Pop Music: The Messengers

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note for note, word for word, the brilliance of the new Beatles. In three months, it has sold a staggering 2,500,000 copies—each a guaranteed package of psychic shivers. Loosely strung together on a scheme that plays the younger and older generations off against each other, it sizzles with musical montage, tricky electronics and sleight-of-hand lyrics that range between 1920s ricky-tick and 1960s raga. A Day in the Life, for example, is by all odds the most disturbingly beautiful song the group has ever produced. The narrator's mechanical progress through the day ("Dragged a comb across my head, found my way downstairs") is tensely counterpointed with lapses into reverie and with chilling tableaux of frustration and despair:

I read the news today, oh boy,

About a lucky man who made the grade . . .

He blew his mind out in a car.

He didn't notice that the lights had changed.

A crowd of people stood and stared,

They'd seen his face before;

Nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords . . . At the end, the refrain, "I'd love to turn you on," leads to a hair-raising chromatic crescendo by a full orchestra and a final blurred chord that is sustained for 40 seconds, like a trance of escape, or perhaps resignation.

It's a long way from "I want to hold your hand" to "I'd love to turn you on." In between, the Beatles kept their cool, even when they were decorated by the Queen. They managed to retain the antic charm that had helped make them the rage of Britain and that sparkled on millions of TV screens in February 1964, when America got its first glimpse of them live on the Ed Sullivan Show. Only once did they show a serious lapse in taste: the cover of their 1966 album Yesterday and Today was a photograph of the four wearing butchers' smocks and laden with chunks of raw meat and the bodies of decapitated dolls. Reaction in the U.S. was so violent that Capitol Records pulled it off the market, explaining that it was a misguided attempt at "pop-art satire."

Pilgrimage to Liverpool. Now that the Beatles' music is growing more complex and challenging, they are losing some younger fans. Teenyboppers, most of whom would rather shriek up than freak out, are turning off at A Day in the Life, doubling back through Strawberry Fields and returning to predictably cute 1964-model Beatles—in the form of such blatantly aping groups as the Monkees.

On the other hand, the youngsters who were the original Beatlemaniacs are themselves older now, and dig the Beatles on a less hysterical level. Two years ago, Kathy Dreyfuss of Los Angeles went on a pilgrimage to the Beatles' home town of Liverpool with her mother. "I was such a screaming fan I couldn't eat or sleep," says Kathy, looking back from the very earnest vantage point of 16. "I realize now I was submerging all my problems in the Beatles. I still like them, but it isn't such a madness. Now their songs are about the things I think about—the world, love, drugs, the way things are."

In exchange for the teenyboppers, the new Beatles have captivated a different and much more responsive audience. "Suddenly," says George Harrison, "we find that all the people who thought they were beyond the Beatles are fans."

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