So often during the 366TAS project, I’ve tried to introduce my audience to artists they may not be familiar with, give them a good starting point to explore an artists’ catalog or simply make a case for why you should be listing to a band. I’m going to guess that you’re all pretty familiar with today’s little rock band though. Plenty of folks know the band’s work well and you can talk to 20 people and they could have 20 different favorites from the band’s catalog.
The Beatles were prolific and iconic. They changed the course of music, spearheading the British Invasion and inspiring so many of those who followed them. Commercially, they’re the most successful band of all time, having sold upwards of one billion records. Their critical success is just as resounding; any conversation of the best artists of all time starts with (and often ends with) the Beatles atop the list. Seven Grammys and an Oscar are among the honors they’ve collected over the years.
They’re also a part of history, coming along as they did at a time of significant turmoil and change here in America. Over the course of the decade, the Beatles metamorphosed from the pop-rock “Love Me Do” stylings from their early years to a more psychedelic “Magical Mystery Tour” style by the later part of the 60’s, reflecting some of the changes that were taking place in American culture. In particular, the baby boom generation was coming of age right around this time, giving the Beatles a huge readymade audience that could relate to what they were playing and just eat it up. Back then, audiences also weren’t as fractured and divided as they are now, so when Beatlemania struck, it didn’t just reach this group of people or that group. It was a cultural phenomenon that probably can’t be replaced in today’s world of niche markets and short attention spans.
All this happening at once only serves to enhance the Beatles’ legacy. A lot of great things happened in music in the 60’s and the Beatles were a big part of that, based on their work and what they inspired and paved the way for. They had the songs and the talent, but also the culture and the demographics on their side. To some extent, I think they’re held up as music’s gold standard partly because this huge generation has a special connection between the band and their warm, fuzzy memories of this wonderful golden past.
At times, it’s wearying hearing all the acclaim and reverence that people hold for the Beatles. After all, there’s a long roster of musicians who have made great music and substantial contributions to its development both before and since. The Beatles cast a long shadow – and deservedly so – but its exaggerated size tends to envelop and swallow up everything around it. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Beatles, even if I don’t love them. It’s fair to say that I think they’re overrated, even if at the same time I’m willing to acknowledge that they’re still pretty great.
Hey Jude – The Beatles