Rockin’ and Rollin’

(Pictured: Paul, Ringo, John, and George want you to read this post.)

You are an executive at EMI Records in early 1976. You have seen the resurgence of interest in the Beach Boys thanks to the Endless Summer and Spirit of America compilations during the previous two years; you notice the general mood of nostalgia, at least in America, thanks to the TV success of Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley; you recognize that Paul McCartney is at the peak of his solo stardom. So a new Beatles compilation seems like a good idea to you, perhaps one focused on rock ‘n’ roll covers from their earliest days. Rock ‘n’ Roll Music will feature “Twist and Shout,” “Kansas City,” “Money,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” and “Roll Over Beethoven” among others. You will plaster the jacket with images that are more 50s than 60s, even though the Beatles themselves will be critical of the cover. So you won’t do anything to counter the urban legend that the album was released to commemorate the 20th anniversary of John and Paul’s first meeting . . . except that happened in 1957, not 1956.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Music is, then, mostly a celebration of the Beatles before the drugs took hold, although it doesn’t ignore that part of their career. The result is that the album ends by straying from the happy rockin’ vibe to darker places: “Helter Skelter,” with its Manson Family connections, “Taxman,” with its bitter indictment of Britain’s Inland Revenue, and “Revolution,” in which the lyrics say “no-no” but there’s “yes-yes” in the music, are a little too serious given what’s come before, but they’re well-cushioned by “Birthday,” “Get Back,” and “Got to Get You Into My Life.” Whatever its flaws (and when the music is this good, any flaws are minor), Rock ‘n’ Roll Music was a smash, reaching #2 on the Billboard 200 in mid-July, kept out of the top spot by Wings at the Speed of Sound.

“Got to Get You Into My Life” was the single from Rock n’ Roll Music, backed with “Helter Skelter.” It first appeared on a survey at ARSA dated May 28, 1976. It hit the Hot 100 on June 12 at #54, and reached the Top 10 on July 3. It would hit #1 at WLS in Chicago on July 10 and spend three weeks at the top; it would reach its Hot 100 peak at #7 on July 24 and remain there for the weeks of July 31 and August 7, 1976.

In the spring of 1966, Brian Epstein had traveled to Memphis to investigate the possibility of the Beatles recording at Stax, which was at a creative peak. Revolver might have been made there, but when word of the possibility leaked out, it quickly became an impossibility. “Got to Get You Into My Life” is as close as we ever got. After trying the song with fuzztone guitar, Paul rounded up three trumpeters and two tenor saxophone players. Microphones were placed in the bells of the horns and recorded so that they’d hit hard without distortion. The horns were overdubbed at one point to reinforce them still further, and the result is a sound that positively jumped off the radio and remains unlike anything else in the Beatles’ catalog.

According to Wikipedia (so who the hell knows), “Helter Skelter” was originally scheduled to be the A-side. It’s doubtful that it would have had the same impact that “Got to Get You Into My Life” did, in a summer when many things old seemed new again. Especially considering how that nostalgic vibe was reinforced by another “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music,” the Beach Boys’ recording of the same Chuck Berry song that gave the Beatles’ compilation its name. During the three weeks that “Got to Get You Into My Life” sat at #7 in Billboard, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music” moved from #9 to #8 to #6, meaning that 40 years ago this week, the Beach Boys and the Beatles were back-to-back in the Top 10, together there for the first time since 1966.

As someone who came of radio-listening age just after the heyday of both groups, it was my only taste of how that heyday must have sounded in real time.

So the 50th anniversary of Revolver is the 40th anniversary of the return of the Beatles to the top of the charts, and the return to the radio of one of Revolver‘s tracks. Even though it was born 10 summers before, “Got to Get You Into My Life” ended up one of the most memorable songs of summer 1976.

6 responses

  1. As unloved as this album is, I’m pretty sure that it’s what got me into The Beatles. I’m not certain if before this I realized the whole Paul/John/Ringo/George/Beatles connection. Yeah, that would have made me kind of slow.

  2. It had only been about a year since I discovered the radio and my love for music began to grow. By 1976, I was glued to the radio and listened every week to “American Top 40” with Casey Kasem. It was “Got to Get You Into My Life” that introduced an 11 year old kid (me) to The Beatles. What an awesome catalog this song opened the door to.

  3. Wow, at the very least, the second half of the Beatles’ “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music” compilation is utterly bizarre. “Hey Bulldog”? “Amytime at All”? “The Night Before”? “Taxman”? Just odd picks. They probably should have stuck with a cover-song theme and kept it to one album if they wanted any kind of thematic and sonic consistency.

    And, as a Beach Boys fan, I can say that (a) their cover of “Rock N’ Roll Music” is spineless and putrid; (b) “15 Big Ones” was a bad idea and marks the beginning of the terminal decline of the Beach Boys as a legitimate band (save for perhaps “Love You” and Dennis Wilson’s “Pacific Ocean Blue”); and (c) the “Endless Summer” compilation, while obviously great for their wallets in the short-term (both in terms of album sales and concert attendance), was in the end a bad step for the band, as its early 1970s work was strong, and the success of that compilation and its successor, “Spirit of America,” calcified the group into an oldies act.

  4. Rock’n’Roll music was a big deal for me. I was 13 and at the height of my own Beatlemania. I always loved that embossed, foil jacket, too.

  5. Were there any other singles from Rock n’ Roll Music (the album)? If not, our mythical EMI Records executive is notable for his restraint. It surprises me they wouldn’t go back to the well.

  6. as a clueless 16 year old I loved “Got to Get….,” never even questioning its provenance in their catalog. I simply didn’t think things through back then, as I do now. Recently got the record with picture sleeve and am DELIGHTED to have “Helter Skelter” on a 45.

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