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Whereas Elvis (who sent the boys a warm telegram for their performance on The Ed Sullivan Show) was sensual and spastic, the Beatles looked like kids having a good time. There was no erotic threat in their mod uniforms and bowl-cut hairdos, the deep bows in unison, their common sensible take on success. Their lyrics offered comradely advice (She Loves You) and the gentlest propositions (I Want to Hold Your Hand). That's why Sullivan, the dour Chief Justice of American showbiz, could attest that they were "four of the finest youngsters we've ever had on our stage." But it wasn't that simple, ever. The guitars set a pounding tempo for any backseat bravo; the vocals (the falsetto wooos and I can't hide) have an orgasmic cheerfulness.

They were cheeky but well behaved; they put up with a lot. When their manager, Brian Epstein, told them that German radio stations didn't like to play songs in English, they rerecorded two of their hits in German (Sie Liebt Dich and Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand). These orders, and this imposed order, gave them a format they somehow thrived in. They produced popular art on demand. Richard Lester, director of A Hard Day's Night, announced that the next film would be called Help!, so somebody better write a song quickly. John did it that night, in part to keep Paul from winning the implied competition. In the broad democracy of Top 40 radio of the day, the Beatles rubbed sounds with Martha and the Vandellas, Steve and Eydie. They'd borrow, then improve; scavenging gave way to alchemy. It was always a fight to be the best. "We'd try to beat what we were doing," Paul says.

The Beatles beat everybody--which is why, when the mania has faded and the little scandals raise a yawn, the music lives. Believers in the sanctity of the single, the Beatles made classics in miniature. A melody simple enough to leech onto the brain and fresh enough to bear repeated airplay. The bending of a cliche, musical or verbal. High harmonies so close that John, Paul and George could be Siamese triplets. In and out in no time. Two minutes, two and a half tops--leave 'em wanting to hear it again. And to hear others just as good. That's how the Beatles created the pop album. Before them, an album was a couple of hits and 10 cuts of filler. With the Beatles, every album was an event.

The Beatles were studio artists. In the TV Anthology, George tells how bored they became with concerts; sometimes they'd run through their 30-minute set in 25, by playing every song faster. For the audience, the concert experience was wholly votive--unintelligible and incandescent, like Mass in Latin. But the band no longer wanted to do it on the road. So they moved into the studio and created chamber music. For the mature Beatles, the Abbey Road studio was their concert stage. They became monks to their music. And for most of this time, their friendship withstood the barrage of fame. "We were tight," Harrison notes in the documentary. "That was one thing to be said about us."

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