Defending The Beatles

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.

Advertisements

8 comments

  1. Great article. There’s no point in comparing the Beatles to heavier, more technically proficient artists, because that’s not what the Beatles were about. I remember, after a high school band practice a few years ago, someone started playing the Beatles over the speakers as we were packing up, and somebody else yelled, “The Beatles are commercial!” Clearly that guy had no understanding of what pop music is.

    1. Well yeah, they were trying to make music people would like. Most of the time anyway- some of the later compositions were maybe attempts to distance themselves from that. I was a young punk rocker once and would have totally said the same thing about bands I didn’t like (I always liked the Beatles though). Now I look back and think – well, how did I think those bands were going to eat?

      I also get that people see the Beatles as being put on a pedestal and want to knock them off. I get that impulse. I just don’t think anyone can.

  2. You actually hit a subject on which I have an opinion! Wow.

    It wasn’t their voices, their instruments OR even the poetry, though all contributed. It was the way they used the studio. Their instrument was, for the first time in that genre, the entire studio. The way they mixed the sound, the instruments, the voices, everything. No one had done it before, but everything was different after that.

    The studio itself became the uber-instrument. There was no going back.

    I was a music major in college at when the Beatles were a group — not just a memory. Even for we music nerds, they changed everything.

    1. That’s a great point! When I was working on this post I looked up Music in 1967, just to have some similar things to compare Sgt Pepper’s to. It’s pretty striking to hear how much other groups were still using basically the “mic the room” method of recording. Even Motown groups who were doing these great arrangements were doing them live. The Beach Boys were maybe the only other group really doing anything similar at that point. Beatles opened up a whole different world. Even now their songs sound fresh. It must have been mind-blowing to hear them at the time.

      EDIT- this isn’t to say there wasn’t some great music back then either, it just wasn’t quite on the same level of sophistication.

      1. The Beatles, if you recall, stopped touring because they couldn’t perform their music live anymore. They were dependent on the studio for the sound. They got away with it because they were who they were. I don’t know what other groups do, though.

      2. You could probably make a lot of that music on stage now electronically, but it would be very hard to make a living just by putting out records anymore. They really were in the right place at the right time and had the talent to do what they did- it helped that before they stopped touring they already had several dozen hits. It would be hard to recreate that situation today.

  3. Thanks. The Beatles, certainly in the pre sgt pepper era are if anything under rated. Their vitality and ceaseless creativity remain unmatched. Good point about the vocals .. They make those songs explode! Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox (always plugged in to play).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s