Most people say that the British punk band The Clash is “the only band that matters”. There is some truth to that because The Clash crossed borders and cultures and influences during the first wave of British punk. They have incorporated rock n roll, Jamaican ska, reggae, dub and even disco which put their music a cut above the rest during their time. The Clash is truly one heavyweight rock n roll band.
But for many musicians and fans alike, the only band that truly matters is and always will be, The Beatles. For more than 50 years, their songs have crossed different cultures, races, ideologies, age and time. If you’re a true Beatles fan, you will hear their musical influences in hundreds of bands and artists trying to at least emulate J, R, P and G’s song writing skills, their chord progressions and the overall magnetism of the Fab Four. In today’s musical landscape, however, image and shock value comes first before music, holiness and excess are flooding the airwaves, and one liner lyrics are more hip than a truly lyrical poem. The Beatles were true geniuses and pioneers. When the Beatles came out writing and playing their own songs, it meant the death of professional songwriters at that time. Musicians and bands followed and realized that they can write, play and record their own music and have control over the creative process. Although many critics back then stated that there is more involved than just writing your own songs, it also means that you have to capture the life of the times and things that are happening around you. The Beatles were aware of that and were always ahead of everyone. Their musical influences are the most important to have ever occured in pop and rock music in the 20th century. The Beatles were and will always be a cultural phenomenon and The Beatles are the musical Bible of many.
Why Are They Special?
What makes the 4 men from Liverpool, England special? What makes the band special is their impact on popular music in general and the influence on other bands of different musical genres around the world from the 1960s up until today. Their music would even influence people’s thinking and modern culture. One of the main reasons why The Beatles became the most influential group is their music. Skiffle and American black music were their driving force and influence when they were starting. Chuck Berry, The Isley Brothers, Little Richard just to name a few. Elvis Presley was also a big influence on the Fab Four. John Lennon admitted that Elvis Presley was a big influence and even stated that The Beatles wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Elvis Presley. Their producer (considered to be the 6th Beatle), Sir George Martin, said when they auditioned that he was not into the songs or the singers but he thought that the band made an interesting sound.
Luck, By Way Of Brian Epstein
Another factor that made them big was luck. Their luck was said to be in the form of their manager Brian Epstein. Epstein was honest and a well-meaning manager who honestly loved the music of The Beatles and believed in the group. Epstein did everything to make The Beatles big from changing their ‘teddy boy’ image to a mop top, suit-wearing, cheeky, funny and self depreciating English band with a sound of their own. Epstein went for many negotiations and interviews to get a recording contract. He ran an advertising campaign to promote the band and he was the force that truly held the four individuals together until his death in 1967. If it wasn’t for Brian Epstein, The Beatles would not have been known or famous outside of Liverpool.
Sir George Martin
Another factor that made them big was the musical mentorship of their producer and recording studio master, Sir George Martin. Martin was considered the 6th Beatle and being the producer, he was the closest to the group’s music. Martin was a trained classical musician, composer, conductor and arranger and this helped shape The Beatles musical growth. Martin was The Beatles’ producer of their entire career as a group. He arranged the orchestration on many songs where strings, brass or orchestra parts were needed. He was a very big part of the band’s creative musical inputs and outputs. He also led the group in many artistic and technical innovations. The Beatles was led by a capable producer with a sharp ear and the necessary training in discovering and developing their musical talents. Martin filled the gaps between the fab four’s raw talent and the sound they want to achieve.
Another factor that made them different from others was their image. In 1961, television was reaching about 75% of the British population and musicians back then knew that their actual appearance was very important. Brian Epstein has a really good grasp of this thus he changed the image of the beatles from the ‘teddy boy’ look to wearing sharp suits. The fab four also adopted the mop top after Stuart Sutcliffe’s girlfriend Astrid Kircherr made his hair for him. Another story stated that George Harrison left his hair as it was after swimming in a pool and let his hair dry without combing it. Their personalities were witty, interesting, articulate, endearingly arrogant with honesty that cut through the hype and publicity. Beatlemania lasted between 1963 to 1967. But The Beatles still retained their mega-star status because they continuously developed with the times and innovated so many things in their music, their image and their ideas. This made their music stand the test of time and it’s no surprise it is still fresh today.
The Present And Beyond
52 years later, The Beatles’ memorable and melodic tunes are unmistakenly integrated into the DNA of modern music and culture. The catalogue is as vital and fresh as ever and will continue to win new generations of listeners. Beatles songs were used and re-recorded by top artists in the movie “I Am Sam”. In 2010, their last album “Abbey Road” LP peaked at no. 1. Their remastered compilation “Beatles 1” sold over 11.4 million units. The Beatles sold 600 million albums worldwide and are listed as the best- selling act in history. Many bands have stated that The Beatle were influential in their own music-making, notably British acts like Oasis, The Arctic Monkeys and Laser Chiefs. The Influential punk band The Ramones named their band after Paul McCartney’s alias Paul Ramone during their Silver Beatles days. The console game “Rock band” introduced their music and likeness to a younger generation. Remasters of their albums are still in demand. Their analog mixes of all their albums are still reproduced and sold today as box sets. The Beatles Anthology that was released almost 20 years ago is still a good first step to getting to know the beatles from their startup to their split. The second installment of their live BBC broadcasts titled “On Air: Live at the BBC, Vol.2” was released in 2013.
In today’s world, The Beatles’ American invasion would not happen and will not have the same excitement as it did 52 years ago. Everything would be over YouTube, while Twitter and Facebook will be alive with updates. Every smartphone will be held up or pointed to them at every moment. There will be no sense of surprise with unveiling a new album. When they first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was already No. 1 but they were unknown then, until their appearance on the show. In many ways, The Beatles appearance was the beginning of the cultural revolution. As compared to other artists before and since, the fab four’s main goal was not to be famous or rich or to pick up women. Their primary motivation was their love for music. Yes, they want to break through the mainstream back then, but it was to spread their music and to perform. Nothing else. The money and fame were just secondary.
The surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, did not expect their legacy would last this long. Paul McCartney specifically stated that he thought that their fame would only last a couple of years, three years to be exact. John Platoff, a professor of music in the Trinity College in Hartford, said that his students said that of all the decades, the 60’s was the coolest. He said that there is a regular influx of students who at least know about 30 beatles songs and could sing them right even though they knew little about the fab four. Adam Schlesinger, bassist and singer for Fountains of Wayne said that Beatles records have never sounded outdated. He added that Beatles songs don’t sound like anything modern but there are so many people still obsessing about how they got that timeless sound and how they did it. It doesn’t sound like a relic from the 60s, it sounds completely fresh. The music is indelible enough in capturing any generation’s heart and soul. The studio techniques the band and Sir George Martin have crafted were all revolutionary. They made the recording studio itself an instrument that can be used in making and finishing their songs and compositions. Their innovations continue to inspire different artists in different musical genres. They are also honest and they never felt manufactured or fabricated as compared to many groups and singers today who are more keen on showing their talents in front of three judges (who are not really qualified in discovering talents in the first place).
Tomorrow Never Knows?
If you look at today’s pop landscape, the biggest acts in music don’t look like or sound like The Beatles. In the digital age, we have seen albums becoming an afterthought. Contemporary music fans don’t even listen to whole albums anymore, they just download the track that they want and discard or delete them once the excitement is gone. Most music fans today are more into the visual side of music. The shock value and its disposable nature are more prevalent than true talent. Fans listening to manufactured acts and sell outs will never know the impact of The Beatles on contemporary music. But it is a good thing that The Beatles’ output is being preserved and re-introduced to new listeners. And because of this, the new generation of listeners will know what The Beatles are about, what they contributed to music and culture and this will surely inspire them in many ways.
There will never be anything like The Beatles and their impact will never be repeated. Their legacy, contribution to music and stature cannot be denied. They came into the world at the right place at the right time. They are geniuses in their own right, heroes for many and will always be relevant. And as the words of their song “The End” goes – “and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”