All across the web, I come across angry people (almost always male), who are venting about the Beatles’ popularity and how overrated the band and their music are.
I never fully understood their disdain, though I now see a little more clearly why.
I am talking about a generation of people who did not grow up on The Beatles, MoTown, The Beach Boys, King Crimson, or even XTC. These people haven’t even heard of Brian Eno, let alone Hawkwind or Jean Michel Jarre. It’s a generation of people who think a theramin is something you take for a head cold or the flu.
Now for some old man speak…
When I was growing up, I learned music by listening. To everything. My Mother’s old 45 collection straddled the 1950s through the 1960s. And, of course, listening to the radio. I listened to original MoTown, Pop, Rock, Blues Rock, Classical, Opera, and on into Psychadelica, Jazz, New Wave, Alternative, Grunge, Metal, and even a touch of Country (oh, the horror).
Music was a constantly shifting thing. And the creation of actual new musical styles like Glam Rock and New Wave kept the art alive for me. It seems that after Grunge, there really hasn’t been the creation of a new style. Not a real style. Hip Hop and Rap have lifted all of their lines from old music that listeners of today have never even heard of. And that is because they, the listeners, don’t do the work of seeking out the older music. If they did, they would be disenchanted with all of the “new” music coming out today.
And surely, all music has grown out of other older styles. But in the past, they have made significant effort to create something with an entirely new flavor. Look at the Cars, Boston, Lene Lovich, Blondie, Jane Sibery, ELO, Utopia… just to name a few.
They didn’t repackage old material. They created entirely new ways of approaching instruments, including utilizing underutilized technologies. They took cues from the Beatles by mixing up the instrumentation – the orchestration.
It was still musical. Not formulaic. And, to be fair, there have always been the bands and singers who simply stole their style from other musicians and used some sort of formula. But they faded almost as quickly as they came into being. Those musicians were known as “Flash In The Pans.” And their demises came especially fast because the new genres kept unfolding year after year, decade after decade.
And it is quite all right to pay homage and tip one’s hat to an old legend or musical style. But that doesn’t get sold as a brand new thing all wrapped up in ear-crunching, over-produced, cliché-laden crap disguised as music.
And that is another point about listening to old music; the technology. If you have any imagination at all, you will realize all of the actual talent and work it took to make even the shittiest recordings. As the technology changed, people pushed its limits in trying to create a new sound, or make a mood, or envelope the listener in a new aural space.
Bands and musicians of today don’t do that at all. They are too busy building their “brand” and sending tweets to all of the National Enquirer reading idiots who believe everything they read in line at the superette. And who are more interested in what crazy thing a star did today rather than what the so-called music that artist makes has to say. These “artists” all emulate past artists. In a visual sense, not aurally. And, in reality, are not artists at all. Just business hacks running their numbers through power point to see what kind of song they should steal next. Whether or not you are aware of it.
So, become aware of it. That would be a start. Get yourself educated. Go back and start listening to old music and listen in chronological order. See how styles emerged. See how the instruments and the quality of recordings changed. Learn to appreciate the devotion to craft all of these people had. And try and find the historical connections the music had as events unfolded around the world at very key moments in our history. It all matters. It all changed the reasons for and the reasons why certain songs and styles emerged.
Now, back to the main point. The Beatles and their haters.
The Beatles have been and are still greatly admired through to today because they made great, timeless music. Music and lyrics that still resonate with anyone with half a soul in their body and half a mind in their head. Everyone else from The Rolling Stones to Jet to Oasis have all been stealing from from The Beatles’ legacy. With purpose.
And I will go so far as to say that if The Beatles had not created what they did create, you wouldn’t be listening to Rap. You would not be listening to Hip Hop. Yeah, go and groan. Go and try to drum up some super-hyped explanation as to the origins of Hip Hop and link it to Jazz. Go ahead. You can generate some modern chain of events that looks good on paper, but when you see the actual path that it has taken, you may be in for a surprise. Remember, it wasn’t planning on being Hip Hop. It emerged after decades of filters. It’s true that Jazz is a definitive influence on Hip Hop, but not solely. And still it came through the filter of bands like The Beatles. They came out of The Beats as well as Bluegrass, Jazz, and Country music of the 1940s and 1950s. All of that music was carried forward by and through the Beatles as well as many other bands and musicians. But The Beatles eventually did something (many things) new with it.
And it’s not to say that The Beatles were the only life-changing event in musical history. Of course not. They just represent a more lasting heart-felt connection than most others. And more recent historically. That is why they still resonate. That is why they still matter. They did something with their knowledge of older music.
And I challenge all of you Beatle haters to tell me your favorite band or musician. I will guarantee that their music is being directly or indirectly influenced by some song or entire album of the Beatles. Somewhere in the chain, your music is connected. Whether you like it or not.
So my main argument is this:
Don’t beat up on bands like The Beatles because they have become legendary. Go do your homework. Stop just listening to your music as if it were the first incarnation of anything new on the planet. Find its origins. Be it Death Metal, Rap, Hip Hop, or whatever the Dub Beat flavor of today is.
And my personal take is that today’s music, shy of a very short list of actual artists, is a bunch of stolen property woven into a modern Lycra tapestry by a bunch of talent-less, dream-less, business people sitting at laptops and fist-bumping each other over their lattes. Go pick up a real instrument and play it…
And remember, “YO” is just the first part of yo-yo.
Old man rant over.
P.S. Here’s an interesting article on the Sgt. Pepper cover art. Enjoy.