I Want to Hold Your Hand

Part 2: How The Beatles Ended My Musical (Accordion) Career

On February 9, 1964 at 8:00pm, I joined over 70 million Americans watching The Beatles live on the Ed Sullivan Show. I was 13 and would turn 14 that September. For weeks before their appearance, their songs were all over the airwaves. I Want to Hold Your Hand was the #1 song on the Billboard charts. My 8th-grade class was buzzing with excitement.

Paul, George, Ringo and John, 1964

Paul, George, Ringo and John, 1964

Ed Sullivan introduced The Beatles to his audience of teenagers as the “youngsters from Liverpool” and the girls screamed. In front of our TV, mom, dad, sister Chris and brother Tom were glued to the screen. As soon as George, Paul, John and Ringo started singing All My Loving, Chris and I joined in the screaming, 10-year-old Tom got caught up in the excitement and dad was making fun of the haircuts and outfits but seemed to be having a good time, too. Mom just looked mystified by it all.

The Beatles played three songs in the first half hour of the show (Including She Loves You… Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!) and two in the second half hour, including my favorite I Saw Her Standing There.

Here’s how the performance started:

The British invasion was underway and although I didn’t know it right then, my 8-year accordion-playing career was about to be over.

In Part 1 of this blog, I wrote about how my parents bought accordion lessons for me at the age of 6 from a door to door salesman and how I became a very good classical accordionist by my teens, performing with an accordion symphony orchestra and competing in solo events around the city and state.

Me … a little girl with a big accordion! Circa 1958

Me … a little girl with a big accordion! Circa 1958

The Beatles, and the British rock and roll bands that followed them like The Rolling Stones, The Animals, and Herman’s Hermits, were all about guitars and drums. Teenagers all over the US were listening to this new music and many of them were yearning to be in their own rock and roll bands, preferably playing guitar like Paul, John or George.

In the book Squeeze This: A Cultural History of the Accordion in America, the author wrote:

“By 1963, the accordion had reached the height of its popularity, but America’s youth were beginning to embrace new music and new instruments. Playing the accordion became, for all intents and purposes, uncool”.

At 13, I really liked boys, I was experimenting with makeup, I wanted to wear short skirts and I played Beatles records constantly with my friends.  I also started to rebel against authority (i.e. my parents). I was a true teenager.  I definitely didn’t want to be uncool.

I started to complain.

There’s nothing I can do with the accordion… … I have too much homeworkI want to go out with my friends …. I don’t want to play polkas for grandpa anymore.

And then, sometime in late 1964 or early 1965, I quit.

I don’t remember how hard my parents fought with me about this, but I don’t think they fought too much. They, too, were seeing the change in musical tastes and didn’t have an answer for me about what I’d be able to do with accordion skills.

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My brother began taking guitar lessons. The money my parents had spent to develop my musical skills were now transferred to developing his.  He grew his hair long, got an electric guitar and drove us crazy. I was jealous. Playing guitar was definitely cool. I would have liked to play, too, and even bought an acoustic guitar and taught myself some chords. But in my family, Tom was now the guitar player so I didn’t get any encouragement. (He became an excellent guitarist, played with several bands, has a great tenor voice, gained recognition as one of the best guitarists in Cincinnati and still plays gigs at age 62.)

Brother Tom’s publicity shot in the early 70’s

Brother Tom’s publicity shot in the early 70’s

I was busy being a teenager anyway.

Over the years, I have had a lot of guilt about quitting after my parents had spent so much money and I had spent so much time. I’ve also been asked why I didn’t transfer my accordion playing to the piano, an instrument that provided more practical career opportunities, even in rock bands.

Those of you who have played accordion understand that this is not as easy as it may seem. Although my right hand played on a musical keyboard similar to a piano, I played buttons with my left hand. The transition could have been made, of course, but not without a lot of work, more lessons and a good piano in our home. At that time, I didn’t have the will to learn a new instrument and my parents didn’t have the money to encourage it.

I have to admit that my recent reading about the accordion’s popularity in the 50’s and its subsequent demise in the 60’s and 70’s made me feel a little better. Sales of accordions dropped to an all-time low in 1964, around the time I stopped playing.  I was not alone in being caught up in the new music wave.

I’ve never regretted my years of musical training, but I’ve often wished that my parents had gotten me started on a piano or guitar.

Here’s “the rest of the story” about accordions:

Accordions made a comeback in the 80’s and 90’s and since then have found their way into rock bands like Bare Naked Ladies, Counting Crows, and Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band. Bruce Hornsby, Tom Waits, Billy Joel, Pete Townsend and Eddie Vedder play accordion, too.

Bruce Springsteen with band member Mark Metcalfe

Bruce Springsteen with band member Mark Metcalfe

Backstreet Girl by the Rolling Stones features an accordion and Sheryl Crow plays one for the song Are You Strong Enough to Be My Man?

Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow

A January 2014 article in The Atlantic entitled Accordions So Hot Right Now reported that the last remaining accordion manufacturer in the US is selling 60% of its accordions to people under the age of 30 and is having trouble keeping up with production.

My accordion playing days were obviously in the wrong century!

By the way, I learned recently that both Paul McCartney and John Lennon played the accordion before the guitar. Somehow, that tidbit of information about the Beatles didn’t make it into the press releases at the time.

I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t have made a difference to 14-year-old Cathy anyway.  Being cool was just too important!

Cathy Green

PS… Friends have asked me if I have ever wanted to play accordion again. I remember picking up my old accordion when I was  in my 40’s and realizing how little I remembered and how poorly my hands worked on the keys and buttons. I had lost the ability to read the sheet music, too. When musicians tell you that practicing constantly and consistently is critical, believe them!

Right On! Teenagers in the 1960’s had the Best Slang

Being a teenager in the 60’s was really groovy!

Groovy was a way cooler word than “cool” or any other word meant to describe the best of the best.  Evolving from the word “grooves” in vinyl records, we even had groovy songs like:  “We’ve Got a Groovy Kind of Love” by The Mindbenders in 1965, “We’ve Got a Groovy Thing Goin’ by Simon and Garfunkel in 1965, and Groovin’” by The Young Rascals in ’67.

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Groovy may have been the best word, but here’s a walk down memory lane for all of us 60’s teens.

  • We told our friends to be there or be square. We got bummed out if things didn’t go our way.  We claimed dibs on things we wanted.
  • We dreamed about having our own pad and bread, didn’t like anyone who was a spaz, a dip-stick, a square, a candy-ass or a fink.
  • We knew some greasers with their slicked-back hair, and knew that there were some girls who were fast and might even go all the way.
  • We weren’t above a little making out and swapping spit at the drive-in Passion Pit, however, and even got to cop a feel once in a while if we were going steady.  An occasional hickey was kind of funky too.

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  • We would talk on the horn for hours with the twisted cord pulled taut around doors for privacy, especially about hunks or skirts or the skuzzy kids or ditzes we didn’t like.
  • We tooled around town and then peeled out of parking lots in our cars and sometimes did a Chinese fire drill at a red light just for fun.
  • We told our little brothers, who were a pain in the wazoo, to flake off and quit bugging us. We told our Old Lady and Old Man not to be so uptight or go ape or freak out.
  • Some of us were hippies and flower children, or at least wanted to be. We were laid back and snuck a toke once in a while. And sometimes we even got blitzed.

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  • If we were girls, we wore thongs on our feet and covered our zits with make-up.
  • If we were guys, we wore our shades while checking out the choicest girls to hit on.
  • Everything was cool or neat. Awesome things were bad. Incredible things were far out. Disgusting things were raunchy. Strange things were kooky. And anything we didn’t like was lame.
  • We spun our vinyls to listen to I’m a Believer, I Want to Hold Your Hand, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In. Outta Sight, man!
  • We watched Bonanza, Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone, Gunsmoke and What’s My Line on the boob tube, and were lucky enough to see the Fab Four on the Ed Sullivan Show.
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If you need a caption for this one you likely are a spaz

  • We didn’t take criticism well. Tough toenails if you didn’t like what we were doing. Go ahead and call the fuzz!
  • We greeted everyone with “what’s happenin” and waved “later” when we beat feet.
  • We bummed a smoke and told our friends to lay it on us when we wanted to hear the scoop.
  • We had a blast, we hung loose, we mellowed out, we complained about living in Nowheresville, we booked it when it was time to leave, we pigged out on fast food and we flipped the bird when we got insulted. It was a gas!

Yes, some of these great words and expressions snuck into the 60’s from the 50’s and even earlier, and some have carried on through later generations.

But in my humble 1960’s teenager opinion, we had the coolest and grooviest and hippest slang of all time.

If you agree, say Right On!

If you don’t, shut your face!

Cathy Green

P.S.   I used over 70 words/phrases in this blog. What’s really neato is that I could have used even more.  What a generation of creative wordsmiths we were! Groovy, huh?

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