Four Lads Who Shook The World

As UnderSong heads to Liverpool we explore the legacy of The Beatles.

As I walk out of my office onto Mathew Street for my post-lunch ciggie, I can look up and see a statue. This statue seems to be of the Madonna holding four babies. Below this are bold letters stating simply “Four Lads Who Shook the World”. The statue itself is not exactly beautiful but the statement rings true. It is of course a statement about Liverpool’s most famous export, The Beatles. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, four lads from Merseyside who would go on to hold the world in their hands.

Living in Liverpool you have The Beatles forced on you everywhere you go. Their songs are played on countless jukeboxes; their faces look down on you from pub walls and shop windows. You start to get sick of it, and this can make you forget just how good their albums were, and how big an influence they had on modern music. I won’t retell the life story of the band here. It’s been told before, and isn’t really what’s important. The main thing about The Beatles was what they gave the world, and the inspiration they left behind.

With a career that spanned a decade and 11 albums, the obvious legacy of The Beatles lies in their music. The Lennon/McCartney partnership is widely recognised as one of the finest song writing teams ever and gave us some truly amazing compositions. In its early years, on ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘With the Beatles’ for example, this led to some of the best love songs ever written. The key is in their simplicity, they aren’t particularly deep and that is where their charm lies.

Songs like ‘All My Loving’ and ‘P.S. I Love You’ are fairly self explanatory, but that honesty is why they became so popular. The Beatles were, essentially, a boy band. Their emergence would create a blueprint for modern pop music. This can be seen as a good or bad thing, but the legacy cannot be denied.

Of course, back in 1963 songs like these had never really been heard before. Love songs have been around forever, but they had never been delivered like this. Previously this sort of music was a lot grander in scale, big arrangements with lots of instruments. The Beatles, among others, stripped this down to its basics making music a lot more accessible. Combine this with their background and the swagger they had picked up playing gigs in Hamburg and you had an image and a sound that truly shocked the older generation. Together with the likes of The Rolling Stones and The Kinks this new kind of music would blow open the music scene.

The Beatles didn’t pluck their style out of thin air, however. They drew heavily on American Rhythm and Blues and Rock and Roll. Both of their 1963 albums and 1964’s ‘Beatles for Sale’ feature songs by several top American acts. The most memorable covers that spring to mind are ‘Rock and Roll Music’ by Chuck Berry and ‘You Really Got a Hold On Me’ by The Miracles. Not only do they cover these songs but their own song writing echoes the same style. The beat and in particular the harmonies on lots of early Beatles songs are drawn from this influence. In fact they bring together several different genres, merging it into their own unique style. By singing and performing in this style they helped bring black American music to the UK, which would have a massive impact on this country’s music in the years that followed. For a lot of young people at that time this would be their first opportunity to hear Rock and Roll, and this would inspire countless musicians in the years to come.

As the sixties went on The Beatles song writing matured and the need for covers would wane. By the middle of the decade The Beatles would be at the forefront of musical innovation. The release of ‘Rubber Soul’ in 1965 and ‘Revolver’ in 1966 would mark a high point in their career. In the process of writing and recording these albums The Beatles developed their own style, sounding better and better. ‘Revolver’ was named the third greatest album of all time by Rolling Stone magazine back in 2003. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys cites ‘Rubber Soul’ as a major inspiration behind their seminal album ‘Pet Sounds’. It was the release of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ in 1967 that would blow the critics away and cement The Beatles reputation as one of the most innovative bands of all time.

The album would revolutionise music and was a first in so many ways. The way in which The Beatles recorded the album would get them worldwide acclaim. Several new recording techniques were used during the making of the album, including the use of primitive oscillators to vary the speed of the vocals. The Beatles insisted that everything on the album was done in a new way, and the finished product was a masterpiece. The Beatles music during these years also helped to inspire some of the psychedelic rock of American bands like Jefferson Airplane. Mainly thanks to the image and actions of John Lennon the band were to become central to the counter-culture of the decade. This would further cement their place in history.

The Beatles music matured and grew throughout their time together. The same music has left its mark on the music of the twentieth century, and continues to inspire today. There is no bigger testament to that fact than in their home town of Liverpool. There is no doubt that the town is proud of these four boys who came from poor backgrounds and ordinary families. You see it everywhere, and their achievements have imprinted a musical culture on the city. The people of Liverpool are proud of this culture, and its musicians, DJ’s and promoters work exceedingly hard to keep it up. In addition to this The Beatles have brought flocks of tourists into Liverpool. Both of these legacies can be as much of a hindrance as a blessing, however. The Beatles is the cornerstone of Liverpool’s tourism industry, but this means the cities other achievements throughout history are frequently overlooked. The musical culture is intrinsically linked to Beatles, and often struggles to eclipse them. This means that new music often finds it difficult to achieve its own voice, its own place in history. There is so much more to Liverpool than The Beatles, and I hope anyone visiting during the Sound City festival will realise this.