Where do you begin? How do you encapsulate the legacy of a media myth that is still rewriting and refining its legacy some five decades after the fact? The influence is undeniable, entire generations of musicians and songwriters stumbling through their archive, marveling at the achievement and strident originality. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr set the benchmark for lasting pop stardom, a standard that to this day has the four lads from Liverpool earning the endearing tag of greatest rock and roll band ever.
Where do you begin? How do you encapsulate the legacy of a media myth that is still rewriting and refining its legacy some five decades after the fact? The influence is undeniable, entire generations of musicians and songwriters stumbling through their archive, marveling at the achievement and strident originality. The iconography is ever-present, their sound synonymous not only with a specific genre, but with the entire artform in general. Toss out all the clichés you want—they were the voice of an era, the soundtrack to our lives—but the truth remains that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr set the benchmark for lasting pop stardom, a standard that to this day has the four lads from Liverpool earning the endearing tag of greatest rock and roll band ever.
Do people today realize how all encompassing the Beatles phenomenon was back in the 1960s when mass culture still reigned supreme and the millions of niches fostered by the growth of digital technology still had many years before taking shape? Do they recognize them as more than the recent digital remasters available on iTunes or Rock Band video game avatars? Are they dismissed as a ‘60s boy band with just a smidgen more talent than their overhyped ‘90s equivalent? It seems unusual for a band, especially one that literally shaped the notion of a modern pop culture phenomenon (for good and “Bigger than Jesus” bad) to be so randomly dismissed this way. Outside of all the Anthologies and regular anniversary hype (“It was 20… 30… 40 years ago today…”), the talented foursome remains elusive in some quarters.
So let PopMatters reintroduce the Beatles to you. Let is fall back in time to a moment when music was at a crossroads, when the conservative Establishment and burgeoning counterculture were looking for a post-Camelot sonic subject to wrestle over, with a quartet of lovable UK moptops answering the call. Let us show you the brilliance—and occasional bungling—within their stunning creative catalog. Understand their role as amazing media giants (they conquered them all—including film, TV, books, and art). Explore the darker side of their personalities, as well as the uplifting message of peace and love that permeated their still unmatched way with a tune. Though their time together as a band was only 10 short years (in contrast, U2 have been together for 33!), the maximized it in a way few have ever dared.
Over the next five days (and a couple more come the week of Thanksgiving), our staff will dissect their discography, look at their success—and failure—as film stars, and address the many songs that both perfectly captured their seminal song craft (as well pinpointing a few forgotten gems). They will deconstruct their four-piece paradigm, as well as explain that most intangible of group insanities known as Beatlemania. Their magnum opus, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band will be studied (and critically reconsidered) while some personal perspective on the group’s influence throughout the decades will be explained. In 1964, America was formally introduced to the band when a bastardized version of their With the Beatles LP hit these shores under a now familiar title. Forty-five years later, it’s time for PopMatters to help you Re-Meet the Beatles.
Monday, November 23 2009
The Beatles were consistently constructed as symbolic avatars for the social and cultural shifts of their time and place, even while they were still in the midst of that time and place.
Unlike other bands that have come and gone, the actual fabric of my life is laced with unusual -- and even eccentric -- reminders of the Fab Four's impact.
Every corner of this book is filled with characterful touches. You can look, but you will not find this level of writing in any other Beatles book.
Sunday, November 22 2009
A list of the nearest things in the most overexposed catalogue in the history of popular music to “deep tracks”.
For the first time on a Beatles record, every song seemed connected in some way, however small. It didn't feel right to listen to just one song at a time; it felt right to listen to the whole album, front to back, every song.
Thursday, November 12 2009
They're not necessarily the “best songs” in their storied catalogue, but these are the songs through which (perhaps) we might gain the deepest appreciation for their popular genius.
And, in the end... With the release of Abbey Road, the Beatles ceased to be a band. They became, forever more, an idea: the go-to example, the archetype, of the rock'n'roll group. How do we remember the Beatles? How do we pay tribute?
Wednesday, November 11 2009
From 1968-1969, the Beatles went from being a fractious group to a merely fractured one. However, along the way, as they headed off in their different directions, they managed to come up with some of their most enduring material.
The Beatles managed to spend the morning of the next day, Feb. 8th, in relative quiet. On Sunday, they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and it was the night Beatlemania exploded.
The Beatles presented an outlet for people to express their emotions by offering musical and stylistic satisfaction. Listeners were united through a common cause: the music spoke to them and for them.
The Yellow Submarine exists. It’s not a mirage, or a mind game. Someone, inspired by the Beatles, built the Yellow Submarine, and it exits to this day.
Tuesday, November 10 2009
The psychedelic trilogy -- Revolver, Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour -- stands as the artistic peak of a band that had retreated into the studio and found untold riches there.
“Never judge a book by its cover” is a good piece of advice.
Comics have often used characters from Greek and Norse mythology to populate their books. What we see with the following examples is that the Beatles had, at the time, become the new mythology.
Monday, November 9 2009
From December 1964 to December 1965 -- re-meet the Beatles as they made the transition from the world's best bar band to the forerunners of folk-rock. Has any band ever had such an astoundingly productive 12-months?
Aside from such obvious aspects -- including the difference between black and white and color film stock -- the back and forth between the films was also reflective of their burgeoning creative output.
While innovation is important to help push music forward, it is ultimately less important than elusiveness.
Sunday, November 8 2009
Meeting the Beatles for the first time, what did we hear? Did we know? Could we have ever known? Today, we will look at the first three shots from the Fab Four, from 1963-1964. To Re-meet the Beatles, start here.
The Beatles were the first band comprised of four distinct personas. This aspect would take them on a long and winding road that would eventually splinter them in four separate directions. The very thing that made them so special was what ultimately deigned their end.
In 20 years, we've seen Revolver replace Sgt. Peppers as The Beatles' greatest statement. How long before it gets replaced?