by Kevin Burton
My wife once asked me why I like the Beatles so much. Amazingly, I didn’t have a ready answer for her. I still don’t have a short sound-bite answer.
This is a good thing I think. It means there are several aspects of their music and their cultural influences that make them the best.
But I don’t even entertain discussions of what is the “best band of all time.” The Beatles are it. They are just in a category all their own.
Everything rock and roll has developed into (for better or worse) comes from the Beatles. They were the band that opened the doors, made everything possible. They invented pop music.
It was their influence that electrified Bob Dylan and made everything possible in folk music.
Elijah Wald has written a great book called “How the Beatles Destroyed Rock And Roll.”
“His thesis is that rock and roll, like its antecedents, was an ever-changing ragbag of black and white styles,” reads a review of the book in The Guardian. “But the Beatles, by leading rock away from its black roots and from the dancefloor towards a more European art music, split popular music along racial lines. It has yet to recover, says Wald.”
Whether you buy that or not, you have to recognize that the Beatles were the main agents of change in music.
You can also ask this question: In what other setting could a colossal talent like George Harrison be overlooked and underappreciated?
One debate you hear is Beatles or Rolling Stones as the best band ever. I’m not fooled by such silliness but I understand why this comes up.
That group of rock fans that sees the Beatles as a little too establishment, a little too slick, prim and polished, that group is going to put someone else forward and it should be the Stones.
That doesn’t mean I think the Stones are the best of the rest. But the Stones are big-time rock and rollers both musically and in terms of their bad-boy image. If that’s what you’re looking for, that discussion probably should start with the Stones.
It’s unfortunate for the Stones to be compared to the Beatles. In any other context they usually look pretty good.
Spending time determining what is the “best” band or best anything is often not very useful.
“Best” is the superlative form of good. When it comes to music, what is good for me (harmony, lyrics) might be lower on your list.
So instead of laying out the case for what a lot of people think is obvious, the Beatles’ supremacy, I will at least begin to answer my wife’s question: why do I like the Fab Four so much.
I like the music because of the songwriting, the harmonies, melodies, the variety of subjects. You can make a pretty good greatest hits CD from songs Lennon/McCartney gave away.
The Beatles recorded in so many different styles that even those who love the group, probably have songs they can’t stand. For me that would be most of the White Album and most if not all of Harrison’s Indian music.
I like the Beatles story because of Liverpool. Their home town was considered a backwater. Think of a new American sound conquering this country then the world. Now imagine the makers of this music came from Kentucky. Can any good thing come from Liverpool? As it turned out, yes.
I like the Beatles story because of Hamburg. That’s the city in Germany where the band served its musical apprenticeship, playing nine-hour shifts night after night in the rougher part of town. They had to get better, had to stretch, really explode, their musical repertoire.
I like that the group broke down class barriers in England. “For the first time, working class people were the leaders of the culture,” says Mike Weis, Professor of History at Illinois Wesleyan University, referring to the Fab Four’s humble working-class origins.
I could go on and on and in fact, I probably will in weeks to come. But this lays the groundwork for upcoming discussions of the Beatles, their music and their influence.