Artwork from the book - What Made the Beatles the Beatles by Sixties Course, Mel Rosenberg - Illustrated by Miki Peled -
This is the account of the music of the sixties course "Evolution of the Revolution" that we give every semester at Tel Aviv University. The text in the books is my copyright. You are free to read the material on the Ourboox platform, but please do not download or otherwise transfer any…
Jun 2016
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What Made the Beatles the Beatles

by Sixties Course, Mel Rosenberg

Artwork: Miki Peled

In this story-lecture, we’ll discuss the secret sauce of the Beatles. After all, there wouldn’t have been sixties music without them. Was their rise to the top luck, one special feature or event, a combination of forituitous factors? To what extent was their success internal (talent) as opposed to external (timing)? Let’s read on.


First, have a look at this one minute video. How many songs do you recognize? (Thank you Amit for suggesting this!!)


Do you have your own favorite Beatle?  You can vote in the next page!!



Thomas Kuhn developed the theory of Paradigm Shifts and published his book in 1962. Some people think that the Beatles represent a paradigm shift in popular music.

What do you think? Were they revolutionary? Were they accepted as such by the experts (in this case, us)?



When we analyze a spectacularly successful phenomenon, we ask ourselves the question, “What was the secret sauce?”. This in itself is a tricky question, because it is always asked in retrospect.

So it is with the Beatles. Even after their global conquest, the Beatles were constantly looking over their shoulder at at other British Invasion Bands like the Rolling Stones, and American bands like the Beach Boys.


There were perhaps 30,000 similar groups in the UK when the Beatles started out. Maybe they were just lucky? But then again, what is luck?

On January 1st, 1962, the Beatles performed a session at Decca Records. Have a good listen. Would you have hired them?


Decca Part One


Was their success due to Brian Epstein, sometimes called the fifth Beatle?


Brian Epstein interview, 1964


Or maybe this other fifth Beatle, George Martin?



His version of their first meetings




In “OutliersMalcolm Gladwell makes the argument that over 10,000 hours of practice helped make the Beatles a great group. Or did it make them an ‘experienced’ group in copying others?


So what made them special?


How different were they from the artists they covered in the early sixties?

A comment from Youtube: “This is the first time I heard the original of this song.  I would say I like the Beatles version better but I don’t know if that is fair to say, only because I grew up with their version and don’t know this one.  I would say they both are really good.  Alexander made it very soulful where the Beatles made it pop/rock.”


Or this one? You really got a hold on me


Devil in his Heart

Without the Beatles’ covers who would remember that these songs ever existed?


Was it the empowerment of young people? Increasing simplicity of transatlantic travel? Talent, being different, being similar, being together, competition, being hot, being androgynous, appealing to teen agers, using hooks and other musical tricks, writing their own original music, simple lyrics, harmonies, musical innovations, humor, charm, wit, Brian E., George M. , timing, demographics, hard work or maybe just luck*?

*But my friend David Blumenthal says “The harder you work, the luckier you get”.




Have a look at this six minute video. George Martin said that everyone had turned them down, but he liked the Beatles because of their “cheeky irreverence”. Here we call it “chutzpah”. Was that it, in a nutshell?


And finally, perhaps it was the skiffle, after all. Paul said this of Lonnie Donegan, the Brit who was big before the Beatles and whose skiffle music the Beatles emulated.

“He was the first person we had heard of from Britain to get to the coveted No. 1 in the charts, and we studied his records avidly. We all bought guitars to be in a skiffle group. He was the man.” – Paul McCartney



Thank you for reading my book! If you like it, you might also want to read:

The British are Coming – An Invasion of Peace, Music and Love

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