Why you should care
Because sometimes we forget how magnificent the Beatles were, even on first blush.
In today’s culture, a sentiment as simple as the desire to hold someone’s hand lacks the obvious and aggressive appeal of anything by Miley Cyrus, Rihanna or a half a dozen ho-checking hip hop cats. If, that is, what appeals to you is crotch-grabbing, hip-thrusting, tongue-lolling, quasi-strip club soundtracks. Or ho’s.
However, if there’s any space in your wheelhouse for kinder, sweeter but no less fraught moments of quiet intimacy it might be time, on the cusp of the 50th Anniversary of the British Invasion, to remember the first salvo, the October 1963 recording of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles.
… kinder, sweeter but no less fraught moments of quiet intimacy…
Falsely credited as something that John Lennon and Paul McCartney did specifically to appeal to U.S. audiences, the song’s inspiration was much more prosaic as it was probably written to cozy up to Jane Asher, McCartney’s girlfriend at the time, we’d guess. Given that he and Lennon were living in her parents’ house when they wrote it? Yet another smart move.
Sort of like the decidedly PG lyrics.
Yeah, you got that something
I think you’ll understand
When I feel that something
I want to hold your hand…
And like the best PG properties, as simple as the lyric was, it worked on multiple levels. All around a thrumming early-stage eros.
Which they caught in full when they hit EMI Studios on October 17, 1963 and ripped off 17 takes before they recorded the one they liked. A little over a month later, on November 29th, the song was released in the U.K. and promptly tore up the U.K. charts and stayed in the top spot for five weeks, and the top 50 for 21 weeks.
In early December 1963, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” couldn’t have come at a better time for folks in the U.S.
But even after this whiz-bang debut it actually had to sneak in the back door in America. Back door because Capitol Records, the Beatles’ label, still didn’t really get it and were passive about pushing it promotionally. Then, in one of those weird twists of fate deals, a 14-year old American girl named Marsha Albert prodded a Washington, D.C. disc jockey into playing this cute song from overseas. The rest is maybe not-so-predictable history.
Because “I Want to Hold Your Hand” couldn’t have come at a better time for folks in the U.S.
Twenty days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, America was in the doldrums, especially in the nation’s capital. The song hit the D.C. airwaves and people went insane enough for Capitol Records to start taking it seriously. So seriously the company moved up the release date to the day after Christmas 1963.
Where it justified all of the hubbub, bub. A hubbub that involved awards, cash, more hits, movies, lunchboxes, unlimited legend and a continuing tale of four lads from Liverpool who made music matter in a way that the suits at a place like Capitol Records had only previously dreamed of.
A few months later, the Fab Four arrived in the U.S. for the first time, appearing on the Ed Sullivan show where all of America got a first look at the second British Invasion. So while in 2014 it’ll be 50 years since the Beatles hit the U.S., for those of us paying attention the real start was when that single hit the airwaves right after Christmas.
Nothing was much the same. For hands, hand holding or anyone who cared about the music that captured it all so succinctly in two minutes and 24 seconds.
And when I touch you I feel happy inside…