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The Beatles and Black Generation X

A music writer shares how the Fab Four's music galvanized the soundtrack of his youth

John Murph shares how he grew to love the Beatles through Prince and other R&B music.

Music writer John Murph shares how he grew to love the Beatles through Prince and other R&B music. — John Murph

The Beatles disbanded in 1970, when I was only 3 years old. So I have no firsthand memories of Beatlemania. Nevertheless, its impact galvanized my Generation X soundtrack.

Pinpointing my first awareness of the Beatles is as difficult as remembering the first time I saw color television. The Beatles seemed always to have been there. There was no "Eureka" moment for me with their music, like the one I had when I first heard the Sugarhill Gang's prophetic rap hit, "Rapper's Delight," in 1979.

The Beatles via Prince

Prince and the Revolution's 1985 LP Around the World in a Day inspired me to check out the Beatles during my first year in college. Nearly the entire album, with its colorful artwork and sonic experimentation, was a funky love letter to the Beatles' psychedelic period. Being a huge Prince fan, I explored every musical reference he implied. Soon I bought old Beatles LPs as much as I did contemporary R&B.

From the Beatles' so-called White Album, I discovered "Revolution" was a significant template for Prince's song "Paisley Park." Prince and the Revolution's 1986 album Parade had its fair share of Beatlesque moments too. The title track from that album shared the same arabesque allure as the title track from the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour.

Those Prince albums motivated me to study such Beatles LPs as Rubber Soul and Revolver. The comparative historical analysis would also shape my future career as a music journalist.

Adolescent Soundtrack

My inconspicuous introduction to the Beatles' music began before the mid-'80s. Vinyl records were prominent in my family's household in Winona, Miss. Although my family's taste leaned toward soul, jazz and blues more than Anglo pop-rock, certain Beatles songs made their way into their record collections.

I heard Stevie Wonder's sensational 1970 cover of "We Can Work It Out" as much as I heard "Signed, Sealed & Delivered." Oftentimes, I would hear my father play Booker T. & the MG's funky makeover of "Eleanor Rigby" or the equally poignant 1969 version from the Four Tops. Dad also loved Marvin Gaye, which afforded me numerous opportunities to hear him croon "Yesterday."

Next page: Beatles and black America. »

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