Sunday at the Adelaide Grand Prix. Former Speaker of the House Arthur Whyte and his wife Mary were on pit straight. Respected folk from Kimba, local royalty. Every lunchtime Arthur went to the Kimba pub. Blistering heat or punishing cold, he’d have a stout. Just one. Mostly. Arthur lived to ninety-three.
Being outgoing and with a healthy curiosity in people Mary exchanged pleasantries with the man in the neighbouring seat. He was gentle, possibly even a little shy. Sounded English. He made gracious inquiries, asked about life in Australia, in Kimba, on farms. Nigel Mansell seemed to be leading the race, and with the octane thunder booming about them Mary reciprocated.
“So, what do you do?” Gosh, what was his name again?
“I’m a musician.”
“That’s nice. So which instrument do you play?”
The cars were making astonishing noise. It was hard to hear.
“I play guitar.”
“That’s lovely. Do you play on your own? Or with others?”
Mary took a sip of her tea. He was an agreeable chap.
“I just play by myself now.”
“That’s probably easier. So you were in a group?”
“Oh, yes. What was the name of the group? I probably won’t know them, but you never know.”
“They were called the Beatles.”
Mum and Dad had a radiogram. Wooden, heavy, solemn in appearance. The turntable sunken into its teak depths. I remember Creedence Clearwater Revival and Anne Murray and The Carpenters.
But what I recollect most vividly is a 45. In the digital age when artefacts like vinyl are discretionary, these seem primeval, unnecessarily real. It was “Love Me Do” with the B-side “PS I Love You.” Both songs crackled constantly when you dropped the needle, but were exhilarating. John Lennon’s harmonica was rowdy while Ringo’s drumming crashed out of that old radiogram.
I was only five, but I was in.
The first cassette I owned was It’s a Long Way There by the Little River Band. I’m pretty sure my first record was Ripper ’77; on which the highlights are, “This Is Tomorrow” by Bryan Ferry and, “A Mean Pair Of Jeans” by Marty Rhone. As catchy as it was my cousins Boogly and Froggy and I thought “Blue Jeans” by David Dundas the superior denim-themed pop confection. We’re still right.
Fresh from uni and working on the West Coast I bought my first CD player, second-hand from old school mate Fats with whom I shared a passion for Bush Biscuits, tepid Southwark, and Mondo Rock. Acutely aware of my personal responsibility I went into Allans music along Rundle Mall- just up from the Malls Balls. I bought two CDs- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The White Album.
Living by myself in a big farmhouse I blasted these out into the dusty summer dark; brutally cold July mornings; before cricket; after school. These provided a soundtrack to my early twenties after I’d left home, and was making my way.
Having spent a week in Penang my girlfriend (now wife) and I then flew to London. It remains the world’s best theme park. Is there a better way to spend a day than walking the ancient streets before flopping exhausted, in a Soho boozer?
In exquisite St Johns Wood, Abbey Road’s frontage appears modest, giving no indication to the history, and the thrilling, unparalleled creativity that’s occurred within. But the fence across the front is remarkable for it’s a giant thank you card to the Beatles, electric with graffiti and black-texta tributes. It’s re-painted every week or so.
“Strawberry Fields Forever” unfailingly takes me back to this time and place. I especially love George Martin’s cello arrangement; it’s blue skies in Hyde Park, a string of Routemaster double-deckers along Oxford Street, and planter boxes bursting with late spring colour on the façade of a Themes pub.
What are the most exciting moments in music? Guns ‘N Roses’ “Paradise City” and Axel Rose’s whistle urging his band into the song like a mad football umpire? The Who and Roger Daltery’s apocalyptic scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again”?
No, it’s George Harrison’s Rickenbacker guitar opening to “A Hard Day’s Night.” The chord’s undeniable, an invitation, a golden promise. Fifty years on, it’s still rock music’s most iconic grab.
My favourite Beatles’ album has changed as I have. Curiously, I’ve moved retrospectively through their discography. Starting at the ambitiously expansive church of The White Album, I moved to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and was then besotted with Revolver, and especially George’s spectacular guitar work on “And Your Bird Can Sing.” Is there a sunnier riff in rock?
Where am I now? Rubber Soul.
The record’s a confident transition by a band sensing that the boundaries might be further than even they’d imagined. It’s a languid listen, but there’s telling experimentation- most notably with Harrison’s use of sitar on “Norwegian Wood.”
But it’s “You Won’t See Me” which is the album’s standout. At 3.22 it was the longest song the band had recorded. It’s perfectly placed, appearing at track three.
It connects to Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In it the author explores some dark themes that are critical of much in America- the greed, the selfishness, the appalling lack of responsibility, but he delivers these bleak ideas beautifully, in achingly gorgeous prose, and I’m always struck by the poignant contrast between method and message. It stays with me, haunts me. I like art which displays a thoughtful divide.
For me it’s the driving jauntiness of Paul’s piano, Ringo’s tambourine and inventive drumming, and the uplifting harmonies of Lennon and McCartney. “You Won’t See Me” has up tempo hooks in counterpoint to the gloomier nature of Paul’s seemingly autobiographical lyrics, documenting his challenges with then girlfriend Jane Asher, who might still be the most famous former girlfriend in rock music. This song marks a maturation for the Liverpudlians. It’s colossal fun.
In time I’m sure I’ll bow before other Beatles’ albums, other Beatles’ songs. Just like I always have. The labyrinthine beauty of their palace ensures this.
But tonight, as my family sleeps, I slide on my headphones and press play. Again.