- Arts & Literature
- Science & Technology
By Matthew Reynolds
Do John, Paul, George and Ringo epitomise greatness or are we just clinging to the nostalgia of novelty? Our writers thrash it out.
‘Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream. It is not dying, it is not dying.’
And relax. Listening to The Beatles, even admitting you like the Beatles isn’t anything like dying. You’re not ‘going mainstream’ or becoming your Dad; you’re simply accepting a universal truth. The Beatles are bloody awesome.
There’s that old saying; ‘there are two inevitable things in life: death and taxes.’ But now, with the invention of Monaco and offshore bank accounts for the super-billionaires, the latter is no longer obligatory, opening up a space for something else that’s inevitable in life. Here’s my proposition: ‘There are three inevitable things in life: death, and an acknowledgment that The Beatles are the most important band ever to grace the British music scene.’ It’s ungainly as a saying, I know, but it’s honest. So honest.
The Beatles were always destined for great things. Despite having three members whose names were more suited to the builder’s yard than the stage, they innocuously tried to get away with calling their drummer, Richard Starkey, ‘Ringo Starr’ – a name with more razzle-dazzle than Graham Norton’s leotard. With such a casual approach to showbiz, it was always destined that The Fab Four were destined for greater climes than their early gigs in Liverpool’s Cavern Club.
Writing a core catalogue of twelve albums over eight years from 1962 – 70, The Beatles released some of the most iconic songs of not only the 60s, but the twentieth century. There’s such scope, from the trippy underwater soundscapes of ‘Octopus’s Garden’ to genuinely amusing compact numbers like the one minute thirteen seconds long ‘Polythene Pam’ (‘She’s so good looking but she looks like a man’). And amongst these tunes there are some masterpieces of unparalleled lyricism, harmony and melody. Just listening to ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, ‘Hey Jude’ or ‘In My Life’ makes one realise how much modern music owes to the inventions of The Beatles.
But, for all their awards, records and chart-toppers (for there are many), there can be no better argument for The Beatles than simply listening to them. If you’re a Beatles-sceptic, turn up your speaks and put on ‘Day Tripper’, if after the first verse you’re not entirely hooked by the driving guitar riff and the carefree lyrics then you’re simply not human. And, frankly, if you’re not human, why are you reading this article? Why are you a student here? Go home. You don’t like The Beatles. You’re a freak.
First, an admission. Although Matt’s reworking of the age-old saying is indeed hopelessly clunky, it is also, indeed, true. Like a beleaguered tax-evader ever-struggling with HMR&C, I have tried to resist said acknowledgement all my life, but any protestation that The Beatles are not supremely important in the realm of popular music is inevitably crushed by the devastating statement: “not one of your favourite bands from the last forty years would have existed if it weren’t for them”.
Denying their importance is impossible. Denying their greatness, however, is not. For too long the distinctly average foursome has been considered the unimpeachable epitome of what music should be, a near-divinely inspired group of grinning apostles with their own St John and St Paul. For too long saying that you “don’t like The Beatles” has been akin to saying that you “don’t like David Attenborough”, or that you “don’t like human happiness”; it elicits a look of disgust from whomever you’re talking to and seems to suggest that you’re mentally ill. Enough is enough. Were The Beatles influential? Yes. Did they make some good songs? Yes. Do they deserve the status they hold in the world of music? Absolutely not.
Let’s look at their lyrics, because these days “Lennon and McCartney” is often used as shorthand for “amazing lyricists”. Exhibit 1: the sole, repeated verse of the group’s first single, Love Me Do: ‘Love, love me do/You know I love you/I’ll always be true/So please love me do/Woah love me do’. Obviously, their later writing was more complex than such third-rate nursery rhyming, but only inasmuch as “complex” in the late 60s meant crass pseudo-revolutionary posturing and try-hard nonsense about “marmalade skies”.
Yes, the tunes are classic, but anything is classic if it’s as ingrained into popular culture as The Beatles’ music has been for decades, passed from generation to generation like a photo album or unthinking allegiance to a political party. And that’s what this all-pervading love of The Beatles essentially is, a sort of collective nostalgia borrowed from our parents and grandparents, who were themselves caught up in the hype surrounding the world’s first mass-marketed band. Far greater acts have come and gone since then, and far greater acts were around at the time (Hendrix, anyone?). Call me a freak, but I’ve listened to Day Tripper, and it sounded to me like a good pop song. And just that.