A voice of a generation, the precursor of experimental sound, and the primary markers of the second British invasion. Four boys from Liverpool with little to no sense of music but all with an ambition to become musicians. These young men became known as the Beatles and one of the most influential groups ever to grace the musical scene and their reputation stems into genres beyond their own. Their lyrics have been mentioned in rap songs, their songs have been covered by a numerous amount of people, and their fans lie from the hard core rocker to the casual six year old who hears his father play a couple tunes. The Beatles are more than a group, they were pioneers of authentic quirkiness within music which helped in the development of personal and unique sound of the artists we know today.
As mentioned before, the Beatles were not very musically talented when they started, but picked up a lot from the rock artists in America. They started off doing covers of American rock music trying to capture the sound and playing in clubs to get their name out there. They had humble beginnings, especially John Lennon, who came from a broken home and later let this impact his music drastically. The Beatles tried to emulate the American rock sound because it’s what they loved and soon it let them be heard in their city. Their breakthrough didn’t come until their single “Please Please Me” hit the charts and shattered the world. It was an American Rock sound but with these cute British boys singing their own tunes with beautiful three part harmony and a recently inducted Ringo Starr to complete the group.
This emulation soon turned into their own sound as they discovered the artists they looked up to were simply building blocks of their own individualized sound. They had something that set them apart, it was their personalities, they were not American artists and did not have a story like those artists, but were instead their own people with their own individual stories. As time progressed, they developed a deeper sense of their own stories and put that into song in the best way they knew how—with an American rock backing.
There was a drastic transition from the American rock sound to a more British rock sound that would log the airways after the Beatles came to America and people needed more of this British sound. It was songs like “I want to hold your hand”, “Hard Days Night” and “If I Fell” that really gave them a unique sound. The harmony was what set them apart, it was their unique chemistry they had on stage and together. The Beatles were one of the world's first boy bands, if you look at them through a 1950’s lens. They were boys on the road making music and finding themselves. The unique experience of each Beatles album is that you are growing and learning more about the Beatles as they are making music. There are unique and subtle differences within each track of Beatles records that give a deeper view of the writer of the song.
Nothing showcases growth then the first song that was written by one Beatle alone, “Yesterday”. He is the poster boy of Beatle records for a reason, it was so good that Paul McCartney thought he hadn’t actually written it. It is a beautiful love story not telling about the wonderfulness of romance but about the loss of that romance and wanting to return to a better time. Paul was authentic not in joy but in something that was far more relatable, sadness. It was paired with his majestic voice, the strings put together by their manager, and written by a man who was a helpless romantic just like the lot of us.
Another transformative song within the Beatles repertoire was the song “In My life” which was about the life of John Lennon. He has grown from a boy into a man and looks back on where he has been and isn’t completely content. That’s authenticity because life isn’t black or white it’s a large gray gradient rarely ever stretching to one specific side of the spectrum. The early Beatles captured this gradient because they were not just always singing happily about the love or loss they had, but about the fact that life is going to be hard, it’s going to hurt, it’s not going to be easy, “But in my life I love you more”. It was their ties to each other that would keep them through the hardship of fame, musical integrity, and the idea of becoming a man faster than you had intended.
Another pivotal shift in the Beatles’ life of music was the fatal concert where there was a bit of ruckus and the Beatle decided not to perform life again. They became studio artists and without the issue of performing life they were able to stretch their legs with some weird studio magic. They were able to create songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows” or “Yellow Submarine”. This studio magic revealed itself with the release of Sergeant Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band, often proclaimed as the best Beatles album ever. This combined the rock of their early years with the psychedelic drug induced fanfare of their modern years. This encompassed the teaching of an Indian guru and the allure of the drugs they experienced. This was more than a hallucinogenic rock opus it was a trip through the transformation of young men. What was proclaimed in “In My Life” became a reality, these boys were men and they were holding onto their youth as well as their maturity as seen in their amalgamation of different styles within their music. This album provided George Harrison with more time for strange instrumentation which proved him to be the most versatile musician out of them all. This also let Ringo sing a bit more than ever before.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band mentions the subtlety of the song writers as they are able to get their messages of songs across without being direct. Unlike songs like “Hard Days Night,” which blatantly tells what the song is about, Lennon & McCartney wrote songs like “Fixing a Hole” which talks about fixing a barn but mentions a hole in the heart that that isn’t as easily fixed. These songs became diaries for the Beatles, thoughts on paper and plastered against a backing track. They were confessing how they felt about who they were and who they are. John Lennon mentions his beating of woman in “Good Morning Good Morning” but how he’s changed from that kind of lifestyle. The Beatles indicate that authenticity doesn’t have to be blunt it just has to be honest.
A big part of the reason the Beatles were so popular is because they made music they enjoyed. Often times people can see the Beatles being a product of the times, but the times were a product of them. They impacted the way music was approached from their earliest record to their record today. They made music that wasn’t like anyone else’s because they made what sounded good to them, what’s more encouraging than knowing that the music you like to make has an audience who is more than happy to embrace it with you. Their music wasn’t able to be understood, but they understood it on a level unlike anyone else because it was a personal craft. It was romance with the chords for an in depth discussion of what it means to be alive and add a sitar to the mix and you have discovered what many children of the time had been struggling to say all their lives.
An often overlooked album of the Beatles is Magical Mystery Tour, this album is my favorite because it is the peak of the absurdity of what counts as intellectual music. The Beatles pushed the boundary of what was accepted by the human ear to be a masterpiece. Nothing says that more than my favorite song “I am the Walrus”. A song intentionally written by Lennon to talk about absolutely nothing just so people would look deep into the lyrics to find a meaning but to come out empty handed. It was a mish-mash of poetry and jargon aligned with an orchestral score and a music video of four men in animal masks dancing around. It was widely accepted as one of Lennon’s best pieces. More than anything, this said who John Lennon was, an intellectual with the ability to put studitiy as the centerfold of a masterpiece. Lennon liked to have fun and mess with people—he was still a kid.
The Beatles continued to push out album after album and find the perfect blend of rock, psychedelic, and soul. They fought with each other behind closed doors and maintained their brotherhood until Abbey Road’s last song of the album gave a premonition of what was to come. The song was titled “The End” it was a rock song with the one and only drum solo of any Beatles record, an interesting orchestrated outro, and lyrics to match “And in the end, the love you gave, is equal to the love you get”. That concluded the album and set the stage for the departure of the Beatles from performing as a group ever again. Let it be and Let it be naked were the last records the Beatles put out after Abbey Road and that was the end of the legacy. Or so you would think.
Beatles memorabilia, artifacts, their children, and a variety of other items live on. Their legacy hasn't died and many bands from then on out look to those four boys as a marker of what is possible and what to learn. They have learned that being honest with yourself includes honesty in your music and your audience. When the Beatles performed they didn't perform songs, they performed memoirs of who they were. The covers they performed were musically accurate but not personally there. When “Please Please Me” & “I Want to Hold Your Hand” came out, those topped the charts because they were telling their own stories of love. There was a personal effect to what the boys were saying. This personal touch lasted throughout their careers and their solo careers as they grew and touched on the growth of their mind and spirit. The Beatles are so revolutionary because they made music they love, for the people they love, and with the people they loved. “All You Need Is Love” is one of the most popular Beatles records for a reason. It’s mostly just because it was an anthem for a generation, not just because it’s catchy, but it’s all those thing and more. It’s an insight into what drove the Beatles to be who they were, the love for the craft and their musical language.