John Lennon 1940– Paul McCartney 1942–
British songwriters, musicians, producers, arrangers, actors, and filmmakers. Lennon and McCartney were the chief writers for the Beatles, the rock quartet by whose success all other groups are now measured. Without formal musical training, they created music that had universal appeal, yet was sophisticated enough to be appreciated by musical scholars. They expanded the boundaries of popular music, gave it respectability, and helped to bring it, both artistically and commercially, to its present state. The Beatles played a major role in defining the cultural climate of the sixties. From their hair and clothing to their interests in drugs and meditation, young people emulated them and their lifestyles. The Beatles achieved an uncanny balance of personality and talent, with each member of the group (which also included George Harrison and Ringo Starr) strongly individual as well as complementary to the others. Their music reflected this diversity: Lennon wrote songs that were often rebellious, aggressive, and satirical; McCartney's were lyrical, sweeter, and more sentimental. As songwriters, the difference in their natures seemed to aid in the success of their collaborations as each complemented the other's writing style. Later Harrison also became a composer, and his works most often reflected his interest in Eastern music and mystical thought. The Beatles, along with Bob Dylan, are considered responsible for renewing an interest in the power of words to the listening audience of the sixties. From the beginning, their lyrics were fresh and devoid of cliché. As they matured, their songs increased in complexity, and they moved from boy/girl romantic themes to subjects infrequently used in popular songs. Lennon's "Norwegian Wood," for instance, dealt with a clandestine affair, and McCartney's "Eleanor Rigby" painted a touching picture of the life and death of a lonely woman. Lennon also published two inventive books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works, which have been recognized as serious contributions to the genre of comic literature in the vein of James Joyce and Edward Lear. The zenith for the band was Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, an ambitious album which was not only unified thematically, but which was also the last representation of the Beatles working together as a unit. It treats illusion, escape, and reality within its structure of an English music hall show, and includes the song "A Day in the Life," which many critics have called the finest synthesis of the talents of Lennon and McCartney. The release of Sgt Pepper in 1967 was a landmark in the history of popular music. Its success and influence solidified the Beatles's reputation as major musical innovators, and provided the first example of a popular work worthy of analysis as art, with criterion similar to that of more classical forms. On their successive albums, the Beatles began to work independently of each other, and created works that went into more unconventional musical directions but were less cohesive. The Lennon and McCartney song-writing partnership disbanded due to personal and musical differences, and some critics complained that without the balancing effect that the composers had on each other, their compositions were marred by the excesses of their individual writing styles. These complaints were intensified after the breakup of the group in 1970, when both Lennon and McCartney began releasing solo albums. Many critics felt that each artist operated from either side of an extreme: Lennon was accused of making musical editorials of his songs, while McCartney became considered an intellectual lightweight with songs that, although melodic, had no more meaning than nursery rhymes. Despite McCartney's recent commercial success and Lennon's deified position as a reclusive genius, the most consistent opinion has been that Lennon and McCartney are less successful individually than they were with the rest of the Beatles. However, as the creative forces behind the most potently influential musicians of the last twenty years, very few of us have been left untouched by the magic of their words and music.
The Beatles are an agreeable bunch of kids, quite unsinister (unlike some of the American teenage comets), with that charming combination of flamboyance and a certain hip self-mickey-taking, which is the ideal of their age group. They are in fact the 'new Elizabethans' for whom the bishops called 10 years ago. Much of their appeal has nothing to do with music at all, but with clothes, haircuts and stance. What they sell is not music, but 'the sound', a slightly modified version of the heavily accented, electronically amplified noise which has long been familiar to rock-and-rollers and could at a pinch be described as the musique concrète of the masses. Anyone can produce that sound, and practically everyone with the money for the rather expensive gear has done so…. Mersey-side—and the Beatles—emerged as the recognised Nashville of Britain about a year ago, when entrepreneurs first became aware of the size of the market for the beat groups which had grown up spontaneously in provincial cellars and halls…. There is generally only one idol and it happens that this sympathetic group of lads has been cast for the part. They are probably just about to begin their slow descent: the moment when someone thinks of making a film with a pop idol normally marks the peak of his curve. In 20 years' time nothing of them will survive. (p. 673)
Francis Newton, "Beatles and Before," in New Statesman (© 1963...
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The Beatles of Britain were seen in their first complete song on American television last night as Jack Paar presented a film of the mop-headed quartet on his variety show….
The young men from Liverpool, whose Merseyside version of rock 'n' roll has bestirred English teen-agers and sociologists to a communion of interest, aurally suggested a Presley multiplied by four. Visually, their calisthenics were wider and, upon somewhat fuller examination, might prove infinitely more amusing….
While trade papers of the United States entertainment world indicate that recordings made by the Beatles should find favor among indigenous teen-agers, it would not seem quite so likely that the accompanying fever known as Beatlemania will also be successfully exported. On this side of the Atlantic it is dated stuff.
Hysterical squeals emanating from developing femininity really went out coincidental with the payola scandal and Presley's military service….
On last night's very limited evidence it would appear that the main joy of Beatlemania for the English is its British manufacture; it is no time for neighbors of the Paramount Theatre to point out that hereabouts it happens once a generation—e.g., Frank Sinatra and Alan Freed.
From a nation where the best-selling record is now The Singing Nun's delicate and charming "Dominique" there can be extended to the British the...
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Literary London, from parlor to arty mews, has been one great wide open door for noble primitives, even though London literati still live in the mental atmosphere of the 19th-century aristocracy, in the world of the universities, nutty sherry, curly Shelley hair, parlor floor libraries with trestle ladders, and mandarin wit. The enthusiasm for genius-savages has been in part a guilty sympathy for the proles and primitives and in part a romantic awe of raw vitality. Nevertheless, the case of John Lennon is exceptional. He is one of the few Englishmen whom English literati have hailed as a genius of the lower crust. He comes out of the very vortex of something intellectuals all over the West have begun to turn to as a new fashion in artistic taste: namely, mass culture, which has been the material, in painting, for the genre known as "pop art." The pop artists sit on the floor wearing levis and Zorrie sandals in the same old calcimined lofts painting pictures of comic strips, tail fins, motel archways, tuxedo ads, housing development floor plans. But Lennon steps right out of mass culture, the "Beatlemania," without benefit of a middle man, we are assured, and becomes the artist himself….
[The stories and poems in In His Own Write are] nonsense writing, but one has only to review the literature of nonsense to see how well Lennon has brought it off. While some of his homonyms are gratuitous word play, many others have not only...
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[In His Own Write] not only has a style of its own, but at its best it has a very sure and delightful style. Moreover, it is not about the author or the group which made him famous; it is a collection of brief whimsies and simple drawings—pure fancy and nonsense concocted by someone who loves jumbling words and images.
In reviews of the book, all sorts of literary wheels have been mentioned as influences—Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, James Thurber (I keep thinking of Kenneth Patchen, too—and it's easy to see why …)…. Even James Joyce has been mentioned, and certainly [some] passages … have a wild and heavy quality which goes beyond word play…. (p. 588)
But Lennon is Lennon; he has his own brand of jumble-word, particularly in the prose pieces (it often sounds like someone with a cold speaking cockney-rhyming slang), and his own satiric way of looking at things. Sometimes his satire is extremely cutting, although several stories are marred to my taste, by a sort of surface viciousness that comes out like the cute snicker of sick jokes.
These places, however, are more than balanced by pages of inspired madness in the form of small poems, tiny stories, minute plays, a letter, a television survey, speech instructions, and a few even less classifiable items. The pieces range from quietly clever to outrageous, and occasionally there is even a touching moment. The drawings are very...
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The question is: why do we need A Hard Day's Night so much that we keep showing it as often as we do? (p. 84)
Childhood is our goal. Concomitant with being a child exists the pleasure one gets from playing and the intolerable displeasure one gets from realizing one's dependency on others. Thus the Beatles play on the rugby field in that most pleasurable scene which you want to see again and again. Four boys mock space and time—the sequence lasts under three minutes—as they play to "Can't Buy Me Love." Every moment seems spontaneous and joyful. Actions and movements are speeded up and slowed down. What we see is how we once wanted to feel. "Genital organization is a tyranny in man because his peculiar infancy has left him with a lifelong allegiance (i.e., fixation) to the pattern of infantile sexuality" (Norman O. Brown). If this is correct, why does the playing terminate? After that beautiful scene of exhaustion when the Beatles—lying on the grass, hands under their heads—count or talk silently to themselves? The answer is that 1) Mr. Genital Reality orders them off his field; and that 2) the Beatles have a TV rehearsal waiting for them. They have escaped from their duties: no job, no "Money"—which song comments obversely on that working-day world situation which "Can't Buy Me Love" attempts to fantasize away. The balding TV director ("It's a young man's business") depends on the manager who depends on the Beatles who...
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If being a critic were the same as being a listener I could just enjoy "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Other than one cut which I detest ("Good Morning, Good Morning"), I find the album better than 80 per cent of the music around today; it is the other 20 per cent (including the best of the Beatles' past performances) which worries me as a critic….
When the Beatles' work as a whole is viewed in retrospect, it will be "Rubber Soul" and "Revolver" which stand as their major contributions. When the slicks and tricks of production on this album no longer seem unusual, and the compositions are stripped to their musical and lyrical essentials, "Sergeant Pepper" will be Beatles baroque—an elaboration without improvement.
I find it easíer to explain that statement by comparing a song like "She's Leaving Home" with "Eleanor Rigby" because while the musical motifs are similar, a profound sense of tragedy is conveyed in the earlier song through a series of poignantly ironic vignettes. This "tactile" agony within detail has exercised a profound influence on the poetry of rock; you can see it in Donovan's brooding "Young Girl Blues" and in the Bee Gees' stark "New York Mine Disaster."
"She's Leaving Home" is unlikely to influence anyone except the Monkees. Its lyrical technique is uninspired narrative, with a dearth of poetic irony. All the despair is surface, and so, while "Eleanor Rigby"...
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No album in recent years has been issued in the midst of so much 'fuss and foofaraw as "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."…
The title tune, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, is the latter: redundant without making a point by the redundancy. Its lyric is vague and cluttered. The rock intellectuals will claim it is full of meaning, of course. If it becomes desperately important for you to find meaning in it, a little grass will help: pot makes everything seem significant.
The second song of the album, A Little Help from My Friends, features more of the meandering, unstructured, free-association do-it-yourself-Rorschachism that Lennon and McCartney too often pass off as lyric writing, "I get by with a little help from my friends, I get high with a little help from my friends …" What are the friends? Roaches? Who knows whether they mean drugs, or actual real-live friends. This lyric isn't profound; it's just indefinite.
But suddenly, in the third track, the album comes to life. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, almost certainly a deliberate evocation of the visual effect of an LSD high, opens in three-four. A melotron—an electronic keyboard instrument that here sounds like a reverberated harpsichord—provides an eerily beautiful accompaniment. The song begins, "Picture yourself in a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies. Somebody calls you,...
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That "Sgt. Pepper" is different from [the Beatles'] previous albums should surprise no one. Every edition of their work has revealed change, sometimes intensive, sometimes casual. A large measure of the Beatles' attractiveness is centered around this basic—and probably intuitive—need to extend the limits of their art. Lennon is a natural lyricist in much the way, I would say, that Larry Hart was. Lennon makes banal rhymes and gets away with it. He can rhyme "I was mean" with "I'm changing my scene"; he can match "Nothing to say" with "but what a day" and couple successive phrases like "I get by," "I get high" and "going to try", and make them all work. Why? Because he is a masterful storyteller, even with abstract material; that is, he can string together seemingly unrelated fragments with just enough connective material to make things appear sequential (see his published books for more specific examples). In addition, the simple classical song forms used by McCartney for his melodies give a sense of continuity to Lennon's lyrics that they might otherwise lack. Insofar as the symbolism of Lennon's lyrics is concerned, I do not really feel that it is that important to be aware of all the allusions to LSD, pot, and the other purely topical matters he frequently examines. A song that describes the fixing of a "… hole where the rain gets in, And stops my mind from wandering …" is pertinent to any sensitive listener, whether it be a...
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The Beatles really started the whole long-haired hippie business four years ago, and who knows whether they developed with it or it developed with them? All those hours of analysis are a gauge of how important the Beatles have become to … us.
One song on Sgt. Pepper, "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite", seems to me deliberately one-dimensional, nothing more than a description of a traveling circus. It fits beautifully into the album, which is kind of a long vaudeville show, but I feel almost certain it has no "meaning". Yet one girl, age fifteen, writes that it presents "life as an eerie, perverted circus." Is this sad? silly? horrifying? contemptible? From an adult it might be all four, but from a fifteen-year-old it is simply moving. A good Lennon-McCartney song is sufficiently cryptic to speak to the needs of whomever listens. (p. 45)
One of the nice things The Beatles do for those of us who love them is charge commonplace English with meaning. I want to hold your hand. It's getting better all the time. Yeah, yeah, yeah. "Fixing a Hole" … is full of such suggestive phrases. I'll resist temptation and quote only five lines: "And it really doesn't matter if I'm wrong or right / Where I belong I'm right / Where I belong. / See the people standing there who disagree and never win / And wonder why they don't get in my door." This passage not only indicates the intricate things The Beatles are doing with...
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Alejandro Enrique Planchart
The Beatles' music, up to the time of their first movie, still belongs in the earlier tradition of rock 'n' roll. Each new album had one or two really remarkable songs that today seem to anticipate the later pieces. But I have the feeling that there was a real change at about the time of A Hard Day's Night, and that the seeds of that change were literary rather than musical. They came essentially from Lennon's acute sensitivity to the spiritual world and to the hang-ups of the British middle class. While most critics were surprised by how good A Hard Day's Night was (where had they been?), Lennon's In His Own Write and the later A Spaniard in the Works brought about mixed reactions. Many reviewers who had apparently enjoyed reading the books appeared embarrassed to say so. The Joycean surface of the writing, thin though it is, put people off. Critics found it a transparent and perhaps pretentious game, and teeny-boppers did not find much fun in Lennon's wit. The surface of the writing is, in fact, playful, but I find it delightful. Behind it, there is a remarkably acute perception of the petit-bourgeois, his narrow world, his mechanically repetitious life, and his dreams, often as feeble and prosaic as his reality, to escape it.
If this vision is hidden behind a clever surface in the books, it comes out fully in the lyrics of the songs. Some, such as She Is Leaving Home, have an obvious moral to them,...
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Frederic V. Grunfeld
[The] Beatles are now in a position to do anything at all and have it listened to. Their recent oeuvre, notably Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Magical Mystery Tour, is a great eclectic circus of Indian raga, Salvation Army, Benjamin British, tailgate, gutbucket, and aleatoric chance-music, all handled without hang-ups or uptightness. There is a lovely lawlessness about it that reminds one of the "indeterminacy" experiments of John Cage, the father of random music-making. Cage did this sort of thing for years, but he had to explain himself. The Beatles do it without explaining: "You don't say love, you do it" is an old psychedelic proverb. (p. 56)
Rhythmically [the] early Beatle numbers were lineal descendants of "race records," Mississippi blues, Alabama field hollers, and such. But while the thumb was playing with blues tension, the windpipe was enunciating British sentiments closer to Bea Lillie than Lead Belly. The words were surprisingly bland, coming from a generation whose mod/rocker antics were just then making headlines and whose taste for unabated high volume was blowing the roof off the discotheques.
Apparently the Beatles had got to the root of some secret sorrow and made it articulate: the first groping love efforts of a generation that had undergone the trauma of permissive parenthood and demand feeding. Beneath the tough-sounding surface of this music one could detect...
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Time was when the Beatles could be viewed as the vanguard of a cultural revolution without so much as bothering their heads about politics. Just what was implicit in their music was enough: an assumption of generational revolt and the existence of sub-cultures with alternative life styles. (p. 65)
In the beginning, the Beatles never had to attack the system overtly; their very success implied the criticism. Being isolationist and apolitical was in itself a departure from the values of the older generation; in English terms it meant not giving a damn about the Queen and her crumbling empire….
The Beatles were more than a rock band. They offered up their whole lives as a kind of entertainment, with an invitation to kids to imitate them: live free, fuck off, you don't have to play the game by society's rules to make it. Taking on the Beatles' life style was an implicitly political act that may have been valid, at that particular time, for English kids.
But the revolt that seemed so promising for England proved, in time, to be merely one-dimensional: the bank clerks and office juniors who donned Mod clothes and danced to the Beatles remained bank clerks and office juniors; the class structure that the Beatles were supposed to be breaking down never quite broke down enough to include their fans. And the attempt to import it to America, where intellectuals were increasingly political, was doomed to...
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September…. The Merry Pranksters are getting ready to head bombed out into the mightiest crazed throng in San Francisco history, come to see the Beatles at the Cow Palace. (p. 178)
Inside the Cow Palace it is very roaring hell. Somehow [Ken Kesey, the leader of the Merry Pranksters] and Babbs lead the Day-Glo crazies up to their seats. The pranksters are sitting in a great clump, a wacky perch up high in precipitous pitch high up pitching down to the stage and millions of the screaming teeny freaks. The teeny freaks, tens of thousands of little girls, have gone raving mad already, even though the Beatles have not come on. Other groups, preliminaries, keep trooping on…. (p. 181)
Each group of musicians that goes off the stage—the horde thinks now the Beatles, but the Beatles don't come, some other group appears, and the sea of girls gets more and more intense and impatient and the screaming gets higher, and the thought slips into Norman's flailing flash-frayed brain stem ::: the human lung cannot go beyond this :::: and yet when the voice says And now—the Beatles—what else could he say?—and out they come on stage—them—John and George and Ringo and uh the other one—it might as well have been four imported vinyl dolls for all it was going to matter—that sound he thinks cannot get higher, it doubles, his eardrums ring like stamped metal with it and suddenly...
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Alfred G. Aronowitz
By the weight of the crate, The Beatles is the most ambitious album of their career. It took five months to produce through a session of doubt as Paul was changing friends, John was changing wives and the four of them were trying to build a corporate Garden of Eden where they could walk naked, have their Apple and eat it, too. They were off the Maharishi but still whistling tunes they had written on the road to Rishikesh. I'd give you everything I've got for a little peace of mind! shouts John. His suffering in this album becomes as heavy as the cement that holds the Beatles together. Poor John. With his songs so patently autobiographical, how must one react to lines like, I feel so suicidal, just like Dylan's Mr. Jones? How must Paul, George and Ringo have reacted to it? With pleasure? I doubt it.
It wasn't until after they met Dylan that the Beatles realized there's more to a song than the pretty cinemascopic colors they give to its sound. They still come tumbling out of your hi-fi speakers and into your living room like old friends bringing gifts but ever since they learned they'd have to live out their lives in public their lyrics have become more like snapshots from a family album….
Many of the songs in this album were written of, by and for children. The Beatles are still trying to lead the fight against an older generation that acts as if youth has been purse-snatched from it by the kids....
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The Beatles, ninety minutes of music on two records, is massively boring, a collection of mediocre compositions given some of the most flaccid performances of recent months. The only tension on the album is between the quartet's snottiness and their indifference to the audience.
A good deal of the new album is taken up with a variety of homages and parodies (and, by and large, parody is a lazy man's art form): mock country-and-western, mock West Indian, mock Beach Boys, mock teeny rock, mock electronic music, mock '30s pop, and especially mock Beatles. Most of it doesn't work and some of it is even offensive: for example, the parody of the Beach Boys is sloppy and unconvincing (although the song itself, Back in the U.S.S.R., is quite funny), and I imagine the blues and c & w copies are insulting to people for whom these are meaningful forms. Even the very best cuts are disappointments. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill finally can't sustain Lennon's cuteness. Happiness Is a Warm Gun is, despite its title, a song about sexual aggression, not peace. The cut I like best is Ringo's Don't Pass Me By, but that may be because his singing is simple and straightforward and the group is playing plain old rock. (p. 84)
John Gabree, "The Beatles' Ninety-Minute Bore, and the Rolling Stones' Beggars Banquet," in High Fidelity (copyright © by ABC Leisure...
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There are no nagging inconsistencies in Abbey Road, no finger-pointing or exasperating enigmas, just a whole mess of sublimely executed, elegantly composed Beatles music.
Shimmering brilliance and unbounded creative energy grace every moment of Abbey Road. It is alternately bright, silly, warm, funny, childlike, funky, and glib, seamlessly bound into a perfectly molded entity born fresh into the day. All the insecure raggedness of the plain white album is gone and Abbey Road emerges a glowing tour de force.
It opens with a fresh, salty rock 'n' roll stompalong, "Come Together," peppered with spicy Lennon one-liners, underpinned with a jolly boogie beat. It's a midnight mover, good old rock 'n' roll.
"Maxwell's Silver Hammer," in the best McCartney-music-hall, rinky-tink tradition …, [is] a jolly ditty of mischief and manslaughter, full of musical imagination and lyrical buffoonery. You can hear his losing battle to keep a straight face while singing.
"Oh! Darling" is a blistering rock 'n' roll wailing wall, a grand old [Paul McCartney] screamer. It's constructed simply around a conventional rock 'n' roll chord pattern, reaches its height with steamroller guitar assaults, the vocal roaring, gasping, and gagging until its relieved last, dying breath….
The first side is the spectacular, programed for abrupt...
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Lennon and McCartney's early lyrics were thin and conventional. There was rain in the heart, there were stars in the sky, birds were always threatening not to sing. The tunes were good, some of them as good as those of Rodgers or Leonard Bernstein. But the gap between words and music in pieces like "If I Fell," "And I Love Her," "Ask Me Why," "Not a Second Time," was embarrassing for anyone who wanted to take the songs seriously. The best lyrics, which went with up-tempo numbers like, "I Feel Fine," "All My Lovin'," "Can't Buy Me Love," were the ones which said the least. They said yeh, approximately. I'm not suggesting that Lennon and McCartney didn't know how conventional they were being, or that they couldn't have done better. But they didn't do better, presumably because they weren't interested.
Now they are interested. We get the sharpness of "Your day breaks/Your mind aches," where the rhyme really does something. People, characters, begin to take the place of the anonymous lover of the early songs….
But still, the music has developed more than the language, and the language is not a main attraction in these songs. Lennon and McCartney's words are still less important than those of Bob Dylan, or Lorenz Hart, or Cole Porter, or Ira Gershwin. (p. 124)
Think of the titles: "Yesterday," "The Night Before." Think of the nostalgia in songs like "Things We Said Today," or "In My Life": "There are...
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Spencer C. Bennett
[The Beatles'] format is that of anonymity and role playing. Although this group is comprised of multitalented individuals, nobody thinks of them as anything less than a unity. Their anonymity is purposeful and deliberate. They cultivate their ability to assume many roles but they never do so at the expense of fragmentizing that strong outline of the four of them in any one song or film. It's Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band but Sergeant Pepper is a corporate entity.
They also deal with time and space in terms of their universal implications. Time is important as a medium through which transtemporality can be expressed. The same is true of space…. The Beatles are concerned with age, human improvement and death. Although they are not above a thrust at human foibles such as greed ("Piggies") and immature idealism ("Revolution I") they are for the most part optimists about the possibilities of human nature. (pp. 97-8)
[All] of their songs are relevant to the aura of our cultural patterns but none of them can be pinned down to specific event. They depend on electronic media but they do not manipulate them without allowing them first to suggest aural possibilities. Thematically they deal in mythology and parable rather than allegory. Rolewise, they assume the position of the exorciser more than any other. They attempt to speak to alienation and move the listener or the subject from the position of...
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While the Beatles' audience might be preponderantly pubescent, at the same time their musical ideas attracted and influenced serious, sophisticated, professional musicians. A substantial part of their popularity among the young was perhaps more sociological than musical, and it seems safe to assume that a large number of teen-age Beatle enthusiasts had little or no concept of the musical content of their recordings. Their exuberant vitality, their delicate handling of sentimentality, and their real lyrical gifts offered something new and fresh to popular music. At the same time, their topical, carefully-coded lyrics, with concealed references to sex, drugs, and rebellion, captivated restless and uncertain youth everywhere. (Although their rebelliousness has proved to be partly ironic, and not half so destructive as their critics have assumed.) Their extravagantly eccentric dress, wild hair styles, and public antics implied a lifestyle which proved instantly attractive to the adolescent….
The Beatles' importance to popular music, however, had little to do with screaming adolescents, for they brought to it a fund of ideas and a musical style that have since exerted enormous influence on the field. Whatever their eccentricities of dress and behavior, they were, as a musical organization, highly skilled, imaginative, daring, and thoroughly competent professionals. (p. 352)
Russel Nye, in his...
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When I first heard Ram in bits and pieces on the radio several weeks ago, I hated it. I didn't care much for the single, either. But then, feeling myself getting swept up in the anti-McCartney backlash that seems to be building daily, I promised myself to listen to the album with open ears. I did, and now I have to admit that I like most of it very much. Musically, it's easily the most successful post-Beatle album yet.
McCartney excels at composing riffs; he doesn't write concertos. His genius is most evident in the sheer simplicity of his creations. Side two of Abbey Road is McCartney at his best: first conceiving, then executing, finally juxtaposing a rainbow pattern of simple melodic and lyrical ideas. Ram works in a similar way, although the juxtapositions occur for the most part within single songs. "Uncle Albert//Admiral Halsey," for example, pits several ideas, all of which could easily stand up by themselves, against each other, and the product resembles "A Day in the Life" structurally if not dramatically…. I haven't the slightest idea what it's all about, but I find the song affecting nonetheless.
"Long Haired Lady" is the other side of the coin. Each of the pieces of the song is attractive by itself, but the pattern the pieces form when strung together has none of the charm or movement of the individual segments themselves. In this case, the juxtaposition of parts negates their value....
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Imagine raises the question how much further John can progress with the vocabulary of concepts and feelings laid down on John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band.
POB's importance lay not in the fact that it is the culmination of certain tensions which can be seen in John's work since the beginning (the lyrical directness and vocal intensity, for example), but that it was also their solution. As an early adolescent, John chose rock as both his artistic and therapeutic medium. Rock and roll's way of solving problems is simply stating and restating them ("I Can't Get No Satisfaction" is the classic example) and through the resulting emotional and physical exhaustion, the pressure is temporarily alleviated. However, the intervention of the primal therapy experience forced John to redefine his approach in a subtle but decisive way. Where he had sung "Twist and Shout" with the urgency of someone who had to get something off his chest, he sang the songs on POB as a final recreation of his original traumas, and as a document of their cure. POB is a profoundly "ultimate" album, because it unbends the mainspring of at least one man's rock and roll career….
The problem of following an album as perfect as POB is of course more than a stylistic one. POB took an individual course. Where the trend of rock over the past few years had been one of increasing complexity and sophistication...
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The history of the Beatles is pop culture's redaction of the myth of innocence and experience. When the famous four set out on their careers, they knew nothing of art or life. At home only in the rough-and-tumble world of the Liverpool cellar club or the Hamburg Lokal, they were a shaggy and ignorant crew. They could not read music, they could barely play their instruments, and their idea of a joke was to come out on the bandstand wearing toilet seats around their necks. Since then their careers and lives have mounted upward and outward in dizzying gyres that have swept them around the whole world of twentieth-century life and culture and set them on terms of respect and familiarity with some of the most sophisticated minds in the contemporary arts. (pp. 18-19)
The appearance in 1966 of their album Revolver signaled an important transformation of the Beatles. First, the album soured the milky innocence of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Michelle" with the sardonic tone of the city citizen, personified in the acrid sounds and sarcastic lyrics of "Taxman." The second change was formal: instead of singing in their one basic style, the Beatles became virtuosos and produced a pastiche of modes. (p. 20)
Revolver points the way to the variety mix, but it furnishes no general context for its excellent songs, and hence they gain nothing from being on one record. Sgt. Pepper remedies this deficiency...
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Any close listening to musical groups soon establishes the fact that as composers and performers the Beatles repay attention altogether more than does any other group, American or English. They offer something for nearly everyone and respond to almost any kind of interest. (pp. 120-21)
More aloof from politics than the Stones, their topicality is of music, the social predicaments, and especially the sentiments traditional to folk songs and ballads. Maybe the most important service of the Beatles and similar groups is the restoration to good standing of the simplicities that have frightened us into irony and the search for irony; they locate the beauty and pathos of commonplace feelings even while they work havoc with fashionable or tiresome expressions of those feelings. (p. 124)
One of the Beatles' most appealing qualities is … their tendency more to self-parody than to parody of others. The two are of course very close for performers who empathize with all the characters in their songs and whose most conspicuous moments of self-parody occur when they're emulating someone whose style they'd like to master. At such moments their boyishness really does shine forth as a musical virtue: giving themselves almost wholly to an imitation of some performer they admire, their necessary exaggeration of his style makes fun of no one so much as themselves. It's a matter of trying on a style and then—as if embarrassed by their...
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An interesting example of the social construction of a mystery occurred in the late months of 1969, when a strange surge of excitement spread across the country, fomented, apparently, by persistent rumors relating to the nature and circumstances of the alleged death of Beatle Paul McCartney. (p. 61)
The story, in gist, is as follows: Paul McCartney was allegedly killed in an automobile accident in England in November 1966. The remaining Beatles, fearing that public reaction to the news would adversely affect the fortunes of the group, agreed among themselves to keep the matter a secret. Since it was obvious that Paul could not simply disappear from their midst without rousing a storm of embarrassing questions, they hit upon the idea of hiring a double to play his part in public…. (p. 63)
For some unspecified reason, however, and at some unspecified time, the plot seems to have undergone a qualitative change. "What began," according to the Berkeley Tribe …, "for John Lennon as a scheme of deception conceived during moments of personal shock—and perhaps despair—developed into an all-encompassing religious vision."
Lennon's "all-encompassing religious vision," we are asked to believe, was oddly manifested by inserting cryptic messages relating to McCartney's death into the lyrics of songs and among the decorations on the Beatles' album covers….
It is undoubtedly...
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Since the breakup of The Beatles, Paul has had the unhappy role of playing villain, a problem that has been amplified by things John Lennon has said and sung, statements that Paul has not answered extensively in any interview. Only in his lyrics do we discover any of his attitudes, and even there Paul backs off the subject, being clever but not really incisive: "Too many people sharing party lines, / Too many people never sleeping late. / Too many people paying parking fines, / Too many hungry people losing weight." (Too Many People by Paul McCartney.)
That's really not much of an answer to "I've seen religion from Jesus to Paul," or "Those freaks was right when they said you was dead, / The one mistake you made was in your head." According to Paul, in Too Many People, John's one mistake is that he missed his "lucky break," but it's all too vague. Paul works through personas even in his most deeply felt personal statements. It is his chosen mode of expression and he is remarkably successful at it. But Lennon is like a journalist: he is specific, he deals in names, dates, places. Too Many People is about a lot of things besides John Lennon. How Do You Sleep At Night, is about nothing but Paul McCartney.
It is, however, more than irrelevant how Paul fares against John in this verbal shooting match, or which of them is more mature or clever about it. That's not the point. Each of The Beatles...
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[Some Time in New York City] represents only another logical step in [John's and Yoko's] artistic devolution. More than on any previous album it shows [them] actively functioning as an interdependent unit. Five songs are collaborations; of the other five, three are by Yoko and two by John. The overall ideology takes the Maoist view that art, life, and politics should be inseparable and, in the ultimate order of things, indistinguishable. Some Time in New York City is thus entirely devoted to propaganda. But as proganda it is so embarrassingly puerile as to constitute an advertisement against itself.
The songs on Some Time in New York City are a little better than "Power to the People" and "Happy Xmas." But when compared to the songs on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, or even Imagine, they are sad indeed. The first album, a masterpiece that by its very nature could never be repeated, nevertheless seemed to signal the beginning of something important—the formulation of a new kind of populist art song—elegant in its careful simplicity and radically honest to a degree perhaps never before attempted in Western music. If there was a weakness in the album, it was that the melodies were shallow and derivative. But then, one could argue, wasn't the whole point to be as direct and unprettified as possible.
That first album represented a painful and profound self-exorcism and self-renewal, so...
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David R. Pichaske
Some of the lyrics of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane, and Leonard Cohen are the vaguest of all pop songs except, of course, for those that degenerate into utter absurdity. They are not different from much of contemporary poetry, which has also become so subtle and indirect as to admit to a wide variety of possible interpretations…. Very little can definitely be said about the theme of "I Am the Walrus," except that it is an exceptionally unpleasant song about death or ugliness or perversion or a combination of the three and even more. "Norwegian Wood" is a hauntingly beautiful lyric on a more pleasant but equally vague theme…. More than one individual has suggested that this is a narrative about a drug trip and that "Norwegian Wood" is yet another slang term for marijuana. But apart from the surrealism of the action and perhaps the exotic instrumental accompaniment, a result of the use of the sitar for the first time in rock music, there is little to support such an argument. The girl suggests a sexual relationship and perhaps even love, although it is certainly casual and impermanent…. The woman is intriguing, even intoxicating, as many women are, but the poet does not seem to miss her when she leaves. Their relationship is pleasant while it lasts, but not mourned when it is over. Most importantly and most perplexingly, we are not sure whether this is a real woman or whether she represents something else—like marijuana. On the other...
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[What] kind of world did [the Beatles] evoke in their early years, from [their] interfusion of American black blues and white rock and Country-Western, of Anglo-Irish folk music and song and dance from music-hall and pub? From the start the Beatles were individualities who sought a corporate identity. Though only during the first year or two did Lennon and McCartney actually compose together, there's point in the ascription of the songs to their joint authorship. They needed one another for their fulfilment: needed, in a rather different way, the other two Beatles; and the separate ways in which they grew up were affected by the identity they'd sought for in the early years…. [Their] 'group' sense—their corporate identity—is complemented by the themes of the early songs; which concern the euphoric happiness of togetherness, though it's significant that this togetherness is identified with the two-way relationship of heterosexual love—which sometimes becomes synonymous with 'home', security, mum.
One of the most famous of early Beatle songs—She loves you—is also quintessential. It is simply an affirmation, epitomised in its 'Yeah yeah yeah' refrain; and it exists in the moment, without before or after…. The timeless, present-affirming modality is instinctive; and the words, if … perfunctorily vacuous, are no longer merely magic talismen, abracadabra. They do concern a basic, life-affirming human...
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Band on the Run finds McCartney walking a middle ground between autobiographical songwriting and subtle attempts to mythologize his own experience through the creation of a fantasy world of adventure—perhaps remotely inspired by his having recently written "Live and Let Die." He does it by uniting the myth of the rock star and the outlaw, the original legendary figure on the run.
Up until now, the critical assumption has been that McCartney's lyrics mean little if anything, that he is a mere stylist, playing games with words and sounds. And it is of course possible that the words to Band on the Run don't mean (or weren't intended to mean) as much as I think they do. But I'll take a chance, and say that Band on the Run is an album about the search for freedom and the flight from restrictions on his and Linda's personal happiness. It is about the pursuit of freedom from his past as a Beatle, freedom from the consequences of the drug busts that have kept him from the United States and forced him into thinking of himself as an outlaw…. It is also about two people becoming what they want to be, trying to decide what they want to do, and asking to be accepted for what they are now rather than what they were then.
If the listener were to ignore the music and the skill with which McCartney has developed his theme, the entire enterprise might seem banal. But he holds the record together through the...
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Walls and Bridges shows John Lennon to be as mercurial as ever. I anticipated an unbearable suffering occasioned by the collapse of one of this century's most public love affairs—after all, Yoko Ono was presented as the membrane between agony and peace for Lennon, between illusion and reality. Yet the relative clearheadedness of this album suggests that she may have been only the most recent in a series of causes from which Lennon is extricating himself with customary agility. He seemed more pugnacious, more doctrinaire, more vulnerable when Yoko was supposedly supplying him with bliss than he is today.
For the first time since the formation of the Beatles, Lennon is on his own and, remarkably, he seems to find that tolerable, though half the numbers on Walls and Bridges record his pangs of loss. (pp. 72, 74)
The insights are reformulations of the lessons of Plastic Ono Band, with this difference: On POB the tearing away of veils only revealed another face to Lennon's utopianism. Then (keeping in mind his crucial inconsistency in idealizing his relationship with Yoko) illusionlessness seemed the ultimate liberation. Today Lennon knows that neither dreams nor their puncturing is the answer. There is no neat answer. When one accepts one's childhood, one's parenthood and the impermanence of what lies between, one can begin to slog along. When John slogs, he makes progress. (pp. 74, 76)...
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When the Beatles broke up in 1970 in a welter of lawsuits and recriminations, the sixties were ending as well—in spirit as well as by the calendar. Bloodshed and bombings on campus, the harsh realities beneath the facile hopes for a "Woodstock nation," the shabby refuse of counterculture communities, all helped kill the dream.
What remains remarkable now, almost 20 years after John Lennon started playing rock 'n' roll music, more than a decade after their first worldwide conquest, is how appealing this dream was; how its vision of the world gripped so much of a generation; how that dream reshaped our recent past and affects us still….
[The] impact of the Beatles cannot be waved away. If the Marx they emulated was Groucho, not Karl, if their world was a playground instead of a battleground, they still changed what we listened to and how we listened to it; they helped make rock music a battering ram for the youth culture's assault on the mainstream, and that assault in turn changed our culture permanently. And if the "dream" the Beatles helped create could not sustain itself in the real world, that speaks more to our false hopes than to their promises. They wrote and sang songs. We turned it into politics and philosophy and a road map to another way of life. (p. 12)
By coming into prominence early in 1964, the Beatles probably saved rock 'n' roll from extinction. Rock in the early nineteen-sixties...
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As time goes by, John Lennon's importance to the Beatles becomes more and more self-evident. The same old story we've been hearing for years—that Lennon's wit and abrasive probing were needed to balance Paul McCartney's melodic charm and sweetness—is obvious but true….
Lennon probably had nothing whatsoever to do with Venus and Mars, the new Wings album, but somehow the ghost of his sincerity not only haunts but also accentuates the cool calculation of the McCartney project, and a jarring primal scream or two might make me feel less enraged by Paul and Linda's chic, unconvincing and blatant bid to be enshrined as pop music's Romeo and Juliet. One can point out that John and Yoko were no better, perhaps even worse, in their similar public insistence—or Bob Dylan on Planet Waves, for that matter—but what makes such a comparison appalling is that John and Yoko and Dylan believed what they were saying, or at least desperately tried to, while the McCartneys serve it all up with the offhand air of two uncaring jet-setters presenting us with the very latest in prefabricated TV dinners.
Venus and Mars begins with Paul and Linda's casual and false assumption that the whole world is tremendously interested in the state of their union (whereas John and Yoko and Dylan were driven, I think, more by individual inner needs to say what they did), so they concoct a slick, Broadway/Hollywood exterior...
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ROY CARR and TONY TYLER
[The initial meeting between John and Paul] in the late 'fifties led to events that shook the world.
This is no exaggeration. How many of us can look around and deny that the Beatles at least seemed to initiate many of those changes in our social attitudes and tastes that took place in the 'sixties and which still reverberate today? Possibly it was just the group's good luck to be so closely identified with these mass changes in consciousness. Yet many who still view the whole Beatle Phenomenon through wistfully pink-lensed spectacles will always secretly be convinced that the Beatles were behind the whole thing from the start. (p. 5)
With the release of [the] superb and historic single ['I Want to Hold Your Hand'], the Beatles proved themselves masters of the difficult art of writing original, memorable and commercial pop singles. The musical structure of 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' is full of subtle tricks and adventurous ploys that reveal a rapidly growing maturity in their work. From the deliberate stumble of the opening time-signature to the calculated dissonances of the chorus, the whole conception of this song was unlike anything attempted before—and owed little or nothing to their well-published tap-root American influences.
America, until now a sealed market for British rock acts …, sagged to its alpaca knees in awe. Thus is history made. (p. 21)
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What has McCartney got that makes people of all ages the world over respond, that makes the media sit up and bark soon as he strolls across the pond, that makes his comeback solo tour a notary-certifiable Event in a day when rock tours are dubbed Events every time you turn around? His albums are, by and large, some of the blandest discs ever piped into a waiting room, and even his hit singles are so eminently forgettable that the titles evade recall without research. The man obviously proved he had a gift for melody in the Beatles, but his lyrics are so dopey they end up making fun of themselves, and on top of all that he insists on trundling his musically illiterate photographer wife with him everywhere, insistently, both on stage and records. (pp. 36-7)
Like the King Family, the McCartneys in their celebration of suburban conjugal joys and hyping of their children are involved in a presentation of nuclear normalcy, a model for the present and future (as they see it) based on the conventions of the past. Just like Paul's music, in which Sgt. Pepper could draw rock from music hall and be hailed as an avant-garde masterpiece. To be sure, Paul and Linda are marketing themselves, but they are also marketing a lifestyle. What lifestyle? Father Knows Best. But unlike Father Knows Best, which was smug, there is a certain desperation underlying their presentation. They protest too much, and in their very...
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First and foremost, Paul is still for all intents and purposes a Beatle—which automatically makes him preferable to Hubert Humphrey or Judy Garland under just about any grid of analysis you'd be likely to name. Second, the great Willie Nelson became the first country singer per se to cut a Beatle song and the one he chose back in '66 or so was of all things "Yesterday," proof that some people besides boobs and assflames actually dig that 4th-rate garbage of his. Third, well I dunno … y'gotta admit the reviews're still basically mixed … 30 years from now when he's the Maurice Chevalier of his generation and he's on the Johnny Carson Show talkin' about how swell it's been, then is when we'll be able to judge whether close to a lifetime of puke has been justified in any sense of the word. (p. 98)
R. Meltzer, "McCartney Vs. Meltzer: Discography," in McCartney: Beatle on Wings (copyright © 1976 by Countrywide Publications, Inc.), Countrywide Publications, 1976, pp. 80-98.
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[The music on Meet the Bealtes] was instantly recognizable and like nothing we had ever heard. It was joyous, threatening, absurd, arrogant, determined, innocent and tough….
It was only in the context of the Beatles event that their music was perceived for what it was.
The event was a pop explosion; the second, and thus far the last, that rock and roll has produced. (p. 175)
[At] its heart, a pop explosion attaches the individual to a group—the fan to an audience, the solitary to a generation—in essence, forms a group and creates new loyalties—while at the same time it increases one's ability to respond to a particular pop artifact, or a thousand of them, with an intensity that verges on lunacy. Ringo's shout of "All right, George!" just before the guitar in "Boys" becomes a matter of indefinable and indefensible significance; styles on Carnaby Street outdo the pace of the pop charts and change literally by the hour. Yet within it all is some principle of shape, of continuity, of value.
This principle was the Beatles. As was so often pointed out in the mid-Sixties, the sum of the Beatles was greater than the parts, but the parts were so distinctive and attractive that the group itself could be all things to all people, more or less; you did not have to love them all to love the group, but you could not love one without loving the group, and this was why the...
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The Beatles will be remembered not only for their considerable contribution as songwriters and recording artists, but also as the most remarkable cultural and sociological phenomenon of their time. During the 1960's they seemed to transform, however unwittingly, the look, sound, and style of at least one generation. They had, of course, a lot of help from a great many friends—but it was more than anyone else, John, Paul, George, and Ringo who set in motion the forces that made a whole era what it was, and, by extension, what it is today.
The impact the Beatles made is incalculable, not only in popular music and in every other fact of the music business—be it album cover design, the quality of recorded sound, or the size of the crowds—but also in innumerable other areas. They were among the first major public figures of our time to break down the barriers dividing the sexes, with their long hair and vivid attire; champion the use of "mindexpanding" drugs and the innovations in sound, design, language, and attitudes these substances inspired; and, in general, show the way to a life style that defied so many of the conventions taken for granted in 1963. There were others in their wake more daring and iconoclastic, but it is unlikely that the Rolling Stones, or David Bowie, or even Bob Dylan, could have accomplished what they did without the Beatles' example.
Imagine what our world might be like today, were it not...
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