Picture this: you're a child of three or four, walking along a pavement; your parents are either side of you, each holding one of your hands firmly; suddenly your father says "One, two, three, uuup", and you're lifted off your feet for a couple of seconds, accompanied by parental cries of "Whee!" You are then gently deposited back on the ground, feeling exhilarated and eager to repeat the 'flight'. "Again, again!" you shout.
Remember those moments?
My favourite music has always had a similar effect on me, and still does. I hear it, I feel lifted off my feet, exhilarated, heart beating a little faster, stomach seeming to drop away; when the music's over I want that feeling again, and again, and again.
I was four years old when I first heard a song that gave me that feeling. I don't recall the exact circumstances (apart from a plate of cheese on toast balanced upon my lap!), but I know I was sitting with my Nan (my mother's mother, one of my favourite people ever) and we were watching her TV. The programme must have been something like 'Thank Your Lucky Stars' (a British pop music show of the early 1960s), and much of it probably sailed over my head or left me unmoved. But then I was suddenly aware of a different sound, a sound the like of which I had never encountered before. It was...
Well, let's backtrack here and consider a few of the songs I had been used to hearing. My earliest recollections are tied in to certain records that featured in the UK singles charts of 1960 to '63, such as: 'Goodness Gracious Me' by Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren, 'Strawberry Fair' by Anthony Newley, 'A Hole In The Bucket' by Odetta and Harry Belafonte, and 'Messing About On The River' by Josh McCrae.
These were records that poured smoothly from the speaker-grille of a 1950s radiogram with the volume-knob well down, records that came and went politely in the background of my early infancy, demanding nothing from me, calling little of my attention away from a Dinky toy or my Tap-Tap set (a children's hammer-and-tacks toy).
What did I carry away with me from any of those records listed? A nonsense chorus of 'Boom-boo-di-boom', some strangely mannered singing, the sound of an auditorium filled with laughter, and some ploppy water noises that tickled my lavatorial streak. Certainly nothing to persuade me that music could excite, music could move, music could provoke. But don't forget, I was still only crawling or toddling at this stage.
And then: that TV pop programme, some time in the early autumn of 1963. Obviously, what I heard I can only describe in the terms that I came to understand much much later in life, and what I heard was... barely-harnessed wildness.
The song hit the ground running, powered up by a brash tumble of drums; three untrained singing-voices, textured with tobacco and Scotch-and-coke, held their harmonies on passion alone; a metallic churning rhythm carried the whole thing along, making me think of headlong motion, of riding in the sidecar of my Dad's motor-scooter. This piece of music was alien, and utterly thrilling.
Who or what was making this captivating noise? The black-and-white screen (all 405 raster-scan lines of it, all 14 inches) showed four little dark-suited stick-men: one hunkered down at the back, behind a set of glittery pots and pans, three standing in a line holding ... what? Ray-guns? Strange boxes with long handles, at any rate. One of the figures was holding his gun the wrong way round, but that seemed to be okay too.
Were these little marionette-type people responsible for this other-worldly music?
I can vividly remember the next bit of conversation between me and my Nan:
"Who's this, Nan?"
"That's the Beatles, that is, my sweet."
The record was, of course, 'She Loves You', the Beatles' fourth single, soon to be their third UK Number One hit (or their second, depending on your choice of chart) and eventually their first million-seller. And I'm struck by a couple of points tangential to this anecdote.
- that my Nan was enough of a hip, switched-on lady to be watching a teenagers' pop show -- which she did without fail, every week, along with listening to 'Pick Of the Pops' (the BBC's singles-chart rundown) every Sunday evening. This was quite remarkable behaviour at the time, for a working-class Wolverhampton woman in her late fifties, I can assure you.
- that my dawning ability to be transported by pop music coincided almost exactly with the dawning realisation, on the part of the great British record-buying public, that a cataclysmic new force was making itself heard on the scene. No-one else in the country at large had ever heard the likes of 'She Loves You', either.
That song sparked my first infatuation with the Beatles and their music, a crush that faded to indifference in my junior years, only to become a raging passion all over again when the BBC screened four of the band's feature films during the summer of 1976. These days I regard the Beatles with quiet respect, and a fairly scholarly appreciation of their music-making craft in all its forms. I say scholarly, because after all these years of hearing 'She Loves You' (and every other released or bootlegged Beatles song), I can't listen to it now with the same exhilaration that I had originally.
Or so I thought, until I heard it again recently, without warning, in a shop where I was browsing through second-hand DVDs. And what do you know? My stomach felt as if it had dropped away.
Then like an idiot, I sent a thought to a wonderful and long-departed woman: "That's the Beatles, that is, Nan."
Go on: if you've got a copy, play it now. Play it loud.