Those Mysterious Beatles

A lot of news lately has focused on the 50th anniversary of the American invasion of the Beatles in 1964, and I remember watching the Ed Sullivan show during that historic event (I’m as old as the Beatles).  At the time I sort of felt like Egypt watching the locusts come, and wondered how in the world this group of simplistic singers and musicians could ever be so popular.  Of course I wondered the same thing about Ed Sullivan, bless his heart.

As a trained musician, and all of this is from that perspective, I was dumfounded by the amateurish sound in all areas, playing, singing and songwriting.  Now be honest, the lyrics of “I want to hold your hand” doesn’t seem to be in line for legendary status, does it?  There was an emotional dynamic at work that is difficult to quantify, working in the hearts of young girls, who after all determine most of the successful commercial artists.  I figured they would be a one hit wonder sort of like the more recent “Achy, Breaky Heart,” for example.  Boy was I wrong.

Even while their popularity soared, I had little respect for their musicianship simply because they were breaking a lot of rules.  I theorized that their rule breaking was not intentional, which would give it legitimacy, but simply because they didn’t know any better.  Such amateurs.  They were making rookie mistakes.  The world operates on rules.  Math and science have pretty well concrete rules that if ignored or “broken” can have catastrophic results at times.  Similarly language, arts, social functioning and the like also operate on rules that everyone usually understands and follows even though ignoring these are not the same as, say, gravity, or the like.

Throughout history the breaking of rules often can be advancement in knowledge even in the hard sciences, and the same happens with music.  Often it’s the renegade who experiments and is rejected by convention until, unfortunately many after they die, their rebellion is proven to be real.  That history in music can be followed with various periods of change becoming somewhat landmarks of advancement, in hindsight.  When music reached the development of the modal triadic system it pretty much stayed the same as far as commercial music is concerned.  Serious music, that is, leading edge music by “serious” musicians, is not accepted by the public, and in fact is considered really weird and offensive.  It is not triadic.

The Beatles, in breaking the rules, did not jump outside of the triadic system, but deviated within the system in unusual fashion.  And it worked.  They did not follow along with the current styles of the 50’s and 60’s, but sort of went their own way, and in so doing changed the direction of “rock music.”  It appears that the long hair, different sound and being foreigners provided a syncretism that launched their revolution.  Their different style of music, and song writing was the basis of their success.  Sorry, but their musicianship (playing ability) and voice quality was not all that good.

During the following years the song writing, being their staying power, improved continuously, not only in lyric meaning, but also in the variety of song styles.  The new songs being released, because they did not follow a “Beatles style,” as in immediately identifiable as one of theirs, often surprised me.  Most groups have an identifiable style that they settle into over time, but not the Beatles.  Their lyrics, while okay, never did, in my opinion, reach the level of real sophistication and cleverness.  However their melodies, while simple, were very creative.  My view of the Beatles changed dramatically in 1965.

When I heard the song “Yesterday,” and that the Beatles had written it, I didn’t believe it at first.  The song is a masterpiece.  As with most masterpieces the simplicity but yet genius of its creation is remarkable.  Every time such a piece is produced my reaction often is, “I could write that song.”  But the truth is I cannot, otherwise I already would have.  Many other musicians think the same thing.  We can recognize genius in its simplicity, but sadly cannot create such.

And so it is with music across history.  The crowning glory of Western Civilization Christian music is the “Halleluiah” chorus by Handel.  The main theme of this inspired music consists of a three note motif!  Yes, three.  Now the full development of those three notes is amazingly complex.  Same with, say, the main theme of “Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony” that consists of a two-note motif!  Neither the Beatles nor their song “Yesterday,” can in any way be compared to the work of Handel or Beethoven, but the principle of beautiful simplicity in music is the same.

So the Beatles not only survived, but also thrived.  Many other songs were unique and different exhibiting very creative processes, but nothing, in my opinion, matched “Yesterday,” which is probable the most covered song in music history.  Unfortunately they did not give God credit for their gifts or use them for His glory.  In fact the only time I remember any reference to God, was when John Lennon was quoted, “We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first rock n’ roll or Christianity.”  Well, when all of man’s creations will eventually be relegated to the dustbin of history, Jesus Christ will stand triumphantly as creator of the universe and all that is in it.








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