Beatles Essay, Research Paper
Beatles were an extremely popular and influential group in Rock n’ Roll. My question is, “Why?” What drew thousands upon thousands of screaming fans to these four British musicians? Was it something in the sound of the instruments? Could it have been the bass beat, or maybe the guitar playing? What about their lyrics? They had a certain personality, too. Was that it? Let’s look at each of these, and some other factors as well.
What is the first thing you wonder when you hear something new on the radio? You wonder who sings it. The first thing you see when you pick up an album is who sings or performs it. Hmm? This suggests the power of a catchy title. Something out of the ordinary to catch the eye. Something misspelled, perhaps? The Beetles? No, The Beatles. What’s in their name? In the words of Beatle John Lennon, “when you hear it, the name is little crawly things. When you see it, it’s “beat” music.” I think that’s quite attractive to a record store browser, don’t you?
Of course, another thing that could catch a browsing customer would be the pictures on the album. The fronts of record albums are versatile that way because one can fit a lot on them. I have looked at the images on a few Beatles’ records and, I must say, they are rather attractive and flashy. One particular cover that I was able to view is an album that went unreleased due to its picture. On the cover there is a photograph of The Beatles in a butcher shop with carcasses hanging around them; it certainly caught the eye. On another album, the boys were all dressed up in Spanish bullfighter uniforms that were gaudy enough to catch the eye of a blind man.
The sounds that the ear hears in a song are without a doubt important to the person’s opinion of that song. To examine the sound of the instruments, I played the Anthology music through a stereo with adjustable graphic equalizers. On a few songs, I isolated the bass, and therefore the bass beat, then the treble, which includes vocals and guitar, and finally, the background, which is mostly Ringo’s drums. The first thing I noticed was a particularly catchy beat. It was generally quick and moderately heavy. This would seem to be easy to dance, or toe tap, to. I also listened intently to the guitar throughout the songs, especially the guitar solos. George Harrison plays solos in “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Money”, that sound quick and surge forth with an ear catching sound. Other bits, in “Free as a Bird” and “Cry for a Shadow”, for example, slowly twanged along.
The background sound of the drum is generally not as noticeable in the music. The drums were generally drowned out by the guitar and vocals; only the clanging of the symbols is clearly heard. It seems as though the drums are almost completely absent in some songs like “She Loves You”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, and “Can’t Buy Me Love”. Simple logic leads me to believe that the drums, other than bass, were not a significant contributor to their success because, if you can’t hear them, what’s the use? I am a musician myself, and I have heard music that sounds as though it would be difficult to play. However, I don’t hear that in most Beatles music. Perhaps, a simpler technical structure made it easier to understand their music. Another possibility is that other bands were able to cover (Play songs that aren’t theirs) some music of the Beatles easier, and therefore, help to spread the Beatles’ music around.
For the most part, Rock songs consisted of things teenagers are into and experiencing. Of course, the most prominent of those things are raw passion and sexuality. When the Beatles, or any group for that matter, sang about love, and the actions and emotions associated with teenage love, the new generation was naturally attracted to their singing. Of course, there is also the age-old issue of teenage rebellion. Think for a second, here. What is the last thing a parent wants their child listening to? Songs about fast cars? No, those are okay. Songs about raw passion and sexuality? Bingo! Aren’t ulterior motives wonderful? What teenager is not going to enjoy watching their parents cringe with the sound of their favorite song? The Beatles were different, though. They sang the same music, but people were not threatened by them. “Happiness is a Warm Gun” and “Run for Your Life” are two songs that could have easily been threatening had anybody else sung them. In “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” Lennon says that he needs “a fix” and there are some obvious sexual implications, although that has been denied. Lennon is threatening to kill a girl in “Run for Your Life”: he says “I would rather see her dead.” People were not threatened by things like these. That could be because of the way they sang their lyrics, which will be discussed later.
The above features are present in most Rock n’ Roll, not just the Beatles’ music. That all helped Rock n’ Roll take over. I want the Beatles’ secret. My thoughts lead me to style. They had a style all their own. From their British accents to their haircuts to their head bopping stage dance, they were their own group. Maybe, teens saw an image of rebellion in the Beatles, with their long hair and carefree attitudes. The Beatles also acted as kind of a bridge. They came from England, all the way across the Atlantic, which gave them an air of foreignness, something not of this world. This separateness helped them immensely. The Beatles had an appearance of group strength, and people wanted to be included in their world. Aside from their personalities, their voices went together well. They could blend together, and in places, separate and harmonize for a vocal that used each individual’s voice in its best place.
In the end, it was the loss of group strength that finished the Beatles. They each started to do their own things. John went off with Yoko, Paul wrote his own stuff, as did George. There were internal disagreements, as well. George wanted more of his work included on the albums, Ringo walked out for a time over a disagreement with Paul, John had Yoko, whom the others were bothered by, and Paul went ballistic when they tried to delay the release of his solo album so there wouldn’t be any conflict in the release dates (Collier). Group strength was definitely crucial to the power of the Beatles.
With lyrics comes something deeper. Many people look for subliminal messages. The Beatles gave the impression that, in the end, things will turn out fine. They made people feel good (Cohn 7). History shows us that people flock to images of hope. Why do so many people worship some god or another? Although subliminal messages are something we always hear in music, Paul McCartney more or less denies their existence in their music. He says people formed those messages themselves. If that’s true, I think he should thank those people!
The lyrics to some Beatles songs have a certain irony to them. Sometimes, the lyrics are sung in a way that is the opposite of what the words are saying. For instance, in “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, they are singing about a guy killing people with a hammer. However, the way they sing it is light and almost jovial. This combination creates a sort of ironic mood to the song. It catches the imagination and, I feel, attracts the listener’s attention.
The Beatles wrote catchy tunes, they had vitality and freshness, they were quirkily attractive, and they gave snappy answers in interviews (Cohn 7). Not only that, the Beatles had variety. Many of their albums ran with different styles, feelings, and concepts which kept things new and interesting; not just same old, same old.
To get a feel for what the general masses were after back then, it’s possible to look at other chart toppers and compare them to the Beatles. The Beatles were at a real high point in 1964 and 1965, and Billboard’s Number One Hits website has some other groups of that time. In my first comparison, I looked at the music of The Rolling Stones. I thought they sounded something like the Beatles. The Stones, though, had more of a Blues sound to their music. They did have the same tendency of bringing out the guitar that the Beatles had. It seems that both groups did rely on playing a heavy bass guitar along with the bits on the acoustic. Although their drum playing is more audible, the Stones didn’t appear to make an effort to bring the percussion out. The vocals of these two groups are not dissimilar, either. The common British accents help that part along greatly. There is a common style of singing as well: come to the microphone and yell. Very cool. The Stones’ lyrics are clever like those of the Beatles, but in my opinion, not to the same extent.
The Supremes were another hit group of the 60’s. The most striking contrast between them and the Beatles is that the Supremes did not play instruments. They had a backup band, but all the Supremes did was sing and dance up on stage. They had a flashy style that, like the Beatles, grabbed you and said “Look at me!”. I think appearance had a major impact on the success of a given group of the era.
The last group that I looked at was the Shirelles. The Beatles did serious covers to some of their music, such as “Baby, It’s You.” The music of the Shirelles had a light tone with a tricky, poetic flow to it. They also carried a strong base beat, like the Beatles did. One striking difference, however, was that the Shirelles did not feature guitars in their music.
The Beatles certainly had a huge influence on Rock n’ Roll that came after their careers. Their success, I feel, was a good thing for all of Rock music. Whatever the reasons for their success, they will always be remembered as one of the biggest success stories in America (and they’re not even American: go figure). .
Cohn, Nick. “The Fab Four”, Life: Dec. 1995: pgs. 4-10.
Collier, Chris. “The Breakup”: 1970.
Dowlding, William J. Beatlesongs. New York: Simar and Schuster Inc., 1989.Martin, George. “The Beatles Anthology 1″. USA: Apple Corps Ltd./ EMI Records Ltd., 1995. Riley, Tim. Live at the BBC: Online. Available: http://glyphs.com/millpop/95/beatles.html.