one could hear him. George Harrison, then only twenty, was the first Beatle to begin to succumb to the pressure of the constant screaming mobs."He was a dedicated musician, and he would spend his time in the dressing room tuning everyone's instruments," remembered Tony Barrow, their press agent. "And then they went on stage and no one could hear and it didn't matter what they did. His personality changed; he became a less tolerant person -- snappish. H e couldn't come to terms with it at all."
But that would come the following year. On February 7, 1964, George was still happy at the sight of more than a thousand screaming British fans at Heathrow Airport outside London to see the Beatles off on Pan Am Flight 101 for New York at 11:00 a.m. The screams were so loud that some in the Beatles' party initially mistook the sound for jet engines. Unbeknownst to the group, the band's arrival at the newly renamed Kennedy Airport eight hours later was already being announced nonstop on the airwaves to a shivering New York beginning to awaken to a gray day. "It is now six thirty a.m. Beatles time," the DJ on WMCA said." They left London thirty minutes ago. They're out over the Atlantic Ocean, headed for New York. The temperature is thirty-two Beatle degrees."
The group was already the biggest entertainment phenomenon Britain had ever known. The British knew all about the reaction the Beatles engendered in their listeners, which had started unexpectedly at a dance outside of Liverpool in Litherland at the end of 1960 and had eventually come to cover the whole of their island three years later. In the past year, the Beatles had sold more records in Britain than anyone ever, with four number 1 singles -- "Please Please Me," "From Me to You," "She Loves You," and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" -- and two hit albums. They had been the stars of their own thirteen-week series on BBC radio -- Pop Go the Beatles -- and in 1963 they had already toured their own country four times, playing to sellout, clamoring audiences everywhere.
In October 1963, the group had headlined on TV's Val Parnell's Sunday Night at the London Palladium -- England's version of The Ed Sullivan Show -- and the riotous fans outside had prompted one tabloid wag to label the new phenomenon "Beatlemania." Three weeks later, they were the stars of the prestigious Royal Command Performance in London, where John Lennon had delighted the upper-class audience and members of the royal family by announcing, "For our last number, I'd like to ask for your help. Would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewelry?" By the end of the year, they dominated their nation's airwaves, newspapers, and conversations. One British newspaper announced that the name of the Beatles was "engraved upon the heart of the nation."
But that was Great Britain, which in 1963 was in a different universe as far as the United States and the world entertainment market were concerned. And the Beatles knew it too. Rock and roll was virtually the exclusive province of American musicians, and no English rock act had ever come close to "making it" in the States ...Meet the Beatles
A Cultural History of the Band That Shook Youth, Gender, and the World. Copyright © by Steven Stark. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Steven D. Stark is a writer and cultural commentator. He has been the popular culture analyst for National Public Radio's Weekend Edition Sunday; a contributor to The World, a daily public radio show coproduced by WGBH and the BBC; and a commentator for CNN's Showbiz Today. The author of Glued to the Set and Writing to Win, he has written extensively for the Boston Globe, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Atlantic Monthly. He has been a Beatles fan since he was a boy and the Beatles first hit America on February 7, 1964.
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