Today is the day.
Fifty years ago this afternoon, everything changed. The Moon landing? The fall of the Berlin Wall? Reaganomics? (Sad, really, that the spellcheck recognizes Reaganomics as a word. It does not, however, approve of the word spellcheck.) KFC’s double down? The bath salts menace? (Remember bath salts, kids?) Oprah? The Polar Vortex? The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman? All can be directly attributed to the defiant head-shaking of George and Paul on national television. And, we’re told and told, it all began on this date in 1964, when The Beatles’ plane touched down at the newly-christened JFK airport in New York City. Distraught and directionless American teens, stunned by the death of the leader they had embraced, turned as one to the British quartet for solace. Evidently, The Singing Nun, to whom they had previously looked for answers in the weeks following the assassination, just wasn’t cutting it.
And so we celebrate 50 years of a brave new world created by a pop group. And as celebrations go, for The Beatles, the third time appears to be the charm.
See, the Fab-Four-for-Legal-Purposes — Yoko, Paul, Olivia and Ringo (yes, Ringo still comes fourth) — had already attempted to turn 2012 into the Year of The Beatles. Fifty years since signing with George Martin and Parlophone Records. Fifty years since Pete never Ringo forever. Fifty years since the release of Love Me Do, the band’s first single. Significant golden anniversaries, all. But not good enough. Instead, longtime friends and foes The Rolling Stones stole the spotlight, by repeatedly reminding the world that 2012 marked 50 years since their first live performance. Few had seen the performance; no recording exists of it; and, the band didn’t exactly gel until 1963. But dammit if the devils’ campaign didn’t work.
Battered but not beaten, The Beatles undertook a second attempt at a media onslaught last year, with EMI Music and the Fabs making much of the 50th anniversary of the group’s first album, of the Royal Variety Show, of She Loves You, of Beatlefreakinmania! Alas, trumped once more, the quartet watched as the Stones travelled the world, saluting 50 years together (again!) and even dusting off alumni Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor to enhance the specialness of the occasion. It was, once more, the year of the Stones. At least, in nostalgia circles.
Ah, but this time is different. This time it’s about America. You may have heard as much.
EMI Music has been poised to make that clear, preparing for example a nifty box set of the American exclusive releases, faithfully recreated in replica sleeves. It’s long overdue news for Beatle people who have always felt the UK versions of those 1960s albums were just too generous when it came to content. Now is our chance to obtain the albums that displayed just how much America’s Capitol Records cared for Beatles fans back in the day. And how much is that? Fifty years ago, the label shamelessly pilfered from UK albums and single releases to gouge unwitting Beatlemaniacs for four dollars of their parents’ hard-earned money, several times a year. Today, all that can once again be yours — for the low, low price of $150 or so. It’s a banner day for everyone who believes Revolver would be a far stronger album with three of John’s songs removed.
True, in a sense the Stones won the battle some 44 years ago, when The Beatles formally threw in the towel. By never formally splitting up, the Stones have been at all times poised to thwart any and all efforts by The Beatles to regain that throne. And while the much-touted rivalry never really existed to the extent the media wanted/wants it to — the notion that kids chose one band or the other to support, for example, is nonsense — it seems more than a coincidence that Mick and Keef’s people are always at the ready to shut down any excess Beatlemania.
Alas, this year the Stones’ crack PR team has its work cut out for it. Yes, it’s the 50th anniversary of the first Stones LP, of their own debut in America and of their classic Rice Krispies jingle. But it’s hardly record numbers watching Ed Sullivan and scores of screaming and fainting adolescents, is it? They’re going to have to up their game if the Stones hope to gain our attention this year. Something truly extraordinary in the world of rock and roll — indeed, in popular culture.
Fortunately, they do have one ace up their sleeves. The problem is, to play it is to risk 50-plus years (OK, let’s round it down to 50 years) of maintaining a reputation as rock and roll’s original bad boys. True, bad behaviour on the Stones’ part had in recent years been limited to, oh I don’t know, falling out of trees or stealing songs from k.d. lang. But the reputation remains. No one is more rock and roll than The Rolling Stones. They still piss anywhere, man!
But desperate times call for, in this case, Charlie Watts. Never quite the threat to decency that the Stones as a group supposedly were, the soft-spoken drummer is nonetheless the group’s best shot at usurping those pesky Beatles’ 50th anniversary victory march.
For 2014 represents for our darling Charlie a milestone unique among notorious rockers. Indeed, very nearly unique in the history of the business of show. Oct. 14, 1964, three days after the end of a typically riot-filled European tour and two weeks before James Brown inadvertently taught Mick Jagger how to dance during the former’s T.A.M.I. Show performance, Charlie Watts wed Shirley Ann Shepherd at a low-key ceremony in Yorkshire, England.
This year, the couple will celebrate its golden anniversary. That’s 50 years of marriage. For a member of The Rolling Stones. True, former Stone Bill Wyman can boast of 25 years of marriage, and Ronnie Wood of 32. But in each case, that number is spread over three separate marriages. Keef and wife Patti Hansen have been together now for over 30 years — but the Keith Richards of 1983 was not exactly the one of 1964. As for Mick, well, nine of his happily married years were even more happily annulled. We will not dignify the man’s personal life with further comment — though, see bad-boy image, above.
So let The Beatles have their Ed Sullivan spring. Enjoy it, lads (and ladies). For autumn 2014 may yet belong to the Stones, if they’re willing to swallow their pride in the name of generating headlines. And we all know they are.