It is forty years ago today, on 24th August 1981, that Mark Chapman was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment for the murder of John Lennon.
By the time I began buying records in the mid-1970s, John Lennon was in his thirties and The Beatles had become a phenomenon remembered and sadly missed by their many millions of fans. To many of us who had been too young to remember the band in its years of unprecedented fame, The Beatles seemed a missed opportunity.
A moment to recapture the past came in 1976: The Beatles released twenty-three singles simultaneously.
To someone who was fifteen years old at the time and was away at school in Devon and who had 50 pence a week pocket money, it seemed an odd thing to do. Even if the entire pocket money were spent on buying records, it would have taken months to buy all of them. It was important, though, to buy some of them; it was important not to miss this second opportunity. Twenty-two of the singles had been released before, but for the twenty-third, Yesterday, it was the first time it had been released in the UK.
I remember buying four or five of them in their distinctive green paper sleeves. There were some I would not have bought. I never liked some of the songs, Lady Madonna and The Ballad of John and Yoko never seemed the sort of records I would have wanted to have played. It is now impossible to remember which ones I did buy, they have long since disappeared from my pile of 7″ vinyl singles.
Looking back more than fifty years to the time of The Beatles, it is odd which of the songs has held the strongest place in my memory.
Eleanor Rigby must have been played many, many times after its first release in 1966. I can still remember how it seemed an overwhelmingly sad song, even to a primary school child like myself. Father McKenzie seemed the saddest figure of all. We knew no Catholics in our corner of England and I had no idea of what life might have been for one of their priests, but the song was haunting.
The later songs always seemed overshadowed in retrospect by the knowledge that the band was in the process of disintegration. Listening to them brought the sort of thoughts that I associated with the last day of holidays, that sense that a special time was past.
Forty years after the conviction of John Lennon’s murderer, it is hard to recapture a sense of how much The Beatles impinged upon the consciousness of even those who were too young to buy their records, even those like myself who would have struggled to understand their words.