The Beatles' Influence On Popular Culture
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The Beatles' Influence On Popular Culture

Beatlemania: Fans and media swarm the Beatles at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, 1964

The Beatles were an English rock band, formed in Liverpool in 1960. With members John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, they are regarded as the foremost and most influential act of the rock era.[1] In the early 1960s, their enormous popularity first emerged as "Beatlemania", but as the group's music grew in sophistication, led by primary songwriters Lennon and McCartney, the band were integral to pop music's evolution into an art form and to the development of the counterculture of the 1960s.[2]

Many cultural movements of the 1960s were assisted by the Beatles' continued commercial and critical success. Among these were a shift from American artists' global dominance of rock and roll to British acts, known as the British Invasion; the proliferation of young musicians in the 1960s who formed new bands; the elevation of the album as the dominant form of record consumption over singles; the preponderance of musicians to view themselves as artists; and several fashion trends. Between 1964 and 1970, the Beatles had the top-selling US single one out of every six weeks, and the top-selling US album one out of every three weeks. At the height of their popularity, Lennon controversially remarked that the group was "more popular than Jesus now". By the end of the decade, they were seen as an embodiment of the era's sociocultural movements. The term "Beatlesque" is used to describe similar-sounding artists.

The Beatles often incorporated classical elements, older pop forms and unconventional recording techniques in innovative ways and later experimented with several musical styles ranging from pop ballads and Indian music to psychedelia and hard rock. Their records inspired the new psychedelic and progressive styles, especially through innovations featured on the albums Rubber Soul (1965), Revolver (1966) and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), and some of the band's unusual production techniques later became part of normal recording practice. While the group dominated the sales charts for the 1960s, their cultural influence on the decade was partly brought about by a continual dialogue and exchange of ideas with American singer Bob Dylan. Many of the Beatles' musical experiments were not without precedent, yet no other act provoked as many changes in the pop mainstream and opened new avenues for creative advancement. Serious criticism of popular music itself was born following the Beatles' 1964 breakthrough, and by 1967 their advances ensured the full cultural legitimisation of pop. In 1965, they were awarded MBEs, marking the first time that such an honour was bestowed on a British pop act.

As of 2009, the Beatles were the best-selling band in history, with estimated sales of over 600 million records worldwide.[3][4] They have had more number-one albums on the British charts (15)[5] and sold more singles in the UK, 21.9 million, than any other act.[6] As of 2016, they held the record for the most number-one hits on the Billboard Hot 100 (20).[7] Among thousands of cover versions of their compositions, by a wide range of artists, "Yesterday" is one of the most covered songs in the history of recorded music. In 1999, the Beatles were collectively included in Time magazine's compilation of the twentieth century's 100 most influential people. In 2017, a study of AllMusic's catalogue indicated the Beatles as the most frequently cited artist influence in its database.


Throughout their decade-spanning career, the Beatles reinvented and expanded the terms of commercial and artistic achievement, treading new ground for their willingness to experiment and take risks.[8] With regard to the ever-changing landscapes of popular music, historian Allan Moore writes: "Sometimes, audiences gravitate towards a centre. The most prominent period when this happened was in the early to mid 1960s when it seems that almost everyone, irrespective of age, class or cultural background, listened to the Beatles."[9] Writing for AllMusic, music critic Richie Unterberger recognises the Beatles as both "the greatest and most influential act of the rock era" and a group that "introduced more innovations into popular music than any other rock band of the 20th century".[1] He adds:

... they were among the few artists of any discipline that were simultaneously the best at what they did and the most popular at what they did. Relentlessly imaginative and experimental, the Beatles grabbed hold of the international mass consciousness in 1964 and never let go for the next six years, always staying ahead of the pack in terms of creativity but never losing their ability to communicate their increasingly sophisticated ideas to a mass audience. Their supremacy as rock icons remains unchallenged to this day, decades after their breakup in 1970.[1]

In Rolling Stone magazine's Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (2001), the editors define the band's "incalculable" influence as encompassing "all of Western culture". The writers state that the group's discography held the precedent for "virtually every rock experiment ... Although many of their sales and attendance records have since been surpassed, no group has so radically transformed the sound and significance of rock & roll."[10] Writing in The New York Times Magazine in 2016, cultural commentator Chuck Klosterman said of the Beatles' enduring impact:

They were the most popular band in the world during the period they were active and are only slightly less popular now, five decades later. The Beatles defined the concept of what a "rock group" was supposed to be, and all subsequent rock groups are (consciously or unconsciously) modeled upon the template they naturally embodied ... The Beatles arguably invented everything [related to rock music], including the very notion of a band's breaking up. There are still things about the Beatles that can't be explained, almost to the point of the supernatural: the way their music resonates with toddlers, for example, or the way it resonated with Charles Manson. It's impossible to imagine another rock group where half its members faced unrelated assassination attempts. In any reasonable world, the Beatles are the answer to the question "Who will be the Sousa of rock?"[11]

One criticism of the Beatles' work is that none of it was actually unprecedented. Music historian Bill Martin objects to this notion:

There has always been experimentation in rock music ... Rock music is synthesis and transmutation ... [but] what was original about the Beatles is that they synthesized and transmuted more or less everything, they did this in a way that reflected their time, they reflected their time in a way that spoke to a great part of humanity, and they did all of this really, really well.[12]

Among thousands of cover versions of the Beatles' compositions, by a wide range of artists, "Yesterday" (1965) is one of the most covered songs in the history of recorded music.[13] In 1999, the Beatles were collectively included in Time magazine's compilation of the twentieth century's 100 most influential people,[14] and in 2017, a study of AllMusic's catalogue indicated the band as the most frequently cited artist influence in its database.[15]

Beatlemania and the British Invasion

With Ed Sullivan, February 1964

As the Beatles rose in popularity in 1963, the terms "Mersey sound" and "Merseybeat" were applied to bands and singers from Liverpool, making it the first time in British pop music that a sound and a location were linked together.[16] During the first half of that year, the Beatles usurped American acts including Roy Orbison to become the headline performers on their joint UK tours, something no British act had previously accomplished while touring with artists from the US.[17] In the description of author and musician Bob Stanley, their domestic breakthrough represented "a final liberation for Britain's teenagers" and, by coinciding with the end of National Service, the group "effectively signaled the end of World War II in Britain".[18] For sociologists, the Beatles typified new developments in postwar Britain such as social mobility, teenagers' commercial influence, and informality in society.[19]

The band's second number-one single on the Record Retailer chart (subsequently adopted as the UK Singles Chart),[20] "She Loves You", became the best-selling single in UK chart history, a position it retained until 1978.[21] Their first two albums, Please Please Me and With the Beatles, each topped Record Retailer LPs chart, for a combined run of 51 consecutive weeks.[22]

On 9 February 1964, the group gave their first live US television performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, watched by approximately 73 million viewers in over 23 million households,[23] or 34 per cent of the American population. In his book Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America, Jonathan Gould writes that, according to the Nielsen rating service, it was "the largest audience that had ever been recorded for an American television program".[24] The Beatles subsequently sparked the British Invasion of the US[25] and became a globally influential phenomenon.[26] During the previous four decades, the US had dominated popular entertainment culture throughout much of the world, via Hollywood films, jazz, the music of Broadway and Tin Pan Alley and, later, the rock and roll that first emerged in Memphis, Tennessee.[27] On 4 April 1964, the Beatles occupied the top five US chart positions - with "Can't Buy Me Love", "Twist and Shout", "She Loves You", "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Please Please Me"[28] - as well as 11 other positions on the Billboard Hot 100.[29] For nine consecutive weeks, they held the top two places on the Billboard Top LPs chart (subsequently the Billboard 200) with reconfigured versions of their first two albums.[30] As of 2013, they remained the only act to have filled the top five of the Billboard Hot 100, having also broken 11 other chart records on Billboards singles and albums charts.[30][nb 1] This chart domination was repeated in countries around the world during 1964.[32] In Australia, in late March, the band's songs filled the top six chart positions;[28] during one week, they held nine positions in Canada's top ten.[33] When the group toured Australia in June 1964, the population afforded the visit the status of a national event,[34] as a crowd of 250,000 - the largest recorded gathering of Australians in one place - welcomed the Beatles to Melbourne.[35]

In 1965, the Beatles became the first entertainment act to stage a concert in a sports stadium.[36] At Shea Stadium in New York City on Sunday, 15 August, the group opened their 1965 North American tour before an audience of 55,600. The event sold out in 17 minutes.[37] It set records for attendance and revenue generation (with takings of $304,000),[38] demonstrating that outdoor concerts on a large scale could be successful and profitable.[] That same year, the Beatles received MBEs from Queen Elizabeth II. An act of unprecedented recognition for pop musicians, the award reflected the value of their popularity to Harold Wilson, the British prime minister, and anticipated the honours (including knighthoods) that were regularly bestowed on the country's entertainers in subsequent decades.[39]

From the end of their final tour in 1966 to their break-up in 1970, the Beatles gave no further commercial concerts, instead devoting their efforts to creating new material in the recording studio.[40] Between February 1964 and July 1970 in the US, they maintained the number-one single on the Hot 100 for a total of 59 weeks and topped Billboards LPs chart for 116 weeks. In other words, they had the top-selling single one out of every six weeks, and the top-selling album one out of every three weeks.[41] As of 2009, the Beatles remain the best-selling band in history, with estimated claimed sales of over 600 million records worldwide.[3]

Personality and fashion

The mop-topped Beatles in 1964

In the description of Rolling Stones editors, the Beatles "defined and incarnated Sixties style: smart, idealistic, playful, irreverent, eclectic",[10] while writer Sean O'Hagan recalled in 2016: "Everything about them - the clothes they wore, the way they spoke, the songs they created with an effortlessness that seemed almost alchemical - suggested new ways of being. More than any of their contemporaries, they challenged the tired conventions that defined class-bound, insular, early-60s Britain."[42] In his book Revolution in the Head, Ian MacDonald describes them as "perfect McLuhanites" who "felt their way through life" and he says of their initial impact:

Unlike previous pop stars - programmed to recite their future itineraries and favourite colours - The Beatles replied to the press in facetious ad-libs provoked by whatever was going on in the immediate present ... Before them, pop acts had been neatly presented as soloists or well-drilled units each with its clearly identified leader. With their uncanny clone-like similarity and by all talking chattily at once, The Beatles introduced to the cultural lexicon several key Sixties motifs in one go: 'mass'-ness, 'working class' informality, cheery street scepticism, and - most challenging to the status quo - a simultaneity which subverted conventions of precedence in ever way.[43]

Ringo Starr's personality as the band's affable, self-deprecating drummer proved especially popular with fans and the press in the US.[44] In 1964, as coverage of the Beatles matched that of the Johnson-Goldwater presidential race, Starr was the subject of bumper stickers proclaiming "Ringo for President",[35] as well as several tribute songs.[45]

In 1966, in response to the Beatles' maturation beyond their initial teenybopper appeal, the Monkees were created as a television and recording act in their image.

The Beatles' haircut, also known as a "mop top", was a mid-length hairstyle named after and popularised by the band. It was widely mocked by adults,[46] being unusually long for the era, and became an emblem of rebellion to the burgeoning youth culture.[47] In a 1986 retrospective of the Beatlemania phenomenon, commentators for the Chicago Tribune said that the haircuts signalled androgyny and thus presented a less threatening version of male sexuality to teenage girls, while their presentable suits meant they seemed less "sleazy" than Elvis Presley to middle-class whites.[48] The haircut was widely imitated worldwide.[] Russian historian Mikhail Safonov wrote in 2003 that in the Brezhnev-dominated Soviet Union, mimicking the Beatles' hairstyle was seen as highly rebellious. Young people were called "hairies" by their elders, and were arrested and forced to have their hair cut in police stations.[49] Towards the end of 1966, by which point the Beatles' artistic maturity had left many younger listeners yearning for their innocent, "mop-top" image, the Monkees were assembled by a pair of Hollywood-based television executives as a four-piece band in the Beatles' mould.[50][51] An immediate commercial success, the Monkees' self-titled television show evoked the Beatles' personalities from Dick Lester's feature films A Hard Day's Night and Help!, with the characters of the individual Monkees developed to reflect those of the Beatles.[52]

Along with Beatles-themed wallpaper and jewellery, "Beatles wigs" were popular and widely available in UK stores from 1963.[53] In the US, their merchandise was extensive, and marketed through Seltaeb, a local subsidiary of a company owned by Brian Epstein's NEMS Enterprises.[54] Among what Beatles biographer Nicholas Schaffner estimated to be "several hundred" items authorised by Seltaeb were toys, clothing, stationery, alarm clocks, pillowcases, bath products, junk food and lunchboxes, while Beatles wigs "became the best-selling novelty since yo-yo's".[55] Also sanctioned as official merchandise by NEMS,[56]Beatle boots were tight-fitting, Cuban-heeled, ankle-length boots with a pointed toe. They originated in 1963 after Epstein discovered Chelsea boots while browsing in the London footwear store Anello & Davide.[] He commissioned four pairs (with the addition of Cuban heels) for the Beatles to complement their new suited image when they returned from Hamburg for the last time.[] The band members wore them under drainpipe trousers.[57]

Initial US impact and growth of rock bands

Photographed in Sweden, 1963

The Beatles' impact on the US was particularly strong, where a garage rock phenomenon had already begun, with hits such as "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen. The movement received a major lift following the group's historic appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show watched by a record-breaking viewing audience.[58][59][60] Bill Dean writes: "It's impossible to say just how many of America's young people began playing guitars and forming bands in the wake of The Beatles' appearance on the Sullivan show. But the anecdotal evidence suggests thousands - if not hundreds of thousands or even more - young musicians across the country formed bands and proceeded to play."[61] Music journalist Neil McCormick, writing in 2015, described the Beatles' debut on the show as pop music's "big bang moment",[62] while Stanley calls it "arguably the most significant postwar cultural event in America", adding that "Their rise, the scale of it and their impact on society, was completely unprecedented."[63] MacDonald said of the band's concurrent number-one hit: "every American artist, black or white, asked about 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' has said much the same: it altered everything, ushering in a new era and changing their lives."[64]Tom Petty, who played in two garage bands in Gainesville, Florida during the 1960s, recalled of the Beatles' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show: "Within weeks of that, you could drive through literally any neighborhood in Gainesville and you would hear the strains of garage bands playing ... I mean everywhere. And I'd say by a year from that time, Gainesville probably had 50 bands."[61]

While the Beatles are usually credited for sparking a musical revolution, research conducted by the Queen Mary University of London and Imperial College London and published in 2015 suggests that the changes were developing long before the band entered the US. The study, which looks at shifts in chord progressions, beats, lyrics and vocals, shows that American music in the beginning of the 1960s was already moving away from mellow sounds like doo-wop and into more energetic rock styles. Professor Armand Leroi, who led the study on behalf of Imperial College, said: "They didn't make a revolution or spark a revolution, they joined one. The trend is already emerging and they rode that wave, which accounts for their incredible success."[65] Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn said in response: "Speak to anyone who was a young person in the US when The Beatles arrived and they will tell you how much of a revolution it was. They were there and they will tell you that the Beatles revolutionised everything."[65] McCormick dismissed the study as "sensationalist". He argued that the Beatles' sound was distinctive for taking "the energy of rock 'n' roll, the drive of rhythm and blues, harmonic shades of jazz, doo wop and soul and melodic elegance of the music hall and Broadway show tunes and formal pop of their childhoods" and combining these elements "into a seamless electric shock of sound that sparked a cultural revolution".[62]

Among contemporary American stars recalling the Beatles' arrival, Lou Christie described the US music scene as staid, saying: "We were, in many respects, just these goofy white boys. We weren't allowed to be seen with a cigarette in our hands ... [The Beatles] were more aggressive, they were funny and they were articulate. The minute they came to America, they literally put a halt to everything that was previously happening."[67]Bob Dylan recalled that, by April 1964, "a definite line was being drawn. This was something that had never happened before."[68]Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys felt that the Beatles had "eclipsed" his band's successes to that point, as well as "the whole music world".[69]Smokey Robinson said he was especially grateful for the Beatles' championing of Motown music, adding that they "were the first white artists to ever admit that they grew up and honed themselves on black music. I loved the fact that they did that, that they were honest ..."[67]

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 11 weeks before the Beatles' arrival in the US, a source of profound national mourning that American commentators at the time linked to young people's wholehearted embrace of the Beatles and their music.[70] For many Americans, particularly young baby boomers, the Beatles' visit reignited the sense of excitement and possibility that had been taken by Kennedy's assassination.[58][61][71][72] Much of this new excitement would be expressed in music, sometimes to the chagrin of parents and elders, as America's youth raced to form bands, and this proliferation of new groups was not limited to the US.[58][61][71][73] A teenage New Yorker in early 1964, Schaffner later wrote that the Kennedy link was "an exaggeration, perhaps", but the Beatles "more than filled the energy gap" left by the demise of 1950s rock 'n' roll for an audience accustomed to the "vacuous" music that had replaced it.[70] Writing in 2002, music journalist David Fricke said John Lennon was "right" in his withering assessment of American youth, adding: "Still reeling from the murder of its youngest President, John F. Kennedy, three months earlier, psychologically stuck in the surface white-bread calm of the 1950s, America was ripe for blindsiding. The Beatles did the rest. But Sullivan gave them the air time."[74][nb 2]

Contemporary rivals

Over the decade as a whole, the Beatles were the dominant youth-centred pop act on the sales charts.[76] Author Robert Rodriguez writes that the Beatles, Dylan and the Rolling Stones are viewed as "the Holy Trinity of 1960s rock" in terms of the decade's musical developments, with each act equally alert to the influence of other artists.[77] Dylan and the Stones were symbolic of the nascent youth revolt against institutional authority, something that was not immediately recognisable within the Beatles until 1966.[78] The Beatles' initial clean-cut personas contrasted with the Rolling Stones' "bad boy" image, and so the music press forged a rivalry between the two acts.[79] According to author Barry Miles, however, it was "to give themselves something to write about ... there was actually no contest between the two groups in anything other than chart positions."[80]

It is important to remember that artists like Frank Sinatra were still selling well throughout the decade, and that The Beatles were challenged for album chart supremacy by the pop-mariachi band Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass

- Nicholas Cooke and Anthony Pople, The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Music[81]

In the US for the years 1964 to 1966, the Beatles achieved 12 number-one singles and nine number-one albums on the Billboard charts. By comparison, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys each had three chart-topping singles and one number-one album.[82] In the case of US singles for the decade, the Beatles headed Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Brenda Lee, the Supremes and the Beach Boys; in albums sales, they were trailed by Presley, Sinatra, Herb Alpert, the Kingston Trio and Andy Williams.[83] Another band, the Byrds, were widely celebrated as the American answer to the Beatles, and while their long-term influence has proven to be comparable to the Beatles and the Beach Boys, the Byrds' record sales failed to match those groups'.[84]

Bob Dylan is described by MacDonald as "the only figure to have matched The Beatles' influence on popular culture since 1945",[85] by Luis Sanchez as the only other act to provoke as many changes in the pop mainstream, opening new avenues for creative advancement,[86] and by Charles Kaiser as "their most important rival ... For the next six years [after 1964], the contest between Dylan and the Beatles would be one of the most productive of all modern musical rivalries. The Beatles made it clear that they regarded Bob Dylan as the musical force to be reckoned with, and Dylan reciprocated these feelings."[87] In July 1966, Dylan suffered a motorcycle accident and spent a period in convalescence. According to Simon Philo, the Dylan-Beatles rivalry was immediately "put on hold" as the Beatles "publicly anointed a new favorite and rival in chief", Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys.[88] The two bands inspired each other with their artistry and recording techniques, pushing them further out in the studio.[81][80] According to author Carys Wyn Jones, the interplay between the Beatles and the Beach Boys during the Pet Sounds era remains one of the most noteworthy episodes in rock history.[89][nb 3]

Artistry, LP format and social awareness

Paul McCartney and John Lennon, the principal songwriters of the Beatles

The Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership, along with the other British Invasion songwriters they influenced, inspired changes to the music industry because they were bands that wrote and performed their own music.[92] This trend threatened the professional songwriters that dominated the American music industry.[92][93]Ellie Greenwich, a Brill Building songwriter, said, "When the Beatles and the entire British Invasion came in, we were all ready to say, 'Look, it's been nice, there's no more room for us ... It's now the self-contained group - males, certain type of material. What do we do?"[92]Rolling Stone editors elaborated: "One of the first rock groups to write most of its own material, they inaugurated the era of self-contained bands and forever centralized pop ... Their music, from the not-so-simple love songs they started with to their later perfectionist studio extravaganzas, set new standards for both commercial and artistic success in pop."[10] In Britain, music journalists started including pop and rock music in serious discussion as a direct consequence of the Beatles' 1964 breakthrough.[94] Pop gained its first exposure in the arts section of one of the country's broadsheet newspapers when William Mann, The Timess classical music critic, wrote an appreciation of the Beatles in December 1963.[95] In the United States, the Beatles were the main beneficiaries of a new widespread appreciation for pop and rock over 1966-67 among journalists and intellectuals,[96][97] coinciding with the emergence there of a dedicated rock press and serious coverage of the genre in the cultural mainstream.[98][99] Music critic Tim Riley identifies the Beatles as pop music's "first recording artists", whose body of work represents "very intricate art".[100]

In August 1964, the Beatles met Bob Dylan in person[101] and he proceeded to introduce them to cannabis.[102] Gould points out the musical and cultural significance of this meeting, before which the musicians' respective fanbases were "perceived as inhabiting two separate subcultural worlds": Dylan's audience of "college kids with artistic or intellectual leanings, a dawning political and social idealism, and a mildly bohemian style" contrasted with their fans, "veritable 'teenyboppers' - kids in high school or grade school whose lives were totally wrapped up in the commercialised popular culture of television, radio, pop records, fan magazines, and teen fashion. They were seen as idolaters, not idealists."[103] Gould writes that within a year of the Beatles' first meeting with Dylan, "the distinctions between the folk and rock audiences would have nearly evaporated", as the Beatles' fanbase began to grow in sophistication and Dylan's audience re-engaged with adolescent concerns presented in the "newly energized and autonomous pop culture".[104] Music historian Chris Smith, writing in his book 101 Albums That Changed Popular Music, states: "If one had to name a single phenomenon that defined the tone of 1960s popular music and the future of music in America, it would have to be the ongoing conversation between Bob Dylan and the Beatles."[105][nb 4]

During the Beatles' ensuing US tour, the group spoke out against racial segregation in the country at the time, particularly in the South. When informed that the venue for their 11 September concert, the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, was segregated, the Beatles said they would refuse to perform unless the audience was integrated.[106] City officials relented and agreed to allow an integrated show.[107][nb 5] According to music journalist Bill DeMain, the Beatles' stand "gave pop music a new-found social conscience"; American singer Brian Hyland recalled of the episode: "They were really the first group to have the power to do that. They used that platform really well ... It took a lot of courage."[67]

In December 1965, the Beatles released the album Rubber Soul. According to author Michael Frontani, an associate professor of communications: "By [then] ... each new record was viewed as a progression in the band's artistic development and as an expansion of the parameters of popular music, and the [group's] image reflected and promoted notions of the Beatles' artistry and importance."[109] In January 1966, Billboard magazine cited the initial US sales of Rubber Soul (1.2 million copies over nine days) as evidence of teenage record-buyers increasingly moving towards the LP format.[110] The standard of the all-original compositions on Rubber Soul was also responsible for a widespread shift in focus from singles to creating albums without the usual filler tracks.[111] Released in August 1966, Revolver included Lennon's evocation of an LSD trip, "Tomorrow Never Knows",[112] a song whose message, according to MacDonald, "launched the till-then élite-preserved concept of mind-expansion into pop, simultaneously drawing attention to consciousness-enhancing drugs and the ancient religious philosophies of the Orient, utterly alien to Western thought in their anti-materialism, rapt passivity, and world-sceptical focus on visionary consciousness".[113] In author Shawn Levy's description, Revolver presented the Beatles as "the world's first household psychedelics, avatars of something wilder and more revolutionary than anything pop culture had ever delivered before".[114]

From what began as the Beatlemania fad, the group's popularity grew into what was seen as an embodiment of sociocultural movements of the decade. In Gould's view, as icons of the 1960s counterculture, they became a catalyst for bohemianism and activism in various social and political arenas, fuelling movements such as women's liberation, gay liberation and environmentalism.[115] Commentators Mikal Gilmore and Todd Leopold traced the inception of their socio-cultural impact earlier, interpreting even the Beatlemania period, particularly on their first visit to the US, as a key moment in the development of generational awareness.[116][117] The follow-up to Revolver, 1967's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, was a major critical and commercial success that, in Gould's words, "revolutionize[d] both the aesthetics and the economics of the record business in ways that far outstripped the earlier pop explosions triggered by the Elvis phenomenon of 1956 and the Beatlemania phenomenon of 1963".[118] Through the level of attention it received from the rock press and more culturally elite publications, Sgt. Pepper achieved full cultural legitimisation for pop music and recognition for the medium as a genuine art form.[119][120] Its win in the Album of the Year category at the 1968 Grammys Awards marked the first time that a rock LP had received this award.[121][nb 6] In musicologist Allen Moore's view, Sgt. Pepper also served as an important musical representation of its generation,[123] while Peter Doggett describes the album as "the biggest pop happening" to take place between the Beatles' debut on American television in February 1964 and Lennon's murder in December 1980.[124]

A demonstrator offers a flower to military policemen during an anti-Vietnam War demonstration in October 1967.

On 25 June 1967, the Beatles premiered "All You Need Is Love" live on the BBC program Our World to a viewing audience of millions. In his feature on the song in Rolling Stone, Gavin Edwards writes that when "All You Need Is Love" was issued as a single weeks later, it reached "Number One all over the world, providing the sing-song anthem for the Summer of Love, with a sentiment that was simple but profound".[125] Historian David Simonelli wrote that the song formally announced the arrival of flower power ideology as a mainstream concept.[126] Psychiatrist and New Left advocate R.D. Laing wrote about the song's contemporary appeal:

The times fitted [the Beatles] like a glove. Everyone was getting the feel of the world as a global village - as us, one species. The whole human race was becoming unified under the shadow of death ... One of the most heartening things about the Beatles was that they gave expression to a shared sense of celebration around the world, a sense of the same sensibility.[127]

In response to the political events and more turbulent atmosphere of 1968, the Beatles released "Revolution", in the lyrics to which Lennon espoused a pacifist agenda over violent confrontation.[128][129] His stance drew heavy criticism from New Left writers.[130]

12-string guitar and folk-rock fusion

A Rickenbacker 360/12 similar to the 12-string guitar used by Harrison

George Harrison was one of the first people to own a Rickenbacker 360/12, a guitar with twelve strings, the low eight of which are tuned in pairs, one octave apart; the higher four are pairs tuned in unison. The Rickenbacker is unique among twelve-string guitars in having the lower octave string of each of the first four pairs placed above the higher tuned string. This, and the naturally rich harmonics produced by a twelve-string guitar provided the distinctive overtones found on many of the Beatles' recordings.[131]

Harrison's use of this guitar during the recording of A Hard Day's Night (1964) helped to popularise the model, and the jangly sound became so prominent that Melody Maker termed it the Beatles' "secret weapon".[132]Roger McGuinn liked the effect so much that it became his signature guitar sound with the Byrds.[133][134] While the Everly Brothers and the Searchers laid the foundations for jangle pop in the late 1950s to mid 1960s, the Beatles and the Byrds are commonly credited with launching the popularity of the "jangly" sound that defined the genre.[135] In addition to the Byrds and Dylan, the Beatles were a huge influence[further explanation needed] on the folk rock explosion that would follow in the next year.[1]

Recording practices and electronic music

In his role as the Beatles' record producer, George Martin is generally credited with helping to popularise the idea of the recording studio as an instrument used for in-studio composition.[136] Although he was nominally the Beatles' producer, however, from 1964 he ceded control to the band, allowing them to use the studio as a workshop for their ideas and later as a sound laboratory.[137] Musicologist Olivier Julien writes that the Beatles' "gradual integration of arranging and recording into one and the same process" began as early as 1963, but developed in earnest during the sessions for Rubber Soul and Revolver and "ultimately blossomed" during the sessions for Sgt. Pepper.[138] In acquiring control over the recording process, whereby Martin and his engineers became facilitators of the musicians' ideas, the Beatles reversed the strict hierarchy that had long been in place at EMI.[139] In addition to inspiring other artists, their example helped break the hold that EMI and Decca Records had on the British recording industry, leading to the growth of independent studios there, including the Beatles' own Apple Studio.[140]

In musicologist Walter Everett's description, Revolver was both an "innovative example" of electronic music and a work that "advanced the leading edge of the rock world".[142] Citing composer and producer Virgil Moorefield's book The Producer as Composer, author Jay Hodgson highlights Revolver as representing a "dramatic turning point" in recording history through its dedication to studio exploration over the "performability" of the songs, as this and subsequent Beatles albums reshaped listeners' preconceptions of a pop recording.[143] According to Julien, the follow-up LP Sgt. Pepper represents the "epitome of the transformation of the recording studio into a compositional tool", marking the moment when "popular music entered the era of phonographic composition."[144]

The 1966 B-side "Rain", recorded during the Revolver sessions, was the first pop recording to include reversed sounds.[145] It makes full use of an assortment of studio tricks such as varispeed and backwards taping, combining them with a droning melody that further highlights a growing interest in non-Western musical form.[146] According to author David Howard, "Tomorrow Never Knows" was one of two pop recordings that ensured that the studio "was now its own instrument" (the other being Phil Spector's "River Deep - Mountain High").[147] It featured multiple tape loops overdubbed live onto a rhythm track, reversed sounds and extreme tape manipulation, thereby introducing into pop music techniques that were commonly used in the electronic genre.[148] This aesthetic, which was inspired by McCartney's interest in avant-garde composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage,[149] similarly informed the recording of "Strawberry Fields Forever" during the Sgt. Pepper sessions.[150][151] Quoting a composer from the UCLA School of Music, Time magazine's appreciation of Sgt. Pepper recognised the Beatles as having adopted concepts first pioneered by the Cologne group, thereby making an "enormous contribution to electronic music".[152] Released on the 1968 double album The Beatles (also known as the "White Album"), Lennon's eight-minute "Revolution 9" was an overt exercise in electronic music and the avant-garde;[153] as a musique concrète piece, journalist Mark Paytress describes it as "the most extraordinary Beatles recording ever".[154]

Psychedelic and progressive music

Pictured in 1967 for the "I Am the Walrus" sequence in their Magical Mystery Tour film

Progressive rock (or art rock) grew out of the classically-oriented strains of British psychedelia.[155] In 1966, the level of social and artistic correspondence among British and American rock musicians dramatically accelerated for bands like the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Byrds who fused elements of cultivated music with the vernacular traditions of rock.[156] Bill Martin writes that the advancing technology of multitrack recording and mixing boards were more influential to experimental rock than electronic instruments such as the synthesizer, allowing the Beatles to become part of the first crop of non-classically trained musicians to create extended and complex compositions.[157] According to Everett, the Beatles' "experimental timbres, rhythms, tonal structures, and poetic texts" on their albums Rubber Soul and Revolver "encouraged a legion of young bands that were to create progressive rock in the early 1970s".[158] Academics Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell identify the Beatles "not merely as precursors of prog but as essential developments of progressiveness in its early days".[159][nb 7]

Music critics Robert Christgau and Mark Ellen have each identified Rubber Soul as the album that laid the foundations for psychedelic music.[160][161] Citing a quantitative study of tempos in music from the era, Everett identifies it as a work that was "made more to be thought about than danced to", and an album that "began a far-reaching trend" in its slowing-down of the tempos typically used in pop and rock music.[162] Many "baroque-rock" works would soon appear, particularly due to Martin's harpsichord-like solo on the track "In My Life",[163] while the album also marked the introduction into pop of the pump organ or harmonium.[164][nb 8] Although the Kinks, the Yardbirds and the Beatles themselves (with "Ticket to Ride")[166][167] had incorporated droning guitars to mimic the qualities of the Indian sitar, Rubber Souls "Norwegian Wood" featured the first use of the instrument by a Western pop musician.[168][169] Played by Harrison, the sitar part launched a craze that Indian classical musician Ravi Shankar termed "the great sitar explosion",[170] as the instrument became a popular feature in raga rock and psychedelic music.[171][172][nb 9]

Simonelli cites the chamber-orchestrated "Eleanor Rigby" from Revolver as an example of the Beatles' influence being such that, whatever the style of song, it helped to define the parameters of rock music.[126]Revolver ensured that psychedelic pop emerged from its underground roots and into the mainstream.[177] Among its other tracks, "I'm Only Sleeping" included the first example of backwards (or backmasked) lead guitar on a pop recording,[178][179] as Harrison wrote and arranged his parts with a view to how the notes would sound when the tape direction was corrected after recording.[180][181] The album also featured two overtly Indian-styled songs: "Tomorrow Never Knows", with its foundation of heavy tambura drone, and "Love You To".[182] According to the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Revolver was the first major American-derived popular music to incorporate Asian techniques and instrumentation.[183] In his book Popular World Music, Andrew Shahriari writes that the Beatles are not usually recognised as world music artists, yet their use of Indian musical instruments, which was led by Harrison's interest, was "revolutionary" in the context of 1960s European and American popular music.[184] While Harrison was not the only rock musician to experiment with Indian styles in the mid 1960s,[185] the Beatles' association with the genre ensured that Indian classical music reached its widest audience, through songs such as "Within You Without You", from Sgt. Pepper.[186][nb 10]

Author Carys Wyn Jones traces the beginning of art rock to Sgt. Pepper (along with Pet Sounds).[188] Both albums are largely viewed as beginnings in the progressive rock genre due to their lyrical unity, extended structure, complexity, eclecticism, experimentalism and influences derived from classical music forms.[189] For several years following Sgt. Pepper release, straightforward rock and roll was supplanted by a growing interest in extended form.[190] Several of the English psychedelic bands who followed in the wake of Sgt. Pepper developed characteristics of the Beatles' music (specifically their classical influence) further than either the Beatles or contemporaneous West Coast psychedelic bands.[191] AllMusic states that the first wave of art rock musicians were inspired by Sgt. Pepper and believed that for rock music to grow artistically, they should incorporate elements of European and classical music to the genre.[155] Simonelli writes that the double A-side single that preceded the album's release in 1967, "Strawberry Fields Forever"/"Penny Lane" - two songs in which Lennon and McCartney, respectively, celebrated their Liverpool upbringing - instilled the Romantic artistic tradition as a central tenet of psychedelic rock.[151] In MacDonald's view, "Strawberry Fields Forever" launched both the "English pop-pastoral mood" typified by bands such as Pink Floyd, Family, Traffic and Fairport Convention, and English psychedelia's LSD-inspired preoccupation with "nostalgia for the innocent vision of a child".[192]

Power pop and heavy metal

During the late 1960s, a schism developed between "serious" artists who rejected pop and "crassly commercial" pop acts who embraced their teenybopper audience.[193] The pop rock-derived genre of power pop[194] arose as young music fans began to rebel against the emerging pretensions of rock music.[195] The term was not popularized, however, until the rise of new wave music in the late 1970s.[196] Music critic Greg Shaw credited the Who as the starting point for power pop, whereas critic Carl Caferelli said that "the story really begins circa 1964, with the commercial ascension of the Beatles in America."[197] Despite numerous precedents for the Beatles' style and sound, Caferelli recognized the group for their embodiment of the "pop band" ideal.[198] According to The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, the genre's key influences came from British Invasion bands, particularly the Merseybeat sound first popularised by the Beatles and its "jangly guitars, pleasant melodies, immaculate vocal harmonies, and a general air of teenage innocence".[199]

Rock music fragmented into many different styles in the 1970s.[196] Psychedelic music in particular split into two notable directions, evolving into hard rock and heavy metal on one side and progressive rock on the other.[200] The White Album track "Helter Skelter" was a product of McCartney's attempt to create a sound as loud and dirty as possible, and the recording has been noted for its "proto-metal roar" by AllMusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine.[201] Discussing Lennon's "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" (1969), Guitar Worlds Josh Hart and Damien Fanelli called the song a "bluesy rocker" that "might have inadvertently started doom metal."[202] Similarly, Jo Kendall of Classic Rock magazine commented that the song pre-dated "Black Sabbath's creation of doom rock by several months" and noted the "Santana-like Latin blues section" in the song.[203] James Manning, of Time Out London, describe the song as the foundation for stoner rock.[204]

For many fans of power pop, the "bloated and sterile" feeling of much 1970s rock was a reflection of the Beatles' disbandment at the beginning of the decade.[198] Artists drifted away from the influence of early Beatles songs, and any who cited the Beatles as influences were a minority.[196] During the early to mid-1970s there were only a few acts that continued the tradition of Beatles-style pop.[198] Later in the decade, there was a renewed interest in the music and culture of the 1960s, with examples such as the Beatlemania musical and the growing mod revival.[205] From then on, power pop continued as a commercially modest genre into the 1980s and 1990s.[206]

See also


  1. ^ In July 2018, the Beatles' record of five singles in the top ten of the Hot 100 was broken by Canadian rapper Drake, with six songs.[31]
  2. ^ In his 1970 "Lennon Remembers" interview, Lennon complained to Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone: "When we got here, you were all walking around in fuckin' Bermuda shorts with Boston crew cuts and stuff on your teeth ... The chicks looked like 1940's horses. There was no conception of dress or any of that jazz. We just thought, what an ugly race ..."[75]
  3. ^ In 2003, when Rolling Stone magazine created its list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time", the top 10 included four Beatles albums, one Beach Boys album, and one Rolling Stones album.[90]Pet Sounds was ranked second explicitly to honour its influence on the highest ranked album, Sgt. Pepper's.[91]
  4. ^ After Dylan met the Beatles, he went "electric" in a move that subverted notions of folk authenticity.[103]
  5. ^ The group also cancelled their reservations at the whites-only Hotel George Washington in Jacksonville.[108]
  6. ^ The Beatles were also the first rock group to be nominated for the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, with their 1965 LP Help![122]
  7. ^ This is in addition to the Beach Boys, the Doors, the Pretty Things, the Zombies, the Byrds, the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd.[159]
  8. ^ On "In My Life", the solo instrument was actually a piano taped at half speed.[165]
  9. ^ The song is often identified as the first example of raga rock,[173][174] a subgenre that was officially launched by the Byrds[175] with their March 1966 single "Eight Miles High".[176]
  10. ^ Author Peter Lavezzoli groups Harrison with Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel as the three rock musicians who have given the most "mainstream exposure to non-Western musics, or the concept of 'world music'".[187]



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Further reading

External links

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