Monday, August 8, 2016

Burning The Beatles

    Birmingham disc jockeys Tommy Charles and Doug Layton 
started a "Ban The Beatles" campaign
(AP photo)

In late July, five months after its original publication, a U.S. teen mag called Datebook republished the interview with Lennon. Turning to the tried and true method of generating scandal to gin up sales, Datebook put the "We're more popular than Jesus" part of the quote on the cover. Woo-boy. Two Birmingham DJs picked up on the quote, vowing to never play the Beatles and on August 8th, started a "Ban the Beatles" campaign. (From "Burn your Beatles Records!" Mother Jones magazine)


Tim Lennox reminded us this week that August 8th marks the 50th Anniversary of a controversy about The Beatles in Birmingham, Alabama. “Radio DJ's Tommy Charles and Doug Layton banned the group's records,” Lennox wrote, “and urged teens to burn theirs. They scheduled a mass record burning for August 8, 1966. It all started because of Lennon's comment to a reporter that The Beatles were ‘more popular than Jesus.’ “

Although the “mass burning” did not actually occur in Birmingham, a clip from Tommy Charles’ radio broadcast calling for the record burning made its way into the documentary  film about John Lennon’s life, Imagine: John Lennon.  

Turbulent Times

I well remember the controversial statement and the uproar it caused. I was eleven years old and about to enter the sixth grade. Looking back, it was almost like an inaugural moment into the tumultuous times that marked the coming of age of many of us boomers.

The Vietnam War was escalating and would soon lead to demonstrations across the country. Racial unrest would continue to arise as the country resisted civil rights reforms. We would see the Watts riots with neighborhoods burning in Los Angeles, protests on college campuses over the war with draft cards being burned. In 1968 we would see the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

Ironically, in the years following the hyped record burning, The Beatles would morph from a boy band singing “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” and Love Me Do” into musicians who would be experimenting musically. They would chronicle the times along with other musicians of the day. Johnny Cash would become known as the Man in Black, wearing black in mourning for the young soldiers dying in war. In 1970, he would sing, “And the lonely voice of youth cries, What is truth?” That same year, Crosby, Stills & Nash would record Ohio in protest of the Kent State shooting; Simon & Garfunkel would bring us the anthem, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” while The Beatles would add their voice with “Let It Be.”

Fifty years ago, some adults told some teenagers to burn Beatles records. As it turned out, we would see a lot of burning and that burning would define an era. When we saw the draft end, the war sputter to a halt, and Richard Nixon resign in disgrace, we took a deep breath and were finally able to exhale. We hoped for some solid ground to walk upon. 

Some of us thought that the war was behind us, but unfortunately war has become far too commonplace. We no longer have the draft, but we instead have a warrior class of citizens and a leaner, professional volunteer fighting force. Instead of peace, we are a nation too quick to go to war, but that is another story.

New Uncertainties

Now our children are facing their own uncertainties. I could try to quote our songs for the youth of today, but the truth is, they will tell it for their own day better than we boomers can. I will say to the young folks though, don’t burn your records oh, that's right you don't have records, do you? In that case, do not diss your music! Listen to the poets and artists of your day. Just keep singing your songs and holding our leaders' feet to the fire.

In the meantime, sit back and listen to one of The Beatles' hits from 50 years ago: We Can Work It Out.


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