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Boomers@50

When America Fell for the Beatles

Springsteen, Dylan and other musical greats recall how the Fab Four’s arrival 50 years ago kicked off a new era of rock ’n’ roll

Booker T. Jones, musician

The first time I heard the Beatles I was a student at Indiana University, and I'd already had a hit with "Green Onions." I heard "I Want to Hold Your Hand" on the jukebox at a pizza joint in Bloomington, Indiana. I loved it. I played it over and over.

One reason I liked it is that, even though it was coming from England, it sounded very close to what we were doing with the MG's — just bass, guitars and drums, just the song and the melody. I was really drawn to it. Ringo really reminded me of [MG's drummer] Al Jackson: sparse, direct, to the point, the tempo never speeding up or slowing down, a good, happy feeling on whatever the song was.

Later on, I realized how monumental they were musically. After Abbey Road came out, I decided to record a tribute to them called McLemore Avenue, the street where Stax Records was located in Memphis. It was a crazy idea, not a commercially viable project for me to bring to Stax. But I was really impressed because by that time the Beatles were the biggest group in the world. They had crossed boundaries and reached heights that no one else in rock 'n' roll had done. They had written timeless melodies. They had become socially significant. They had become spiritual. They had become funky. And they had done all that in six years! Musically, they had really lived. Then, after reaching that apex, they made Abbey Road. That's quite a tribute, because at that point, financially, creatively, they didn't have to do anything. Obviously, they were doing it for the love of it, and I so much respected that.

They're incomparable. It was just such a great gift — that we had them, and that the world appreciated them so much. They were so valuable — and so much fun.

B.B. King, musician

I wasn't exactly sure who John Lennon was. Later on, I knew their names, but in the beginning they were just these English boys with long hair and a rock 'n' roll beat that drove the girls crazy. A friend of mine happened to read an interview with John.

"Did you read what John Lennon said about you, B?"

"No. What'd he say?"

"He wished he could play guitar like B.B. King."

Hey, that was a nice thing to say. I listened a little closer to the Beatles' music, though I still couldn't hear any of my influence.

Steven Van Zandt, musician, actor

February 8, 1964, there was not one single rock 'n' roll band in the country. February 9, the Beatles played Ed Sullivan. February 10, everyone had one. If a spaceship landed in Central Park today, I don't think it would have as much impact as the Beatles that day. [When I saw them,] I saw hope for myself. It was like, here is something I've never seen before, I didn't even imagine existed, and suddenly, maybe there's hope for my life.

Except as noted below, all quotes excerpted from The Beatles Are Here! by Penelope Rowlands © Penelope Rowlands 2014. Reprinted by permission of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. All rights reserved. Additional quote sources as follows: Bruce Springsteen (the Underground Garage radio show); Berry Gordy (To Be Loved); Little Richard (The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Quasar of Rock, by Charles White); B.B. King ( Blues All Around Me); Steven Van Zandt (the Guardian, Esquire, CBS News); Booker T. Jones interviewed by Anthony DeCurtis.

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