Beat The Beatles


“The Beatles are overrated,” wrote someone who probably wears black sweaters, prefers goatees, and still considers the ascot a mandatory fashion accessory. “While many find enjoyment in singing along to Hey Jude or I Want To Hold Your Hand, I find the vast majority of [The] Beatles’ lyrics insultingly simple, and [their] individual musical talent is surpassed in almost every regard.” Those who wear normal clothes don’t truly care about such accessories. To us, song is sacred. When we hear The Beatles, we might hear evidence of the critic’s complaints, but we view the songs they created as simplistic brilliance.  

It would be a fool’s errand to try to suggest that one artist’s artistic expression is superior to another, but the author draws many comparisons. She focuses most of her critique on the technical proficiency of The Beatles stating that three of the four musicians are inferior to their peers. The author conceded that George Harrison proved a gifted musician, but The Beatles restrained his abilities in most of their songs. This begs the question, does the sacred nature of the song require some level of restraint? We might enjoy hearing gifted virtuosos play their instruments, but how often does technical mastery lend itself to crafting great songs? We can all think of some songs where instruments commanded the music, but even the most gifted musicians learn to restrain their abilities for the sake of the song.     

When we attempt to examine our favorite songs dispassionately, we might acknowledge that some of the lyrics might be simple, and that a novice might be able to play them on a piano, but as Bill Murray once said, “It just doesn’t matter”. We enjoy a clever relationship between the lyrics and the music. Our favorite composers often write lyrics for the sole purpose of developing a relationship with the music.  

Most people will express awe over an eighteen-minute guitar solo at a concert. My question is do they really appreciate an eighteen-minute solo, or do they want to appreciate it? I might be alone, but I consider solos, in the midst of a rock concert, self-indulgent drivel. “Get back to the songs!” I want to yell. Unless someone wants to play guitar, and they want to learn from the masters, I don’t understand their appreciation. Unless they want to say they love it, so they can say they love it, because that’s just kind of what we do, I guess. Some of them, and I’ve met them, actually appreciate a big long solo so much that they time it. Perhaps they think a big, long solo from a guitar god gives them their money’s worth, or something, but I don’t understand it. 

***

An argument put forth by Ashawnta Jackson, however, suggests that we don’t really consider bands like the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys great. By enjoying their music as much as we do, she writes, we’re just doing what we’re told. We don’t know any better. She appears to believe that the underlying reason 1965-69 bands are still part of the modern canon is a result of a multi-generational mass delusion based on an institutional, repetitive messaging. She writes that others chose this music for us, and we haven’t examined those who decided what music we are to enjoy well enough.    

The inference is that hundreds of millions of people throughout the world still love the music of these bands because everyone from the corporate types to the DJ’s who constantly play them, to our parents and uncles and aunts have propagated this notion that we should continue enjoying listening to the music they enjoyed. This mass delusion is so entrenched now that listeners from all over the world, and from just about every demographic, now accept the fact that certain music “overrepresented in the 1965-69 era” is now considered so great we want to listen to it often. The cure, Jackson states, can be found “by examining the who chooses and why, the “dominant canon of the dominant” can be opened up as listeners reflect on their exclusions and “find their own ways off the beaten track.”  

Rick Moran’s piece counters that young people are falling under this spell too, as “[Media Research Center Sales data] states that “old songs” currently represent an astonishing 70% of the U.S. market.” Listening to music is often a solitary activity. Suggesting that those listed above do not influence our choices is foolish, but to suggest that it constantly influences what we stream in our cars, at our computers, and all the other times when we’re alone appears equally foolish. One might think that young people, who traditionally abhor everything their elders prefer, might be a demographic that Jackson could count on to put an end to these institutional decrees, but the data suggests they went and had their minds melded.  

One thought on “Beat The Beatles

  1. Despite neither of my parents admitting that they like the Beatles I grew up with their music. One of my father’s claims to fame is giving them the fingers when they toured NZ. I would always ask, despite knowing the answer already, what did they do? To be told that they gave the fingers back. Anybody that doesn’t like the Beatles or does not acknowledges their place in the history of Popular culture is an idiot

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