The Beatles Legacy
Jerry Lucky Commentary August 2013
Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2013 All Rights Reserved
I recently finished reading the third edition of Ian McDonald’s book Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties. It’s a great book that details each recording The Beatles created in sequence. He talks about how each song came together, who wrote what, what the Beatles were experiencing at the time and then also provides a rather detailed musical analyses of each track. All of this is buttressed with considerable social commentary. As I say it’s a great read and I highly recommend it.
As a result I dug out The Beatle albums I have, fromRubber Soul onwards and gave them each a spin: just to refresh my memory. I was most intrigued with how “loose” the playing is onRubber Soul. It seems our ears have been exposed to so much music they’ve been conditioned to much tighter production. It’s very disconcerting to listen to a band as admired as The Beatles performing in such a fashion. Still it was top-level production for its day.
But that wasn’t enough. Having grown up with The Beatles I decided to check out the Anthology series again at the same time and so watched all eight parts of that video series produced by The Beatles in 2002. It too provided many wonderful insights into the band that not only shaped the music of their time but also shaped a generation. Sometimes without even knowing it.
One of the things that became very clear was that The Beatles were in no way a progressive rock band. Creative yes, even a little experimental but their musical domain was self-admittedly in the pop world, only barely moving into the world of rock music; which is not to take away anything from their creative musical explorations, especially on Sgt. Pepper, but even in that album’s case, by and large each of The Beatles has said other than the opening and closing they’re just a group of songs; songs that hinted at musical experimentation, changes in time and tempo, dynamics, and so forth. Brilliant songs, but songs none-the-less. What I believe was missing from the equation was intent.
Over the years I’ve noticed, what I can only describe as “small p” politics intruding into the prog world as it relates to its history and formation. Most people tend to agree that King Crimson’s Court of the Crimson King in 1969 was the official launch of the prog genre. As to what was the FIRST prog album there is more debate. I have maintained that honor rests with the Moody Blues and 1967’s Days of Future Past and have written extensively on the matter. Some however can’t abide the idea that the Moody Blues should be accorded this role and instead have searched for a replacement, landing of course on The Beatles. After all how could you argue this point – it’s The Beatles. Some commentators are quick to point out, that while The Beatles may not have been a prog band per se; they did everything a prog band would do. To my mind that over reaches and attributes a misplaced destiny.
Referring back to my point of intent, when you look at the intent of what The Beatles were doing versus what the Moodies were doing, it’s a very different picture. And the results speak for themselves. Same year of production but music that’s very different in scope, structure and style. You can explore some of my earlier commentaries for a detailed analysis. So I stand unmoved as it relates to what the first progressive rock album is.
But what of the Beatles? It is impossible to take anything away from their accomplishments in modern music. It is true they opened the musical “doors or perception” to a generation of musicians and listeners. Suddenly things were possible in the studio that we had never heard before. Made so not because they were the only ones who had ever thought of it, although that was certainly the case in some things, but more so because they had amassed a certain power and credibility within the industry that allowed them the opportunity to change the way things were done or accepted simply BECAUSE they were the Beatles.
So, there is absolutely no question, The Beatles changed how we see and use the recording studio. They weren’t the only ones I’m sure, but their music is what most us (including other musicians) heard and that sparked a musical creative drive that has never been equaled. This is not to be understated. This was a huge element in the reshaping of first pop and then rock music. Here’s another thing to remember. In 1965 just about the only two artists who were intentionally creating albums of their own songs were Bob Dylan and The Beatles. The impact of this one aspect of musical creation is huge. The idea that a band should write their own music forever changed how artists approached their craft.
It could be said that without The Beatles music today would be a very different kettle of fish. It’s possible that without hearing their studio efforts progressive rock may never have come about but I would never call the Beatles a progressive rock band. They never considered themselves one so why would I. At least that’s what I think.