“Why are The Beatles so good?” is a question that many have thought about over the years and is a debate that we need to continue to have. As the years go on it is important that we don’t ever forget The Beatles and the influence they had on the world. Before we can answer the question “Why are The Beatles so good?” though, it may be useful to think about the world
we live in now and the world that The Beatles grew up in and became a worldwide phenomenon. Today we live in a world where everything is accessible 24/7, if you want to listen to a song, listen to an album, you can do so from the comfort of your own home any time of day or night. Is that a good thing? Does it devalue the music? Does it mean as much to you when you can quickly jump from one thing to another? The modern world has lots of advantages and technology has opened up things that we never thought possible; however, I think technology has advanced in a way that is far too quick for us humans to process and to live with and we have lost a lot of value and meaning to culture and the arts.
For me, someone who has been in love with The Beatles for the majority of my life, I find it interesting to think about today’s world, and reflect back to the world that The Beatles were born in to, how they changed the world before the internet arrived, and how much they managed to take over the world in such a short space of time. They were at the forefront of change in British culture and have continued to inspire people ever since.
The voice of a post-war generation
The Beatles were a product of post war Britain, a generation who no longer lived in fear of war. They would have been part of the first generation of teenagers who were not conscripted to the armed forces, people were happy to be alive, to be free, to live with no expectations. Economically it took a while for cities and towns throughout the UK to recover from the War but by the time the 1960s arrived the country realised they were past post war austerity and everyone just wanted to live and be free, to experience what was already in full bloom in America through Rock ‘n’ Roll.
It was music and the arts that teenagers of the 1950s were looking towards to feel that freedom, that creativity, to be alive and enjoy themselves in a way that had been cruelly taken away from previous generations. It is important to highlight that although change was happening it certainly was not in a way that the internet has delivered change in today’s society, music was not accessible as it is today. This was a time before commercial radio, the BBC as John Lennon once commented was only playing ‘light’ music. Rock ‘n’ Roll music was in full force in America, and this is what teenagers in Britain wanted to hear but to do so they had to tune in to Radio Luxembourg or wait for the records to arrive on the liners that came in to the docks. It was the docks that made Liverpool such an important place in terms of this revolution, Liverpool was a thriving docks city and goods were imported daily; people of Liverpool would wait for the goods to arrive and the records would then end up in the record stores. The most important one in The Beatles story is of course the one owned by the Epstein family, NEMS Records, which grew out of the Epstein’s family furniture business. People would go there on the weekend to listen to records, hang out with friends and talk about the latest records arriving from America.
Please take a moment to think about the above a bit more, how do the large majority consume music these days? Probably through a smart device at home or in isolation through phones and headphones. Where is that shared experience and excitement that we get from being around other people, the excitement of waiting for something? Yes, it is great we can have things instantly these days but I do feel that we lose a lot here from not having to wait for something. I remember days of queuing up outside record shops for the latest albums and this was not just on Record Store Days, this was for an album that you had been looking forward to and wanted to be amongst the first to get and to share that experience with others. Thankfully there are still independent record shops available and those of you that are lucky enough to live near to a record shop such as Applestump Records in Nantwich, Spillers Records in Cardiff, Diverse Records in Newport make sure you value these shops and allow them to continue as a lifeblood of the local community.
Long Tall Sally
One story that I love is one from Michael Hill, a school friend of John’s, who in his book ‘John Lennon: The Boy who became a Legend’ talks about playing the Little Richard single Long Tall Sally to John in 1956. This was a moment that had a huge impact on John and consequently The Beatles’ story and everything else that followed. It was on a school trip to Holland that Michael bought the single and took it home where he played it to John and other friends in the back room of this house. Just close your eyes and imagine that. A young John in 1956 with his
friends hearing a record like this for the first time, that shared experience and how much that meant to him. John talks about this moment in interviews and it was clearly a big moment that inspired John to make that leap, to form a band and go on to change the world. In the last live concert that John played on 18th April 1975 in the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton Hotel in New York he did a cover version of the B side to this single Slippin and Slidin, how could that happen in todays world where we listen to songs in such a disposable way? Being recommended songs and sharing that with friends is such an inspiring way to live. I have been turned on to so many albums over the years by recommendations from friends, being over a friends house who would put an album on that I hadn’t heard before then the following day rushing out to a record shop to get my own copy. These are moments that we hook our lives on to.
The Beatles built up a relationship with their fans. Listening to firsthand accounts and reading about people who attended one of the many concerts (almost 300) that The Beatles played in The Cavern Club on Matthew Street shows how much this band meant to people. They were the first band that people felt belonged to them and were everyday people who the fans could relate to. They had grown up in the same area, had the same experiences, lived the same lives as those that were queuing to get in to The Cavern. It was also a way to hear the music, again remember BBC radio, commercial radio had yet to catch on to this youth revolution that was happening. When attending concerts these days it is so easy to hear the songs first, to watch footage on YouTube, the element of surprise has been taken away.
The birth of Beatlemania
As we moved in to the 60s, the radio stations did wake up to what was going on and the growth of radio helped with popularity of The Beatles and other British bands of the time. It could also be argued that The Beatles helped with radio popularity. Between 1962 and 1965 The Beatles were featured on 53 radio programs. People would tune in and gather with friends and families to listen to The Beatles on the radio. I have grown up loving radio and always will, there is always something special and romantic about hearing songs on the radio. It brings people together knowing that others are listening to the same song as you are at the same moment in time, another thing that is sadly lost or not experienced by so many due to the ease of streaming. Television is also worth a notable mention here especially Sunday Night at the London Palladium, a weekly show that families all gathered round the TV to watch together. This show itself inspired The Beatles, seeing Buddy Holly on here was a moment that Paul has talked about, and it was the first time they saw a Fender. This show, which was regularly watched by around 15 million people, brought The Beatles into the households of most of the British population in 1963 and in doing so gave birth to ‘Beatlemania’. People would go to school / work the next day, talk about what they saw on TV and seeing The Beatles on this TV show is such a significant moment in how they became so popular. Think about that for a moment when you move from one YouTube or TikTok video to the next and have forgotten about it soon after as you delve into the rabbit warren of internet videos.
Developing that trademark sound
There is no doubt in my mind that The Beatles are and always will be the most important band that have ever walked Planet Earth. It came with a lot of controversy at the time, but John was right when he said they were bigger than Jesus. If you listen to their albums in order from Please Please Me to Let It Be you can see how they developed musically as a band, how they brought out the best of each other. In terms of creativity The Beatles never stood still. They were pushing each other, being inspired by each other, and believed so much in the music they were creating that they knew their fans would go on their creative journey with them. In music there are only so many chords that can be played, but what The Beatles did was manage to look for new and interesting things to do with these chords. It is true that once you have learnt some chords anyone can be a musician, but the thing that made The Beatles so good, and made them stand the test of time, was the use of those chords, the way they applied melodies, rhythms, stories, and vocals. The Revolver album is a perfect example of pushing the boundaries of creativity as a four-piece band, it is probably this album more than any other that sees John, Paul, George and Ringo as a four piece at their creative best. On this album each member of the band was working together in perfect harmony, all contributing with ideas that helped to make the perfect album.
This hunger and passion to try new things is what led to the band’s signature sound. The production techniques that George Martin used pushed The Beatles and pop music in new directions. In My Life is a beautiful example of this, the piano bridge in this song has a very classical feel to it, something that Lennon was unsure about at first. George Martin was convinced this is what the song needed, and you would be hard pushed to find anyone to argue with this.
I have always liked to believe that love and friendship is also what made The Beatles so good. These were friendships that of course had their ups and downs which is well documented but there is no denying that these four men loved each other dearly. Watching the new Get Back
documentary you see at times the way that John and Paul looked at each other and there is so much love in their eyes. Those that lived through this time with them had the time of their lives, and felt that they were the centre of the world, certainly in terms of music and fashion these would have been great times to be alive. The Beatles are our artistic fathers, if you have ever picked up an instrument, wrote a lyric, had a creative thought around music, been inspired by popular music then you have The Beatles to thank for this. They opened the doors for everything that followed and whether people realise it or not their influence can still be felt today.
A legacy that lives on today
It is our national duty to keep talking about The Beatles, to talk about how great their music is, and the impact they had on culture and society. The Beatles have been there in so many significant moments of my life. My wife walked down the aisle to Here There and Everywhere, we signed the marriage register to Something. I have a young daughter called Lucy (a certain song may have had some influence on the name) and from a young age we have talked to her about The Beatles, played the music throughout the house, took her to Liverpool and went on The Magical Mystery Tour which no matter how many times you do this tour it is awe inspiring, humbling and sends shivers down your spine. To see Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields and the childhood homes of John, Paul, George and Ringo, to hear the stories of how they met and the journeys they took is something everyone has to do. My daughter now refers to The Beatles as being one of her favorite bands.
The legacy that The Beatles have left us is something that has to live on and we all have our part to play in this. Keep listening to their albums, be in awe of how much they achieved in such a relatively short space of time; their first album was released in 1963 and the last album was released in 1970. We also have a wealth of solo material out there, which although never saw all four Beatles record together post 1970, there are a number of combinations of the four throughout the solo albums. Appreciate that the music that has been recorded post The Beatles’ arrival quite simply would not sound like it does if it wasn’t for these four men from Liverpool finding each other in the way that they did. Their story is one of the greatest stories ever to be told and we can’t ever afford to lose sight of the impact, both musically and culturally, that The Beatles had on the world.
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