Friday, 7 August 2009

Here comes the sun

Tomorrow it will be 40 years since the iconic zebra crossing photo that adorns the cover of the Beatles’ Abbey Road was taken. As I write, I have beside me the scratched copy of the LP, with its torn and dog-eared sleeve, that I bought from a friend in the playground when I was about fourteen, back in the days when no self-respecting greatcoat-wearing grammar-school boy could be seen walking to and from school without an LP - sorry album - under his arm.

I just missed being part of the Beatles generation. They were the soundtrack of my childhood, rather than my youth. The first single that we bought for our family's Dansette record player, when I was about seven, was I Feel Fine; I remember collecting pictures of the group to put in my TV Times sticker album; and playing in the street we used to divide into gangs based on whether we preferred the Beatles or the Stones.

Nevertheless, the first album I ever owned (I was thirteen) was the glossy, black boxed set of Let It Be, which cost the (then) astronomical sum of £3 (most albums were about 15 shillings, I think). I recall walking home from school with the record under my arm, and a friend who was a classical music buff (he's now a concert pianist) scoffing: '£3! For a load of shouting!' Such was the cultural divide in the early Seventies.

But by the time I was in my mid-teens, very little of the music we listened to owed anything (at least consciously) to the Beatles. Bowie and the punks looked to American bands like the Velvets and the Doors as key influences, and liking the Beatles even began to seem rather uncool. I think this was even more true for the generations of the '80s and '90s that followed us (Oasis being the exception that proves the rule). And today, I think you'd find very few British teenagers with more than even a passing knowledge of the Beatles' music.

This is in stark contrast to other countries, particularly in Europe, where the band's appeal has never really waned. In this BBC report, it's striking that almost everyone having their picture taken on the famous crossing is from outside Britain. The evanescence of the Fab Four's appeal in the country of their birth is probably the inevitable downside of the intense, fast-turnover nature of our pop culture, the upside of which is our deserved reputation for frantic innovation. Conversely, the greater appreciation of pop-musical heritage in many European countries is the positive side of musical cultures that are often static, repetitive and slow to move away from established styles.

To sign off for the week - for a couple of weeks, in fact, as we're off to Italy for a fortnight - here's George Harrison performing Here Comes The Sun:

No comments: