[There used to be a video of the Beatles version of When I’m Sixty-Four here, but it was removed from YouTube. Copyright police strike again!]
My #SaturdaySongs series came to a rather abrupt halt just before last Christmas, when I was taken ill. I’ve been meaning to bring them back ever since I was better, but for some reason I’ve never quite got around to it. Put it down to a combination of indolence and a sequence of illnesses that have rendered this year a bit of a non-event for me. I had been planning to restart with something very obscure but have decided to defer it and run this one instead. There’s a good reason for this: today is my birthday and yes, you guessed, I’m 64.
As you may well know, this song first appeared on the Beatles’ legendary Sgt Pepper album, which was released just over 50 years ago, on 1 June 1967. There was a fair amount of publicity for this anniversary a couple of months ago, particularly for the re-release of an updated version of the album. I’m usually a little sceptical of these ‘remastered’ records, but this one really is quite special, and adds a whole extra dimension to the sound. The brouhaha took me back to that magical summer of ’67. As I was only 13 at the time – well, until 16th September anyway – I was a little too young to have been a participant in the ‘summer of love’ but that didn’t stop me from enjoying some fantastic music. Those were the days before the BBC started Radio 1, which came along a couple of months later, after the Government had kindly introduced the Marine Broadcasting (Offences) Act and scuppered the pirate radio stations. These had done so much to bring pop music to young people in a hitherto unimagined way, and on a much wider scale than public broadcasting had ever done before. The old Light Programme was no match for them, but at least most of the DJs from the pirate stations transferred to the Beeb and with Radio 1 we had something like them on a longer term basis. Even Tony Blackburn – Heaven help us!
My first memory of hearing this song, and the whole Sgt Pepper album, goes back to 12 May 1967. This was a Friday, and we all rushed home from school so that we could hear the new Beatles album being given its first airing. This was on the pirate station Radio London, which had scooped an exclusive to broadcast the album for 8 days before anyone else was allowed to play it. My memory has always been that the show was hosted by Kenny Everett, but as he had been fired from the station two months previously that memory may be faulty! But he had strong links with the Beatles, being a fellow Liverpudlian, so maybe he did do it. Or perhaps it was Dave Cash, with whom he used to do the Kenny and Cash show? Either way, it was a magical experience, even though I was sitting in my bedroom in front of a pocket transistor radio, which by modern day standards would have had appalling sound quality. But it was how we got our music in those days, and the memories flood back whenever I play the album – which is often.
Looking back, it is interesting to see what four young men in their early 20s thought it would be like to be much older. My hair may be much thinner than in those days, but I’m lucky to still have it: a legacy from my father, who turns 90 next month and still has a good head of hair! I’ve never rented a cottage on the Isle of Wight although my now ex-wife and I did stay in a hotel there for our honeymoon, so that’s quite close, isn’t it? I don’t have any grandchildren but, when I do, I somehow doubt that Vera and Chuck will be considered as possible names. My son-in-law is called Dave, though. And there’s an undeniably quaint feeling to their view of the future: I’m not sure that many people still knit sweaters, and fifty years ago life expectancy was much lower than it is today, so 64 would have felt older than it does now – that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!
I had a hard time finding an original Beatles version of this song to illustrate this post. As I said at the top I did find a fairly recent one, but it suffered from the very active control over Beatles music that seems to be applied on YouTube and was deleted. There are masses of alternatives though, to give you a taste of the song. Plenty of amateur covers, including a bassoon group, a chamber orchestra, various choirs, a barbershop quartet and so many wannabes. Then there are the covers by recognised artists: John Denver (ok if you like him, I guess), Cheap Trick (not bad), the Killers (unspeakably bad), Judy Collins (yes, really!), Kenny Ball (lots of clarinet), all topped off by this amazing version by Cliff Richard:
I simply had to include that, once my hysterical laughter had subsided. Those dance moves, eh? But then again, I always did think Cliff Richard was a twat so I wasn’t exactly well disposed towards it, though I’m glad I found it: I haven’t laughed so much in ages! I also found this, which purports to give someone’s view of what 64 year olds look like:
As someone says in the comments, the people featured look closer to 84 than 64. I don’t look that old yet, do I? I just feel like it, some days 😂
PS: I’m planning on bringing you some more #SaturdaySongs soon, although maybe not on a weekly basis. See you again, I hope.