By Lachman Balani
TORONTO: When I was in school at Pune in India the 60s, the Beatles (Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison) were chart-toppers along with Cliff Richard and Elvis Presley.
We would eagerly await the Binaca hit-parade every week on the radio to listen to their songs and even bought their 45 rpm single vinyl records on the label Parlophone. They were the rage with their teeny bopper, mop- top pop, type songs like ‘Love Me Do’, ‘ I wanna hold your hand’, ‘I saw her standing there’, ‘Help’, Twist and shout’ and many more! Even Hindi movies copied their songs with Shankar-Jaikishan’s ‘dekho abto kisko nahin hai khabar’ in the movie Janwar (sung by Shammi Kapoor in the movie and inspired by ‘I wanna hold your hand’) driving young boys and girls crazy!
Beatlemania was alive, well, kickin’ and dancin’ in India!
They were straight and clean. Then, as the story goes, Bob Dylan turned them on to marijuana, and history took a turn as John and Paul, the incredible composers of the Beatles and till date considered to be the finest composers of rock and roll by many standards, switched gears and came up with the crème de la crème of psychedelic music.
From marijuana they graduated to LSD and George went to India to learn the sitar from Pandit Ravi Shankar and they came out with material that was as magnificent as it can get with their album Rubber Soul featuring the first rock song with a sitar in it- ‘Norwegian Wood’.
Then came the albums Revolver and the legendary Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band that had lovers of classical music (the Beethoven, Handel, Chopin type) clamouring for it to be recognised in the same category! Such was the composing power of the McCartney-Lennon team!
They even did a made-for-TV movie called ‘Yellow Submarine’ which Paul claimed was best seen and understood while tripping on acid (LSD).
At that point the Beatles were in state of mental turmoil and went to India to stay at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to cleanse themselves, gain spirituality and wisdom and to renew their vigour. Here is where Macca (as Sir Paul is affectionately known) came up with some of the finest compositions of his life which are recorded in the double white album of The Beatles and Abbey Road.
In the late 1969 and early 1970, wild rumours spread that Paul was actually dead- that he blew his mind out in a car (actual lyrics in a song called ‘A Day in the Life’)- presumably high on mind altering hallucinogens. People read things into the fact that OPD written on his suit on Sgt Pepper’s cover meant Officially Pronounced Dead. He was out of step and holding a cigarette (meaning he died from drugs) on the Abbey Road cover. Even a track on the double white album when played backwards sounded like ‘Turn me on dead man!”. There were many more clues supposedly planted to suggest he was dead, which is why The Beatles were splitting up, because his lookalike replacement couldn’t replace the original’s genius at composing songs.
Soon after that, at the pinnacle of their amazing career, each of the Beatles went solo after almost a decade together. Paul and his wife Linda formed the band Wings which he took to the road with numerous concerts and new records. He was still as prolific as ever in producing new well loved songs drawing huge crowds at every concert. With this new found glory the rumours of his death died out because the new compositions were so amazingly brilliant! He even did a song for a James Bond movie called ‘Live and Let Die’ which proved to be such a hit that super-band Guns n Roses recorded their version of it. Such was his star power that even the Russians behind the Iron Curtain loved him. His records were smuggled into Russia from India and Dubai! Many musicians after going solo when they leave a popular band fizzle out, but Paul was so successful that he became the first billionaire musician according to Forbes magazine!
Last I saw Sir Paul was in 2010 at the Air Canada Centre here in Toronto. He played an almost 3-hour concert and still packed a wallop. The public consisting of all ages was dancing away including some really elderly folks who just stood up and danced leaning on their canes! At 71, Paul is still extremely energetic and seemingly transmits his energy to the audience and gets everybody all pumped up!
Paul is once again on the road. He was recently in Tennesee, US in front of 80,000 people where he did a 2 ½ hour concert singing time-transcending early Beatles’ songs to his latest compositions enthralling the crowd! He is slated to perform in Ottawa on Jul 7 where I am sure he will mesmerize the attendees!
Here is a great big chapeau to one of the greatest composers of western music on his 71st birthday coming up on June 18th! May he have and celebrate many more and keep on rockin’ and keep others rockin’ as well!
(Lachman Balani is a financial consultant based in Mississauga)