Beatle fans have been enjoying our Fab Four Master Class series this summer…and it rolls on with the next virtual “session,” scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 27. Noted instructors Scott Freiman (Deconstructing the Beatles) and Ken Womack (author of many acclaimed Beatle books, including the upcoming John Lennon, 1980: The Last Days In the Life) do a deep dive into very specific chapters of the Fab Four story. This next class focuses on the pivotal year of 1964 — and how “America!” turned everything on its head.
We had a chance to get a sneak peek from Ken Womack:
Q: In the last session of Fab Four Master Class, the Beatles had already caused a “mania” in their home country of England in 1963. Why is it so important to the overall story that they “conquer” America the next year as well?
KW: Understanding the consecutive “waves” of Beatlemania is yet another aspect of their amazing story. For the Beatles, making an impact was a very big deal. British acts had notoriously fallen flat when exported to the States, and the Brian Epstein was determined to prove that the Beatles were the exception.
Q: Following the splash they made on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, it was quite a whirlwind for the band in America for the coming days. What do you see as the most significant part of that early journey?
KW: It was a great story of triumph mixed in with a moment of genuine despair. On the one hand, they were feted in the ways that few celebrities have ever seen. The adulation and exaltation would have been simply incredible to behold. On the other hand, they suffered the slings and arrows of class warfare at the British Embassy in Washington, DC, where the caught a chilling glimpse of their “betters” attempting to put them in their place.
Q: A Hard Day’s Night has been famously hailed as “the Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals.” But for the Beatles – musicians first, not actors – the making of the soundtrack was even more important. What are the highlight moments of that entirely Lennon-McCartney penned album?
KW: It was a watershed moment for the band, with Lennon and McCartney unleashing a host of original compositions on the world. It featured moments of great rock ’n’ roll (the title track and “Any Time at All”), introspection (“Things We Said Today” and “I’ll Be Back”) and pure beauty (“If I Fell” and “And I Love Her”). As songwriters, Lennon and McCartney were unparalleled after A Hard Day’s Night.
Q: As far as the Beatles’ evolving artistry goes, “I Feel Fine” was a bit of a different kind of single for them. What made it stand out from their previous work?
KW: Aside from the first intentional deployment of guitar feedback, the song found the Beatles exploring a very different kind of energy with “I Feel Fine.” Borrowing Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Stuff,” they took an incredible riff and made it even better.
Q: In 1964, the use of four-track recording came into play for the band. As the author of a two-volume biography on producer George Martin, what light can you shed on that new process?
KW: Prior to the Beatles, four-track recording was largely a staple of classical recordings. For Martin and the Beatles, four-track afforded them with plenty of real estate to enhance their amazing songs. It will also usher in the inclusion of studio musicians in 1965, which afforded the Beatles with the means for becoming ever more experimental and ambitious.
To snag your place in this fascinating course, head here.
Photo Credit: The Beatles in front of an airplane circa 1964 from the Evening Standard courtesy of Getty Images.