'penny lane is in my ears and in my eyes...'
Posted 2012.12.28
Featured song: "Strawberry Fields Forever" (Demo) by The Beatles


I don't remember the first time I heard a Jimmy Buffett song. I don't remember any of the words, or the melodies, from a children's music cassette I asked my mom to play all the time (although I do remember how much I liked it!). I don't remember the moment I first heard the theme song to Shining Time Station or Barney or Bill Nye the Science Guy.

But I do remember the first time I heard and paid attention to The Beatles.

It was The Beatles Anthology CDs. I didn't pick them out: my babysitter would often play music from my parents' collection while he was watching us (or, when my brother and I felt like it, wrestling with us). I don't recall the exact circumstance, but one of those times, I must have picked up the case from which he had recently pulled out a CD. If I'm not mistaken, it was Anthology 3, with studio cuts of "Mean Mr. Mustard," "I've Got a Feeling," and "Shake, Rattle, and Roll."

Once I got my own stereo and portable CD player, I borrowed those CDs and listened to 1, 2, and 3 at my own pace. I ate 'em up. Some of my first memories of voracious reading were of the liner notes in the CD cases that described the evolution of "The Fool on the Hill" and the inscription on George Harrison's guitar. I quickly became attached to the two discs of Anthology 2 and the second disc of Anthology 3, and I played them and read the liner notes nearly nonstop while I sat alone in my room, rocked silently in the back of a car, or danced in the back room of my paternal grandparents' house.

...I didn't really dance in the latter instance, so much as move very deliberatively with the music. One of the strongest memories I have in that house, strong because I did it so many times, is listening to the final track of Anthology 3, a re-purposed "The End." George Martin, for this release, decided to end it with a fade-in, then a fade-out, of the piano chord from "A Day in the Life." I would start the fade-in lying face-down on the bed, slowly rise as the chord reached its strike until I was kneeling up, arms outstretched, and then slowly fall down the same way while the chord disappeared. Sometimes, I would complement the chord's disappearance by, instead, ever so slowly and dramatically falling off the bed, clawing at the covers until I slipped off into the hot molten lava on the floor. Being a kid was awesome.

I felt just as strongly for Anthology 2. In fact, I was most attached to that segment of the series, listening to takes of "Yesterday," Tomorrow Never Knows," "I'm Only Sleeping," and the beautiful no-vocals version of "Within You Without You." I was in love with the 90s Lennon-demo-based single "Real Love," although no one else was (I was oblivious to contemporary opinion). I was fascinated by the changes Lennon made to "Strawberry Fields Forever" and the intimacy he shared in his first stab at it. I pretended I was in the audience when they played "I Feel Fine," "Ticket to Ride," and "Help!" for a British variety show. This was also around the time I first saw the movie Help!, thanks to a VHS recording from TV, so I watched out for anything in Anthology 2 that appeared in the movie (and thought the "Yes It Is" line, "For red is the color that will make me blue..." was two kinds of clever). I listened to these two CDs so much that, when my family got a 50-disc CD changer for the living room, they could only put 1 and 3 in there; Anthology 2 stayed in my room for years!

Even though I ate up the Anthology albums, I was very satisfied with my level of Beatles knowledge and, for a long time, didn't go searching for any properly released records. I loved the early, unadorned take of "I Am the Walrus," and I didn't know or care that the released version was 100 times more mind-blowing... until I heard it in high school. In examining all my memories of the Anthology discs, I've never come across a time when I though, "I wonder what the finished product sounded like." I had concerts, I had banter, and I had concert banter, all mixed in with the seeds of world-changing music. I was set! ... I was also in an exclusive club, although I didn't think of it at the time, of people who first and only heard The Beatles as George Martin and the walls of Abbey Road Studios first heard them.

Then, within what my mind perceives as a short span of time, I bought Revolver and was gifted 1, the collection of Beatles chart-toppers. I started to hear what everyone else had heard for years. My experience became a little less unique, yet more transcendent and formative.

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