The Beatles were the Fab Four from Liverpool that wrote the soundtrack to the sixties. They did not have the initial ideas but they developed them and sang to the world. They played in bands in Liverpool in the very early sixties when there was little future for a young man. They were inspired by the classic Rock and Roll era that started in 1955 and died down soon after. Chuck Berry and Little Richard were their main inspirations. They had a regular gig at the Cavern Club in the centre of Liverpool and their manager Brian Epstein found them and marketed them to the world.
He put them in suits and cut their hair and with their clean cut image they produced the blueprint for the three minute love-song. From 1962 they had a string of constant hits for an action packed three years. They took rock from a niche market to a world-wide audience. They toured the world and were followed by hysterical screaming young girls. They were a new phenomenon and kick-started youth culture.
They were not the greatest musicians, but they were superb writers. Paul McCartney had a natural untrained gift for writing a melody and would often include a “blue note” to add an interest to the song. John Lennon was a creative genius who paired his songs down to the basics and could produce all number of original pieces.
The three minute love-song was copied by everybody else, but by 1965 they started to expand their horizons. Rubber Soul was an album that started to experiment with folk style songs about the condition of life. Revolver in 1966 was a gateway to what followed, clearly influenced by LSD, they were exploring subjects, sounds expanding their minds and musical boundaries.
They had been touring constantly and it was getting monotonous. The incessant screaming, when nobody could hear what they were playing and the insane idol worship, that could easily lead to hatred as it did in Manilla on their last tour, was dragging them down. In late 1966 they decided to concentrate on the studio. They produced an album with revolutionary recording techniques and sounds that could not be replicated in concert. The music was eclectic, Indian and Music Hall featured on the album. It was drenched in the aftermath of mind expanding drugs, cannabis and LSD. It was Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Although the album may not translate to modern listeners, the affect it had on the many people, and it would have been all Western youth, was pivotal. Musicians saw that there were no rules and anything could be attempted in the name of art. The kids were turned on to drugs and the new age had begun. What had started in Haight-Asbury San Francisco in 1967, the Summer of Love, had been endorsed by the biggest force in youth culture. But the dream of peace and love did not last as the foundations to the new movement were weak. The real motivations were self and hedonism.
The Beatles continued to explore new art-forms and the avant-garde, but tragedy struck that year when Brian Epstein died and they became almost leaderless. They lurched from one project to another and although there were some stunning musical successes, there were some notable failures. The Apple Corporation was a fascinating idea, but ultimately uneconomic. As the lawyers took over, the boys began to lose control and they started to split apart.
Some say their ultimate demise, in 1970, signalled the end of the sixties. Others say when John was shot 10 years later. But they produced a great body of work in about seven years. They were not only great songs, which can be confirmed by the evidence that they get covered so much. But that they promoted the ideas of the sixties and were so inspired to lead a generation into a new era.
To really listen to the Beatles it is important to appreciate what was happening to society in the West at that time. Drug use was the main reason for failure of the social revolution. Maybe also the divisive nature of youth culture and the almost complete lack of organisation.
But they were leaders at a dynamic time in human history. Although the social revolution failed, you can only learn from failure. If we repeat what they did and do it better, we can only learn from their example and sing their songs with meaning, knowing the context of those vital times.
She loves you, Hard Day’s Night, Help!, With a little help from my friends, All you need is love, Let it be. To listen is to hear, to study the sixties is to see.