Terry Teachout wrote an article on the Beatles that got me thinking about some things. I like the musicological perspective that he writes from, incorporating cultural influences outside the realm of pop music. He compares the Beatles to Irving Berlin, that kind of thing. A couple interesting claims in this one:
-The Beatles were the first rock-and-roll musicians to be written about as musicians.
Hmm. I don't have much evidence to back it up, no access to archives and such, but I wonder if this is true. I find it hard to believe, that's all.
-The Beatles were among the first pop musicians to start thinking in terms of recordings, not songs or live performances, as the finished musical product that they would offer to the listening public.
After reading Phil Spector's biography , I find this hard to believe as well. Again, no concrete proof. His use of the word "among" is mollifying though.
-It would not be until McCartney’s “Yesterday” that they recorded a song whose lyrics were of correspondingly high quality [as the melodic structures].
This just isn't true. "'Til There Was You" was released in 1963; "Yesterday" not until 1965. Just one example.
-Unlike jazz, which developed with great speed from a purely functional accompaniment of social dancing into a full-fledged art music of the highest possible seriousness, most rock has remained as commercial as the simplest-minded pop music of the pre-rock era...Without the Beatles, this might well not have been the case. Neither virtuoso instrumentalists nor pure songwriters, they instead explored the possibilities of the hybrid art of the record album as art object more successfully than any other popular musicians of their generation.
Does this mean that the album itself represents the commercial structure of the industry? That may be a redundant question, but relevant too in this time of changing power structures. It seems like there is a conflict here, because on one hand, it's a damning view of an album, but on the other hand, there's a lot to be said for the integrity of an album as a work of art. I, for one, fully support the endeavor, in fact, I tend to respect musicians more for the ability to create an album that coheres.
I'm getting distracted. I'll leave you with my favorite part of Teachout's analysis. It strikes me as a key element of the Beatles' success. I'll never know what it was like to have been a teenager in the 60's, but my generation has its own comparisons:
What started out as a stripped-down, popularized blending of country music and rhythm-and-blues intended for consumption by middle-class teenagers evolved into a new musical dialect in which it was possible to make statements complex and thoughtful enough to seize and hold the attention of adult listeners.