Fridays With Fred: Forget “Who’s Who,” learn more about Beloit’s “Who Ain’t”
Every February, news and social media celebrate an “invasion” of sorts. Not a platoon of alien spaceships or a plague of 17-year locusts, but of a day when four “Mop Tops” from Liverpool stepped off the plane at J.F.K. Airport in 1964 and promptly took over the youth of America. Their music, and especially their “long-haired” appearance, perplexed many adults who had breathed a mutual sigh of relief when Elvis Presley had entered the army a few years earlier and came back “tamed.” What were “Beatles” after all? Born in 1961, I’m just a little too young to remember their immediate cultural impact, but apparently, the first movie I ever attended was their A Hard Day’s Night, which I saw with my family at a movie theater in Vermont that summer. My first Beatles-related memory, though, dates to around 1966 when, for a reason, I no longer remember, or perhaps for no reason at all, I stood on top of a mountain of dirt and sang “Yellow Submarine” to the heavens above. At the age of ten, I fell in love with doo-wop and 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll, and by 12, I found myself mesmerized by the orange and yellow swirl of a Capitol label record spinning around at 45 revolutions per minute. The Beatles hit was “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” but I preferred the more rockin’ flipside, “I Saw Her Standing There.” I became a Beatlemaniac, and, over the years, accumulated the innumerable records, CDs, books, and fellow Beatlemaniac friends to prove it.
Many years later, rummaging in the archives, I sought evidence of Beatlemania at Beloit and found a few examples, among them a strange photograph entitled “Who Ain’t,” published in the 1964 Gold, the college yearbook. During the 1950s and 1960s the Gold printed an annual “Who’s Who,” a dressed-for-success lineup of Beloit College’s “outstanding leaders,” chosen by the Student-Administration Committee. In reaction, the Round Table staff picked a “Who Ain’t,” compiled of students left in the dust as undesirable. Photographs in the Gold reveal a motley crew grouped together in wild poses and wearing outrageous costumes. The 1959 edition of the Gold describes the group as “the summit of student aspirations,” recognizing “those students who have contributed the least to campus progress during their four years of marking time at Beloit.”
Here today is the 1964 Gold photo, plus an outtake, which I like even better since it shows John, Paul, George, and Ringo jamming together at Beloit College.
Steeped in sophisticated jazz or in socially relevant folk music, at least a few Beloit College students thumbed their collective noses at the Fab Four. A writer in the February 14th issue of the Round Table sounded distinctly unimpressed, in an article entitled, “Elvis Greater than Beatles”: “The Beatles hit Beloit last Sunday night via the Ed Sullivan Show. People were crowded into housemothers’ rooms and huddled in fraternity basements with eyes glued to television sets…The television audience suffered through an hour of poor entertainment to see the singers for a total of five songs. This reporter heard varied comments: ‘They hardly moved,’ exclaimed one girl and another sighed, ‘Not half as great as Elvis.’ Someone else thought, ‘At least two of them are girls,’ and yet another thought that the girls in the television audience had been bribed to scream and tear their hair…But they must have been well received by the majority. Every other song in the Union is still sung by the Beatles…”
Many alumni have their own fond Beatles memories, but even for some of us too young to ride the wild wave of Beatlemania, their music continues vital and fresh. Just about any time, I’m ready to pluck the 45 out of the picture sleeve, slap it on the turntable, turn up the volume, and “Twist and Shout.”