“I Want to Hold Your Hand”

Note: I taught a class called Literature for Musicians, and one of their projects was to create a playlist of their life. I limited it to 10 or 15 songs, and they had to write about each song and why it is on their playlist. This is one of the samples I wrote for them.

This could also be titled, “My Life as a Fangirl, Chapter One.” I was just about in kindergarten when the Beatles came to America, and I remember being allowed to stay up and watch them on The Ed Sullivan Show–that’s the only time I remember being allowed to stay up for anything television related, by the way. Epic moment.

The Beatles were sooooo cute, and the music sooooo fun. That’s what I knew as a little kid, to the best of my remembrance. My parents did not especially like the music, but they tolerated my bopping around the house singing it, and in fact took me to the drive-in to see Hard Day’s Night the summer before kindergarten. I didn’t understand much of the movie, but I loved it. And yes, I own it now.

Most of the pop music I’d been exposed to before this was smooth, polished, restrained–Frank Sinatra, Frankie Valli, Pat Boone; my mom didn’t listen to much pop music, but what I did hear was of that variety. The beginning of “I Want to Hold Your Hand”–the jarring electric chord, followed by raw near-shouting was a clarion call to kids. It said “We’re going to have fun now!” The beat was stronger and more driving than anything I heard on the radio before (note: I had heard orchestral music and opera that emotional and percussive, but not pop music). The vocal style was eons away from Pat Boone. The Beatles nearly shouted, were sometimes just slightly out of tune, slightly discordant. This song and “She Loves You” were the first music I remember hearing that made me want to get up and dance around, shouting and singing. It was an emotional and energetic. (As a caveat, I think my dad liked Elvis, but mom didn’t I don’t think we had a record player, so all I heard was on the radio and mom apparently chose the channels, meaning don’t think I was exposed to Elvis till a bit after the Beatles. I love Elvis, too.)

I still listen to the Beatles. They did something interesting, something that many musical groups don’t do: they evolved and grew, and took their audience with them. When I was considering which Beatles to include on my playlist, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was not in the first five Beatles’ songs I considered. Some of their later work is lyrically and musically more interesting–but this and “She Loves You” are the first Beatles’ tunes I heard, so this seems more appropriate on the soundtrack.

Related to the issue of their growing and evolving is a point I’m not as comfortable thinking about: Paul is old. The visual I get when I hear the name “The Beatles” is of all four of them in the mid-60s. They were all in their 20s. Two of them have died, two are alive. Ringo has always been somewhat quirky looking, and he’s almost less odd as an old man, but Paul was my first fangirl crush. Seeing Paul now reminds me not only of his mortality, but of my own. I’m not the young, fun little girl that danced and shouted to “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and he’s not the young, virile man with a long future ahead of him that I first idolized. He’s done great work since then, as did the others post-Beatles, but there’s a part of my mind that wants Paul to be 25, waiting for me to be 25, and we’ll live in England and visit the Queen on holidays…see the logic there?

The Beatles were great, and are great, but they’re only representative of one piece of my musical soundtrack. They helped form my tastes, but–like them–I grew and evolved, too.

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