At the risk of creating possible scandal, I would like to state that I am not particularly fond of the Beatles. Well, maybe Paul McCartney a little bit. But that’s because Paul looks like he knows it’s all a joke anyway. At any moment, he may be expected to burst out laughing, owning up to some sort of super-charade: “We were lip-syncing all the time!” or “They were all actually sung by the Bee Gees!”
Runner-up: Jesus Christ trails the Beatles by 31 million hits on the Net.
Their music is okay enough. In fact, I like a few Beatles numbers sufficiently to hum them when nothing by Dire Straits will come to mind (if I am in a situation involving yellow submersible oceancraft or walruses, for instance). It is the same with Metallica, Iron Maiden and (prepare for hate mail now) Pink Floyd. They all please me in moderation, but I don’t think I own any of their albums.
But, I do own several by Mark Knopfler, Sinatra, and Hootie and the Blowfish. Oh what the heck, I am married already…I also own a bunch by Boyzone, Outlandish and Vengaboys.
So, I am eternally fascinated by the mad frenzy that the Beatles create to this day. For a band that was active for just about a decade — the Bee Gees, in contrast, hit those high notes for 46 years — and produced just 13 albums, there’s something about the band that makes even the passing odd fact a global news item. A quick Google search for “Beatles” throws up slightly more than 64 million results (Jesus Christ, a rather popular man in his own right, gets a shade less than 33 million).
Which brings us to the important question: Why are the Beatles such a big deal? What did those gentlemen with sexless haircuts do that gave them fame, and fortune, that seems like it will last well after their, and our, days? Why do people throng to buy books like She Came In Through The Kitchen Window: Recipes Inspired by the Beatles and Their Music.
Last weekend I typed “Why were the Beatles successful?” in a Google search box and hit enter. Only 423,000 results appeared.
I found some enlightenment in the June 2001 issue of Reason magazine. In an essay called Still Fab, author Charles Paul Freund says that the Beatles improvised (and how!) music styles that were popular even before they came together. To this extent they were not the rock pioneers people make them to be. Also, and this is entirely Freund’s opinion, the Beatles were the greatest Pop music act ever. Pop, in a sense, is short for popular. Quod erat demonstrandum.
So yes, Freund thinks their pop music rocked big time. But there were more relevant non-musical reasons.
The Beatles arrived in the US during a turbulent time in American history. Kennedy was dead and war was on the horizon. Teenagers had just begun to challenge contemporary society and culture; a rebellion that would reach its apex with the Summer of Love. The Beatles’ was a voice that advocated love and goodness. And perhaps, it was this feeling of youthful, happy rebellion that deified the Liverpudlians.
The Beatles also heralded a spiritual rebellion. When baby boomers began to question their beliefs and faiths, the Beatles were there with tunes that goaded them along. The fab four cemented this reputation with their eponymous trip to India 40 years ago.
India did many things to the Beatles, collectively and individually, good and bad. The band composed some 48 songs while in India. But this was also when John began to fall away from his then wife Cynthia. Cracks began to deepen between members, with Ringo famously walking out of recording sessions later on in 1968.
By then India had already become “the spiritual dustbin of the world”, as Roshan Seth’s character called it in Kaizad Gustad’s Bombay Boys. Maharishis became superstars and everyone wanted to transcend. India, typically, welcomed the troubled and meditative with open arms.
Whether you’re a Beatlemaniac or not, you will enjoy our collection of features on the Beatles on our website. Perhaps the stories will evoke old memories. That secret dance night in college where you first boogied with the missus, maybe? Or perhaps, it will inspire you to go and get your first Beatles album. Eitherways, Ob-la-di, and have a great weekend. Send mail.
Priya Ramani is away until August. Catch up on her travels at Blogs.livemint.com.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org