For this unit, I have been tasked with writing an article for the website, VICE, about a person, group or organisation who I consider an icon(s). The icons I have used, as you can see above, are The Beatles. It may be somewhat of an unoriginal choice, but I feel the aspect of their legacy that I have decided to shine most of the light upon will justify this decision.
Of the top of my head, I would assume that the average person would concentrate solely on their music and their contribution to pop and how it’s influence is still felt today. However, after seeing the type of publication that VICE is, and what characteristics their videos have, (my thoughts can be found HERE) I have decided to investigate how they have affected and changed the attitudes of society in the UK, America and the former USSR, whether it was intentional or not.
Notes from a USA Today article: “50 years later, we’re still mad for The Beatles”
- Before the Beatles came along you would get a lot of bands, which would consist of a single lead singer and a backing band – Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Elvis Presley and the Jordanaires etc. – but the Beatles was the first time we would see a group who would all sing and play their instruments together.
- Great chemistry between them.
- Individual Beatles had a wide range of music tastes, which translated into their music – Unlike the Stones who loved blues and mainly played blues.
- Best selling act ever – sold 600 million albums worldwide, 20 no.1 US singles record (6/12/2012)
- “Oh, yeah, we thought a couple years, that would be it. We never thought it would last at all. You’ve got to ask, ‘Why did it last?’ I think the music is very well structured, like a good house. It’s going to stand for a long time. It’s nice that I can sit back now and be proud of what we did.” – (Paul McCartney told USA Today in 2009 after the remastered Beatles albums were released.)
- “The Beatles made rebellion constructive, articulating it with joyous, giddy exuberance. At a time when cigar chomping moguls paid people in cubicles to write factory-farm pop songs for teenagers, The Beatles were completely authentic, and kids instinctively understood that.” – (Martin Lewis, British scholar)
- “Had The Beatles not used their influences and curiosity to push boundaries, they might have had the shelf life of a hula-hoop craze” – (Martin Lewis)
- “They had the good sense to break up at the height of their creativity,” Lewis says. “It wasn’t planned, but it was the best move ever. The result is we never had to endure the embarrassment of The Beatles going disco or getting a middle-age paunch. They left seven years of brilliantly recorded music and a perfect corpse that kept the mystique and beauty of The Beatles intact.”
“1962 – Love Me Do” BBC Documentary Notes
- Unemployment in Liverpool was at record level and the youth had to resort to music to find a way out.
- 300 pop groups in Liverpool
- “Where are we going lads?” “To the toppermost of the poppermost, Johnny” – Early catch phrase.
- Influenced by albums brought over from America by merchant navy, especially Elvis Presley.
- Brian Epstein told them that they would be “Bigger than Elvis”
- The Beatles playing at the Cavern influenced Billy Kinsley of The Merseybeats to start a band of his own at the age of 15.
- “Guitar bands are on the way out and the Beatles have no future in the pop business” – Decca Records on rejecting the Beatles.
- National Trust has bought Paul McCartney’s old house.
Quotes from NME
- “The Beatles mean everything to all of us like, especially the north west, you know about the Beatles by the time you’re 7 and by the time you’re 9 you probably know the Beatles story better than your own uncle’s stories, and (erm), the Beatles are like family to us aren’t they?” – (Ian Brown/The Stone Roses)
- “The standard of [modern music] recording – the techniques – all of it was designed by the Beatles” – (Boots Electric/Eagles of Death Metal)
- “The Beatles are one of those bands you like when you’re 5 and you still like them when you are 35” – (Supergrass)
- “Everything they did, it was the first time that anyone had done it” – (Ricky Wilson/Kaiser Chiefs)
- “For us, they were the innovators, they started everybody, from the simplest rock and roll of ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ all the way to ‘Help’, and then all the way to ‘Sergeant Peppers’ and everything like that, you cannot deny the classic nature of the Beatles, whether people are influenced by them on purpose or influenced by accident, you’re definitely influenced by the Beatles” – (Brian Fallon/The Gaslight Anthem)
“The Beatles made rebellion constructive”
- The quote above said by the British scholar and former Beatles writer, Martin Lewis, and he suggests that The Beatles made rebellion against society at the time constructive rather than destructive, i.e rioting etc.
- At the time that the Beatles were still playing in the Cavern Club in the early 1960’s, Liverpool has crippled with unemployment. There were 33,000 people out of work – That’s 33 people for every available job according to the BBC documentary, “1962: Love Me Do”.
- “A healthy dose of eastern mysticism, and the Beatles were ready to promote any kind of revolution – as long as it brought peace. Starting with Revolver, a new level of hippy consciousness was accessed by rock music. But this was a mystical version of it, the rebellion of flower children. Dylan was angry – the Beatles were never angry.” –[Link here]
Beatles did more to break up Totalitarianism in the USSR by Mikail Safonov, senior researcher at the Institute of Russian history in St Petersburg
- The author of this piece suggest that the love of freedom felt by the people which led to the collapse of the totalitarian state in the Soviet Union and was down to the music of the Beatles.
- While the Western governments promoted Beatlemania and tried to use it to their own advantage – The USSR government condemned it and Russian fans had to hide their love for the band.
- “My classmates formulated their love for the Beatles in the following manner: ‘I would have learnt English in its entirety, exclusively from the things that Lennon spoke about.’ This was a paraphrase of the words of Mayakovsky inscribed on a stand in the literature classroom: ‘I would have learnt Russian in its entirety, exclusively from the things that Lenin spoke about’. In the 1960s you could not actually be imprisoned for changing the name of Lenin to that of Lennon, but trouble awaited anyone who blasphemed against the name of the immortal leader.”
- In Russia, if somebody copied the Beatles hairstyle, they were taken to have their hair cut at police stations.
- A show trial in Leningrad shown that the Beatles were guilty of “anti social behaviour”.
- They were nicknamed “The Bugs”.
- The more teenagers resented the authority of society, the more they questioned the ideology they have had drummed into them from a young age.
- Komsomol members wildly celebrated caricatures of the Beatles “even more than real English fans raved at true Beatles’ concerts”, not because they enjoyed the show but because they wanted to demonstrate their loyalty and how they approved the Beatles being pillared, despite them being fans of the Beatles as well.
- “The more they persecuted something the whole world had already fallen in love with, the more they exposed the falsehood and hypocrisy of Soviet ideology”
- The mistreatment of the music made people feel that the regime was inhuman.
- The Communists claimed that the music was the reflection of “the rotting culture of bourgeois capitalism” but it is felt that this is a front and they really see them as a threat to their regime.
- “Becoming swept away by it, Soviet citizens started to be aware that the individual is highly valuable, and individuality is in itself one of the most important values of life. This was in such contradiction to the socialist message of the primacy of the collective that, when a person had educated himself in the culture of the Beatles, he found he could no longer live in lies and hypocrisy.”
- The writer argues that the Beatles had much a part in the crumbling of communism due to the fact that their views about individualism and love of peace were much more accessible than the works of Solzhenistyn and Sakharov.
The Beatles anti-war views in America
In this article, the writer, who has taken his information from a host of other sources, which are listed at the bottom, explores how the Beatles contributed to a rebellion in American society.
He talks about how in songs, such as ‘Revolution’, they talk about dismissing the idea of a government who want to fund war, as well as telling people to not care about authority figures; parents etc.
This was controversial at a time where most Americans were sold on the idea that war was necessary, and they were appalled by the anti-war lyrics/ideology the Beatles brought, which their fans copied in the form of sit ins and anti-war protests. These views were so against the main attitude at that time even Elvis Presley, of whom John Lennon said, “Before Elvis, there was nothing”, asked President Richard Nixon to ban the band from the country.
How the Beatles changed Britain
- “They changed a Britain desperate to change”.
- The writer of this piece, Gerry Hassan, who has written many books and in many publications, talks about how he feels the Beatles changed the attitude of Britain with the release of their first songs/album.
- ‘She Loves You’ created a new era which allowed the audience to be less restrictive and feel free to express themselves.
- They gave the lefties in the country a hope of a collective change whereas right wingers saw a moral decline.
- When they travelled to America, the country was in mourning of JFK’s assassination which needed a lift, which they provided.
Living so closely to the city of Liverpool, I thought I would take advantage of this by searching for the best place to talk to somebody who would have a good understanding of the Beatles and what they did.
I first chose what questions I would ask people which would help me find new information as well as validate, or more importantly, discredit, any secondary research I have carried previously.
The first place I emailed was the Liverpool National Museum. Here is a screenshot of the questions I sent via their website:
Fortunately, Paul Gallagher, who is the Curator of Contemporary Collecting at the National Museums Liverpool, was able to reply to me.
I replied as instructed with the times I would be free to get his answers for these questions, however, he is yet to get back to me with a date and time.
As I was concerned that I would not get an answer back I have taken the steps for a second person to answer my questions, but either way, it would still be good to get another opinion as well. I sent the same email to the Beatles Story who couldn’t help me but they did give me the email address of somebody who could – Mike Brocken – a lecturer from Liverpool Hope University who runs the MA Beatles, Popular Music and Society class.
After receiving this I sent the same set of questions to Mike and I am now waiting for his reply as well.
I was finally able to get the interview with Paul Gallagher. Here are some snippets of that interview which I feel will help me most.
On the Beatles themselves
“I always think that the Beatles were subversively naughty boys giving the impression they were really, really nice, and the Rolling Stones were middle, The Beatles were essentially working class even if that might be upper working class. The Rolling Stones were middle class boys pretending to be naughty, and they became naughty”
“I’ve read a lot of books on the Beatles and the early career and they all say “they didn’t care what you thought”
“I think that they’re an interesting band because not only are they the band that wrote the book about how to be a band, before them people sung other people’s songs, other people played on them generally, as a rule, they were the first band to write their own songs, play on their own songs, have their own opinions and their own personality and that is the blue print that is still, I think, the archetype of acceptance for critically acclaimed music”
“they are the ultimate band, whether you like the music or not, they will be the biggest phenomenon music will ever see”
On the older generation’s view of the Beatles
“I would say that view of the Beatles changed through time as they evolved through time I think in the city there was a kind of great pride in them, and a “haven’t they done well” kind of aspect and a positive view of it, and this was in the early stages of youth culture, and the Beatles were in the vanguard of that.”
“But in the early days I think there was real sense of “aren’t they good these Liverpool boys, haven’t they done well” and most people would have shared that you know whatever decade, this was a really positive thing, and they represented for a lot of people, erm, the positive prospect of youth culture, so people like Harold Wilson, who was a MP in Liverpool, but he was also the prime minister, as MPs do, locked onto them, I think, ride on this band wagon, he wouldn’t have done that if he saw the Beatles in their mid to late period, it was that early period that people thought “this is great, this is Britain at it’s best, this is music at it’s best, this is youth culture at it’s best”, but as time moves on, and they, obviously as we all do, we show our true side as more and more of us gets revealed, the older generation tolerated that less and less I think, as a general rule”
“The general rule is as they became more interesting musically and creatively, they became more interesting as people and their views were taken as gospel, whatever they thought people picked up on, and listened to and people didn’t necessarily like that, older generations didn’t like that. So, you know, you’ve gone from that period where they’ve burst on to the scene in Liverpool, where they’re the best band in Liverpool, then they’re the most well known band in Britain in 1963, so ’62, they didn’t get a record out until ’62, by the end of ’63 somebody christened this phrase “Beatlemania” which was all based on appearing on the Royal Command Performance, you know, “rattle your jewelry”, people like that kind of a reference, but they hid a lot of their naughty side and then as time’s moving on and it’s clear they’re experimenting with drugs and they are having lifestyles that are non-traditional that people didn’t like it”
On the younger generations views
“There was literally nothing. Before that you dressed like your dad or your mum, you were going to have the same hair cuts as them, you were going to possible have the same- similar-ish, even if it isn’t the career or life style as them, you were perhaps going to work in a factory or if you did really well you might go to uni”
“Young people started to think differently, and a great expression of that individuality is music”
“they were listening to American music, rock and roll, black soul music, country, and thinking there was a different life to lead.”
“Where the Beatles really sold themselves was their personality and that expression of optimism and, you know, sarcasm, and surrealism that existed in Liverpool, and the fact they were four very intelligent people who bounced off one another, and that give them this collective identity as well and people love that”
“But, for the general young person who just, did they like them or they didn’t? Well yeah, they loved them, there was nothing like, you know, it was almost seduction I’d say, in a way it doesn’t happen now because music’s everywhere, you know, music is everywhere”
On American views and whether they affected the anti-war movement
“Well, I don’t know if they had a role in that, again, it’s hard to really connect the two, but what they did do was an expression of freedom, and maybe freedom isn’t just buying records and growing your hair a bit long, maybe true freedom is to question things a bit more, because if you see something unusual it must make you question things, whatever it is, it must make you think “alright…”, you know, and they never spoke out against the war, you know, they were a bit slow on all that stuff, they were more into the individual, they weren’t so, “you know what, what’s going on in Vietnam’s really upsetting me”, they didn’t at all really, but what they had was this expression of personal freedom”
“they realised this is where it’s at and they were heavily influenced by them, and they were the sort of bands that were then picking up the protest of what was going on in America, so maybe without the Beatles influencing them, they wouldn’t have existed and therefore the protest that they carried on wouldn’t have existed, but it wasn’t direct, it was people being influenced by the Beatles”
“they opened a door to a different viewpoint, but they personally never came out, not until very late in the day, you know, ‘69ish, almost the end of the Beatles when Lennon was talking about revolution, and even then he wasn’t certain about where he stood, and it wasn’t until the beddings where he was doing his bedding for peace, you know, peace in the world because it was a very chaotic time for the world, ‘69, so at that point he’s nailed his colours to the mast but they hadn’t before, but perhaps the influence is the people who watched them on that telly went and formed bands”
“there’s this saying that said, “not many people bought Velvet Underground records, but those that did formed bands”, yeah it’s a well known phrase, and maybe that’s the case with the Beatles is their influence was to influence other people to form a band, make music, find their own voice, and they were the people who protested against Vietnam, and going into the army, being forced to go into the army and going to fight against the Vietcong, and there’s things like racism, which is rife in America in the 60’s, as people were standing up and singing songs about that and realising they could have their own voice, so maybe it’s more indirect”
On whether they helped bring down Communism
“their music was being heard in Russia, is what I sussed out”
“when you hear anything that you think is different, that must give heart to get you through the day, and maybe you can communicate with people in a different way, but whether that led to the downfall of Communism, because Communism is still there so I don’t know how it did, but maybe it’s one of those countries where they tried to put a border around it and they’ve succeeded in a way they couldn’t now because of the internet”
“I wouldn’t say Communism’s ever fallen but maybe they realised you can’t stifle people the way they were and they’ve given you a form of freedom and maybe the Beatles contributed to that but their music got in there because it mattered”
“and of course the last thing Communists, or the Russian’s want would be western music – it’s western so it’s capitalist, and the Beatles were capitalists because they gigged, they got money and they liked it – erm, they didn’t want that. More or less they, maybe they were threatened by the youth culture aspect of it, but I think it would be very hard to prove that, but there would have been a dripping tap, yeah. There would have been this tap dripping with this music dripping in, how many got to listen to it? I don’t know or what extent it was influencing them, but their music was getting in there a bit, I know that because I’ve seen the records so I know it was in there, I’m not sure whether it contributed in the quest for democracy”
“it would be the ultimate theory, but I- did it get in? Yeah. Did they enjoy it, those who heard it? Yeah. Did they realise whether you were a teenager in America or Liverpool that this is different? Yeah. What impact that had beyond that I don’t know.”
Public opinion survey
I created a survey which would question how the general public saw The Beatles, to test whether they were widely saw as rebellious figures.
So far, I have been able to get 10 people to fill it in. These are the replies so far:
From this question it tells me that I have had a good ratio of people who are fans and who are not fans answer this survey, which should give me a nice diversity in the answers.
This won’t really contribute to the article itself but it does show that the people answering the questionnaire won’t really know what the society of the Beatles time was like so they will go into this with the mentality of somebody who would read this article on VICE.
The majority of answers for this question, as you can see, is that they are legends of the city of Liverpool. This is another reason that they are icons but I find it interesting that the word “rebels” or “rebellious” doesn’t appear.
After seeing the lack of the mentioned words I expected the answers of this question to be mostly “no”, but to my surprise more people do see them as rebellious figures, but there isn’t much in it when you compare the two percentages and if more people had carried out the survey I feel that it would have been more even.
I am fairly proud of this question myself – Using the fact that all of the people carrying out the survey would have the memories of seeing the riots in London, as well as numerous other towns and cities, I made them decide whether they would rather see another band influence society the way The Beatles did regardless of whether they are fans or not.
However, I am not so happy with the results of this question – I am unsure if it is down to the wording of it or not but only the minority really answered the question in the way I wanted. While the likes of David Bowie and Bob Dylan would be great answers, I wanted people to name artists from todays music charts – Your Lady Gaga’s etc (much to my own dismay).
Eminem and especially, Pussy Riot, are both decent answers though. The top answer makes an interesting point I could add into my article – Why would artists today want to try and change the society at the risk of affecting the profit they make? Would record labels allow them to be overly outspoken on certain things?
If I was to do this question again, I would ask them to justify their answers, emphasise that I wanted more modern artists and stop them being able to skip answers.
The Beatles by Mike Evans/Igloo Books Ltd (2011)