I’m on Facebook Sunday night, and I get a notification that I’m mentioned in a post. This one from my friend Broome says: “I just wrote a Note about the Beatles and why they and their music are so important. I hope Roger Green or ANYONE ELSE will write something so I can take the drivel I have written and burn it.” I disagree with his characterization of his observations.
I purloined the whole conversation and placed it HERE because I don’t know that people who aren’t on FB can otherwise read it. (My biggest complaint about my historically favorite bloggers is that they put so much stuff on FB that I believe is inaccessible to some.)
Broome makes the odd notion that this issue needs to be litigated at all, instead of being noted as a settled fact. The Beatles were and are important because millions of fans and loads of critics believe them to be so. Beethoven was and is important because people long ago decided it, and his music appears everywhere from the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever to, well, the Beatles.
Broome’s young friend Raymond, born in 1973, reviews several albums. The first is Beatles for Sale. I must say I agree with much of what he says about it. It’s the last major pillaging of the cover tunes they used to perform in their live shows in Germany, and most of them are not that great compared to the originals, and the Beatles DID do some great covers. As Broome noted later, the Beatles were generating a tremendous amount of product in a short period. Raymond does complain about the nasal harmonization, which has never bothered me. He also suggests that Every Little Thing is weaker than what he describes as the “bombastic” Yes cover, undoubtedly because that’s what he heard first; that’s usually the case that your first love is the greatest. Obviously, without the Beatles’ version, there wouldn’t BE a Yes version.
Indeed, the fact that the Beatles’ originals have been so widely covered alone makes a case for the group’s significance. “Yesterday” alone generated over 2,500 covers in its first decade.
Raymond admits liking A Hard Day’s Night, as well he might. Thirteen originals in a really short time frame, with great tunes like “If I Fell”, “And I Love Her”, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “I’ll Be Back”, and the title tune.
But then he started to lose me. He claims Revolver is “pretty godawful.” Most critics would strenuously disagree, and since it’s my FAVORITE Beatles album, I do so as well. The eclectic collection runs from the rocking “Taxman” to the story song “Eleanor Rigby”. It has a kiddie tune in “Yellow Submarine”, the haunting “For No One”, the plastic soul of “Got To Get You Into My Life” and the mesmerizing “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
He similarly writes off MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR. This is a different situation altogether. The songs on Side One were realized as a double EP in the UK; the five songs on Side Two were all singles or B-sides. While he is correct that “All You Need Is Love” lacks real content, it was rather beside the point; I never found the “mocking trumpets… a bit creepy” though, but the first part of the joke. “‘I Am the Walrus’ is a triumph of studio work; without the production crew this would be an embarrassing proto-rap chant.” Don’t know what that means, exactly, but of course, it DOES have great production values. Still, I’ll concede his lack of affection for George Harrison’s “Blue Jay Way” corresponds with mine.
In responding to Raymond, Broome suggests that perhaps it’s a generational thing. Not that this the end-all of proof, by any means, but Glee, for cryin’ out loud, spent TWO shows on Beatles music the first two shows of the 2013-2014 season. I know people born in 1966 and 1987 nearly as versed as I in Beatles lore. Do you know what the #1 album for the first decade of the 21st century? The Beatles #1s, all their hits that went to #1 in the US and/or the UK; that wasn’t just boomers buying the music for themselves again. And Raymond, in a later comment, admitted Saturday listening to the Beatles’ work. “All the local kids loved it and sang along.”
I don’t disagree with Broome that the historical context of the Beatles mattered. In fact, I was musing again recently whether Beatlemania would have taken hold so strongly in the US at the beginning of 1964 had JFK not been assassinated a few months earlier; others have made the argument before. It’s also, I’ve come to believe, why adults so scorned the Beatles early on – too frivolous in those times when they were still mourning.
Broome noted that he has a “friend who is a humongous Springsteen fan. When Springsteen did the Seeger Project albums and showed his respect to Pete Seeger, Brian ran out and bought some Pete Seeger. He came in the next day and gave me the CDs and said ‘This stuff is crap…’ Now Brian loved the Springsteen albums, but didn’t like the music that inspired them.”
That’s too true. I saw No Doubt live in the mid-1990s, and the Specials, whose ska sound No Doubt emulated, opened for them. These 14-year-old kids literally turned their backs on them. I’m sure that blues artists were rejected in favor of Clapton or Led Zeppelin or the Blues Brothers.
The Beatles started as great imitators and blenders of their varied influences, from Motown to Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Everly Brothers, and Buddy Holly, among others. Their true greatness derived from the rapid evolution from “Love Me Do” to the sitar on “Norwegian Wood” and backward tape loops on “Rain”, and the like. And because they were the Beatles, you see elements of that in other artists, both their contemporaries such as The Byrds and Beach Boys and the Buckinghams – the beginning of the Supremes’ “Reflection” was certainly Beatles influenced – and almost every pop band since, from REM to ELO to XTC to Oasis, and many more, have some Beatlesque qualities. Scandinavian Skies by Billy Joel is a Beatles song; I say Cheap Trick’s Everything Will Work Out If You Let It is too, especially the bridge.
Here’s a long response to say, Broome, that the Beatles don’t need me, or anyone else, defending them at this point.