Most of the records I listened to when I was a kid were my Mom’s old 45s from the 50s and 60s. I had a few albums, but most of the music I heard came from the singles that were more important in the early days of rock and roll. Chuck Berry, Elvis, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, and Jerry Lee Lewis relied on DJs spinning their songs on the radio and kids plugging dozens of coins into the jukebox at their local soda shop to hear their crazy beats. Albums didn’t really become super important until the mid-60s, and The Beatles were one of the bands to make that happen.
I have always loved The Beatles. In elementary school I mostly heard their early singles: “Love Me Do,” “Help!” and “Paperback Writer” were among my favorites. I’m not sure when I first heard “Get Back,” but I recognized right away that it wasn’t the same Beatles sound I had known. I had no real concept of the span of time my mother’s record collection covered, so I didn’t make any distinction between rock and roll from different years or styles or anything. I loved all of these artists! Chuck Berry was my first favorite, and it makes sense to me now since every other artist I loved after him copied what he did, whether consciously or literally or not. I knew that there was a Chuck Berry style, and that nobody else was quite as original.
I loved Buddy Holly, but I didn’t know how much The Beatles loved him. I don’t know if I heard any similarities in their music, though “Love Me Do” definitely could have been a Buddy Holly composition. All the bands from the British Invasion drew their inspiration from American music, mostly from black artists, though the way that inspiration translated into their own music varied from musician to musician and song to song. The Rolling Stones saw themselves as an R&B group, but early on they were instructed to pen some commercially viable pop songs in order to compete with The Beatles. The strength of the Stones was in their ability to reinterpret the R&B sounds they loved and present them to a mostly young, white audience. They always gave props to their musical heroes, often demanding that they appear on the same bill with them.
The Beatles, on the other hand, were known as fine craftsmen, able to write the perfect pop songs that excited kids and launched the band into superstardom the likes of which had not been seen since Elvis. The Beatles were also adept at studying and absorbing non-Western musical styles and feeding their creativity in an as-yet-unseen fashion. It seemed that they had a master plan for world domination: Get the teens addicted to their sweet pop sounds, which would make their brains ready to be overcome by sitars and deep lyrics and psychedelia.
The Rolling Stones had no such plan.
“Get Back” is a Stones-type R&B tune, gritty and funky and very much unlike The Beatles of 1964 and 1965. The lyrics are fascinating; they draw two quick sketches of people who need to get back to where they once belonged: a man named Jojo who left Tuscon for some California grass, and Loretta Martin, a transgendered woman who found out she was really a man.
All the girls around her say,
“She’s got it comin’”
But she gets it
While she can
Good for her! Haters gonna hate, but Loretta was gon’ git her some. We don’t get the full stories behind Jojo and Loretta, but we don’t really need them. I wasn’t even 10 years old when I first heard this song, and though I wondered what was going on here I was more fascinated than confused. This was one of my favorite records to play on my pretend radio station, WDRS 113.2 FM.
When I was in junior high school and I got more into albums, I heard the Let It Be version of “Get Back” and noticed right away that it was different. Not that it was bad, but it was not the version I knew and loved. I did grow to enjoy the talking before and after the song, but the 45 version will always be the one closest to my heart since that’s the one I heard first.
As far as the albums, my mother had the first half of the Beatles catalogue and my uncle had the second half. Not sure why. My mother is a lifelong Beatles fan, as is my uncle, but for whatever reason they did not own their own copies of half of the Beatles’ LPs. I asked her once why this was, and she didn’t really know. Even though I played all their albums on my Mom’s old 1970s stereo until I got a new stereo with a CD player in about 1990, I always associate everything before 1966 with my Mom and everything afterward with my uncle.
Even though “Get Back” was on their last album, it was the first of their later songs I heard. To me it represents the second of the two phases of their career—pop stars in the early years and then serious, experimental musicians after they grew out their mop tops. What it gave me was an idea of how an artist could evolve and grow and inspire. The other records I had were mostly from a specific time period where the artist was not really allowed to change much. All the Elvis records I had were from the 50s and none were even movie soundtracks, so I didn’t know Elvis’ post-Army stuff until I started watching his films and concerts on TV. “Get Back” gave me an exciting example of how much rock and roll had changed over the course of not only The Beatles’ career, but since the genre became popular in the mid-50s. Rock and roll was a force to be reckoned with and feared in the 1950s, and then The Beatles changed everything we knew about everything in 1964. The world has never been the same.