the beatles shorten the act -- 10/20/23

Today's selection -- from Tell Me Why by Tim Riley. Under the management of Brian Epstein, a young group called the Beatles shortened their act, put on suits, started bowing to the crowd, and started playing their songs in the same way in every performance: 

“The recording world is full of sharks, crooks, and people on the run (like Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker), but Brian Epstein was a genuine shopkeeper. A former window dresser for his father's furniture store, he was running his own record business around the corner from the Cavern when he signed on as the Beatles' manager in December 1961. His idea of making the Beatles marketable was to clean up their stage act: he put them in collarless jackets, made them put out their cigarettes, insisted that Lennon stop cursing onstage, and taught them to do ridiculous hanging bows after every number. As Lennon later put it: 

“'We were just a band that made it very, very big, that's all. Our best work was never recorded ... because we were performers--in spite of what Mick says about us--in Liverpool, Hamburg and other dance halls. What we generated was fantastic, when we played straight rock, and there was nobody could touch us in Britain. As soon as we made it we made it but the edges were knocked off ... you know Brian put us all in suits and all that and we made it very, very big. But we sold out, you know. The music was dead before we even went on the theater tour of Britain. We were shit already, because we had to reduce an hour or two hours' playing, which we were glad about in a way, to twenty minutes, and we would go on and repeat the same twenty minutes every night.' (Lennon Remembers, PP· 45-46)

Epstein hosting the teen music program Hullabaloo, 8 January 1965

“Although Lennon is at his most bitter in this 1970 interview, his remarks about their transformation toward marketability (in Epstein's eyes, at least) are revealing. Some of what they compromised must have been regrettable, but aside from the ‘Hamburg Star Club’ tapes of December 1962 (which is actually late in the period Lennon is referring to), we can't know just how regrettable.

“Trimming their live shows inevitably influenced their music. To begin with, their condensed sets distinguished them from the blues circuit in London, which was just beginning to nurture such talents as the Rolling Stones, the early Yardbirds (with their alumni of outstanding guitarists, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck), and the Who. These bands were obsessed with American blues--the black sounds and heroes that had influenced Elvis Presley--and worked long, impassioned guitar solos around dramatic vocalism. The Stones' early repertoire included songs by Slim Harpo and Muddy Waters (they even named themselves after Waters's ‘Rolling Stone’): the Who played an emphatic rendition of James Brown's ‘Shout and Shimmy’ that made them sound much blacker than the Beatles' equivalent (the Isley Brothers' ‘Shout!’ and ‘Twist and Shout!’). The Beatles were taking the road that led to pop, although a much more sophisticated kind than even they imagined at the time.

“Their musical preferences were made clear by appearances on radio shows like the BBC's ‘Saturday Club’ and ‘Here We Go,’ where their selection displayed a much broader range of taste and versatility than their London counterparts. Lennon sang Chuck Berry's ‘Carol,’ the Presley version of ‘I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry (Over You),’ and Arthur Alexander's ‘A Shot of Rhythm and Blues’; McCartney did the syrupy ‘Beautiful Dreamer,’ the Coasters' ‘Searchin',’ and Ray Charles' ‘Hallelujah, I Love Her So’; George sang Buddy Holly's ‘Crying, Waiting, Hoping’ and Eddie Fontaine's ‘Nothin' Shakin' (but the Leaves on the Trees).’ John and Paul duetted on Goffin and King's ‘Don't Ever Change’ and the Everly Brothers' ‘So How Come (No One Loves Me),’ and all three romped through the refrains of the Coasters' ‘Three Cool Cats’ (Leiber and Stoller) with George taking the verses. The Beatles weren't interested in playing the blues--their repertoire emphasized hits. And as their popularity grew, their live show began to feature original material more and more and got concise to the point of rudeness: they teased their audiences with ferocious forty-minute sets (at the outside)--their screaming fans were always left screaming for more. This meant that some improvisation had to be sacrificed. 

“They were, in effect--for better and not, as Lennon implies, for worse--a recording band from the minute Epstein began tailoring their Cavern Club act. Instead of embellishing things here and there, as is the custom in front of an audience, each time Harrison took a guitar solo he began to play the same set of notes he had played the night before. The harmonies, solos, drum fills, intros, and cutoffs began to fit a predetermined set of gestures that quickly became habits. And they kept up all the bowing. To watch clips of them singing ‘Twist and Shout’ during this period is to see an example of what Lennon called ‘dead’: there are virtually no deviations from the standard arrangement in literally hundreds of concerts. "



Tim Riley


Tell Me Why: The Beatles: Album by Album, Song by Song, the Sixties and After


De Cappo Press


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