There may never be another band as popular as The Beatles, at least in this lifetime. The mop-haired quartet is the most commercially successful and critically-acclaimed musical group with a billion records sold.
From the obscure town of Liverpool in England, the four musicians—Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr—shook the world with their own style of popular music that would change the international musical geography in the1960s. From rock and roll to tin pan alley to psychedelic rock, their songs pervaded the radio airwaves for more than two decades.
Before entering the big scene, The Beatles performed in West Germany. Playing for the money, the four seemed to be content in working overseas. When Brian Epstein agreed to manage them, innovations were in order. The band’s primary target was the US.
They conquered America and they toured the world with their brand of music. From country to country, the popularity of The Beatles was phenomenal such that their hairstyle became a worldwide fad. Long queues for tickets and screaming fans were permanent fixtures in their concerts.
Back home in England, all four members of The Beatles were nominated by Prime Minister Harold Wilson to the Order of the British Empire. The appointment was awarded by Queen Elizabeth II in June 1965. Later on, Paul McCartney would be granted knighthood for his individual achievements.
Aside from recording and concert performances, The Beatles also showed their acting prowess in five movies. A Hard Day’s Night, a musical featuring the group and their music, was an international blockbuster in 1964. It was immediately followed by Help in the following year.
Realizing the big success of their first two movies, The Beatles themselves produced and directed the one-hour tv-movie Magical Mystery Tour in 1967. Yellow Submarine, although an animation using their voices, was their 4th movie in 1968. Their last, Let It Be, was a documentary of their works which was released in 1970. Get Back, the soundtrack, won the Academy Award for Best Original Score.
The Beatles in 1964 (photo from Wikipedia)
Band life was not a bed of roses for The Beatles since the rivalry of John and Paul was no secret. But being true professionals, the quartet performed on the stage without any visible animosity.
In 1970, amidst the fame and fortune, The Beatles recorded their final album – Abbey Road – before officially disbanding due to irreconcilable differences. The last cut in the album, George Harrison’s I Me Mine, was recorded without John Lennon who was in Denmark at the time. (Let It Be, which was recorded earlier, was actually the last album to be released).
After the disbandment, John, Paul, George and Ringo continued their musical ways by going on their own. John had his Plastic Ono Band when he recorded Imagine. Paul organized his Wings when he did Band On The Run. George and his guitar came out with My Sweet Lord while Ringo Starr made his own version of Sweet Sixteen.
As with any celebrity, the magnitude of fans is a barometer of their popularity. Unlike Elvis who has a legion of impersonators, The Beatles have their own serious fans. And if Elvis has Graceland for his immortality, The Beatles have the undergraduate course offered in several universities.
And for more edge over other pop icons, there is that postgraduate course on the study of The Beatles being offered by Liverpool Hope University. The MA (Master of Arts) is the only one of its kind in the whole world.
As written in the prospectus, “This MA will examine the significance of the music of the Beatles in the construction of identities, audiences, ethnicities and industries, and localities; by doing so it will suggest ways to understand popular music as a social practice, focusing attention on issues such as the role of music in the construction of regional identities, concepts of authenticity, aesthetics, meaning, value, performance, and the use of popular music as a discursive evocation of place. Furthermore, in a consideration of popular music as a text, popular music semiotics will also be employed.
”This MA will be of interest to those working in the fields of popular music studies, cultural studies, social anthropology, politics, gender studies, and musicology, among others. Such a course is an essential addition to the discipline of Popular Music Studies.“
Such immortality is reserved only for the most famous sons of Liverpool who made music for over a decade but ruled the airwaves for more than two decades. The Beatles is the only band with the most number of songs in the top ten of the US and British music charts of all time.
The influence of The Beatles was not limited to their music alone. They had their own fashion statement. The mophead haircut was a craze of the youth even in Japan. And their signature black coat was reserved for classy bands. Unfortunately, even their propensity for drug use became sort of a fad.
Fans of The Beatles continued to buy their albums in the hope of once again seeing the band perform together. The dreamers, however, finally stopped dreaming of a reunion when John Lennon was killed by a bullet. He was shot by Mark David Chapman on December 8, 1980. Ironically, Chapman is a rabid fan of John Lennon.
Even when there were only three of them left, talks of performing together and producing an album still persisted. But it all ended when George Harrison died of lung cancer on November 29, 2001.
The success of The Beatles could largely be attributed to the talents of their band members. All the four, aside from playing good music with their instruments, could sing well. And their songs were mostly composed by Paul and John with some contributions by George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
The Beatles is a graduate course that would be too daunting to take if one considers the volume of work to be studied. Surely, it’s a hard day’s night for the student of Popular Music, The Beatles.
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