First, the trailer from Yesterday, fifty years on….
In this story-lecture, we’ll discuss the secret sauce(s) 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 fortuitous factors? To what extent was their success internal (talent) as opposed to external (timing)? Let’s read on.
I love the Beatles so much that I co-invented a religion based on their songs. You can too (but it’s not a course requirement).
First, have a look at this one minute video. How many songs do you recognize? (Thank you Amit for suggesting this!!)
Here’s the list: Can’t buy me love Help! Eight days a week Come together Hey Jude Let it be Eleanor rigby Yellow submarine Day tripper Ticket to ride Get back Lady Madonna A hard day’s night Something Lucy in the sky with diamonds Penny lane Hello goodbye We can work it out I feel fine Blackbird Yesterday Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da
Was it because they wrote their own songs? How old do you think Paul was when he wrote this one?
Was it because they evolved and were great innovators? Here is a video showing their evolution, but leaving out most of their best songs (IMHO)
When we analyze a spectacularly successful phenomenon we ask “How did it happen?”. This in itself is a tricky question, because it is always asked in retrospect.
So it is with the Beatles. Even after their initial 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. And perhaps the Supremes too! After all, Love Child kicked Hey Jude off the top of the hit parade!
There were perhaps 30,000 similar skiffle groups in the UK when John and Paul 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 – “guitar groups are on the way out” and “the Beatles have no future in show business”
Decca Part Two
Perhaps their success was due to Brian Epstein, sometimes called the fifth Beatle?
Brian Epstein interview, 1964
Or maybe this other fifth Beatle, George Martin?
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
But without the Beatles’ covers who would remember that these songs ever existed?
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”. In Liverpool, it’s just their Scouse humour. 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
Was it the empowerment of youngsters? 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, wonderful harmonies, musical innovations, Scouse accent and humor, charm, wit, Brian Epstein, George Martin, Dylan, timing, demographics, not being too revolutionary, filling a void, hard work or maybe just luck*?
*But my friend David Blumenthal says “The harder you work, the luckier you get”.