The Beatles, now and then

The Beatles, now and then
The Beatles: (From left) John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison —JOOINN.COM PHOTO

The Beatles never broke up; they’ve always been together in the collective memory of diehard fans like me. 

I’m now 71 and I still spend my weekends watching their videos or singing what’s appropriate for the moment with a guitar (the ’60s on Sundays and the ’70s on Saturdays). Sixty years ago, I was a skinny 11-year-old humming or singing their songs with like-minded friends in our backyards and schoolyard and in front of the class (I mean the girls). 

Why did the Beatles endure this long? Let’s look back. 

I recall a day when we—Renato aka Salapi (a polydactyly, with six fingers on his left hand), Doming and I—were in Grade 6, Section 1 at San Juan Elementary School, and our teacher, Mrs. Carreon, gave us the chance to display our singing mettle to the class. 

We quickly huddled in a corner of the classroom. We had not brought a guitar so we must decide what to sing best a cappella. I suggested “If I Fell.” It was from the movie “A Hard Day’s Night” that was showing at the time; we had practiced singing it, blending our voices, and it went well without a guitar. Also, it was a nice love song, and there was an opportunity to impress the three prettiest girls in class—Edna, Lourdes and Cristina.

But for some reason, Doming insisted that we do “Mr. Moonlight.” I refused immediately because I could not do the intro, but I was outvoted by the two, being neighbors. I soon found out why: When Doming belted “Misteeeeer Moo-on Liiiiight,” we were all stunned. The bloody bastard could really hit the high note. 

My preteen days were spent in the twin barrios of Santo Nino and San Juan in San Fernando, Pampanga, 66 kilometers northeast of Manila. The parish church is in Santo Nino, and the primary school in San Juan. The area was mainly underlain by alluvium, soil and sand derived mainly from the south-flowing Pampanga River, which meets the Pasig-Potrero River farther to the south. This should explain the perennial flooding of San Fernando, it being in the floodplain of a major drainage near its confluence with another major river originating from the Zambales Mountains, which include Mount Pinatubo. 

That’s why Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991 was disastrous. Lahar (a mixture of water and hot volcanic materials) inundated the area and covered it with up to five meters of mud, sand and rocks. The residents and their houses were buried, and what was once lush rice and sugarcane fields became desert-like killing fields.

Hard day’s night

But that is not the reason this memoir is a hard day’s night. It is more of the travails of an adolescent provincial kid (recently promdi, now jologs). My barkada then were kids whose parents were, like mine, working at Pampanga Sugar Development Corp. or Pasudeco. The mill and a mountain of bagasse dominated the landscape. The firm provided its employees housing not unlike the two-story townhouses of today. 

Salapi, Doming, Lizander, Jun (Hechanova) and I all lived in these “condos” with the utilities free and a television set in the clubhouse (more like a small auditorium with a round gazebo adjacent to a basketball court). It was not a bad setup for the working class. Only Jun Santiago, whose father was the company lawyer, enjoyed the comforts of a single-detached house just outside the gate of the housing compound called Kampamento.

There were two compounds—one at the southern perimeter of the mill (where I lived) and the other to the east of the mill (where the rest of the barkada lived) near the company offices and the bagasse mountain. 

We used to play arnis or shoot each other using slingshots loaded with aratiles

At night we sat in front of the TV set for our daily dose of Popeye, “Combat,” “Gabi ng Lagim,” and Pilita Corrales. We watched whatever the old folks wanted because they had control of the dial. Often we wanted to watch a rare music video, but because there was a boxing match or Pilita was on, we played basketball instead. And yet we would get thrown out of the court if we were too noisy. So we became reluctant fans of Pilita and her Coca-Cola curves.

Often I just glued my ear to our small radio and sang along to whatever song was being aired—Elvis, local vocalists, or bands like Jose Mari and the Electromaniacs. I also listened to what my older siblings were singing with the help of their “Song Hits” magazines. I can still croon Paul Anka’s “I’ll Never Find Another You,” which I learned from my sister. 

‘Love Me Do’

Still etched in my mind is a rendition of Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” by three upper-class girls on the school stage. One of them was my neighbor, who had silky-white, shapely legs. Years later, I realized that the girls were imitating the Shirelles. 

Then one day, perhaps late in 1962 or early in 1963, I heard my siblings shouting, almost drowning the music from the radio. It was a new song from a new band called the Beatles, “Love Me Do.” 

My world was never the same again.

Before “Love Me Do,” the Beatles (known as The Quarrymen, then Johnny and the Moondogs, finally Beetles with an A, imitating Buddy Holly and the Crickets) must have composed enough songs to fill an LP, but they were all “rubbish,” to quote George Martin of Parlophone Records. 

Perhaps that’s the reason they failed the Decca audition. (In the Peter Jackson documentary “Get Back,” John Lennon would say at their last concert atop the Apple building in 1969: “We hope we passed the audition.”) Fortunately, Martin, whose musical training is in the classics, took a fancy to them, their irreverent wit and “tremendous charisma” winning him over rather than their music. 

But how to sex up their songs? Speed them up! While “Love Me Do” reached No. 17 on the charts, what they needed was a song with No. 1 potential. Martin suggested they record “How Do You Do It,” which he thought had mass appeal and suited the Beatles’ style. But they rejected it, preferring their own compositions. (Martin later gave “How Do You Do It” to Gerry and the Pacemakers, and it became No. 1.) 

They offered “Please Please Me,” which was a “slow royale,” according to Paul McCartney. Lennon intended it as his version of a weepy Roy Orbison song. Martin suggested they speed up the tempo—and the peppy pop song that resulted became their first No. 1. 

Formula found

The Beatles
The Beatles, early days —PIXELSTALK.NET PHOTO

Thus did the Beatles find the formula which had always been there in the songs of their idols, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and the Crickets—catchy, contagious, with fast and furious rhythm and blues played with a minimum of chords (three to five). 

“They blossomed,” to quote Martin again. Their long list of hits became easy to sing by anyone from 11 to 71. The lyrics were simple yet poetic and intuitive, easy to memorize. But most of all, they made you want to dance while singing. (Little Richard himself described his music’s effect on body and spirit, “My music made your liver quiver, your bladder splatter, your knees freeze—and your big toe shoot right up in your boot!”)

But the Beatles did not stop there, they innovated, became inventive, according to Leonard Bernstein, “changing keys, tempo, and beat in ‘Good Day Sunshine’ and ‘She Said She Said,’” for examples. 

From readings: While the new ’60s music was “primitive in its harmonic language with a limited musical vocabulary, limited harmonically, rhythmically, and melodically, all the new innovations are extraordinary with sheer originality, like in ‘Got to Get You into My Life.’”

Whew! No wonder why, as I grew up, it became more and more difficult to sing their songs. 

Again from readings: “Never mind the change in octaves, from one or so to unattainable falsetto. It became eclectic, borrowing from the classics with string quartets (‘Yesterday’) to full orchestra (‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’). The guitar, much more than three chords, was not enough anymore.” 

I must admit that eventually, I became less and less interested in post-Beatles music, thinking that the ’70s were just a continuation of the ’60s (until folk-rock fully flowered with James Taylor, John Denver, Jim Croce, Simon and Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, etc.). 

In the ’80s up to the ’90s, I stopped learning new songs, and I don’t know a single 21st-century pop song!

‘Now and Then’

That was then, and now we have this “last song” from the Beatles. It was from a demo tape (cassette) marked “for Paul” that Yoko Ono gave him in 1994. It contained three unfinished Lennon songs, “Free as A Bird,” “Real Love” and “Now and Then.” The first two songs were included in the Beatles Anthology documentary series released in 1996.

They could not clean “Now and Then” (or separate voice from background noise), so it was shelved. Also, according to McCartney, George Harrison was not impressed and did not like it. However, after Peter Jackson’s completion of the “Get Back” documentary in 2021, McCartney and Ringo Starr decided to revive “Now and Then,” using the same artificial intelligence/machine learning technology that Jackson used for “Get Back.” 

McCartney said Jackson used AI to “extricate John’s voice from a ropey little bit of cassette.” My knee-jerk reaction upon hearing it for the first time was: How sad and melancholy, just like “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love.” How I wish Lennon left us something like “Help” or “In My Life,” to temporarily leave this troubled world behind.

But the lyrics and music bring me back to when I was 11 and trying to be a rockstar.

Romeo S. Aquino is a consulting geologist and has been involved with exploration teams that discovered large copper and gold deposits in Indonesia, Peru and China. The references for this article include “Little Richard, the Great Innovator of Rock and Roll”; “When George Martin met The Beatles: The story of ‘Love Me Do’”; “The Beatles Interviews: Meeting George Martin and Ringo Joining The Band”; “10 Beatles Songs That Wouldn’t Be the Same Without George Martin”; and “The Beatles Interviews: The First #1, ‘Please Please Me.’” —Ed.

Read more: A little night of music

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