The Beatles – Icons of Cultural Revolution

Economic woes, terrorism fears and the persistent torture of human ears from One Direction – There is a lot wrong in the world today.

So much so there is talk of revolution – What that revolution is exactly? Nobody has the faintest. Throughout the entirety of his ramblings and his characteristically over the top bodily gestures, even Russell Brand didn’t quite know what he was referring to when he alluded to a revolution while talking to Jeremy Paxman.

You say you want a revolution? You only have to look back fifty years to see one of the biggest cultural revolutions since the French got tired of being told to eat cake.

The Beatles burst into the public eye with the release of ‘Love Me Do’ in 1962, and with that came a change in attitude, and hair does.

They carried the beacon for a generation which would be the first to be referred to as teenagers, whose imaginations were captured by the rock and roll music brought over from America by the merchant navy into Liverpool’s iconic port throughout the ’50s, and went on to dominate the music charts worldwide, smashing cultural borderlines and wooing millions from as near as Runcorn, to as far as Japan.

What was it that made them capture their fans hearts though? I asked Paul Gallagher, the curator of contemporary collecting at the Museum of Liverpool for his own opinion on the matters I raise in this article.

Where the Beatles really sold themselves was their personality and that expression of optimism, and sarcasm, and surrealism that existed in Liverpool, and the fact they were four very intelligent people who bounced off one another.” 

We all want to change the world, but one understated aspect of their legacy was you can argue they, most of the time indirectly, did just that.

“This was in the early stages of youth culture, and the Beatles were in the vanguard of that.”

The new wave of youth culture they represented collided with the older generation, ending the days where teenagers dressed and had their hair cut as their parents, and generally bringing a “I don’t care what you think” aura still seen in the petulant offspring of today, which may have threatened some parents after they initially welcomed this refreshing group of lads.

“I always think that the Beatles were subversively naughty boys giving the impression they were really, really nice.

“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, 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.”

Two years after the release of ‘Love Me Do’, they would land in New York and reinvigorated an America still mourning the loss of President Kennedy with their positive lyrics and melodies.

It is discussed amongst some that they were one of the main influences for the counterculture of the 1960s – The hippies between you and me – and it isn’t too farfetched to agree with that notion. Although they never actually came out and spoke about their views on the war in Vietnam until very late in the day, their positivity, as well as their brilliance, inspired people around the world to create music, and it’s these people who would go on to lead the anti-war protests.

They never spoke out against the war, 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 opened a door to a different viewpoint, but they personally never came out, not until very late in the day,

“Maybe without the Beatles influencing them, [bands such as The Byrds] 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,” Paul continued.

It wasn’t just in western countries that their messages of positivity spoke to the people.

An article written by Mikhail Safonov, a senior researcher at the Institution of Russian History in St Petersburg, shows him making the argument that The Beatles had, again indirect, role in bringing down Totalitarianism in the USSR.

Due to the fact that they were a result of “the rotting culture of bourgeois capitalism”, the government and their supporters not only condemned the group, they openly mocked them, going as far as holding a show trial which resulted in The Bugs, as they were affectionately referred to, being found guilty of anti-social behaviour.

The author wrote:

“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.”

When I asked Paul for his opinion on this theory, he was able to confirm their music had made the Moscow girls sing and shout, albeit secretly, but he wasn’t able to confirm whether the article was true or not.

“It would be the ultimate theory. Did it get in? Yes. Did they enjoy it, those who heard it? Yes. Did they realise whether you were a teenager in America or Liverpool that this is different? Yes. What impact that had beyond that I don’t know.”

It goes without saying that The Beatles are icons of music; Ask any modern day band who their influence is, and 9 out of 10 will name the Liverpool natives. But are they icons of rebellion too? Yes.

It is no coincidence that a lot of counterculture in a number of countries around the world have links to their music and the messages those songs give out – Love, individuality, peace. In a world that is largely miserable and grey, colour shines through the most.

I think their influence was for people to see them, hear them and want to form a band or be an artist and express themselves – That’s probably their greatest legacy really.”

You could argue however, this wasn’t intended. They were merely one of the many bands from a Liverpool struggling with record high unemployment levels using music as a way out. A documentary made by the BBC, ‘1962: Love Me Do’, claims there were 300 bands in the city alone trying to make a name for themselves, maybe they were just happy to be getting signed up to a record deal, rather than for the dole, and influencing the world was the last thing on their mind.

What you can’t argue though, they didn’t only make it to the “toppermost of the poppermost”, they did a lot more than that.

“They are the ultimate band, whether you like the music or not, they will be the biggest phenomenon music will ever see.”

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