Why the Beatles

I’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico lately, and some of my younger friends there have asked why there is such a mystique surrounding the Beatles. So here are my thoughts, especially for my younger friends who know something big was happening at the time but crave more context on the Beatlemania that swept the world in the 1960s.

They only released 12 studio albums over 7 years, but in shaping the modern (post-Elvis) era of music, no other band comes close. 11 of those 12 albums reached #1 on the charts (and the 12th peaked at #2). Nearly every song on every album was a hit. When I look today at Rolling Stone magazine’s list of top 100 Beatles songs, I can sing at least 85 of them right now off the top of my head, and so can many people without even realizing it. No other band has seeped into the popular imagination in quite that way. As an indication of their dominance, even the last song on the Rolling Stone list, #100, reached #1 on the singles charts. During some years, they were releasing hit songs so fast that they were taking up all the spots (e.g., there was at least one week in the mid-1960s when three of the top five songs were all Beatles songs). Keith Richards, who was there at the 1960s epicenter as lead guitarist for the Rolling Stones, once said that there would be no Rolling Stones without the Beatles, because “they kicked the door in” for the Stones and everyone else to follow. (You can see Keith, Mick Jagger, and others in a couple of the later Beatles clips below, as they were usually hanging around for the taping.)

Ozzy Osbourne, whose Satanic antics with his late 60s proto-metal band, Black Sabbath, earned him the nickname “The Prince of Darkness,” was once talking to one of the Sex Pistols in the mid-70s London punk scene. The Sex Pistol (I forget which one) said he didn’t like the Beatles. Ozzy’s response was typical Ozzy: “There’s something fucking wrong with you,” was all he said. But he later added: “For a musician in 1970s London, saying you don’t like the Beatles is like saying you don’t like oxygen.”

The revolutionary work of the Beatles – culturally and musically – is less clear now than it was then, partly (1) because they shaped the sound of music so much to their own image that they now sound like just “one of those 1960s bands,” and (2) their own evolution from beautiful pop love songs to psychedelic rock and experimental sounds, though rapid, was steady enough that no one point seems revolutionary (although some would focus on the 1967 release of the Sgt Pepper’s album as that point). So yes, there were many great bands in the mid-60s to mid-70s reshaping the sonic universe of music, and some of them you might like more than the Beatles, but most of them looked back at the Beatles as the groundbreakers.

Here are a few songs in historical order:

(If it helps measure historical impact, note that even what I’ve listed as “late” Beatles came before the emergence of Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin or the Woodstock festival.)

Early Beatles (1964) https://vimeo.com/241059239
Middle Beatles (1966) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYvkICbTZIQ
Late Beatles (1967): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usNsCeOV4GM

And bonus songs/videos from 1967-68:
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (1967) https://vimeo.com/249451145
All You Need Is Love (1967) https://vimeo.com/214047758
Revolution (1968) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFckPkukF7g

Click covers below for links.

BookCoverImage    year-bfly-cover        

A collaboration worth noting

Here it is. Worst nightmare for 1960s segregationists and 2020 woke progressives. A white southerner joining a black singer to do a song by a white British band who were mainly influenced by African-American music. The layers of cultural appropriation is dizzying. The white guys involved don’t seem to know they are supposed to self-identify as racists, and the black guys don’t seem to know they’re supposed to resent the white guys. They are all just digging the collaboration, celebrating each other’s input. May those who have taken a wrong turn to the left and those who have taken a wrong turn to the right find this spirit again someday! (Click image for link.)

* * *

Click covers for links

BookCoverImage    year-bfly-cover        

Elvis called to life

Per my last post, describing Joe Cocker’s band at Woodstock (1969) as remarkably contemporary in sound and appearance and Elvis (in the 1962 clip) as a character from a bygone era (despite his intrinsic merits), I received a good-natured complaint that I underestimated Elvis’s own ability to shock and rattle the culture of his day. He was not just some 1960s “square” holding onto the old ways.

Guilty as charged. Or half guilty. I will now do Elvis the service I did to Joe Cocker and the Woodstock generation in the previous post. I’ll post the famous theme song from one of the most popular TV shows of 1952, followed by a re-post of the clip with Elvis singing the #1 song of 1962.

From The Roy Rogers Show (1951-1957, song by Dale Evans, released 1952)

Elvis in Girls, Girls, Girls (1962)

In this context, one can see Elvis as all-round provocative to the Roy Rogers generation that preceded him. That’s my half-guilty part. But I claim half-innocence as well, insofar as the central thesis of my previous post still stands: If you stumbled upon a festival in the park today, Elvis, however risqué he may have been to his elders, would cut an odd and outdated figure on the stage, whereas Joe Cocker’s band would fit right in.

Now, as microscopically scanning others for flaws so that we might sit in public judgment over them has become the #1 national pastime (at least in the US), I hereby submit myself to your judgment. Innocent or guilty of misrepresenting my case?

P. S. For those of you following this choppy musical path from 1952 to the Woodstock generation, note that Janis Joplin recorded a version of “Happy Trails” to send to John Lennon shortly before she died in 1970.

* * *

(Click covers for links)

BookCoverImage     year-bfly-cover          mgg cov clipped 2019-11-23