The fact that so many books still name the Beatles "the greatest or most significant or most influential" rock band ever only tells you how far rock music still is from becoming a serious art. Jazz critics have long recognized that the greatest jazz musicians of all times are Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, who were not the most famous or richest or best sellers of their times, let alone of all times. Classical critics rank the highly controversial Beethoven over classical musicians who were highly popular in courts around Europe. Rock critics are still blinded by commercial success: the Beatles sold more than anyone else (not true, by the way), therefore they must have been the greatest. Jazz critics grow up listening to a lot of jazz music of the past, classical critics grow up listening to a lot of classical music of the past. Rock critics are often totally ignorant of the rock music of the past, they barely know the best sellers. No wonder they will think that the Beatles did anything worth of being saved.
The Beatles were the quintessence of instrumental mediocrity. George Harrison was a pathetic guitarist, compared with the London guitarists of those days (Townshend of the Who, Richards of the Rolling Stones, Davies of the Kinks, Clapton and Beck and Page of the Yardbirds, and many others who were less famous but no less original). The Beatles had completely missed the revolution of rock music (founded on a prominent use of the guitar) and were still trapped in the stereotypes of the easy-listening orchestras. Paul McCartney was a singer from the 1950s, who could not have possibly sounded more conventional. As a bassist, he was not worth the last of the rhythm and blues bassists (even though within the world of Merseybeat his style was indeed revolutionary). Ringo Starr played drums the way any kid of that time played it in his garage (even though he may ultimately be the only one of the four who had a bit of technical competence). Overall, the technique of the "fab four" was the same of many other easy-listening groups: sub-standard.
Theirs were records of traditional songs crafted as they had been crafted for centuries, yet they served an immense audience, far greater than the audience of those who wanted to change the world, the hippies and protesters. Their fans ignored or abhorred the many rockers of the time who were experimenting with the suite format, who were composing long free-form tracks, who were using dissonance, who were radically changing the concept of the musical piece. The Beatles' fans thought, and some still think, that using trumpets in a rock song was a revolutionary event, that using background noises (although barely noticeable) was an even more revolutionary event, and that only great musical geniuses could vary so many styles in one album, precisely what many rock musicians were doing all over the world, employing much more sophisticated stylistic excursions.
While the Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, the Doors, Pink Floyd and many others were composing long and daring suites worthy of avant garde music, thus elevating rock music to art, the Beatles continued to yield three minute songs built around a chorus. Beatlemania and its myth notwithstanding, Beatles fans went crazy for twenty seconds of trumpet, while the Velvet Underground were composing suites of chaos twenty minutes long. Actually, between noise and a trumpet, between twenty seconds and twenty minutes, there was an artistic difference of several degrees of magnitude. They were, musically, sociologically, politically, artistically, and ideologically, on different planets.
Beatlemania created a comical temporal distortion. Many Beatles fans were convinced that rock and roll was born around the early 60s, that psychedelic rock and the hippies were a 1967 phenomenon, that student protests began in 1969, that peace marches erupted at the end of the 60s, and so on. Beatles fans believed that the Beatles were first in everything, while in reality they were last in almost everything. The case of the Beatles is a textbook example of how myths can distort history.
Scaruffi claims, “The Beatles never had a song without a refrain before 1967"
Another myth that Mr.Scaruffi has made up or not looked into. Songs with no refrain, include such as "It Won't be Long," "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," "Drive My Car. Add There's a Place," "I Should Have Known Better," "If I Fell," "No Reply," and "Norwegian Wood," neither a refrain nor a chorus is heard t to Hide Your Love Away," "Drive My Car. Add There's a Place," "I Should Have Known Better," "If I Fell," "No Reply," and "Norwegian Wood," neither a refrain nor a chorus is heard.
Scaruffi, “The Beatles were writing simple 3 minute pop ditties".
The Beatles from the start were more complicated then their mentors Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and their friends the Rolling Stones. The Beatles would use Bridge: a song's contrasting section [sometimes called the ‘middle-eight', regardless of the number of actual bars], often beginning in an area other than tonic and usually leading to a dominant retransition. They incorporated classic and world music elements to their songs (which helped the development of prog-rock and baroque pop and art rock. They experimented in the use of rare metric patterns and song structures (which helped the development of prog-rock. Songs like "Norwegian Wood" would include modes like Mixolydiaon and Dorian Modes in one song.‘Love You To’is clearly based on Indian modal practice: the tamboura drones sa and pa (tonic and dominant notes of the mode), the tabla sets forth a sixteen-beat tala (rhythm), the introductory improvisation in the alap follows Indian melodic practice, and as Harrison stated, he was trying to express himself in Hindu terms. This was a new turn for the Beatles and for rock music in general
Every one of their songs and every one of their albums followed much more striking songs and albums by others, but instead of simply imitating those songs, the Beatles adapted them to a bourgeois, conformist and orthodox dimension. The same process was applied to the philosophy of the time, from the protest on college campuses to Dylan's pacifism, from drugs to the Orient. Their vehicle was melody, a universal code of sorts, that declared their music innocuous. Naturally others performed the same operation, and many (from the Kinks to the Hollies, from the Beach Boys to the Mamas and Papas) produced melodies even more memorable, yet the Beatles arrived at the right moment and theirs would remain the trademark of the melodic song of the second half of the twentieth century.
Their ascent was branded as "Beatlemania", a phenomenon of mass hysteria launched in 1963 that marked the height of the "teen idol" mode, a extension of the myths of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. From that moment on, no matter what they put together, the Beatles remained the center of the media's attention.
Musically, for what it's worth, the Beatles were the product of an era that had been prepared by vocal groups such as the Everly Brothers and by rockers such as Buddy Holly; an era that also expressed itself through the girl-groups, the Tamla bands and surf music. What the Beatles have in common with them, aside from almost identical melodies, is a general concept of song: an exuberant, optimistic and cadenced melody.
For most of their career the Beatles were four mediocre musicians who sang melodic three-minute tunes at a time when rock music was trying to push itself beyond that format (a format originally confined by the technical limitations of 78 rpm record). They were the quintessence of "mainstream", assimilating the innovations proposed by rock music, within the format of the melodic song.
The Beatles belonged, like the Beach Boys (whom they emulated for most of their career), to the era of the vocal band. In such a band the technique of the instrument was not as important as the chorus. Undoubtedly skilled at composing choruses, they availed themselves of producer George Martin (head of the Parlophone since 1956), to embellish those choruses with arrangements more and more eccentric.
The convergence between Western polyphony (melody, several parts of vocal harmony and instrumental arrangements) and African percussion - the leitmotif of American music from its inception - was legitimized in Europe by the huge success of the Merseybeat, in particular by its best sellers, Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Beatles, both produced by George Martin and managed by Brian Epstein. To the bands of the Merseybeat goes the credit of having validated rock music for a vast audience, a virtually endless audience. They were able to interpret the spirit and the technique of rock and roll, while separating it from its social circumstances, thus defusing potential explosions. In such fashion, they rendered it accessible not only to the young rebels, but to all. Mediocre musicians and even more mediocre intellectuals, bands like the Beatles had the intuition of the circus performer who knows how to amuse the peasants after a hard day's work, an intuition applied to the era of mass distribution of consumer goods.
The Beatles most certainly belong to the history of the 60s, but their musical merits are at best dubious.
The Beatles came to be at the height of the reaction against rock and roll, when the innocuous "teen idols", rigorously white, were replacing the wild black rockers who had shocked the radio stations and the conscience of half of America. Their arrival represented a lifesaver for a white middle class terrorized by the idea that within rock and roll lay a true revolution of customs. The Beatles tranquilized that vast section of people and conquered the hearts of all those (first and foremost the females) who wanted to rebel without violating the societal status quo. The contorted and lascivious faces of the black rock and rollers were substituted by the innocent smiles of the Beatles; the unleashed rhythms of the first were substituted by the catchy tunes of the latter. Rock and roll could finally be included in the pop charts. The Beatles represented the quintessential reaction to a musical revolution in the making, and for a few years they managed to run its enthusiasm into the ground.
Furthermore, the Beatles represented the reaction against a social and political revolution. They arrived at the time of the student protests, of Bob Dylan, of the Hippies, and they replaced the image of angry kids with their fists in the air, with their cordial faces and their amiable declarations. They came to replace the accusatory words of militant musicians with overindulgent nursery rhymes. In this fashion as well the Beatles served as middle-class tranquilizers, as if to prove the new generation was not made up exclusively of rebels, misfits and sexual maniacs.
Contemporary musicians never spoke highly of the Beatles, and for a good reason. They could not figure out why the Beatles' songs should be regarded more highly than their own. They knew that the Beatles were simply lucky to become a folk phenomenon (thanks to "Beatlemania", which had nothing to do with their musical merits). THat phenomenon kept alive interest in their (mediocre) musical endeavours to this day. Nothing else grants the Beatles more attention than, say, the Kinks or the Rolling Stones. There was nothing intrinsically better in the Beatles' music. Ray Davies of the Kinks was certainly a far better songwriter than Lennon & McCartney. The Stones were certainly much more skilled musicians than the 'Fab Fours'. And Pete Townshend was a far more accomplished composer, capable of "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia". Not to mention later and far greater British musicians. Not to mention the American musicians who created what the Beatles later sold to the masses.
The Beatles sold a lot of records not because they were the greatest musicians but simply because their music was easy to sell to the masses: it had no difficult content, it had no technical innovations, it had no creative depth. They wrote a bunch of catchy 3-minute ditties and they were photogenic. If somebody had not invented "beatlemania" in 1963, you would not have wasted five minutes of your time to read a page about such a trivial band.
The Beatles had the historical function to delay the impact of the innovations of the 60's . Between 1966 and 1969, while suites, jams, and long free form tracks (which the Beatles also tried but only toward the end of their career) became the fashion, while the world was full of guitarists, bassist, singers and drummers who played solos and experimented with counterpoint, the Beatles limited themselves to keeping the tempo and following the melody. Their historic function was also to prepare the more conservative audience for those innovations. Their strength was perhaps being the epitome of mediocrity: never a flash of genius, never a revolutionary thought, never a step away from what was standard, accepting innovations only after they had been accepted by the establishment. And maybe it was that chronic mediocrity that made their fortune: whereas other bands tried to surpass their audiences, to keep two steps ahead of the myopia of their fans, traveling the hard and rocky road, the Beatles took their fans by the hand and walked them along a straight path devoid of curves and slopes.
Beatles fans can change the meaning of the word "artistic" to suit themselves, but the truth is that the artistic value of the Beatles work is very low. The Beatles made only songs, often unpretentious songs, with melodies no more catchy than those of many other pop singers. The artistic value of those songs is the artistic value of one song: however well done (and one can argue over the number of songs well done vs. the number of overly publicized songs by the band of the moment), it remains a song, precisely as toothpaste remains toothpaste. It doesn't become a work of art just because it has been overly publicized.