by | Feb 8, 2004 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Istill remember the girls screaming. Because I was only a kid, it really didn’t faze me. I didn’t know what songs the Beatles were singing anyhow. To me, they were just these guys on Ed Sullivan on our black-and-white television, guys with long hair (my own hair being a brush cut those days). As I recall, my sister thought they were cool, and, because I didn’t know what
“cool” meant, I just sort of followed her.

At some point, the Beatles went from mystical to musical. I began to hum their songs. There was nothing hard about singing “she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah,” even if you were 6 years old.

Their melodies became my melodies, their songs my songs. I don’t remember much about summer camp, but I do remember, whenever kids pulled out a guitar, they would pluck a few chords and sing, “yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away . . .”

The first French I learned was “ma belle” from the song “Michelle.” (I thought, for years, it referred to the phone company.)

And what 10-year-old didn’t think lyrics like “we all live in our yellow submarine” made perfect sense?

My junior high clique would go arm-in-arm and sing, “Ohhhhh, we get by with a little help from our friends . . .”

One of my first slow dances was to “something in the way she moves . . .”

More than a peep show

It was 40 years ago this week when the Beatles shook up America on the Sullivan show. I thought about that Sunday night on CBS. Then I thought about our most recent Sunday night on CBS — last Sunday, the Super Bowl, when Janet Jackson popped her top.

In both cases, it was huge news.

In both cases, the artists received worldwide “exposure.”

In both cases, you had young people saying it was no big deal and old people wringing their hands as if the world were about to end.

The difference, as I see it, is the music. The Beatles, to be honest, were tame in their performance on the Sullivan show. They wore suits. They smiled. They did less jiggling than Elvis had done eight years earlier. The thing that made the audience scream was their hair, their cuteness and, yes, the fact that their songs were hotter than a brushfire, and every young person seemed to know them.

In Jackson’s case, I’ve already forgotten what she was singing. It wasn’t new. It wasn’t hot. The audience on the field was simulated, the way they are now at every Super Bowl, with young extras hired by the host committee to act as if they’re really truly enjoying the show. Never mind that most of them do it to get in the stadium to see the game.

A lyrical challenge

Am I starting to sound old? Well, the danger in growing up, musically, is that everything new seems lousy and everything old seems great. Much of this is because old people — meaning older than 25 — are irrelevant when it comes to music sales.

But comparing the Beatles and Janet Jackson, it’s the music that’s the relevant topic. The Beatles were controversial because of their music and style. Jackson was controversial only because she went semi-naked.

And I guess that’s what saddens people my age. We truly connected to the songs of our artists — because we didn’t have video. They didn’t play the Super Bowl. If the song couldn’t stand on its own, musically, it disappeared. Stripping didn’t help it.

Times change. But time has a way of putting things in perspective. Forty years from now — maybe when all earthlings walk around half-naked — people will chuckle at the fuss we made over Jackson’s strip.

But I doubt anyone will be singing her songs.

Meanwhile, if I start a line from one of the tunes the Beatles did on Ed Sullivan 40 years ago, I’m pretty sure you can finish it. How about, “I want to hold your . . .”

Those of you who said “breast,” please leave the room.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760) and “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR.


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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