How The Beatles Reviewed Songs Topping the Charts During the 1960s: Hear Their Takes on the Beach Boys, Ray Charles, the Byrds, Joan Baez & More

In the year 1966, “it seemed to West­ern youth that The Bea­t­les knew — that they had the key to cur­rent events and were some­how orches­trat­ing them through their records.” So writes Ian McDon­ald in the crit­i­cal study Rev­o­lu­tion in the Head: The Bea­t­les’ Records and the Six­ties. But some had been look­ing to John Lennon, Paul McCart­ney, George Har­ri­son, and Ringo Starr as pop-cul­ture ora­cles since they put out their first album in 1963. Unlike the youth-ori­ent­ed stars who came before, they ful­ly inhab­it­ed the roles of both per­form­ers and cre­ators. If any­one knew how to read the zeit­geist of that decade, sure­ly it was the Bea­t­les.

Hence the appear­ance of each Bea­t­le in Melody Mak­er mag­a­zine’s “Blind Date” fea­ture, which cap­tured its sub­jects’ spon­ta­neous reac­tions to the sin­gles on the charts at the moment. When Lennon sat for a Blind Date in Jan­u­ary of 1964, he gave his ver­dict on songs from Man­fred Mann, Ger­ry and the Pace­mak­ers, Ray Charles, and Ricky Nel­son — as well as the now-less-well-known Mar­ty Wilde, Mil­li­cent Mar­tin, and The Bruis­ers.

You can see the arti­cle turned into a full audio­vi­su­al pro­duc­tion, com­plete with clips of the music, at the Youtube chan­nel Yes­ter­day’s Papers. There you can also com­pare its playlist to that of McCart­ney’s ses­sion just three years lat­er, but on a trans­formed musi­cal land­scape pop­u­lat­ed by the likes of The Small Faces, Dono­van, the Lovin’ Spoon­ful, and the Byrds.

For that last Cal­i­for­nia band McCart­ney express­es appre­ci­a­tion, if also reser­va­tions about what then seemed to him their styl­is­tic stag­na­tion: the late David Cros­by, he notes, “knows where they should be going musi­cal­ly.” Oth­er than call­ing the then-passé Gene Pit­ney’s “In the Cold Light of Day” a song he’s heard “hun­dreds of times before, although I haven’t actu­al­ly heard this record,” he keeps his assess­ment char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly pos­i­tive. More sur­pris­ing are Star­r’s harsh ver­dicts on the pop music of Decem­ber 1964, not just the songs them­selves (though the Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack” notably fails to impress him), but also the judg­ment of the audi­ences they tar­get. “Being good,” he says of the Day­lighters’ “Oh Mom,” “it won’t sell.”

Of San­dra Bar­ry’s “We Were Lovers (When The Par­ty Began),” Starr com­ments that it “sounds like an Eng­lish­man try­ing to be Amer­i­can, which nev­er works prop­er­ly.” Hav­ing grown up wor­ship­ing Amer­i­can rock-and-roll and start­ed their own careers anx­ious about being received as for­eign inter­lop­ers, the Fab Four show a nat­ur­al sen­si­tiv­i­ty to this transat­lantic dynam­ic in pop music. “It’s good if it’s Eng­lish, mediocre if it’s Amer­i­can,” says Har­ri­son of a song before find­ing out that the singer is his coun­try­man Glyn Geof­frey Ellis, bet­ter known as Wayne Fontana. “Those breaks are so British,” Lennon says of a Unit 4 + 2 sin­gle of Decem­ber 1965, and he does­n’t seem to mean it as a good thing. But when McCart­ney calls a Kiki Dee num­ber “British to the core” the fol­low­ing year, it’s hard not to hear a note of admi­ra­tion.

On Yes­ter­day’s Papers’ Blind Date playlist, you can see and hear more nine­teen-six­ties and sev­en­ties music reviews from Mick Jag­ger, Jim­my Page, Jimi Hen­drix, Dusty Spring­field, Frank Zap­pa, Bri­an Jones, Roger Dal­trey, Eric Clap­ton, Roger Waters, Syd Bar­rett, and many oth­er icons of twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry pop­u­lar music besides.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Kinks’ Ray Davies Reviews the Bea­t­les’ 1966 Album Revolver; Calls It “A Load of Rub­bish”

Chuck Berry (RIP) Reviews Punk Songs by The Ramones, Sex Pis­tols, The Clash, Talk­ing Heads & More (1980)

Hear the 10 Best Albums of the 1960s as Select­ed by Hunter S. Thomp­son

89 Essen­tial Songs from The Sum­mer of Love: A 50th Anniver­sary Playlist

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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