Reading how the Beatles’ album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band changed the life of American singer Aimee Mann at the tender age of eight, got me thinking back four decades.
By general consensus (Rolling Stones fans exempted), this is the greatest rock album of all time. It revolutionised the way rock’n’roll came to be perceived by fans and presented by musicians. We were in the third and final year of our stay in London — my parents, elder sister (11) and brother (10) — and firmly in the grip of not ‘Beatlemania’ but ‘Monkees-mania’. The Monkees, of course, were a group of four young men created by the American music industry to appeal to a younger audience — specifically, the 8-12 age group. They had their own TV show, full of zany antics and catchy pop tunes and were the original ‘boy band’.
But there was one Beatles fan in the family and that was our mother. A couple of months before the release of the album, they put out a 45-rpm record with two singles, Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever. Dad bought it for mum’s 40th birthday but when the album was released we were in the throes of packing — it was time to return to India.
We first heard/saw Penny Lane on TV in what was probably one of the first music videos of all time, and that too in glorious colour, for 1967 was the year the BBC introduced colour TV in Britain. My mother was enchanted by the visuals and lyrics. The two songs remain her favourites.
The year 1967 was also the ‘Summer of Love’ when the hippie and peace movement hit the world. It was also when the Beatles, specifically George Harrison, discovered Indian spirituality and Indian music through Ravi Shankar.
Prodyut Sen was Shankar’s tabla player and worked in the same office as my father (Hindustan Steel Ltd, now SAIL). As a result, Harrison was a frequent visitor. On one memorable occasion, John Lennon dropped in too, plonked himself on dad’s desk, lit a cigarette and called him ‘old man’ — three things guaranteed to blow my father’s fuse! But even dad — not much of a rock fan (jazz was his passion) — knew the Beatles were special. He even once sat next to Paul McCartney on a flight.
Soon a tussle erupted at home. Mum pleaded with dad to invite the Fab Four home for one of her legendary Indian meals. But my brother, sister and I would have nothing of it — we were too loyal to the Monkees to let their rivals (in our young minds at least) enter our home. I even threatened I would lock myself in my room and refuse to come downstairs to meet them! Dad was probably swayed by the tyranny of numbers and the invite never went out.
It did not take long for us to switch over to the Beatles —the transition would be complete in a couple of years. But to this day we look back with regret to 40 years ago when we missed having the Beatles home for dinner.