Straight, No Chaser: Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I’m 64?

In mid-November last year I was lucky enough (or unlucky if you prefer) to turn 64. 

Lord of the strings
Around the same time the hype was in full swing to promote the 50th anniversary of the Beatles album ‘Let it Be’ – tying in with Peter Jackson’s documentary ‘Get Back’. In true Jackson style the film clocks in at almost eight hours (!), which is a couple of hours longer than ‘Gotterdammerung’ – the final opera in Wagner’s ‘Ring Cycle’.

I’ve not had the chance or the stamina to see the documentary yet, but the publicity did make me want to play some Beatles records again. ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ was an obvious choice, containing as it does the song ‘When I’m 64’.

Every time I put a Beatles record on it’s like returning to an old friend. The more I hear them, the more I’m convinced there will never be another ‘pop’ band like them. The musical and lyrical progress made over a short period of a decade is simply staggering. There is a world of difference between the happy-go-lucky pop of ‘Please Please Me’ and tracks like ‘Revolution Number 9’.

Worldwide phenomenon
It is important to note that the Beatles took the world by storm – not just Europe. They were big from Japan to the US and in June 1964 gave two concerts at Frederiksberg’s KB Hallen, the only time they played here. Drummer Ringo Starr had a sore throat and was replaced by Jimmie Nicol so the Danish audience had to make do with three out of four, but nobody was complaining.

Those lucky enough to have attended the concerts have often attested to what a life-changer this was. BT’s reviewer wrote that “the Beatles are something that everyone can identify with”. In contrast to other pop stars big at the time the Beatles were real – “they were not churned out in a factory”.

Man with a vision
Reading the lyrics to ‘When I’m Sixty-four’ I’m struck by the acuity of observation and maturity shown by Paul McCartney. He actually wrote the song when he was 14 (!), but it was not changed very much when it was finally recorded in 1967.

It begins with a somewhat elegiac opening (see below) and continues in similar vein. This strikes a particular chord with me as our family did just that – going on holiday to the Isle of Wight or renting a cottage. I’m also lucky enough to have two grandchildren of my own, albeit not Vera, Chuck or Dave.

The song is the perfect accompaniment to the photographs of Tony Ray-Jones or Martin Parr, whose views of typical English families on the beach during the 1960s and 70s are arresting and human. Here, you have Dad, with his braces and a knotted handkerchief on his head, paddling in rolled-up trousers, or picnicking trying to keep the wasps out of the jam. Another world perhaps, but one that very much shaped my life and experiences.

So do yourself a favour: dig out a Beatles album or two, sit back and really listen. I guarantee you will not be disappointed. As John Lennon puts it in ‘For the Benefit of Mr Kite’, which was also on Sgt Pepper, “a splendid time is guaranteed for all”. 

All together now:
“When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a Valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine”

“Every summer we can rent a cottage
In the Isle of Wight, if it’s not too dear
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera, Chuck and Dave”