5 things we wouldn’t have if the Beatles hadn’t existed
11 June 2019, 11:30 | Updated: 10 February 2021, 10:16
Danny Boyle’s new movie Yesterday imagines a world where nobody has ever heard of The Beatles. What sort of world would we be living in if the Fab Four hadn’t shaken things up 50 years ago?
1. The “mythology” of a band
Band meets at school, learn their chops, take over the world, get self-indulgent, split acrimoniously. The Beatles story is the greatest showbiz tale of all. It has comedy, tragedy, triumph and defeat. Liam and Noel Gallagher sniping at each on Twitter is all very well, but John and Paul wrote and recorded actual songs about how much they disagreed with each other. The Beatles did everything: sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll, even religion and meditation!
2. Bands writing their own songs
Before The Beatles, there was the old “Tin Pan Alley” method of song selection - an act would record a track written by professional songwriters. Cliff Richard did it, Tom Jones continued to do it. The Beatles were persuaded by George Martin to record a song called How Do You Do It for their second single - they turned in a rubbish version, but offered the far superior self-penned Please Please Me instead. With Lennon and McCartney on board, the Fabs were special in that they could drop the cover versions after a while - 1964’s A Hard Day’s Night was the first (and only) Beatles album to consist completely of Lennon and McCartney songs.
3. Bands progressing with each release
The advancement between 1963’s Please Please Me LP and Sgt Pepper four years later is remarkable. In such a short space of time, The Beatles had evolved from a beat band with teenage fans to songwriters and recording artists that were acclaimed by musicologists the world over. Even when they took a side-step - with the “White Album”, for example - The Beatles would do the opposite of what was expected; they played by their own rules.
4. The album as a piece of art in its own right
Before The Beatles, the pop album was a collection of recent hits and a whole load of filler. But starting with Rubber Soul in 1965, their LPs had an identity and feel of its own, which reached its peak in the first “concept album”, Sgt Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band, two years later. That album didn’t even have a single on it! Other artists had made ambitious albums, but The Beatles were the first to put this kind of thing in front of a mass audience and take their fans along with them.
5. “World” music on pop records
George Harrison first encountered Indian instruments on the set of the movie Help! in 1965, and it was his interest in learning the sitar that brought music from other cultures into the mainstream. The Beatles also brought electronica, avant garde soundscapes, classical music and pretty much every genre under the sun into the realm of simple pop songs.