Monday, 20 November 2017

The Beatles Essay: The Ways The Fab Four Changed The World

The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Beatles is available to buy by clicking here 

Dear readers, as explained last week this is the second part in a new regular column featuring essays dedicated to each of our AAA bands. Unfortunately we're going to have to break off from this series next week for our final three album reviews. Don't worry though, we will continue this run in December with an essay about Belle and Sebastian up next!

It's October 1962. You're young. You're working class. You might well live in a Northern city in one of the most Northern countries on Earth - except The North Pole, obviously, but in a way you feel even more Northern and cut off from the rest of the world than the polar bears do. You have no future, except what your dad did before you if you're a boy and that didn't sound much fun and maybe you'll get to marry a man just like your dad and stay at home if you're a girl. There's no one to talk to about it either - you're living alone in isolated pockets stretched across the world and there's no brotherhood or togetherness, it's you trying to grow up  at your speed in a world that demands you be quicker. You probably won't make much money and you'll only make that if the upper class bosses allow you to. There'll probably be another war - and it's one that as cheap cannon fodder you probably can't avoid. You probably won't see much of the world. You probably won't even be able to afford a trip to the Southern end of one of the most Northern continents on Earth because it costs too much to travel. The world is big. You are small. You are hopeless, powerless. The only thing you have going for you is rock and roll and every band you've ever liked is American and either breaks up after ten minutes, dies in an airplane crash, gets drafted into the army or makes some really awful films you refuse to spend money on (sometimes all three) and everyone keeps telling you rock and roll - the only thing you live for and that gives you succour in your tiny insignificant life - is a fad that's already past it and dying a death.

Fast forward to April 1970, when even the biggest in denial brigade has accepted that the rumours are true and The Beatles have broken up. It's as if the world has ended! But at least you've seen the world. You're older and you've seen a lot and experienced a lot, most of it to a Beatle soundtrack that's been playing in your head as you grow up. You may well still live in a Northern city, but you've travelled everywhere (or at least thought about it or maybe had people travel to you) and you're open to ideas from America, from India, heck everywhere. You have a future, so very different to what your dad did before you if you were a boy and if you were a girl, hey good luck keeping up with everything suddenly available to you and you didn't need a boy to make it happen. You can do anything, you can go anywhere (if you save, anyway) and you can be anyone you want to be. Working class? Suddenly everyone wants to be like you and talk like you and yet remembers that they already think like you and you're basically the same except for a bit of loose change. You know everything there is to know about life because you own a record collection and you didn't even have to leave your armchair to understand it. The Beatles lived everything out for you - and then they expected you to join in with the 'best bits' too, whether it's singing along or joining a youthful peaceful revolution. You might have spent most of it, but you have lots of money - the economy is booming and your town is swinging and it doesn't matter if you're working class, if you have talent you can get anywhere - just look at The Beatles, there's no class prejudice against them now! There may yet be another war, but somehow it doesn't feel like it because the young people are out for peace and the old people will die out soon and one day peace will be everywhere; even after the Beatle break-up their optimistic spirit still lives on. And anyway, you feel brave enough to risk escaping the draft - and so do most of your friends. You've seen as much of the world as you can manage.. You are in charge of your destiny, if not today then someday, and you can do anything. You still, however treasure your rock and roll collection - and share it with as many people as you can find - because through it you have the power to change the world and make it a better place for everybody; heck the changes have started with you already. You also know that rock and roll is in safe hands, with four solo Beatles to buy records from now, and will surely never die. The world is small. You feel big.

What happened? The Beatles happened - and how. These are, of course, major generalisations. For all I know you had a great 1962 and won the lottery and had a miserable 1970 when you lost your job, but by and large if you were a certain age and any race, gender or nationality (The Beatles transcended all 'isms', except age - and even then some mum and dads and even grannies and grandads 'got' them) you were better off or at least felt as if you might be soon. The Beatles brought many things to the world's youth - longer hair, Beatle boots, songs to hum in the bath and erudite working class role models with cool accents you could look up to rather than laugh at - but the single biggest thing they brought the world was hope. Until The Beatles segregation was everywhere - not necessarily in race but in terms of class status, gender and age. The only Liverpool act to be big in the rest of Britain recently had been comedian Ken Dodd. The Beatles thrashed that with the infectious enthusiasm of [27] 'Please Please Me' and [66] 'She Loves You', message songs with a beat. The only British acts to break big in America before The Beatles were rogue one-offs like The Tornadoes with 'Telstar'. The Beatles ended up with more entries in the American top 100 in one amazing week than their entire competition from around the world put together. The only acts to make films did them badly, exploited and humiliated by twee plot lines and icky love plots. The Beatles made 'A Hard Day's Night' and broke every mould going. Before The Beatles if you were a band you had a set leader and you brought in outside songwriter to write songs for you and managers who told you what to think and what to wear. After The Beatles you were a democracy - that was the whole point of being in a 'band' - and the only time anybody dared to force on you outside material or try to manage what you said, you laughed at them and vowed to come up with something so perfect nobody could possibly deny you. The Beatles revolutionised the way you made records, the time you took to make records, how you promoted records and how much of yourself you put into your records. Though they weren't always first (The Beach Boys had a year head start and until late 1965 other Northern bands like The Hollies and The Searchers were pretty darn close), they were unquestionably the biggest. Traditionally music always appealed to a 'particular demographic' before The Beatles, but the ultimate in cross-over groups appealed to just about everybody; this was a band that was 'inclusive' not 'exclusive' and actually came out loving it when toddlers, Grandmas and Australian aborigines came out in favour of their music. The Beatles did things larger than life, appealing to an international audience so huge every band since has struggled to pick out their own shadow. In The Beatles' day every new fad was seen as the 'next Elvis' - over fifty years on and in our present day and age the next fad is still referred to as 'The next Beatles', always.

If there hadn't have been a Beatles around in the 1960s the world would have had to have invented them, because in the early 1960s the youth needed something that was 'theirs' and which didn't represent what their parents had (whilst being less aggressive than their older sisters/brothers' music of the 1950s). The distance between the First World War and the Second World War was approximately twenty years. The distance between the Second World War and the 1960s was more or less the same. The musicians of the Beatles' age grew up in a war that often left them scarred for life: every single one of the Beatles and most of the British (some of the American) musicians in these books grew up during bomb-raids and with absent parents. War was normal, it's what happened to wipe out half of every generation of young men via parents and grandparents and it was a subject youngsters learnt not to talk about because no one else would talk about it either. The backdrop of the cold war promising new ways of annihilation didn't help. Once they grew old enough to have a 'say', the youngsters with The Beatles as their cheerleaders rejected what they were being fed - that war was inevitable, that half of them would die in bomb-raids and trench warfare (or worse, given the marching progress of technology and the atomic bomb). That they should be looking down on people who weren't like them through class, politics, nationality or race. The youngsters said no and came together, by and large - but they couldn't have done it without a spokesperson showing the world that it didn't have to be that way. After JFK, the youngest American president for another forty years, was shot the world looked to someone, anyone else and after dallying with The Beach Boys the world went for The Beatles.

When asked post-Anthology what he thought The Beatles' biggest success and his proudest moment was, Paul McCartney said it was that the band had always stuck to their message and promoted 'peace'. Though John, George and Ringo tended to disagree with him on principle on everything later in life, you sense that had they been there even the other three would have nodded their heads in agreement. Every Beatles song was about peace in there somewhere and if not about peace then about love. That's one hell of a positive message to give a following that size (and while The Beatles weren't as alone in their message as the history books sometimes make them out to be, they were the biggest devotees with the biggest following) and what's more, the fans used it too. Being a Beatle-fan, at least post-1964, didn't mean owning every album and having pictures on your wall - it meant being part of the movement that were, very politely but firmly saying 'no' to whatever horrors the adults had in store next. We could all take part. Vietnam draft? The Beatles said it was wrong so it would be 'uncool' - you didn't have to care what your neighbours or your friends did, if The Beatles said it that was word enough. Racism? But The Beatles loved black music and stood up against segregation - that makes unity 'cool'. Even the treatment of women - The Beatles songs, give or take [169] 'Run For Your Life', are very far ahead of their time, with both John and Paul obsessed by strong courageous women who knew their own mind, whatever the 'I love blondes with white shoes' larking about they added to their dumb interviews. What's more The Beatles weren't spokesmen just because the world asked them to be - most of the time they loved the role and lived up to it, speaking out more and more against what they thought was 'wrong' and with an erudition that meant more often than not even their naysayers assumed they were 'right'. The Beatles weren't correct all the time about everything, of course, but between the four of them they stayed grounded enough to prevent being star-struck and they reflected their audience pretty much all the way to the end (only 'Magical Mystery Tour' was perhaps a step too ahead of the game for their mass audience to understand).

The Beatles were, when they started, the lowest of the low. By the end of their time together they were the highest of the high. From the Cavern basement to the Apple rooftop they'd travelled heights no other cultural figures had ever reached, with a mass market everyone else could only dream of. They'd revolutionised not only the music industry, but the fashion industry, politics and societal norms. Had The Beatles ignored their audience, the way so many other bands did, they'd still have counted for nothing. What The Beatles did, better than anyone, was make us feel a part of the ride (and I'm using 'us' lightly given that Lennon died before I was born - but even time is no barrier if you're enough of a Beatlefan to care; this group is for everybody in all times). They made us feel that it could be our turn next, to walk off into the brave wild blue yonder and make the world a better place. The Beatles spoke to the world a message of love via satellite in 1967 that beamed to virtually the whole planet. There was only cultural phenomenon even considered for the British part of the broadcast and it's in many ways the high watermark of The Beatles as a band. It was up to us, wherever we were, to follow that journey on and keep 'it' (whatever 'it' was) a part of us for the rest of our lives too. So many good things happened around the world - and are still happening - because The Beatles made it possible. So many people would have been too poor, too young, too feminine, too black, too whatever to do the great things they went on to do. While The Beatles can't take the credit for every good thing that ever happened, The Beatles are quoted by many heroes and heroines of future world culture as an influence for very good reasons. We could do as well as them, because once The Beatles blasted down so many doors we were safe to walk through them forevermore, no matter how badly the world tried to block them - we were smarter than 'they' were and The Beatles said it so it must be right. Yes, as George once said, the world used The Beatles as an excuse to 'go mad', but the single most important thing ev-uh about The Beatles is that the world used them as an excuse to do so much good.  They were more than just a rock and pop band - they were our saviours and amazingly they lived up to the early pressure they were given for eight whole years. The world was never the same again afterwards. Nor would we ever want it to be. The difference between 1962 and 1970 seems way too big for just that amount of time. It's a world of difference - a generation in fact.

A now complete guise to Beatle links at this website is available here:

'Rubber Soul' (1965)

'Revolver' (1966)

'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band' (1967)

'Magical Mystery Tour' (1967)

'The Beatles' aka 'The White Album' (1968)

'Yellow Submarine' (1969)

The Best Unreleased Beatles Recordings

A Complete AAA Guide To The Beatles Cartoons

The Beatles: Surviving TV Appearances

A 'Bite' Of Beatles Label 'Apple'

The Beatles: Non-Album Songs Part One: 1958-63

 The Beatles: Non-Album Songs Part Two: 1964-67

The Beatles: Non-Album Songs Part Three: 1968-96

The Beatles: Compilations/Live Albums/Rarities Sets Part One: 1962-74

The Beatles: Compilations/Live Albums/Rarities Sets Part Two: 1976-2013

Beatles Bonuses: The Songs John and Paul Gave Away To The World/To Ringo!

Essay: The Ways In Which The Beatles Changed The World For The Better

Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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