One reason I’m happy I started Popular is the entry it’s given me into enjoying the early Beatles. I can’t ever remember Beatles records playing in the house but I can’t ever remember not knowing these songs, either – certainly the first time I purposely listened to “I Want To Hold Your Hand” I knew it. They’re the currency of pop, but actually liking them seemed as odd as, well, fancying the picture of the Queen on an old coin.
Listening to them in context I can’t help but get a sniff of that old coronation fuss, even if I still find them hard to adore. It’s not so much the genre-shift between The Beatles and the stuff that came before (which had positive qualities of its own), more the difference between them and the songs surrounding them. Imagine the Searchers or Gerry Marsden doing “I Want To Hold Your Hand”. You’d have got the upbeat feel, you’d have got most of the energy, you might at a pinch have got the lovely double-handclaps – but there’s no doubt the performance would have been blunter and duller.
For one thing the Beatles were skilled at covering Merseybeat’s particular Achilles heel. There’s a streak of childish whimsy in a lot of the beat group hits that has aged dreadfully. “I Like It”, “Sweets For My Sweet”, the ghastly “Little Children”, all suffer from a cloying attempt at wide-eyed innocence that ends up simply trite. “I Want To Hold Your Hand” has a title that rings exactly these warning bells. But the band obviously know it and they crack open the song every time the chorus comes round, launching themselves into those high “HAND!!!”s, demented with glee. It gives the song its repeated climax, its hands-in-the-air power and handsomely overturns any lingering tweeness.