Even I don't always agree with my opinion

 

The Beatles Destroyed Music

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Posted November 3, 2009 by jim young in Media

– Kory French

The Beatles destroyed music. Or, more specifically, Beatlemania destroyed music.

Gone are the days when great musicians could play their music with the people, for the people, and by (read: near) the people.

I was recently watching footage of Ol’ Satchmo on one of his ambassador trips to Ghana – the year of the film was 1955 (and for any of those who are extremely interested, the film is called Satchmo The Great). Every time Louis got off the plane, he was greeted and welcomed by fans and would proceed to march among them, with his band, playing his horn, and dancing in the center of it all, unscathed and genuinely enjoyed for the sounds he was producing. His fans were receptive to him, excited in his presence, knew his songs and overjoyed to be able to hear him play live and swing to his music. Never did they maul him, rush him, or disable him from being heard. It was all polite appreciation for the great musician, and a respect for allowing him his performance. And as a final point to this introduction, it could be argued that in 1955 Louis Armstrong was more famous than the Beatles were in 1964. A fact I am not claiming, but one that I think may be worth discussing, as I will claim their popularity was certainly closely measurable.

What Beatlemania brought to popular culture all over the world was the expectation and intention to be so overtaken with pandemonium that it was more anticipated and “cool” to touch the musician, hug him, kiss him, scream at him, and shrill over the sound of his voice than it was to hear him play. Being a musician wasn’t about an ability to perform musically anymore, it was about being iconic while not on stage, something that had nothing to do with music. The problem created was the stardom-drenched circus that would evolve – running over to a stage or a limousine or a back-alley door or an airplane or a hallway became more important than the actual musical performance. While it was once significant to go and see Louis Armstrong (The Carter Family, John Coltraine, Muddy Waters; you could input any number of famous musicians before 1964 here and the truth would remain the same) perform, all of a sudden the music became secondary to seeing pop stars getting out of a car, off a plane or entering a building.

I know what you are probably thinking – what about Elvis? Elvis created a similar type of pandemonium, yes, but there was still an ear for the music. I would argue that the screams incorporated from an Elvis performance were a direct reaction to what Elvis was doing on stage, a romping hip thrust that young girls found sexy and would react to be screaming in a hormone-induced ecstasy. Young girls didn’t scream at Elvis just for the sake of screaming at Elvis or because it was what everyone else was doing. Elvis drew this reaction out of his female fans when he danced and treated the microphone with seduction. I would challenge anyone to describe lewd acts performed by George, John or Paul in their early days of live performance. Their music was fresh and exciting, no doubt, but sex appeal I think not. They were adorable, cute and if anything else, comical; one could not help but smile when hearing them interviewed or watching them play on stage in a method that inspired a contagious and convivial atmosphere. A close review of early Elvis clips in comparison to Beatle clips will provide evidence of the difference between sexually-charged screams responding to gyrating hips and yelling just for the sake of yelling – over the music.

The Beatles were great musicians. It is not within the scope of this short essay to argue they were not; beyond that, it is not the opinion of the writer to suggest they were anything but. However, it is true that the Beatles were forced to stop giving live performances because of their fans. What I am suggesting, is that somewhere between the time of their first television appearance in 1964 and their Shea Stadium in 1965, the idea that it was more trendy and hip to scream your way through music than to listen to it opened up the floodgates for a tsunami of bad musicians to rush through. Gone were the days of the trained ear listening to musicians hitting notes that made them genius, stretching musical borders that were un-thought of, and looking to push the boundaries of genre, style and form. The real musicians were left behind. And the musicians fortunate enough to be both talented and popular couldn’t be heard anymore anyhow.

Go ahead – compare Louis Armstrong performing for a crowd at the height of his career to the Beatles at Shea stadium. It is not that one musical performance is better than the other, and if it were, I think musicologists of all tastes and genres would agree that just about any large Louis Armstrong performance would be better musically and aesthetically than Shea Stadium. Even the Beatles themselves admit how poor of a performance Shea Stadium was. They couldn’t hear anything. And that is my point. The popularity of the Beatles and the birth of Beatlemania ruined music. It destroyed it in a way that music could never again be enjoyed by hundreds of people listening to the best performers play among their fans. There has to be security, it has to be a show, a stage, a concert ground or stadium with barricades and officers and weapons. For anyone who has ever had the pleasure of being in a small venue or party with a group of musicians, who just play as you sit around and sing, dance or simply listen, it’s arguably the best musical experience one may ever have. Gone are the days when it was possible to have the opportunity to do that with the best musicians of a specific era. They did exist at one time. You used to be able to sit and listen to John Lee Hooker, Thelonius Monk, Carl Perkins, Bill Monroe, or whomever you liked, in a calm atmosphere where the musician shared stories and you laughed and relaxed and the musician was one of the social group, not placed on a pedestal where people would scream at him over the performance of his craft. But like I said, the Beatles destroyed all


3 Comments


  1.  

    I was the first to wear a Beatles haircut in my public school – the day after they appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964.

    So as a devoted and die-hard Beatles fan my first reaction to your ridiculous suggestion that “the Beatles destroyed music” was to say “What the fuck are you talking about, Willis?”

    There may be some merit, however in your second sentence, “more specifically, Beatlemania destroyed music.”

    You’re a little closer to being “on the money” with that statement, but it’s really just a half-truth at best.

    Let’s look at both claims starting with the Beatles relationship with and their responsibility for Beatlemania.

    While the Beatles may have at first basked in the glory of Beatlemania, they did not consciously create it. The first time they experienced crowds of fans waiting for them at Heathrow Airport the Bealtes thought there must have been a member of the Royal Family or important Dignitary on board.

    The novelty of Beatlemania quickly wore off when the Beatles became prisoners in their hotel rooms unable to venture outside to see the sites of the cities they were touring.

    And the screaming fans prevented them from doing what they loved most – play their music. At Shea Stadium they couldn’t hear themselves play, much less each other. Ringo often didn’t know what song the others were playing and had to rely on their body movements to try to keep up.

    So to hold the Beatles accountable for Beatlemania would be akin to suggesting Mick Jagger was responsible for the stabbing of a fan by the Hell’s Angels at Altamont. Or Jimmy Page was responsible for the suicide of a young fan who took his life after listening to “Stairway To Heaven” backwards.

    You might as well give Brian Epstein, (whose managerial successes were due more to good luck than good management) credit for the Beatles success and then in turn blame HIM for Beatlemania.

    Which came first – the chicken or the egg? Let’s look at the origin of Beatlemania itself.

    In 1942 before George Harrison, the youngest Beatle was even born, George Evans, press agent for Frank Sinatra paid a dozen teenage girls $5 each to sit in the front rows of a Sinatra concert and throw roses.

    He told some of the girls to scream and taught others to faint during the slow songs. Evans then rented an ambulance to wait in front of the theatre to take the girls away.

    And just to make sure Sinatra was playing to a full house, Evans gave away free tickets to school kids on vacation.

    As the hysteria heightened, 20 other girls that had not been paid, fainted and the crowd went crazy.

    The next time Sinatra performed the girls threw more than roses onstage – they threw their panties and brassieres.

    That was the real birth of Beatlemania even though the word would not be coined for another 21 years. (As a side note the word Beatlemania was first coined by Sandy Gardiner while reporting for the Ottawa Journal.)

    I could make a better argument suggesting that Beatlemania in fact created music. For it was the mob hysteria of Beatlemania that drove the Beatles into the studios where they could hear each other play. And it was in the studios where the Beatles first started to create and perform the best compositions of their careers – the real music.

    It has been suggested by some that we can thank the Beatles for improved stereo systems in the 60s. As the Beatles honed their craft in the studios, better stereos to reproduce the new quality that was being recorded came into high demand, thereby prompting the mass production and continued innovations of better and better sound reproduction.

    Louis Armstrong died in 1971, probably before you were born. You will never get the chance to walk alongside Ol’ Satchmo and hear him play. But the quality of the reproduction of the audio portion of the footage that you watched of that 1955 film – well you can thank the Beatles for that, however small their contribution may have been.

    And you can thank Beatlemania for driving the Beatles into the studios.

    And you can thank George Evans for creating Beatlemania.

    Besides, everybody knows the music died when Buddy Holly crashed in a small plane near Clear Lake in 1959.




  2.  
    Gogs

    I have only a few comments to make on this subject.

    I feel that the Frank Sinatra era was the beginning of the hysterical fan syndrome.

    I think it is unfair to blame any famous person or group of musicians for the action/reaction of the public. The fault lies with promoters and crazed followers.

    As for the great Satchmo, there were many ‘greats’ during that era. Having lived during it, my impression is that not only did the public enjoy listening and dancing to their music but it was obvious that the musicians themselves were happy not only performing for the public but for their own personal talent as well as the talent of other musicians. They were respectful of each other and perhaps the listeners learned from that respect ergo no hysteria. They were not screaming or fainting because they wanted to hear music not the noise of mob hysteria.




  3.  
    Steve

    Frank was one of the first to hire ” screamers and fainters ” and the rest is history. As far as the great black performers went, no matter how cool they were they STILL went into the venue through the BACK door in those days. If they screamed for Satchmo, it was the real thing.





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