While teaching, we often find ourselves having conversations about our favorite music and bands. This conversation somehow always generates a mention of The Beatles. So many of our students do not know anything about this band. If you desire to be good at music, you should really have a familiarity with The Beatles. So today, in the spirit of Christmas, I am offering up my own little tutorial on this great and revolutionary group of musicians.
To properly educate yourself on The Beatles, you should listen to their music historically. Start with the early years and work your way forward through their career. Unlike most bands, their music evolved quickly and it is very easy to hear this change.
The Early Years
The Beatles spent their formative years in Germany playing cover songs everyday in the clubs of Hamburg. This is where they learned to play, individually and as a group. Their early recordings feature cover songs like “Please, Mr. Postman,” Till There Was You,” and “Twist and Shout.” Their first number one original song is “Please Please Me.” They followed that with “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You.” These early compositions were pure pop music and very catchy.
These songs and their sense of style and pop culture launched “Beatlemania.” They quickly rose to world-wide fame and toured constantly. Their popularity gave them no privacy and everything around them was frenzied and crazy. They did two movies, “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help” which were huge hits and added to their popularity.
Beatlemania took them forward for a couple of years and finally it just became too much for the members of the Beatles. In 1966 they announced that they were done touring and would concentrate on studio recordings only. In 1965 and 1966 they produced two albums, “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver.” Both of these albums are loaded with great songs from Lennon and McCartney and the music showed a new maturity from the writers. The lyrics became more introspective and moved away from the “I love you” aspect of their earlier pop material. Songs like “In My Life,” “Drive My Car,” “Michelle,” Norwegian Wood,” “Taxman (George Harrison,)” “Eleanor Rigby,” Got To Get You Into My Life,” and “And Your Bird Can Sing” show up on these albums. The change in musical sophistication is very apparent.
The Later Years
Freed from touring, rich, and having no timetable in the recording studio, The Beatles decided to produce a record like no other. There next recording was “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Using brand new studio technology and techniques, they pursued odd arrangements, the use of electronics and all kinds of eclectic instruments to enhance their music. The new songs were much more like compositions and the end product shows a deep musical sophistication without losing the “pop” element that made them so popular. Sgt. Pepper is the first “concept album” and needs to be listened to from start to finish. It is forty minutes well spent. Their next album (which coincided with another movie) was “Magical Mystery Tour.” “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields,” both recorded during the Sgt. Pepper sessions, are the two most important songs on this album.
Even though The Beatles would produce three more albums and many singles, the members; John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison , and Ringo Starr, seemed to start losing interest in the band.
The next album was the “White Album,” a wide ranging and eclectic compilation of songs by the individual members of the band. Although the members were becoming disenchanted with being Beatles, the song writing was sharp and on point and the emergence of George Harrison as a songwriter was starting to appear. There are too many great songs on this album to list. Listening to the entire album is a great idea.
The next recorded album was the ill conceived “Let it Be.” The project was supposed to be a back to basics album with the entire process being filmed. It ended up being a documentary of how a band breaks up. But as always, there is tremendous music on this album. “Let it Be,” “The Long and Winding Road,” and “Across the Universe” are all stellar tracks.
The last album recorded by the Beatles was “Abbey Road.” Simply one of the best records ever made, it features songs like “Come Together,” Something,” “Here Comes the Sun,” and “Octopus’s Garden.” The album ends with a medley of little songs that shows the maturity and power of The Beatles. The final song, “The End” sums up their career with the line, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Poetic and beautiful.
As a musician whose career began in the late 1970’s, The Beatles obviously had a great impact on me. They are my favorite band. But as a teacher of music, I also recognize their importance in the evolution of popular music. The Beatles broke up in 1970, almost 45 years ago, yet their influence is still very strong today. If you take my advice and spend a few hours listening to them, try working through their catalog starting with the early years. It is very interesting to hear such a strong evolution and growth as musicians and songwriters over such a short span of years. Most of it is very accessible on the internet. I hope the music will get to you and you can enjoy it as much as I do.