Beatles Essay, Research Paper
In retrospect, the 1960s should be considered the age of youth. With America seeing it’s 70 million children from the post-war baby boom becoming teenagers and young adults, society saw the conservative fifties transforming into the revolutionary sixties. The 60s ushered in new ways of thinking and real change in the cultural fabric of American life. No longer content to be images of the generation ahead of them, young people wanted change. These changes affected all aspects of American culture. Education, values, lifestyles, laws, and entertainment would never be the same. (Farber; Lipsitz)
I will argue that The Beatles’ immediate success in America reflects the younger generation’s need and want for changes in American society. Young people admired the Fab Four, found them as innovative leaders of their generation, and followed them as long as they could. Because many of the first reviews of The Beatles’ show media resistance early on despite widespread popularity of the band amongst young people, I will also argue that the older generation did not like The Beatles because they feared the band would pilot changes in tradition, and possibly a long-term breakdown of morality amongst their children. In an attempt to combat these fears and oust the band, many articles, reviews, and interviews aim to demean The Beatles. As a business student, I also plan to discuss the Beatle Myth. This sensationalized version of the Beatles was created as an effort of different industries to target specific consumers using a bandwagon effect to achieve economic gain. (Kelly).
Although, I will discuss lyrics of The Beatles I will not discuss any actual political meanings or undertones of the songs since it is widely debated if they actually exist. Furthermore, Beatles fans included people of all ages. However, for discussion purposes, a generalization is made suggesting that older people included those who favored traditional societal norms and culture and therefore were resistant or indifferent to The Beatles. Conversely, younger people will be considered those that typically tend to welcome and pursue changes in ideals and culture, or at least, more so than older generations.
The Beatles first appearance in America truly sparked a fire of the Beatlemania that would soon be spreading. Ed Sullivan, the popular TV variety-show host, first introduced The Beatles to 70 million Americans in February of 1964. The Beatles introduced a new type of band that young people, especially teenage girls, in the sixties went crazy for. A band that:
“Thumbed their noses at authorities of all kinds; they were joyous, free, and witty; they took nothing seriously, least of all themselves; and they gave us hope. Soon, even the establishment fell in love with them, thus conceding to them the most effective role possible: symbol stature.” (Pielke, 36)
Young people were very receptive to such a fun loving and amusing band. Teens admired the Beatles unconventional music, wild hair, and their catchy melodies. Screaming, teenage girls especially cherished the lyrics of the early love ballads such as “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You.” However, in the midst of the cold war, young people also learned to enjoy messages of peace in times of uncertainty. (O’Grady)
The Beatles had an aura about them that was very attractive to young people. This was a group of young men from Liverpool, England that seemed to have everything figured out. “All You Need Is Love” suggests to young listeners The Beatles knew the secret to life. Despite being rich, the group was very humble, yet they weren’t afraid to be a little bit rude to those they didn’t like. Although, many adults may have admired some of The Beatles’ characteristics, their carefree attitude portrayed one that young American’s, in particular, accepted. (Brown)
Drug use was also something that many young American’s found acceptable. It was on August 28th, 1964 when Bob Dylan introduced the band to their first experience using marijuana. While members of the band had already been taking pharmaceutical pills, they were not considered illegal. As the band produced later albums, some songs contained lyrics suggesting marijuana use. Previously considered to be a drug used primarily by blacks, use of marijuana began to increase among the white community. Additionally, many young people began to question the illegality of the drug, claiming that it was harmless. (Brown)
While young fan were overwhelmed with Beatlmania, many people did not like Britain’s latest pop band. Some initial media reactions were quite bold, considering the band’s huge success. In New Statesman The Beatles’ rise to fame is discounted as nothing more than selling clothes, haircuts, and attitudes. The author goes on to state that anyone can play Rock and Roll music, The Beatles were simply in the right place at the right time. “In twenty years time nothing of them will survive” (Newton, 673). A Variety reporter describes how loud The Beatles’ concerts were and suggests the band probably wasn’t even playing or singing. (Cohen, 85)
Perhaps when Harvard sociology professor David Riesman suggests that the Beatlemania craze is a teenage protest against the adult world, one can better see an underlying motive of The Beatles’ opponents. Many parents are concerned that children are falling victim to this hypnotic, evil Rock and Roll. Moreover, many religious organizations fear The Beatles are attempting a subtle coup of their traditional ideologies. An article meant to reassure parents, it also warns readers that denouncing the Beatles will only make them more popular to teenagers. “If I were The Beatles’ press agent, I’d work to have ministers and professors, and the press all saying, ‘Oh, dear! Oh, dear!’” (Riesman 88).
In 1965, Reverend David A. Noebel, Dean of the Christian Crusade Anti-Communision Youth University, went on a speaking tour to convince Americans that the Beatles were a dangerous arm of the communist plot. He even went as far as to claim the rhythms of Rock and Roll songs were part of a communist master plan to make children mentally sick. (O’Grady) Extreme suspicion of the band was fueled by fears of the times.
Conflicting initial reactions to The Beatles suggest differences in ideals of two very different audience demographics: old and young. One may suggest that differences in taste arise simply because of age gaps. However, these age gaps exist because of major differences in the cultural context of the era in which a generation is reared. Additionally, conflicting reactions can also be the result of tailoring them to different audiences. In the Beatles’ case, this was an often occurrence.
Much like many critics of so called boy bands today, some people thought that Beatlemania was a controlled marketing event intended to capitalize on the large American music industry, particularly focusing on young middle-class teens. While to some this may seem like a preposterous idea, there is much evidence to support this “Beatle Myth”. Journalist Paul Gardner’s report of the Beatles’ arrival in the New York Times is a prime example of the generational scorn heaped on the British pop stars, saying the Beatles, who popularized rock ‘n’ roll in Britain, “have added new gimmicks: tight pants, boots, and hair that never seems to be cut.”(Brown).
Many critics said the Beatles’ music often sounded very similar to music by other entertainers. Some claiming the band was merely using “cover songs” and not music that they had written themselves. Later it is discovered that 131 recordings containing the lyrics “Yeah Yeah Yeah” were produced in the four years before the Beatles released it as the song title, and which eventually became a hit. (Kelly)
The Beatles’ introduction to America and their first American tour left a deep imprint in the nation’s cultural memory. The group’s youthful image, precocious nature, and rebellious demeanor appealed to baby boomer teens seeking agents who could articulate the concerns of their generation. The assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and other events in the era, which are now remembered, all contribute to a strong fan-perceived, personal relationship with the Beatles members. Young fans literally grew up with the Beatles. They had many of the same fears, and faced many of the same frustrations with matters such as inequality, racism, and world peace.
Despite the fact that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison were talented young men who had already sold more than 6 million records, the Beatles became prime targets of conservatives who feared their growing impact with adoring teenage legions. There were also targeted on a much different, yet perhaps more decent scale, much like today where bands, music videos, and albums are sensationalized to promote sales. However, even though the Beatles were used for their talents, they will always be more remembered for their message of love and many other contributions to the world.
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