As the East Coast tracked the approach of Hurricane Sandy, Research on the Road beat a path westward to bring acclaimed Beatles scholar Kenneth Womack to Santa Monica where he gave a talk on Sunday to our enthusiastic Los Angeles area alumni chapter.
The venue couldn’t have been more appropriate for Ken’s talk on “50 Years of The Beatles.” The Britannia is a popular restaurant/pub with Penn State alumni (and an eclectic mix of local hipsters and British ex-pats) in the L.A. area and has Beatles’ memorabilia adorning the walls.
Penn State alumni turned out to hear Ken—professor of English and integrative arts at Penn State Altoona, as well as associate dean for academic affairs—discuss why and how the Fab Four rose from a ragamuffin band with instruments “literally taped together” to an iconic band that revolutionized popular music.
The attentive crowd enjoyed Ken’s expert insights (as author of three books on the Beatles, not even the staunchest Beatles fans in the crowd could stump him with the most obscure questions), and all toes were tapping to the selection of Beatles tunes he played as examples of the group’s innovative techniques.
The Beatles had a knack, explained Ken, for crafting ‘middle-eights’—the eight-bar refrains that characterize their songwriting in the early 1960s. The middle-eight is where the song unfolds into a contrasting section before returning to the original musical and thematic material. Ken played some examples of middle-eight sections in Beatles songs, such as the lyrics “A love like ours/Could never die/As long as I/Have you near me” from And I Love Her and the lines “And when I touch you/I feel happy inside/It’s such a feeling that my love I can’t hide” from I Want to Hold Your Hand.
Noted Ken, the Beatles also employed techniques such as artificial double tracking of vocals and instrumentals, as well as sampling, sped up tape loops, and backward recording , to achieve a variety of effects in their songs.
Before and after the Research on the Road talk, alumni and friends dug into the “British-themed appetizers” while networking and socializing with new and old friends.
After the successful event, it was time to head back east…a long and winding road, made even longer by a hurricane named Sandy. Despite it being “a hard day’s night” on the travel front, we were delighted with the warm welcome and enthusiastic participation in Research on the Road’s time in Los Angeles!