Opinions

The Beatles are overrated

Beliefs courtesy of your father

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There has been something burning in my soul like the Hindenburg for a very long time. It is a contentious issue, there is no doubt about that. I usually bring it up after a few beers or when I feel like arguing with a friend, but I think for my maiden voyage into the opinion genre it is as good a topic as any. My issue is with the Beatles. Or, more to the point, how overrated they are.

I realize that statement constitutes blasphemy in many, many circles, but I do not care. I also recognize that I'm not the first person to issue this statement (at least I hope not). Whenever I get into a debate with someone about the best or greatest band ever (which I recognize are two separate things, but they often get lumped together, so I'm going to proceed as if they are ­-- it's my column after all) it usually ends something like this:

Random friend: Dude, the Beatles are the greatest of all time! Haven't you heard "Hey Jude"?

Me: Of course, but one song doesn't make a band the "greatest ever."

Random friend: Oh I understand that, but that's the thing, isn't it? They have, like, 100 great songs.

Me: That's debatable. The songs are indicative of a certain time frame which . . .

Random friend (exasperated): It's not debatable! You're an idiot! They changed rock 'n' roll, man!

Almost without fail, the final line of reasoning they advance is the "they changed rock and roll" argument. And maybe that's true. But changing a genre of music doesn't automatically grant you the "numba one spot" (to quote Ludacris). It may make you important for a time and it may define your individual career, but altering your profession does not confer all-world status on you. At least not in my opinion. It's sort of like saying that GWAR is the greatest band of all time because they set the costume rock 'n' roll genre on its ear. I get the sense that for these people, the Beatles experience is due in large part to socialization and context, which is essentially the crux of my argument: the Beatles are regarded by so many people as the greatest of all time because they are brought up believing this is so.

I have a pretty unique experience with the Beatles and music in general. My old man is a music degenerate. My mom thought he was addicted to the tunes. He owns three 60 gigabite iPods: one for country, one for old rock and one for new music. He does not discriminate: one moment he might be listening to Eminem, the next he might be pumping Chumbawamba. I'd estimate he owns somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 CDs and I'm pretty sure he owned a crap load of vinyl when he was younger. To my knowledge, the man has never lost at name-that-tune.

Because of his love of music, I was exposed to more music than I care to remember as a child. I recall him setting up a stereo in my room and getting me to pump R.E.M.'s Monster as a child. Later, in my teenage years, he would quiz me when a song came on the radio to see if I had learnt anything over the years. Incredibly (or perhaps thankfully) he never actively made me listen to the Beatles. I'm not sure why this is and I have never asked him. He owns their entire discography and I can remember him listening to them from time to time. What makes my situation unique is that I never seriously attempted listening to them until my senior year of high school, when I was 17. Contrary to what the movie Superbad would have you believe, hearing them for the first time was not like looking into a dreamy guy's eyes. I saw no outstanding musical merit in their work. I appreciate music, but I do not appreciate the full greatness of the Beatles.

What I am trying to illustrate is that the Beatles' alleged greatness relies mightily on context. Many of our parents grew up during the Beatles' heyday, when every girl wanted John and every guy wanted to pound the skins like Ringo. They lived through a cultural moment that deeply affected their lives-- but it was not all about the music. The times were changing and the Beatles, with their long hair and underlying sexuality, were part of it. When I make this argument I usually use the Calgary Flames 2004 playoff run as a parallel to illustrate my point. My friends and I often refer to that particular Flames team as the best edition ever, but we are misguided in our belief. That team was not the best (that distinction probably goes to either the team from '86 or '89) but the moment we were living in was. The city was going crazy, people were literally painting the town red and living for the next chance they would get to get boozed up and traverse 17th Ave. Experiencing that made the 2004 Flames seem like greatest team ever, but if you did not experience it, you would not call a squad that 1) did not win the Cup and 2) featured Shean Donovan on the second line, the greatest Flames team ever. Nonetheless, I will tell my kids one day about how great that team was and they will probably believe it. I believe the same thing has happened with the Beatles. Parents teach their kids their respective brand of reality (which is not necessarily wrong) and, in the case of my friends, this usually entails believing that the Beatles are the greatest band ever. The kids then believe it and start to point to all sorts of extraneous facts about a time they did not live through. It's all about context.

I do not disagree with people who say the Beatles are their favourite band. To each his own. Are the Beatles good? Sure. I'm not a fan and I don't think their music holds up particularly well over time, but they have some good material. Are they the best ever?

No.

That distinction probably goes to R.E.M., but only because my old man told me so.

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Comments

The Beatles are not over-rated, only internet sods who think they have a right to their opinion. Compose some of the best music of any century, or even a decently thought-out argumentative opinion, then you'll have the right to express youself. Until then, keep it to yourself...thanks.

I have so much information to totally debunk the ignorant things you said and demonstrate how brilliant The Beatles especially John Lennon and Paul McCartney as creative,innovative and prolific composers they really were!

They also were as the All Music Guide says,both not only two of the greatest song composers of the 20th century but both among the best and most expressive singers in rock!

Many music professors including award winning music professor and composer Dr.Glen Gass have been teaching college music courses on how brilliant they were.Many other well known bass players including, Sting,Stanley Clarke,Will Lee,Billiy Sheehan, all recognize Paul McCartney as one of the best,melodic and influential bass players ever!
And they say so on an excellent site called,The Evolution Of Rock Bass Playing:McCartney Style by Dennis Alstrand.

And in an interview with Wilco's John Stirratt in Guitar Player in February he was asked 2005 which bass players have had the most impact on his playing,and the first thing he said was Paul McCartney was one of the greatest bass players of all time,if you listen to what he was tracking live in the studio it's unbelivable.

He then said,with his tone and musicality, he was a huge influence, he covered all of his harmonic responsibilites really well but his lines were absolutely melodic and inventive.

Also, there are so many other well known respected popular rock artists who have also praised how great The Beatles were! The Rolling Stones were even big fans and good friends with them and Mick Jagger was at 4 Beatles recording sessions and Keith Richards was at 2 of them with him!

John & Paul even wrote one of The Rolling Stone's first hits with the song I Wanna Be You're Man in early 1964.

I have to agree with the
"You're an idiot!" comment.

This is like saying
Einstein is only great in
a certain context. That may
be true, but what moronic
context is this fellow
using as his frame of reference?

The Beatles are not overrated. The Lennon/McCartney writing tandem have produced some of the most creative and wonderful songs ever. The Beatles had the most number 1 hits than anyone. The Beatles performance on the Ed Sullivan Show was the most watched in history for a long period of time. Their songs were creative. Who would have ever thought that guitars played backwards sound great? Who would have ever thought that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr still sell out concerts til this very day. The reason for it, Beatles music is still the best. Two years ago, their LOVE remix album sold many copies. Just a few years ago, The Beatles 1 album was on the top 10. A year ago, Paul McCartney was No. 3, an album of John Lennon covers was on the top 10, A Traveling Wilbury's Re-release featuring George Harrison was sold out in parts of the world, and even Ringo Starr was making the rounds promoting his latest album. You will never see any band get the respect the Beatles have. What do you know about the Beatles except for the fact that you weren't raised on them. If you were raised on them, you'd have a different opinion.

If the Beatles were only so popular and beloved because of the "cultural context," how do you explain the MILLIONS of 2nd-generation fans like me, who weren't even BORN when the Beatles were around? I discovered the Beatles in the 1980s in middle school, and had no "context" because my parents weren't particularly into them and nobody else I knew was either. What got me hook, line, and sinker? THE MUSIC. Period. No context necessary.

The only band better than the Beatles is the Better Beatles. Their name says so.


http://www.duckworthsquare.com/frankosonic/frankosonic/Better%20Beatles%20-%20Penny%20Lane.mp3

@ Lenny

So we are aloud to judge, after we did the same thing ourselves?

What kind of lousy argument is that?
Half of the things you are judging are probably all the things you haven't done. America is judgind the Middle-East on a continuous go even though they have never learned anything about their culture, history and such.

You don't have to be a horse to know how to be a rider.

@ POst nr 2

The All Music Guide? Are you seriously using that as a reliable source?
Who wrote that book anyway? I don't care who did it, tbh, but it sure was a human-being, now wasn't it? And can a person with emotions and opinions honestly judge music like that?
NO
We are not robots who can tell how qualified the Beatles are because music is not a fact but an emotion.

I don't care whether the Stones were fans and friends or not, so what if a lot of great people praise them.

You're just proving that their popularity is being triggered by the whole media-aspect. If those people would hate The Beatles, what would that do to their popularity?


Good column, Austin.

I personally enjoy the Beatles, but I also like bands a lot of people haven't heard of. The reason the Beatles are so goddamn popular is one simple word: EXPOSURE.

Everyone has grown up with their parents/grandparents/creepy uncle falling over themselves about how great the Beatles were, so of course a large proportion of audiophiles have given them a listen and dug 'em.

But you're wrong: The Talking Heads are the greatest band ever, not R.E.M.

The only band better than the Beatles is the Better Beatles. It says so in their name.

http://www.duckworthsquare.com/frankosonic/frankosonic/2006/08/better-beatles.html

The only thing the Beatles revolutioned was the way we cut hair.

-February 2005 issue of Hairstylists Guide

Well Austin, obviously you haven't heard Bum Jumping with the Beatles or you might be eating your words right now.

P.S. SecondHand is bigger than jesus

Listen to your old man. Always. The best music ever was created between 1983 - 1992. They were magical times for those of us who had our eyes open. 8 truly wonderful albums and a magic I still cant put my finger on. Never will. Even writing their name was exciting. Pity they're destroying their legacy with such average nonsense nowadays.

Okay - everyone has had this argument at some point or other. I can even understand your point of view, but to put it bluntly, you are wrong. That's the end of it. They did change rock and roll - yes, but they also have one of the most diverse and prolific canons of any band/artist in history. Not just "Hey Jude" or "I wanna hold your hand".

Listen to "In My Life", "Tomorrow Never Knows" or "Happiness is a warm gun". There aren't many bands that can write music as fantastic as that. Don't listen to what people tell you to do. If you dont like the Beatles, fine, that's your opinion, but they are definitely not overrated. I havent really got into Dylan "yet" but I know that one day I will if I give it the attention he deserves. I might even start to love his music, and I can't wait for that, because when that happens I have one of the most interesting artists of our time to listen to and explore!

Find your own route with music, and give the beatles a chance. Don't listen to the massive hits all the time, but get an album and give it the listening it deserves. Don't force yourself. Maybe one day you'll love it!

nx

This article doesn't say the beatles WEREN'T good, it simply says they were overrated, which I agree to.

Sure they did a lot, but so did countless other bands! In my experience a lot of people who continue to worship the beatles don't know the first thing about WHY they were so revolutionary and significant in musical history. And the few who commented seemed to have wikipedia'd the Beatles moments before attacking this well written and sensical opinion.

Music gets to be like religion to people though, you try and introduce new ideas and they start with the personal attacking. Rather unfortunate.

Yes. See below.

http://beanshirts.com/cart/the-beatles-were-not-that-good-p-6.html