Already I can hear the howls of outrage and indignation from the legions of Beatles snobs and drones. With only the possible exceptions of Catholics, Daily Mail readers and BNP voters, these poor souls must surely be the most conned, gullible and brain-washed cross-section of humanity to have ever drawn breath?
In terms of articulating my feelings, it’s difficult to know where to start, given that the reasons for my detestation are passionate, long-held and many. I’ll do my best, though. Promise…
So, let’s set the ball rolling then, by looking firstly at their undoubted commercial success which, mystifyingly, many hold up as some kind of evidence of their musical omnipotence. This is easily disposed of.
To get things in some sort of perspective, consider, if you will, The Spice Girls; easily one of, if not the, biggest all-girl acts ever, with record sales that dwarf those of eight out of ten other manufactured pop puppets. While I accept that all art is largely a subjective matter, surely we can all agree that “I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna really, really, really, wanna zigga zig ahh” is, frankly, bollocks by any commonly accepted criteria? Mind you, it holds up at least as well as “she loves you yeah, yeah, yeah. She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah, she loves you yeah, yeah, yeah”. The conclusion, by now, should be clear to even the most fundamentalist B*atles disciple; commercial success is not an infallible barometer of artistic merit or credibility.
The other fiercely held conviction among the faithful goes something like this: “Ah, but if it weren’t for The B*atles, you wouldn’t have had [insert name of some incredibly implausible band]”. Again, utter bollocks and infuriating, ill-informed drivel. Now, this may surprise you but they weren’t actually responsible for every great musical event that followed them, you know.
Cream, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Iron Butterfly, The Who, Deep Purple and the Stones owe zero, nada, zilch to those over-rated Scouse conmen and they were all a damn site more innovative, revolutionary and superior in every respect, anyway.
In fact, I reckon the most influential musician of the entire 20th century has surely got to be Robert Johnson. By a huge margin. Modern blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and then, ultimately metal, hard rock and even punk, with its penchant for the hackneyed Three Chord Trick, all stem, to one degree or another, from his legendary, seminal twenty nine songs.
The blues permeates the most vital contemporary music of the last century like a rich seam of platinum. It runs like blood through the beating heart of just about any music of note outside the classical world. Don’t even try and claim a similar legacy for those third-rate, mop-topped hacks. I’ll just laugh. Or poke you in the eye with my pen. As if a case could ever be made for, say, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath or even Simon and Garfunkel being, in any way, defined by some shallow, plastic, pop-tarts from the 60s! Go on; try . Yeah, thought so…
Oh, but hang on a moment, though; Lennon & McCartney were the greatest songwriters of the 20th century, weren’t they? Really? Better than, say, Bacharach and David? Irving Berlin, Ray Davies, Brian Wilson, Hank Williams, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Nick Cave, Nick Drake, Pete Townsend or even Paul Weller? Behave.
You wanna talk about their legacy? The Osmonds, Westlife, Boyzone and JL bloody S are their natural heirs!
In terms of song writing, Robert Johnson and the pioneering Bluesmen perfected the classic I-IV-V chord progression that everyone, including the bloody B*atles, has done to death. To come from a completely different angle, in terms of melodic understanding, harmonic construction and technically superior composition, even ABBA were working on a level our Merseyside charlatans could only dream about.
In a similar vein, a friend of mine, Deni Lloyd, observed, “when you think about the level of fame and adoration they enjoyed, then think about other bands of the sixties who were forever in their shadow it puts it into perspective. Their song writing was weak (unlike say, The Kinks), their voices were weaker (unlike say, Chris Farlowe or Del Shannon) and their instrumentation lacklustre (unlike say, The Byrds) all of which would be easier to forgive had they not wholeheartedly bought into their own mythology. They were a bunch of preening, jumped up little shits and the ones that remain are ridiculous, vain old men with a God complex. They’re shit. That’s it”.
So that takes care of their early oeuvre but we all know, don’t we, that the White Album, Revolver and Sergeant Pepper’s Dreary Club Band were the works that saw them mature into really great musical visionaries, though, yes? Well, if ill-disciplined, drug-induced, pretentious doodling is your thing, then maybe, yeah. Personally, “semolina dripping from a dead dog’s eye” “I am the walrus, I am the Egg-man” and “you’ve been a naughty girl, you’ve let your knickers down” are not quite the incisive capturing of the zeitgeist that springs to mind when I ponder the post-war artistic and cultural revolutions.
It’s probably the right time to surprise you and say that, unlike Deni, I don’t actually think The B*atles are crap, per se. No, really, I don’t. Yesterday is a fine tune, to give just one example (although even here we can thank George Martin’s inspired addition of a string quartet as the element that lifts the song to, possibly, genius-level) and, to be fair, I think they wrote perfectly acceptable three or four minute packages of shallow, pop-puff that reflected, quite well, the new, breezy, optimistic vibe of the Swinging Sixties. If only they’d left it there. But no; they had to go to India, consort with religious nutters, buy a sitar, get all mystical and start taking seriously the hysteria surrounding them. Horror of horrors, they actually started to believe they were, God help us, Serious Artistes!
As far as individual musical proficiency goes, it’ll take barely a paragraph to pull these fakers from their Ivory Tower and expose the Emperor’s New Clothes (excuse the mixed metaphors; that’s what they do to me, God damn ‘em!). Ringo, you’re first up, my man; as a drummer, Mr Starr, as Lennnon himself famously remarked, was not only not the best drummer in the world, he wasn’t “…even the best drummer in The B*atles”. Sadly, poor old Ringo lacked sufficient talent to even polish John Bonham’s cymbals. Or pour Keith Moon’s booze. Or even chop Ginger Baker’s lines with his sticks.
Lennon, as most are forced to reluctantly acknowledge, could barely play guitar at all and George Harrison’s most elevated B*atles moment arrived courtesy of Clapton’s sublime solo on When My Guitar Gently Weeps. As surely it must’ve done, with relief and gratitude, no doubt, when Eric picked it up; at last! A real musician, pluck me, baby!
Macca? Ironically, probably the most talented of the musically juvenile foursome, he still couldn’t disguise the fact that his mediocre talent was more suited to Broadway and the kitsch world of stage musicals than rock ‘n’ roll. Not that they were ever a rock ‘n’ roll band, of course. The very thought is laughable. No, they were always a pop band. Even your Granny likes ‘em.
The real irritant, though, is that they are easily the most overrated band to have ever entered a recording studio, bar none. Thanks to Epstein, they were marketed, packaged, hyped and sold to an impressionable public, desperately yearning for some escapism following the years of post-war austerity, with the myth enduring to this very day. In fact, it’s here, really, that they made their biggest impact on popular culture; a towering testament to the power of marketing, advertising and hype. The world’s first, and still, its most successful, boy band.
You wanna talk about their legacy? The Osmonds, Westlife, Boyzone and JL bloody S are their natural heirs! Oh all right, maybe a tad harsh; after all, they were directly responsible for the Gallagher brothers and Oasis, too. Yeah. Like, thanks lads…
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