Sunday, February 19, 2006

Meet The Beatles

One of my favorite critics, Terry Teachout, has an interesting article about The Beatles in Commentary magazine.

The music theater-steeped Teachout notes that "Yesterday" is The Beatles' only song which could be considered an old-style "standard". Me, I'm most impressed with the songs that are the most fecund. "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey" is raw proto-punk. Michael Stipe of REM is on record as saying that The Beatles never meant anything to him when he was starting out. Then it's a sign of The Beatles' pervasive influence then, that all of REM's output sounds like it's descended from a single Beatles song, "Rain".

My earliest rock memory is of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. It made such an impression that, even though I was barely out of diapers at that time, when I saw the same footage decades later, I recognized which section of film I had been remembering for all those years. Same when I heard the music and was old enough to really hear it. I was a child, visiting my grandparents' farmhouse, and my cousins were taping some Beatles songs via microphone to another tape player. I was down the hall playing, but whenever a different song would come on, I would jog-trot back to their room, to grin and gape. The songs evoked such a response in me that I felt that some thitherto unused faculty or sense within me was being awakened, (though I didn't phrase like that at the time, of course.) Even today, I still feel an anticipatory thrill at the opening Whangg!! of "A Hard Day's Night".


The historical significance of these achievements, however, cannot be overstated. After the Beatles, rock-and-roll would never be the same. 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.

This is not to say that rock in general has always repaid such close attention. 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. But between the late 60’s, when rock became the lingua franca of the baby boomers, and the late 90’s, when the disintegration of the common culture brought its stylistic hegemony to an end, the best rock groups had much to offer the serious music lover.

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