The Beatles’ Legacy
From the fan crazed times of Beatlemania to their devastating break-up in 1970, the Beatles revolutionized the way the music was performed and perceived. Led by the exceptionally creative minds of Paul McCartney and John Lennon, a vast amount of number one hits arose due to their unique and complex musical stylings. Along with McCartney and Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison also played a vital role in helping the Beatles progress their innovative compositions. Together, the “Fab Four” went on to create songs that are still globally recognized. With compilations such as The White Album, Abbey Road, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles proved that they were indeed the most popular and skilled band to have ever preformed. They have undoubtedly paved the way for other musicians to freely express their thoughts and feelings through music. In my opinion, the three most influential songs that the Beatles composed are not necessarily those who are the most well recognized but rather the ones who have the most meaning and impact on society as a whole. The songs that stand out to me are “Blackbird” by Paul McCartney, “Across the Universe” by John Lennon and finally “She Said She Said”, a collaboration of each Beatles member.
During the creation of the White Album in 1968, there was a plethora of societal changes in progress. This was the time in which the civil rights movement was at its peak. Thousands of protesters, both black and white, lined the streets daily to support the equal treatment of African- American citizens. Among the protesters was Beatles member Paul McCartney. In his famous song, “Blackbird”, McCartney incorporates the use of British slang to create a double entendre. The slang word “bird” is used in Britain to refer to a woman. Thus the title of the song can be interpreted as “Black Woman”, an appropriate title due to the times of civil unrest. Looking deeper into the lyrical aspect of this song, McCartney continues to use symbolism to convey his ever so powerful message. He sings, “Blackbird fly into the light of the dark black night”. It is quite easy to see that he is encouraging the black citizens of the United States to continue with their fight and head toward their goal of equality, “the light”. Seeing as the Beatles were one of the most popular bands of the time, they also had great influence over their audience. The creation of this song not only displayed the imaginative abilities of the Beatles, but it also gave hope to those involved in the civil rights movement. Aside from the lyrics, Paul McCartney puts his musical abilities on display throughout this song. Although the instrumentation is not overly complex, McCartney’s voice fills the void. Because this song was meant to be thought provoking, the minimalistic use of instrumentation enhances the vocals and allows McCartney to drive the song solely with the tone and emphasis of his words. Furthermore, the use of only one instrument allows the change in the time signatures to be easily heard. The majority of the song is played in either 2 by 4 or 4 by 4 time signature while the lyric “blackbird singing in the dead of night” is accompanied by a 3 beat per measure signature. These changes give the song a feeling of complexity without distracting from the focus on the vocals.
In addition to Paul McCartney’s musical talents, John Lennon also brought an equal amount of skill to the table. Through songs like “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” Lennon shows that he is just as talented as his counterparts. In my opinion, Lennon’s song “Across the Universe” best displays his mastery of song writing. According to Lennon, he wrote this song following a disagreement that he had with his spouse. Although he never had intentions of writing a song from this experience, he could not get to sleep without getting his feelings written down on paper (Sheff). I find it incredible that someone can have the innate ability to make a song from such a lousy experience. Furthermore, it shows that Lennon could express his thoughts and feeling through music. This allowed him to create tracks that carried a great amount of meaning while also allowing his listeners to relate to the song. Another aspect of Lennon’s lyrics that I found to be impressive is his incorporation of a different language. In the refrain, Lennon sings, “Jai Guru Deva Om” which has multiple meanings, but is most commonly translated as “Victory to God divine”. This phrase was an influence of the Beatles’ time spent in India in the year of 1967. During their visit, the Beatles were able to conceptualize songs like “Across the Universe” as well as multiple other songs that would later show up on various albums. Additionally, their time spent showed them how to become free of worldly distractions. This is where the line in the course “nothing’s gonna change my world” is derived from. The influences from India also carry into the musical aspects of this song. For example, George Harrison found interest in learning how to play the sitar while overseas. If you listen closely you can hear Harrison playing this in the background. Although the chords played by the sitar are similar to those played on the guitar, you can definitely hear the minute difference in tone and get a sense of the musical influences of the Indian culture. The sitar, combined with the use of a heavily distorted guitar, allows the audience to feel as if they are in a dream-like state, similar to that of meditation. After just one listen of this iconic track, it is easy to see that the Beatles were able to absorb the culture that surrounded them in order to produce music that was pleasing for audiences across the world. This is one of the major reasons why they are known as one of the most impactful groups to have ever formed.
Aside from their experiences in India and their support of civil rights, the Beatles were able to produce a number of tracks while consumed by the effects of LSD, also known as acid. Although it may seem counterintuitive, it was actually very fortunate that the Beatles dabbled with this illegal substance. Without this drug, the Beatles would have missed an entire era of creativity. The album entitled Revolver was a primary example of their drug induced originality. The song “She Said She Said” demonstrates how LSD changed the stylistic composition of the Beatles. This song in particular was a result of a conversation between the members of the Beatles and actor Peter Fonda. According to Fonda, George Harrison was so heavily consumed by the drug that he believed he was dying. In an attempt to comfort him, Fonda ensured him that everything would be okay and proceeded to tell a story about how he accidentally shot himself as a young child (Rybaczewski). This is where the verse, “She said ‘I know what it’s like to be dead’” originated. Obviously the group needed to tailor their experience to be something their fans could relate to. As a result, they transformed their conversation into a story about a man and woman who are in an argument. Strangely enough, this song does not have the negative tone that would be expected from such a dark subject. Instead, the Beatles use a more positive rhythm everywhere in the song except for the chorus, “you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born”. At this point in the song, the vocals seem to slow down just a bit in order to convey a more somber mood. Instrumentally, Starr stands out the most to me throughout this piece. His drumming skill is put on display especially in the first few measures. Although the difference may be minute compared to some of his previous performances, Starr shows his understanding of how to progress a song when the vocals and guitar are not in the position to make an emphasis. Any time there is a break in the instrumentation, Starr fills the void using a series of complex drum patterns that allow the main instrumental to regain its dominance in the development of the track. Although not every Beatles track is a collaboration of the band as a whole, “She Said She Said” shows the unity that the Beatles once had.
In conclusion, the Beatles have proved that they are capable of producing popular and meaningful music no matter what situation they were placed in. From the inequality of human treatment to the surreal feelings of LSD, the Beatles continuously connected to their environment to bring about internalized feelings that may have otherwise never been exposed. Along with shaping the way that rock and roll sounded through songs like “Across the Universe” and “She Said She Said”, the Beatles also composed songs like “Blackbird” which provided their listeners with an opportunity to have a voice without having to say a word. I believe that these three songs combine to encompass the skills and talents of every Beatle member in a way that truly proves that they are the most awe-inspiring band of all time.
Sheff, David. “Across The Universe | The Beatles Bible |.” The Beatles Bible. Web. 20 Apr. 2015. <http://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/across-the-universe/2/>.
Rybaczewski, Dave. “”She Said She Said” by The Beatles. The In-depth Story behind the Songs of the Beatles. Recording History. Songwriting History. Song Structure and Style. Web. 20 Apr. 2015. <http://www.beatlesebooks.com/she-said-she-said>.