Home/Alan Jacobs/Meet the Beatles (Again)

Meet the Beatles (Again)

Neil Simpson has had enough of the Beatles:

In their prime the Fab Four must have provided a welcome relief from a buttoned-up and austere Britain. No doubt this gave them a sense a purpose and a revolutionary quality. Yet today they have become excruciatingly bland and inoffensive. The Beatles are now background music, unable to fulfil the most basic criteria of art – to provoke and stimulate.

The problem is that we’re simply too removed from the revolutions they fought and the British past they reacted against. They challenged a world of clear class and gender distinctions, lingering imperial memories, and patriarchal government. We’re a long way from that world today: we’ve retreated from messianic efforts at world revolution or liberation.

Today their ideology has more in common with the vague platitudes of a piss poor mobile phone adverts than anything more substantial. Even in their later years their flirtation with eastern spiritualism seems laughable in a world of public school boys jaunting off on gap years. Far from being edgy today, they look naive and self-indulgent.

Wait, the Beatles had an “ideology”? Coulda fooled me. But even if they did carry around such baggage, scarcely anyone has ever listened to the Beatles to become politically or socially or spiritually enlightened. If their reputation continues to be high, it will be because of the music they made: its melodies, harmonies, arrangements, and lyrics.

A few years ago BBC Radio 6 ran an extraordinary documentary featuring interviews with the great producer George Martin about how the Beatles’ music was recorded. One of the best things about the show is the way it plays voices and instruments in isolation, so that you can hear the quality of the musicianship and, equally important, hear the way Martin helped the Beatles to build up a sonic palette of exceptional beauty. (It’s also interesting to discover how Martin and the engineers, especially Geoff Emerick, got the best possible sound out of the existing technologies — which in fact were superior in many ways to the most commonly used recording technologies today.)

If you’re outside the U.K. you may not be able to listen to the documentary, but selections from it are available various places online. Search for the sections on recording “She’s Leaving Home” and “Come Together.” Amazing songs, ideology be damned.

about the author

Alan Jacobs is a Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and the author most recently of The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography.

leave a comment

Latest Articles