August 30, 2012 at 11:34 AM

The Most Influential Rock Band Ever, Part 2

"Fifty years on, the Beatles still rock"

By Dick Rosemont

The Guy In the Groove

Dick is an all-around music guy and wild shirt aficionado.

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Read part 1 here.

Here is more of how the Beatles affected culture and what makes them unique in music history.

Publicity

Unless you were the likes of, say, Groucho Marx, entertainers were expected to respect and kowtow to reporters. John, Paul, George and Ringo broke the mold and refused to treat the press with the reverence their predecessors did. They were not afraid to be contrary, humorous or even controversial as exemplified by Lennon’s 1966 remark that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. His sentiment was meant to be a lament, but of course it was misunderstood as a boast and lambasted by religious leaders.

Here are examples of their press retorts:

Question: Sorry to interrupt you while you are eating, but what do you think you will be doing in five years time, when all this is over?
Ringo: Still eating.

Question: What excuses do you have for your collar length hair?
John: Well, it just grows out yer head!

Question: Is your popularity beginning to taper off?
Paul: I agree that our popularity has hit a peak. But I also agree with a man who said the same thing last year. And we were both wrong!

Question: What do you think of the criticism that you’re not very good?
George: We’re not.

Drugs

While Bob Dylan turned the Beatles onto marijuana, the group was no stranger to pills, especially uppers taken during their grueling schedule in Germany. In 1965, various Beatles started taking then-legal LSD, and its effects began surfacing in the psychedelic aspects of songs like “She Said She Said” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Band members weren’t shy about admitting using marijuana and psychedelics, but fortunately they generally avoided hard drugs.

With the rise of the mid-60s drug culture, the Beatles’ dadaesque lyrics were often viewed as drug-related. There’s no question drugs shaped their music but the songs were not necessarily about drugs. Many assumed their song “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” was about LSD, despite John Lennon’s insistence otherwise. “A Day In the Life” and “Dr. Robert” were other songs of pharmacological speculation. Years after the fact, Paul McCartney admitted “Got To Get You Into My Life” actually was about marijuana and not the love song most assumed.

Music Business

While stereo was becoming the norm (over monaural), and the record industry was moving from singles (45s) to albums, the Beatles again led the charge. Once they retired from concert performances in August 1966, there was no concern about being able to reproduce whatever they came up with in the studio. The group truly became recording artists. Their landmark Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP was the band’s first to have no songs issued as singles. The rock album as a concept was born.

As recording technology advanced, the Beatles were in the forefront and had the luxury of being able to experiment in the studio. Engineer Geoff Emerick would have to figure out how to execute their vision, such as John’s request to make his voice “sound like I’m the Dalai Lama singing from the highest mountain top.” The group pioneered reversing recording tape to play a part backwards. “Tomorrow Never Knows”  included a backwards guitar part (as did “I’m Only Sleeping), processed vocals and looped tape effects. The last verse of “Rain” starts backwards and “Revolution #9” brought studio editing by a pop group to a new level.

Forever searching for new sounds, the Beatles explored exotic and cutting edge instruments. Along with the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, George Harrison became enamored with Eastern Indian sounds such as the sitar and tablas. “Norwegian Wood,” “The Inner Light” and “Within You, Without You” brought these foreign sounds to many young ears. The group incorporated unusual keyboards like the Clavoline, Mellotron and Moog synthesizer in the days before such electronics were commonplace.

Entrepreneurs

The Beatles were the first major band to have their own record label—at least one that achieved significance. Even though their Apple Corps (the label’s parent company) didn’t work out exactly as they’d envisioned—the clothing boutique failed, the custom studio never materialized and the business brought about fighting within the group—Apple Records did sign some major talent such as James Taylor, Billy Preston, Mary Hopkin and Badfinger. The Apple Records imprint is still in use today.

Other Media

The Beatles even had an influence on movie-making. The hand-held camera shots, quick cuts, use of music and self-effacing humor in A Hard Day’s Night clearly ushered in the ’60s spy films, the Monkees TV show and music videos in general. Yellow Submarine extended psychedelic visuals and brought new respect to animation.

More Notable Morsels

Another unique aspect of the Beatles was that they had three quality songwriters, although George's strengths in that area were overshadowed until later in their career. And as songwriters, unlike most groups that preceded them, their style evolved over time. In the ’50s and early ’60s, successful bands had a given “sound” that was milked endlessly. The Beach Boys were among the few Beatles contemporaries to expand their musical palette as the decade progressed.

And here (Ringo drum roll please) is the answer to the teaser question in Part 1:

The Beatles held the Top 5 positions on the April 4, 1964 Billboard Hot 100 (singles) chart. This phenomenon had never occurred before and I can't image it will ever be duplicated. The songs were:

#1 Can't Buy Me Love
#2 Twist And Shout
#3 She Loves You
#4 I Want To Hold Your Hand
#5 Please Please Me

As frosting on the cake, the Beatles had seven other 45s on the chart that week for an unprecedented 12 songs! This came about because of the backlog of records from various labels. Capitol Records, their US company, famously passed up issuing the group’s 1962 and 1963 UK hits. Other small American labels did take a chance releasing some of the songs in 1963. Once the Beatle floodgates opened in early 1964, these non-Capitol companies cashed in with reissues of whatever they owned at the time. Yes, other bands have had an influence on music culture, but none to the extent of the Beatles. They had the abilities, personalities and drive at the right time in history to reinvent the models of the day.

Since their heyday, other music acts have continued to stretch the boundaries, but the Fab Four laid the groundwork. Their broad appeal has only widened through the years. Evangelist Billy Graham claimed he never watched television on Sundays but made an exception when the Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Artists such as Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson and Prince have had similar wide-ranging success, but no other band or singer affected so many aspects of culture and the music business. Yes there was a certain amount of luck involved; having manager Brian Epstein focus their image and having producer George Martin be astute enough to shape their recordings as effectively as he did. The Beatles existed in a historical decade of great change but they had something else going for them. They had talent.

Tomorrow Never Knows:

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