Everyone knows The Beatles. Even if you don’t listen to The Beatles, you know The Beatles. It’s an easy bet that you’ve probably heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, or if not that then “Hey Jude”, or if not that then “All You Need is Love”. I’d also bet even if you haven’t heard of George Harrison or Ringo Starr, you’ve heard of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. One way or another, somewhere along the way in your lifetime, someone or something introduced you to The Beatles. Even now, 40+ years after their initial rise to fame, we all know the Beatles one way or another. For plenty of people, they’re still their favorite band. The point is, even if you don’t like their music, you have still heard their music and know a thing or two about them as a band and as people. I’d argue that if they were still touring as a band today, the crowds would be just as big and enthusiastic as they were in the ‘60s, simply because of the hype that still surrounds them. The question is, why after so many years are they still almost just as famous and popular as they were in their prime?
It all started when John started a skiffle band called The Quarrymen with some friends in the late 1950s, eventually including Paul followed by George. Their early musical influences included Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Carl Perkins, essentially admiring the developing culture of rock and roll. After some tours, several auditions, and eventually an agreement with Parlophone Records, The Beatles as we know them today were created.
Starting out, The Beatles were certainly not the musical geniuses we know them to be now. They began releasing singles and their first album, Please Please Me, which included 6 cover songs and a few McCartney/Lennon originals, didn’t contain much voice, message, or technical prowess. However, it was catchy enough to make the album the #1 album in the U.K. for 30 weeks. Soon after came With the Beatles, and by 1963, they had expanded to the United States with the release of the single “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
With 1964 came the British Invasion, paved by The Beatles. Their 3rd album, A Hard Days Night was released, exclusively containing Lennon/McCartney originals. Soon following was Beatles For Sale, then Help!, Rubber Soul, and Revolver, with each release revealing more and more change and growth for the musicians.
By the time they reached their summer tour of 1966, they took a brief break from songwriting and a permanent break from touring. Thus in 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was created, which is widely considered one of the greatest albums of all time.
Following along the same lines of Sgt. Pepper’s was their next album, Magical Mystery Tour, and then creative Beatle songwriting reached its peak with the release of the White Album. Unfortunately their success in the songwriting of this album was also full of tension among the band members, and their breakup came soon after the release of the next album, the last time all four of them were in the studio together. Released in 1969, Abbey Road is the culmination of the four’s development as a creative songwriting band. After this was their final piece of work, Let it Be, which was released after they had broken up and, comparatively in terms of their career as a whole, does not represent a band that was planning on continuing to move forward as a group.
Surely the answer lies in the story itself. These days, we can’t really say there is one band or musician who is superior to all of the rest. That’s not to say the Beatles are the only good band who has ever produced music; but, they started a revolution in their time. They changed the rules of rock and roll and determined that if you’re not creating something new and original, you’re not creating. It’s difficult to argue that their innovative and completely unique music hasn’t played a very major role in the development of both pop and rock and roll music. Much of this comes from the fact that a lot of modern musicians don’t write their own music, as well as the increase in mixing and sampling in recent years. We also often see bands that tend to come out with one great album that everyone loves, but then are unable to produce anything better.
The Beatles, on the other hand, were a band that was constantly improving. They took special care with the development of each and every song and album, and it’s easy to see that they got better with each new release (i.e. going from lyrics like “Love, love me do / You know I love you” to “Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup”).
The Beatles are still so popular now because to us, years later, they have become an enigma. We are mesmerized by their lyrics and their innovative use of the technology that was available to them, and we recognize that bands today fail to gather crowds in quite the same way. Essentially The Beatles are amazing to us still simply because of their superb songwriting. Their music is absolute innovation that cannot be duplicated, matched, or beat. Most of their work is very much timeless, which can hardly be said for a lot of musicians today. Their story is still being told because their work is essential to the development of a culture, both societally and musically.