Radio: Please tease me, don't displease me

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The Independent Culture
We live in depraved times. Last Sunday I heard a band playing in front of an audience in a BBC studio. After a couple of songs, an oily presenter - I didn't catch his name - had a word with the lead singer, whose 21st birthday it had been the week before.

"Did you have a ... 'party'," he asked. There was an unpleasant suggestion of a leer to his voice. His next question had no suggestion about it - it was all leer. "Any girls there?" In fact, he thought it was such a good question he asked it again, immediately. "Any girls there?" Bleeding hell, you thought, what kind of answer does he expect? The singer said "yeah", noncommitally. Then the band played a song which asks the singer's girlfriend (one presumes a girlfriend) to bring him to orgasm, on the grounds that this is a service that he has provided for her often enough.

And you know what? This was on Radio 2.

You might have heard of the band: they're called the Beatles, and the singer was a young feller-me-lad called Paul McCartney. (The song in question was "Please Please Me". You don't think it's about what I said? Then kindly furnish me with a more plausible interpretation of these lyrics: "You don't need me to show the way, love,/Why do I always have to say, love,/Come on (x 8)/Please please me, oh yeah, like I please you."

That second "please" is a verb. Its meaning may have been left deliberately vague, but I think it means more than just "rub my back". This was all part of Radio 2's "Beatles Weekend", ie, two or three programmes about the Beatles, or by them. The above exchange was part of their "Fantasy Beatles Concert", in which some tapes of live Fabs performances were spliced together to facilitate the impression that you were actually "there".

In which case you might have asked for your money back. The Beatles, in their Hamburg days, were meant to be a blisteringly exciting band, but the early stuff here was either poorly recorded or, in the case of their 1963 Royal Variety performance, nervously played. "Twist and Shout", introduced by Lennon's caustic crack about the richer sections of the audience rattling their jewellery, was played almost sedately. "Till There Was You" was almost unlistenable to, and they screwed up the beginning of "Money".

There were surprises: the opening of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" sounded uncannily like something by Black Sabbath; Ringo Starr's almost successful singing at Candlestick Park; and, of course, the exchange already mentioned above. ("For the benefit of all the little darlings who weren't there," continued the MC, "how about 'you' singing a song for them?" The band then played a song - "I Saw Her Standing There" - predicated on the sexual desirability of 17-year-old girls.) But largely, the sound quality was for one reason or another so indifferent that it encouraged free-floating speculation about the songs themselves, whether about "Please Please Me" or "She Loves You", whose plangency is so striking because the singer is, it becomes obvious, himself in love with the "she" of the song, his best friend's girlfriend.

"I'm not gonna be singing 'She Loves You' when I'm 30," said Lennon in the angry interview which opened Pete Frame's and Kevin Howlett's The Beatles' Legacy, which preceded the fantasy concert. "I was 30 last year, and it was then when I broke the band up." There was a brief pause as he realised that he had maybe said too much, followed by a whir of back- pedalling: "... Or I decided to leave, I dunno when they decided to leave, whatever, that's when it happened."

The Beatles' Legacy promised not to tell us the story of the Beatles, as that is something we know fairly well by now, but to tell us about the changes they instigated in songcraft, public perception of pop groups, their pioneering use of backward guitars and falling over on skis in the extended silly pop video that is "Help!". In so doing, the show ... um, I hate to say this, but it sounded awfully like we were being told the story of the Beatles. Not that I'm complaining, mind. I'm prepared to listen to any old rubbish about the Beatles, especially if they have interview clips I haven't heard before (when asked, during a bog-standard Q & A session, how they were going to spend all their money, they all said "what money?" at the same time, very quickly, and it didn't sound rehearsed) but after this I think I have reached Beatles Saturation Point. One of the new insights we came away with was how lucky they were to have three honest men running them: Brian Epstein, George Martin, and their publisher, Dick James. The odds against this in the pop world was cautiously defined by Philip Norman as "quintillions to one against".

We could have heard how the Beatles' influence continued to be heard through the 1990s, with Nirvana, Oasis and Blur paying both explicit and implicit homage to them; how their innovative studio techniques were copied and refined by hundreds of followers - how even a relatively simple one, like Lennon's penchant for voice distortion, became part of the grammar of pop music - but we didn't. Instead we got to hear "Yesterday" again. And "Can't Buy Me Love". And ... you get the idea.