My friend kept her records in great shape; there are very few scratches or scuffs on them and they play beautifully. So I’ve tried to recapture a little ritual that I followed pretty faithfully back in the summer: daddy-daughter record time. Some of you may remember I blogged a little about this a while ago: that when my little girl was just a few months old, we would go up to my “record room” and I would put on a classic vinyl on the RCA turntable my dad had and that I grew up listening to. I’ve played some classics for her: Dark Side of the Moon, Born To Run, Songs In the Key of Life, the Grateful Dead’s Wake of the Flood, Little Feat’s Waiting For Columbus, Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy a Thrill and Aja. Recently, we worked our way through Neil Young’s first anthology, Decade, which my friend had given me. My little girl responds to music. She jiggles, she coos and laughs, and occasionally she’ll full-on dance.
I’ve played the Beatles for her before. Last summer, when she was three months old, I introduced her to Abbey Road. She didn’t seem terribly impressed, although she did poop in the middle of “Carry That Weight.” But I should have known that a young child should perhaps grow with the Beatles to fully appreciate their musical majesty and power. I wouldn’t give her Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix until she’s read the first four, so I also ought to respect the artistic development of the greatest pop-rock band ever.
So, I played Meet The Beatles for my little girl. And she loved it. I mean, like, enthralled loved it. The first song is “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and I’m telling you. That sweet, delicious little sound of the needle striking vinyl, gentle scratches popping through the speakers, and then – those first three notes! I had set her down in the floor while I put the record on, and she was searching around her for some colorful object to hold her attention, but then that sound! And she looked up at me with this look of delight in her eyes, as if asking me, “What is this wonderful noise?”
“It’s the Beatles,” I told her with a smile, holding up the record cover. She took it out of my hands, holding it on either side with both hands and studying it intently. Then she began to bounce to the beat, never taking her eyes off of the cover. She did this through the whole first side – “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “This Boy,” “It Won’t Be Long,” “All I’ve Got To Do,” and “All My Loving.” She didn’t let go of the record cover for those entire fifteen minutes. At times she rocked back and forth; at other times she shook the cover up and down to the beat. During “This Boy” (a slower tune) she began pointing at each of them, speaking slowly as she looked them over. During “It Won’t Be Long” she rocked back and forth so happily that she lost balance and toppled over. I picked her and handed her the record sleeve back and she continued her groove undeterred. It was our own private moment of Beatlemania.
I used to be a snob when it came to the Beatles’ early records. If it came out before Rubber Soul, I wasn’t interested. Those early records were mindless pop, those green English boys aping the sounds of the more original, raw American R&B and rockabilly artists they so admired. I would still contend that their musical and artistic evolution moved ever upward, and that Revolver is song-to-song a better album than Help! Once they quit touring and began to stretch out in the studio, their song-craft leapt to heights never conceived of before. But several years ago (and the recent remastered releases definitely helped) I began to realize that their genius was evident even in those first 45s. Sure, they wore their influences on their sleeves, but a song like “I Saw Her Standing There” is the absolute gold standard for pop song perfection. And it’s just so damn catchy! How could anyone not like it, but particularly a child? It’s upbeat and fun, but it’s simple. Not simplistic or stupid simple, but pure simple. It just makes sense when you hear it, and it’s hard for someone my age to imagine that there was a world not too long ago in which this music did not exist, could not be heard. And I’m glad that my beautiful little girl doesn’t live in that world.
Next up will be The Beatles’ Second Album, Capitol’s second American release. It’s heavier on covers, but includes “She Loves You” and “You Can’t Do That.” But even their covers of others’ songs – “Money (That’s What I Want),” “Please Mister Postman,” “Roll Over Beethoven” – still convey that youthful, hopeful energy that is so evident in the Beatles’ early works. And it’s perfect for a young child with new ears, discovering the joys of music. We’ll work our way up to the brilliant psychedelia of Sgt. Pepper and the incisive hard rock of the White Album. But those later records are pretty, well, adult. These early records are child-like in the absolute best sense. And it brings me nothing but joy to share them with my daughter and watch her delight to them.