The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Savage Young

Posted on | December 4, 2021 | Comments Off on The Savage Young

Dave Reaboi is a hater.

The Southern Poverty Law Center doesn’t have a “Beatlephobia” category on their Hate Map, but if they did, Dave would be a dot on it.

Like a lot of Beatle haters — and I could also name Ace of Spades in this category — Dave Reaboi is a Gen Xer, and one suspects that there is some sort of intergenerational Boomer envy involved in his irrational hatred of the Four Lovable Mop Tops from Liverpool. Coming of age in the blighted MTV era, when Michael Jackson and Madonna were The Big Thing, it’s difficult for Gen Xers to relate to the cheerful Good Old Days of 45 rpm singles, AM Top 40 radio and Ed Sullivan. Like all prejudices, Beatlephobia is rooted in ignorance and misunderstanding that expresses itself in slurs like “overrated” and “hippies.” The new documentary Get Back, focused as it is on the way the Beatles ended — drugs and Yoko and “peace” — is unlikely to bridge this generational gap. If you want to love the Beatles, you must start at the beginning.

Because I was just 4 years old when the Beatles arrived in America, I missed the initial wave of Beatlemania, although my older cousins Deborah and Trish were caught up in it. It wasn’t until I was a teenager myself that I got into the Beatles, listening to their first Greatest Hits double album (the red one) which I’d gotten from my brother Kirby after he went to college and the Army. Listening to those early tracks — “Love Me Do,” “Please Please Me,” “From Me to You,” etc. — was an excellent introduction, and I also began rooting around in the trivia of the band’s origins. There was a copy of the 1968 Authorized Biography by Hunter Davies in our high school library, and I also listened to the crude early recordings that the Beatles made with Tony Sheridan in Germany in 1961, later released as The Savage Young Beatles.

In my mind, this is who the Beatles really were — rock-and-rollers in leather jackets and greased-back ducktail haircuts, playing Chuck Berry tunes for drunken crowds in Hamburg dive bars, popping amphetamines to make it through their eight-hour nightly sets. As Malcolm Gladwell observed in Outliers, it was in Hamburg that the Beatles did their “10,000 hours,” returning to Liverpool with a tighter sound that set them apart from the dozens of other rock groups in England. On their way to fame, they lost John’s buddy Stu Sutcliffe to a brain hemorrhage and replaced drummer Pete Best with Ringo Starr (who had played the Hamburg clubs with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes). They got cleaned up by manager Brian Epstein, a gay Jewish record store proprietor with a background in theater and, after having been turned down by several record labels (“groups of guitars are on the way out,” as one label executive remarked), caught the ear of EMI’s George Martin.

While the songwriting duo of Lennon and McCartney would eventually emerge as the greatest hitmakers of the decade, six of the 14 tracks on the Beatles’ first album were cover tunes, the most memorable of them being “Twist and Shout,” originally an R&B hit for the Isley Brothers. I don’t care how much Dave Reaboi or another Beatlephobe hates them, it is impossible to deny that this is one of the greatest rock-and-roll recordings of all time. Every serious Beatles fan knows the story of how this classic was recorded at the end of a 12-hour session at EMI’s Abbey Road studio. It was past 10 p.m. on Feb. 11, 1963, and John Lennon had been struggling with a chest cold. Because “Twist and Shout” required an all-out screaming vocal performance, they decided to record it last, knowing that John couldn’t get through it more than once. So what went onto the tape was a straight-up live recording, done in one take with no overdubbing, and it is absolutely perfect. If you want to know what had throngs of teenage British girls screaming their heads off in 1963, this track is the essence of it — wild and raw, that Savage Young Beatles sound cooked up during those long nights playing for crowds of gangsters and prostitutes in Hamburg’s notorious Reeperbahn district.


What you have to realize, if you want to understand how revolutionary the Beatles were at the time, was the difference between their sound and what was on the radio before they scored their big breakthrough. Go back and dig up some of the Top 10 hits of 1962-63 and see if you can find anything — anything — with a sound comparable to what the Beatles made. For example, contrast the Beatles’ version of “Twist and Shout” to the Isley Brothers’ original, and the difference is unmistakable.

Is it possible to make someone like Dave Reaboi understand this? Probably not. Love and hate are fundamentally irrational, and Dave’s anti-Beatles prejudice is unlikely to be overcome by any evidence or argument I could produce. My love of the Beatles is, of course, equally irrational, involving fond memories like the time I was bopping around my $1.80-an-hour job at Six Flags over Georgia when I was 16. Working the front line at the Plantation House restaurant, I was singing “From Me to You” when I heard a vocal harmony and found the buck-toothed girl at the cash register singing along. Ah, sweet memories!

Talk about doomed teen romance — Kathy’s favorite Beatle was George, while mine was John — and I could narrate the sequel, which involved Kathy’s younger sister (similarly buck-toothed, though more buxom) but why bother? Dave Reaboi could never relate. It’s so sad . . .

Dave doesn’t want to hear these stories from a gray-bearded old grandpa, but trust me: The Savage Young Stacy McCain was a wild man.



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