a love of popular music would
stay with me for a lifetime
MEMORIES OF 1964
personal • 02.06.04
In February of 1964 a Tory cabinet minister remarked: “For those with eyes to see it something important and heartening is happening here.” He was referring to the huge splash made by The Beatles on to the world scene. They were already big in Britain but no one could have predicted the massive impact they made when their music hit America. By April they occupied the top five places on the pop chart, something never achieved before or since. On their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show it was reported New York experienced no incidents of juvenile crime. That same politician (yes, Tory!) talked of “...a movement among the young which may become part of the history of our time.” And so it did. A true cultural phenomenon had been born, one that would define a generation. At seven years-old I was excited and totally taken up. A love of popular music, in particular The Beatles, would stay with me for a lifetime.
That two iconic events, ones which would stand out across an age, should emerge at exactly the same period is curious. It was that same month, February 64, that Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. Such was the champ’s allure that I, a kid with no special interest in boxing, would rise at 3am to listen to his fights on the radio. As Mohammud Ali he went on to become one of the greatest figures in sporting history.
Though I was too young to appreciate the importance, politically 64 was a remarkable year. President Kennedy had been assassinated the previous November. Johnson took over and continued with the liberal reforms Kennedy initiated. The civil rights bill granting minorities equal status became law that year. Consistent with this Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel peace prize. In Britain another reforming government came to power. Harold Wilson was voted in as Labour prime minister to preside over an administration which relaxed laws on homosexuality, abortion and divorce. In 1964 Britain hanged its last man. By contrast other parts of the world did not enjoy the benefits of liberalism. Nelson Mandella was sent to jail for twenty-five years in South Africa, and LBJ escalated the US presence in Vietnam setting the scene for what would turn out to be a disastrous episode in American history.
Meantime I was doing rather well at school. In the summer I achieved my first academic accolade. Within a context ruthlessly selective, I was presented with a certificate of distinction at the annual prize-giving. Crème de la crème indeed. I could have gotten a taste for winning at that point in my life as the local football team was having its golden age. Kilmarnock had been runners-up in the Scottish first division four out the previous five years. They recorded their best ever result in 64 with a 9-2 victory over Falkirk. In their first foray into Europe, in Roy of the Rovers fashion, they came back from 4-0 down to win 5-4 against the German Eintracht scoring in the last minute. One of our family relatives had been man of the match. Killie would go on to be outright winners of the Scottish league 64/65 in another nail-biting finish to the season. Almost incredible looking back.
Roy Emerson won Wimbledon, Jack Nicklaus the British Open, Connery appeared in Goldfinger, Taylor married Burton, and we went to London for the summer holiday with The Beatles blaring from every doorway. Their first movie ‘A Hard Days Night’ had just been released. So was set in stone my love of the Fab Four and a life-long almost romantic interest in Britain’s capital city.
Glory days indeed. I appreciate their significance more now on reflection than at the time being too young for any historical perspective. But I can still recall with clarity like it was yesterday - Clay’s mad expression filling the TV screen; the mop-tops screaming into the mics trying to be heard above the hysterical fans; Killie’s blue and white striped heroes riding high; and me in short trousers taking the prize.
Fabulous, a fabulous year. Memories to treasure, good times to cherish. In some ways it was the dawning of an age. England to win the world cup, Man U. and Celtic the European; hippies, flower power and a generation galvanised by a sense of itself rare in human history. All that was just around the corner.