Fifty years ago this month, pop music fans found themselves in the middle of the Belgian Invasion. The No. 1 tune in December 1963 was “Dominique” by Jeanine Deckers — better known as the Singing Nun.
I was a student at St. Agnes Elementary at the time. The Singing Nun was really popular.
But I also recall a classmate — his name now lost to the ages — who brought in a few magazine clippings that December about a four-piece band causing quite a ruckus in England. We pinned those stories to the current-events board, studying the photos for clues.
Eight weeks later, we’d forgotten all about the Singing Nun.
Beatles nostalgia will be unavoidable next year, and probably for the next six years — 50 years after “Yesterday,” 50 years after Sgt. Pepper, 50 years after the White Album. We’ll marvel at the melodies, the concerts, the movies, the album covers, the stunning art
of rock and roll music.
But the 50th anniversary of the Fab Four’s U.S. breakthrough will be bittersweet, and not just because we’re all that much older.
Their music remains timeless. But the politics of 1960s pop culture — the message of excitement and renewal that I first found on that third-grade bulletin board — has not aged quite as well, in part because of the Beatles’ own success.
The Beatles mattered, remember, because they made Mom and Dad’s music seem quaint. And once your parents’ art was up for grabs, so was their fashion, their haircuts and eventually their politics and way of life.
Yet it’s possible the boomers’ public obsession with the Beatles and the 1960s makes it harder for our own children to achieve a similar social and political breakthrough. In 1964, no one raved about the great music in 1914. (For the record, the big December hit that year was “When You Wore a Tulip I Wore a Big Red Rose” by John, Billy, Steve and William — The American Quartet.)
The Beatles’ most important message, it seems to me, was always aboutchange
— new clothes, new songs, new ways to think. Yet it will soon be hard to turn on the radio or TV or a computer-based stream without facing, yet again, an unchanging question: What would you do if I sang out of tune?
Years ago, before he was murdered (also in December), John Lennon told us to get over the Beatles. We were just a band, he said.
So perhaps the best way to honor their legacy next year will be to listen to what the band’s label once called Something New. Not the Singing Nun, maybe, but a more contemporary artist.