It’s not just about the Beatles
As you know, the “magnificent four” appeared in Liverpool, a port city, because records of overseas stars got there faster. The Beatles, like other young Britons, imbued with American music and began to imitate Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent, slowly seeking for their own style.
But the matter is not only and not so much in the Beatles themselves, as in the representatives of the British music business. They, of course, have long sensed that rock and roll smells like money, that it is gaining more and more popularity, and were jealous of seeing the flowering of American pop music. In this case, flowering is understood not as an increase in artistry, that is, of formal and substantive complexity, but as showiness and profitability – In fact, this is the essence of mass culture.
So, the owners of British clubs and dance floors began to be willing to invite novice beat teams to their clubs, and even pay extra to the most successful, those who entertained the public well. This, in turn, motivated young musicians to take music more seriously, to see in it a source of income – that is, the main occupation of life, and not a hobby. So little by little the system of British show business began to emerge. Low classes guys saw rock music as a social elevator that would allow them, if not to get rich, then at least not to work hard at the factory. It is worth recalling that all four Beatles came from the working quarters of Liverpool, and their parents belonged to the working class or lower-ranking employees. John Lennon’s father worked as a steward on a merchant ship, and George Harrison’s father was a sailor, Ringo Starr’s father was a pastry chef, and Paul McCartney’s father was a clerk. It’s funny that it was Paul McCartney, who had the most “high” origin, wrote the most commercially successful, “pop” songs, and the “working bones” George and John took the positions of philosopher and rebel in the band.
In the emerging system of show business, young people received a kind of, albeit cramped, social elevator, and business owners received a huge number of competing bands, between which they were free to choose as a naughty bride.
In this sense, the success of the Beatles and other similar bands depended on a whole host of people: in addition to club owners, there were also managers like Brian Epstein, sound producers like Alan Parsons who forged the sound of Beatles and Pink Floyd, advertisers, stylists, roadies and so on. And becoming prefessionals the selected fe were given the opportunity to fully devote themselves to creativity, to hone their style, to achieve a certain level of skill. So we can safely assume that if at the beginning of their career the Beatles would suddenly die in an accident, they would immediately be replaced by another team that would go all the same way and write very similar songs, so the history of rock would not changeHow their style was formed
Smart producers understood that in order to successfully compete with American suppliers of musical goods, they need to create their own unique product, and therefore started searching for their own sound, experimenting with recording methods. The musicians themselves were also given the green light for artistic experimentation. This is how the special Liverpool style (merseybeat) was formed. Efforts were not in vain: the Beatles composition “I want to hold your hand” for the first time pressed the American performers in the American charts and marked the beginning of the “British invasion” on the US stage.
In addition, Epstein seriously took up the image of the Beatles and their behavior on stage. Lennon later recalled that the producer told the musicians: “Look, if you really want to get in these bigger places, you’re going to have to change – stop eating on stage, stop swearing, stop smoking”1.
Unfortunately, the presentation of the history of the Beatles and other rockers too often dwells on the figures of the musicians themselves and their work and does not notice the forces that directed their work and determined it. We are told fairy tales written according to the pattern of the “American dream”: here were simple poor guys who loved to play music and dreamed of climbing to the top of glory; they dreamed so well of it that they suddenly invented an unusual style and a bunch of great songs; They were loved, noticed, and now they are famous all over the world, they make huge money and rage with fat, throwing TVs out of the windows of hotels … However, let’s not forget about such an essential element of show business (and business in general) as a contract. Hands and feet bound, the musicians are literally the private property of their managers and companies. However, at the dawn of the sixties, the Beatles were still far away from this, and the system of show business in Europe was still evolving, gropingly developing its mechanisms and pushing various elements to each other.
So far, the sound engineers were still inventing those hardware settings that late became the signature sound of the Beatles, while the Liverpool Four itself produced simple love-songs.
So what brought a change in the work of the Beatles, how their songs became something more than just a dance-music? The reasons, again, should be sought far beyond the skullcases of the Beatles themselves.
Why the 60s
After the Second World War, the anti-capitalist movement is growing all over the world, the vanguard of which is young people, mainly students. The peak of this movement falls on the 60s, and the culmination of the events falls on the «Red May» in Paris in 1968. By the way, please note that it was in 1968-1969 that the most famous albums of “classic” western rock came out (“White Album” and “Abbey Road” by the Beatles, “John Wesley Harding” by Bob Dylan, “Waiting for the Sun” by the Doors,» Crown of Creation by the Jefferson Airplane «, etc.). We will still consider this question, but for now we will wind off the tape of events a couple of years ago.
The anti-capitalist movement was extremely heterogeneous in its composition and ideas: from traditional pro-Soviet local communist parties, who fought for the victory of the Eastern bloc in the Cold War, to situationists and hippies, who sought to overthrow the power of world capital through artistic experiments or occult rituals. The only common feeling was that capitalism is bad, and it is impossible to continue living like that. It was shared by students, workers, and a significant part of intellectuals (including the creative intelligentsia).
This is how Alexander Tarasov summarizes the ideas of young rebellions of the 60s: «The rebellious youth of the 60s denied the routine “civilization” of corporate America – with its sanctimonious morality, poor intelligence, racial prejudice, conveyor economy, cave anti-communism, ostentatious religiousness, standardized way of life, positivist conformist thinking. They demanded the creation of a new society – a society without repressive morality, without repressive political institutions, without the primacy of conformism, without ignoring the interests of the individual, without alienation, a society where creative activity, self-expression, self-realization of talent would be honored and not opressed. Regardless of which community the rebels belonged to – hippies, yippi, “new leftists”, civil rights activists, fighters for equal rights of blacks, Puerto Ricans, Indians, chikanos, rock culture, “parallel cinema”, “off-Broadway theater”, “psychedelic painting”, the movement for a new way of life (commune) or the “Jesus movement” — the ideas of young rebels were radically different from the ideas of their fathers»2.
These moods could not but capture the Beatles, because then the stars of rock were not yet separated from the surrounding life by the fences of their own villas and the sides of their yachts. The 1965 Beatles album “Rubber Soul” already features songs “Nowhere Man” and “The Word” written by John Lennon with some involvement of Paul McCartney. In the first of them, a philistine, a man on the street who is not thinking about the meaning of his life, is mocked, but it is he, the western philistine, who today owns the whole world.
He’s a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land,
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.
Doesn’t have a point of view, knows not where he’s going to
Isn’t he a bit like you and me?
Their love was special
And even the love that is mentioned in the song “The Word” (“Don’t you know, the word is love?”) is no longer a puberty attraction to a girl, but something more. The feeling of love for young people of the 60s extends not only to the sexual partner, but to the whole of humanity, expresses a new principle of world order. When the rockers sang about love, they demanded the rejection of all wars, and not only of wars between states, but also of “the war of all against all”, war for a place under the sun, on which capitalist society is based.
The atmosphere of the late sixties was filled with social optimism. People — and especially young ones — felt, that everything can be and is «getting so much better». Youth believed that it can conquer the world; and the music reflected the mood of that moment. Music did not become a way of escape for a frustrated generation, but rather a symbol of the generation, which felt the ability to make real changes — social, political and personal ones.
«My family is all those who value other people’s tears as their own», said the idol of the 60s youth, Ernesto Che Guevara. One of the ideological inspirers of the “new left” philosopher Erich Fromm wrote: «The kind of love which can only be experienced with regard to one person demonstrates by this very fact that it is not love but a sado-masochistic attachment. The basic affirmation contained in love is directed towards the beloved person as an incarnation of essentially human qualities. Love for one person implies love forman as such»3.
The same idea was expressed by the Beatles in the song “All you need is love”, which became a peculiar anthem of the hippie movement. But it became so popular not because it discovered some new idea, but because it corresponded to the already established and strengthened convictions of the protest youth. It is important to understand: the rockers did not command the opinion of the audience, as it is presented to us today, but only responded to it, tried to express it. Those who managed to do it extremely accurately and brightly, became the heralds of the generation. I’m not getting tired of repeating the simple but absolutely inaccessible to modern publicists thought of Bertolt Brecht, the guided ones are guiding their guides.
As the western youths of the 60s (the best part of it) changed, the rockers (the best of them) changed as well. In 1968, John Lennon, in protest against the participation of Great Britain in the biathro-Nigerian war, returned to the government his Order of the British Empire, which with great solemnity were presented to the Beatles in 1965 by Prime Minister Wilson “for his contribution to the development of British culture and its popularization to the whole world.»
Written by: Dmitry Kosyakov.
Metamorphoses of Bob Dylan. Part II.
Metamorphoses of Bob Dylan. Part I.
Rock portraits. Part 1. Russian rock-music and world rock-music
1The Beatles Anthology. Chronicle Books, 2000. P. 67.
2Alexander Tarasov. Молодёжь как социальный бульдозер (Youth as a social bulldozer). http://saint-juste.narod.ru/buld_tup.html
3Fromm E. The escape from freedom.