Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Beatles

I often get scolded for this comment, but I've never been a huge fan of the Beatles. I've tried, really tried, to get into their music but I've just never really fallen for the music, the hair cuts, the fashion. I never really understood the whole world's fascination with them. Until now.

This morning was the first meeting of the British Youth Culture class. I decided to take it because I figured it would be fun, but I never expected to be so moved by it within the first class meeting! We discussed the whole background of youth culture, the understanding that American youth culture came first and paved the way for other youth cultures, the implications of the Second World War on youth, etc. I knew the Beatles would play a large role in this course (after all, they are the symbolic icon for British culture), but I figured I would have the same passive attitude toward the group and their music. Sure, they were a huge pop icon. Sure lots of people liked them. So what? Lots of people like Dave Matthews, it's the same thing...right?

Oh how wrong I was.

I guess I never really delved into The Beatles and the social implications of their career. I never took the time to really understand why they made such a large impact on Britain, America, and the world. I never looked past the music; I never really understood.

According to my professor - who, by the way, is possibly the coolest Brit I've met so far - The Beatles are responsible for the creation of Britain's "youth culture." Before the Beatles, the British youth culture basically followed America. In terms of music, art, entertainment, and everything else that encompasses youth culture, Britain really had no identity of their own. Their youth participated in a culture that was not their own, a culture that did not belong to them.

The Beatles sought out to change that very fact. I'm sure you are all familiar with the song, "All You Need is Love." Great tune, great message, great song, right? Little did I know how much this song changed the world.

Before you read further, watch the video that is linked below (some of you may remember seeing this many years ago). This is a YouTube recording of "All You Need is Love" by the Beatles, and this was the first ever globally aired live musical performance. This means that for the first time in history, people (mostly teenagers) all over the world were simultaneously watching the same recording, listening to the same music, and feeling the same things. For the first time in history, the entire world was connected by a single song:
All You Need is Love
(shout out to my Dad, who will enjoy seeing a young Mick Jagger in the room during the second half).

As you noticed, this song incorporated a symphony orchestra into the song. These were actual members of the London Symphony Orchestra who almost lost their jobs for participating in such "low art" entertainment. Before this song, there was a great divide between "high art" like the symphony and "low art" like pop music and the young generation's "entertainment." High social classes looked down upon The Beatles because they were considered to be a meaningless group of teenage rebels, causing trouble and doing nothing of any impact. What the Beatles did with this song was challenge that very idea. By combining the London Symphony Orchestra with their own pop music, they were making a huge political statement. They were speaking to Britain and the rest of the world, saying: "You don't have to choose between high culture and pop culture. Look what we've done, we're brought it together." The Beatles wanted to tell the world that it didn't have to choose between Beethoven and the Beach Boys, the old and the new. The Beatles were the first musical group to consider themselves "artists," a term which has been coined only for those of "high art" like Picasso and Monet. They were challenging absolutely everything the world believed about art and culture; they were starting a revolution.

The point of all of this, is that The Beatles redefined culture. They sang songs that illuminated their British accents, that spoke of British people and British events. British youth culture was no longer American, it was no longer a culture that belonged to someone else. The Beatles introduced Britain to authenticity. By combining components of high and low art, they challenged culture at all angles. By broadcasting this song live all over the world, they brought the youth together and created a whole new aspect of culture everywhere.

"There's nothing you can do that can't be done. Nothing you can sing that can't be sung." They're telling youth culture all around the world, Look what we've done. Look what we've challenged, and what we've achieved. Look how far we've come. This is OUR time - love is all you need.

This song is a landmark in Western music and civilization. Youth culture didn't even really exist before the Beatles. They challenged everything; they followed no rules. Their impact can still be felt today all over the world - in our fashion, our music, our culture in general.

I simply had no idea. And now, I think I might be a Beatles fan.

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