When the Beatles arrived on the scene in 1963 Rock Music was dead in the water. The United States government had effectively shut it down. Through the Payola scandal they had, by threats and coercion prevented the Radio Stations from playing raw Rock ‘n’ Roll. What we were left with was a sanitised Pop scene of clean-cut homely kids in suits that catered for the teenage market. In Britain we had much of the same but watered down. We were a backwater. The charts were full of Bobbys, Cliffs, Tommys and Billys with lovey dovey, chirpy trite Pop with the rebellion squeezed out of it. The raw energy had dissipated.
Then came the Beatles and the excitement was back. Right from the start they were motoring. The first album set a new standard. They might only have been doing their take on the old Rock ‘n’ Roll and R&B but they did it with verve and passion and found a way of revitalising it. Even their own songs were excellent though they were all still young love and heartache. The production was crisp and the rebellious energy was back. Brian Epstein had tidied them up, put them in suits, and trained them to be media friendly but he had not tamed the wild spirit inside. Suddenly Rock ‘n’ Roll was back on the agenda with a vengeance and Britain was no longer a backwater.
The band had synergy. The whole was far greater than the sum of its parts. As individuals the Beatles were all exceptional musicians and composers; together they took that up another notch.
There were signs around the time of Help and A Hard Days Night when it looked as if they might go the way of Elvis and produce nice safe Pop songs. The rawness was beginning to get watered down. Fortunately Dylan had burst upon the scene and given them a burst of creativity. They had poetry and social content to play with. They had licence to move away from the standard two and a half minute format. They could experiment. There were no limits. And boy did they experiment. They introduced electronic elements, Indian ragas, psychedelic effects, backwards loops, different instrumentation and even Folk elements. Their creativity was unleashed and their position at the forefront of commercial success gave them unlimited opportunity to experiment. The result was a revolution.
The whole music scene in the mid to late sixties underwent an upheaval and the Beatles rode the crest of that wave. The British Underground and American west Coast was on fire with a rampant Youth Culture, new politics, spirituality, civil rights, and a new social vision. The idealism and discarding of the old values can be heard in the music. This was a generation who believed they could change the world, bring peace and love, put an end to war, inequality and the exploitation of minorities and find a new way of doing things. Music was the medium, the unifying force, the message. Revolution was in the air. The Beatles were right there leading the way. Sgt Peppers, the double white album and even Abbey Road and Let it Be capture the spirit of the age. It was experimental, vast in scope, poetic, meaningful, complex, sophisticated, melodic and yet retained all the vitality of Rock. This was Rock Music coming of age and producing compositions on a par with Jazz and classical. The Beatles were an essential ingredient in that mix that became album based Rock Music.
I lived through that age. I bought the singles, EPs and albums as they came out. I can remember the expectation and excitement, the anticipation. I can also remember that those singles were all different and never failed to disappoint. They instantly connected. Each one was a step forward.
They were, and still are, the best band in the world. Nothing has yet surpassed them. The tragedy was that their life as a band was cut short by the loss of Brian Epstein, the disputes, failure of Apple, personalities clashes and the ending of that sixties era. If it hadn’t have been for Chapman they probably would have reformed. Who knows?