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IDEMA: All those years ago: Why have the Beatles endured?

• Jan 17, 2018 at 1:00 PM

For Christmas I gave my two grandchildren (ages 3 and 5) a set of DVDs of the Beatles singing 40 of their top hits. I asked my daughter how the kids liked them, and she said, "It is amazing, they know all the lyrics!"

Which gave me the idea for this article.

The obvious answer as to why the music of the Beatles has endured is that the group wrote fabulous songs and sang them well. They were also together for a relatively short time as compared to groups like the Rolling Stones, so they have not been subjected to the oldies circuit. Their body of work is all the more precious for that. The group in a sense never aged and will forever be associated with youth, including our own youths if you are a baby boomer. The Beatles' songs provided us with the soundtrack for our years of idealism and disillusionment.

When I was in Prague a few years ago , I asked our woman guide, who was about my own age (then 66), whether she and her friends knew about western music during the repressive Communist years. She said, "We had some smuggled albums, and we had secret listening parties, and, of course, the Beatles' records were especially prized." She said the music gave them a sense of freedom and hope in midst of Communist oppression, especially after the Soviet Union crushed the Prague Spring in 1968.

Would it be too much to say that the music of the Beatles made an important contribution to the fall of Communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union and its satellites?

I recently dug out from my DVD collection the Ed Sullivan shows from 1964-65, when the Beatles first appeared on American TV. These DVDs were not just the performances of the Beatles but the entire shows, Pillsbury and Anacin ads included, along with the typical comics, Broadway singers and jugglers. It was hard to endure the other acts before the Beatles came on stage, but when you then hear and see them in the context of the entire show — which puts them into the context of the entire culture — you see and hear how revolutionary the Beatles were.

This was the era when the popular songs of the group were "From Me to You," "Please, Please Me," "She Loves You," etc. In other words, before the music became even more revolutionary when soon after these appearances the albums "Rubber Soul" and "Revolver" were released, their two best albums in my opinion, although the album "Beatles '65" with such incredible songs as "I'll Be Back" and "I Feel Fine" were harbingers of what was coming.

The appearances on Ed Sullivan, which took place soon after the assassination of President Kennedy, were something joyful in the midst of a long period of mourning for our lost leader. They were also just before Vietnam began to tear apart our society, so this brief period in the early ‘60s is looked back by us baby boomers with a deep sense of nostalgia.

When the cameras from the Ed Sullivan shows scanned the audience while the Beatles were singing, you are struck by the contrast between screaming teenage girls and their somewhat stoic fathers, wearing coats and thin ties (and not a few jealous, puzzled boyfriends). They simply had no clue of what was coming and could not make sense of the long hair and the music. This was the beginning, in a way, of the vast cultural divide that was being thrust upon us and would soon become a virtual chasm.

Great song writing — especially great melodies — will last down through the ages. Think of "Peter and the Wolf" and "The Nutcracker" or "The Moonlight Sonata." The music of the Beatles will be similarly cherished.

I will end with a piece of local trivia. I live only a few miles from Del Shannon's hometown, Coopersville. The first Beatles' song that hit the United States was his cover of "From Me to You," which I bought when the 45 (remember those?) first came out. Del Shannon was very popular in England and knew the members of the Beatles and toured with them. He released "From Me to You" before anybody over here had ever heard of the Beatles.

By the way, Del Shannon's "Runaway" is, in my opinion, the best representative of the popular music which created the era from 1960-63, an era that was soon shattered by President Kennedy's assassination. The Beatles' first music was more reflective of this earlier era than what soon followed with Vietnam.

When the culture began to be ripped apart by war and more assassinations and campus protests and riots in our cities, the Beatles gave us a soundtrack for all of that, too. My kids and grandchildren do not have the memories of all of that chaos and pain, but they do have the music, which will endure forever.

— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune community columnist

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