Even the title of this post is kind of ridiculous. The Beatles, of all bands, shouldn’t need defending. But I have found that if you get a group of music nerds together, someone is going to feel the need to claim that The Beatles are overrated.
I’m not talking about the guy who says “The Beatles are a bunch of pussies and their music is gay”. If I ran into that guy in 2014 I don’t think I’d even bother arguing. I’d just walk away. But that’s a subjective point and frankly, I don’t care. I’m not going to try to convince anyone that they should like The Beatles. If you think their music is silly, then think so. If you think it’s for children, or that it’s sappy and lame, fine. Makes no difference to me.
I mentioned this in my last post, but I find about half of their music fairly annoying. Even some of their hits- Eleanor Rigby, for one, is relentlessly irritating. Notice I’m not saying it’s a bad song- though they did write a few of those. Just that I don’t like it. That’s an important distinction.
But The Beatles are overrated is a different claim. That’s a claim that somehow they don’t deserve their place in Western Pop. Which is nonsense. There’s music before The Beatles and music after. No band in the 20th was as influential as them. This is indisputable. And frankly, if you try to argue this with me, I am going to have some answers. Here are some common ones I hear:
The Beatles weren’t good at their instruments
This claim has the benefit of being somewhat true. Compared to some of the guitar heroes of the 60s, George Harrison was just average*. Ringo Starr wasn’t as bad as some people claim, but he was no Ginger Baker. Paul McCartney was actually a very good bass player. John’s contributions on guitar or piano were also merely average.
But this criticism misses on two points. First of all, they were a pop band. Comparing them to Cream or the Jimi Hendrix Experience is silly. That’s like asking why Maroon 5 doesn’t have a guitar player as good as Jack White. Total point missing.
Second, and more importantly, voice is an instrument. And by any standard, the two main singers- Paul and John- were very good pop singers. As a band they could make music like this-
Or like this-
Or like this-
Now some people might say, “well yeah but have you heard _____” and point to some opera singer or Freddie Mercury or someone. Yeah, fine, but as pop singers go, they were pretty damn good.
George Martin was responsible for their success
George Martin was responsible for some of their success. He helped teach Paul to arrange, for instance, he helped him with Eleanor Rigby. Which really is a point against George Martin. But let’s say you like that song and it’s a point for. Fine.
Yes, he helped them on Penny Lane. He helped them on a good deal of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. He’s a producer, that’s what producers do.
But you know what George Martin, so far as I know, didn’t do? Shepherd any other bands to a similar level of success as The Beatles.
Seriously, if Dr Dre could produce both NWA and Eminem, certainly George Martin could have replicated his success with someone else. Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn managed to write hits and produce records for Sweet, Mud, Suzi Quatro and even wrote Mickey for Toni Basil**. I’m not saying any of these guys produced anything as good as the Beatles, just that they could replicate their success with other bands. George Martin doesn’t appear to have done that.
Other bands were more important
Who? The Beatles defined the modern Pop song. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds is my favorite example, but it’s a song that could be produced today. The melody from the verse is not connected at all to the giant, soaring chorus. Songs didn’t sound like that before. They also didn’t have multiple hooks. Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys has admitted he was in competition with them, and the Rolling Stones, FWIW, clearly were as well. Who else was there? The Who? The Who’s big contributions were in the late 60s. As where Jimi Hendrix’s. Bob Dylan? OK, maybe Bob Dylan. Maaaaaaybe.
So there’s what I came up with. Like I said, I don’t think the Beatles really need defending, but if you run into someone who feels the need to show that they’re some sort of iconoclast, maybe this will help.
*I’d say the same about Keith Richards, and he’s considered a GOD, which further proves my theory that people don’t accurately assess guitar players’ skills
**Amongst other hits. Check their Wikipedia page, those guys had hits for everyone. Mike Chapman produced Blondie’s Parallel Lines and the first two records by The Knack.