WHY STUDY THE BEATLES?
London, 2020, featured on www.crosseyedpianist.com
To understand classical music, it is quite obvious where to start. It is a genre that has always been scholar friendly, well structured and documented, with the purpose of passing the knowledge to the next generation. When it comes to popular music however, it is a little different; it is a genre that — before anything else — has always been centered around the entertainment, the moment.
One could try to understand it historically, but the road backwards is endless and it would be difficult to understand where it really began: some would argue rock’n’roll, or blues, or jazz, or folk etc.
Or one could study The Beatles. There is no debate; they are the most important and influential figure in popular music. And therefore understanding them, their influences and the influence they had on others, allows to understand better “pop” music.
The Beatles are a testimony of everything that existed in the popular world before them. They learned their craft by imitating the musicians that they admired. “I’ve Just Seen a Face” is an example of how skiffle formed their early personalities. “Lady Madonna” is a tribute to the boogie-woogie style of Fats Domino, while “Revolution” reveals the influence of early Chicago rock — such as the one of Chuck Berry. “Hold Me Tight” is of course influenced by country and rhythm’n’blues and “All I’ve Got to Do” displays early influences of female doo-wop and soul — the latter being one of the most important influence in the development of The Beatles’ approach to lead and backing vocals. Finally, “No Reply” shows the influence of latin music rhythms, prominent in much of the 1960s popular music.
The Beatles have influenced so much, it is undeniable. Whether in their music, their songwriting, their production or their image, countless artists have taken from them in order to build themselves. They are in every other musician’s music, and conversely, one can hear in their music what has followed them. “Hey Jude” opened the way to every single stadium anthem, such as “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis; “Good Day Sunshine” is everywhere in brit’pop (ie, Blur’s “Charmless Man) and “Eleanor Rigby” allowed Coldplay’s “Viva la vida“ to exist. “Get Back” is a slower version of much of heavy metal music (ie, Judas Priest “Breaking the Law”) and “Come Together” is a blueprint for Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”. Finally, most of the psychedelic rock of the late 1960s and early 1970s owe to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, “I Am the Walrus” or “Strawberry Fields for Ever”. In 1966, The Beatles released “Taxman”; a year after Jimi Hendrix was using the same chord voicing — now nicknamed the “Hendrix Chord” — on “Purple Haze”.
The Beatles are also a mirror of their times. They took inspiration in the musicians that surrounded them, and as they evolved, these influences became wider. “Norwegian Wood” is one of the earliest examples of the influence of Bob Dylan on Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting. “Yer Blues” reflects the approach the Rolling Stones took with blues music. “Helter Skelter” was a direct response to “I Can See for Miles” by The Who — which they had presented as the loudest song ever made. “Two of Us” is of course directly influenced by acoustic country rock, in the style of Crosby, Stills & Nash or the Grateful Dead, and “Something” reflects the influence of Eric Clapton and The Band on Harrison. These influences would extend to Jamaican ska (with “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”), Greek traditional music, à la Zorba (with “My Girl”) and of course Indian traditional music (with “Within You, Without You” and many, many others).
Lennon once claimed that The Beatles were more famous than Jesus. Whether that is true is still arguable, however their influence on every single popular musician and band since the mid-1960s is indisputable. Everyone has at some point, in various genres, covered The Beatles: Johnny Cash, Elton John, Joe Cocker, Aerosmith, Mötley Crüe, Soundgarden, Oasis, Yes, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Otis Redding, Bobby McFerrin, Frank Sinatra, Brad Mehldau, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell. The list is endless…