We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“Imagine is probably John Lennon’s worst lyric. Against a sparse, effective musical backdrop (influenced by McCartney’s quasi-spiritual triptych Hey Jude, Let it Be and Maybe I’m Amazed), the rich Beatle John bleated on in 1971 about imagining a world in which there are no possessions. Somewhat at odds with the anti-market proselytising of Lennon’s most famous post-Beatles song is the awkward reality that the track was recorded in the studio built at Lennon and Yoko Ono’s then very grand house, Tittenhurst Park near Ascot. The Grade II listed building is set in 70 acres of grounds and was purchased with the proceeds of Lennon’s fortune made from the record industry, one of the most thoroughly capitalist businesses on earth.”

Iain Martin

As an aside, my father, a serious classical music fan (he is also a jazz and blues nut) once said, in one of those comments that a slightly weary Dad tells you when seeing something on the TV about pop music, that in decades to come, very little of the Beatles’ music will be played or recalled, while the works of J.S. Bach are likely to endure until the heat death of the universe.

95 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • I agree with your father: when the generation that knew them and recalls adulating them dies, their fame will mostly die. They will dwindle to emblems of their time, and those who paid for ‘beatles memorabilia’ will find they have bought junk.

    As for the song, I’d rather they imagined it than tried to achieve it by the methods implied. It could be played as the backdrop to a report from Venezuela.

  • Cal

    Notice that Lennon didn’t say ‘Let’s have no possessions’. He just said ‘Imagine there’s no possessions’. A subconscious acceptance that it’s all just fantasy, perhaps?

  • Cal

    The Beatles are already fading from memory. A lot of younger people don’t know much about them or their music. Not that I think that’s a good thing.

    (I notice that Queen’s music is lasting a lot better than The Beatles is.)

  • I can’t stand the song, almost as much as I can’t stand the people who like it for the lyrics, but you can’t blame Lennon for making it and flogging it: that’s what he does. Did he actually believe the lyrics? I think he even remarked “It’s just a bloody song!” Sure, Lennon was a wanker who supported all manner of unsavoury causes, but I don’t think you can blame him for penning a song that became extremely popular and making him even wealthier. It would be a bit like blaming Dan Brown for writing garbage that outsells the Bible. I’d rather blame the people who think Imagine is a song worth listening to.

  • Laird

    I disagree with your father (and with the sentiments expressed here by some). Lennon-McCartney will be remembered as one of the most influential and enduring songwriting teams of the 20th century. Young people might not know much about them (although they certainly know the Beatles name), but the fact that their songs are covered by innumerable other artists in a wide range of styles, from jazz to symphonic treatments (there’s even a terrific album of Beatles songs played in bluegrass style!) is testimony to the quality of their output. Sure, not everything is a gem (especially some of their earliest efforts while they were still learning their craft), but nobody hits a home run every time. But just a quick scan of the list of their songs demonstrates that many of them have already entered the category of “standards”. Their output will hold up every bit as well as that of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer and the like (all of whom churned out some pretty mediocre stuff, too). Most people will know some of their songs a century from now, even if they might not remember the names of the composers. (You probably don’t know who Jimmy McHugh was, but I’ll bet you know On the Sunny Side of the Street.) Of course JS Bach is timeless, but so is some of Lennon-McCartney’s oeuvre.

    But Iain Martin is correct about “Imagine.” The lyrics are insipid. And he’s also correct that Yoko Ono was a pernicious influence on Lennon. She didn’t destroy the Beatles (they were falling apart anyway), but she did ruin Lennon.

    I hope RAB chimes in here. I’d like to learn his thoughts on the matter.

  • rosenquist

    I am not so sure that the beatles music will not endure the ages, though perhaps not to the same extent as Bach. As for Lennon, by many accounts he was a nasty piece of work, not that it matters since good music remains good whatever the moral character of its creator. Artistic greatness is not synonymous with moral acuity.

    Wagner was a bastard as well but the Prelude and Liebstod to Tristan and Isolde are to my mind the finest pieces of music ever written.

  • Watchman

    I love the logic that young people don’t know the Beatles, so Bach will survive longer – I suspect that (other than those who play classical music) the same young people won’t know Bach either…

    The Beatles will survive, but as with Bach, will survive as a cultural reference point rather than a part of living culture, since they will be in the past.

    And personally I always quite liked Imagine – but then I tend to see lyrics as something as part of a song, rather than something to analyse, and I quite like the poetry of that chorus. Nice sentiments as well, if a bit unrealistic until we overcome scarcity.

  • Fraser Orr

    I think that particular song is burned into the social mind because it is closely tied with Lennon’s murder. Although the release was several years before, during the aftermath of his murder it was played a lot, I guess offering a contrast of its putatively gentle ideals against the brutality, the senselessness of his murder. It also has a dreamy, alogical quality of “imagine a better world.” And everyone dreams of a better world, and they dream more when their dream is set to an attractive musical backdrop.

    I suppose “a world with nothing to fight or die for and no religion” would be a better place, perhaps. But to attain such utopia we also have to imagine mankind with an entirely different nature. I think it also has to be understood in the historical context it was written in, during the late sixties revolution, the summer of love, the anti Vietnam era and so forth. That era has had many good effects on the society we live in today. And any time a revolution experiments with new ideas you throw a lot of them against the wall, some stick and some don’t. I see it is an artifact of that time, trying out a new way of thinking that is impractical, but a useful exercise in thinking nonetheless.

    It is an interesting illustration of how music really affects us. Very few people would seriously advocate the ideals expressed in its lyric (“no possessions”, “no religion” — I don’t think so.) were they to give them any serious thought, but what they do capture and enjoy is a broad feeling, emotion from the song of “let’s be nicer to each other” even if it is contrary to the literal meaning of the song.

  • Alsadius

    I think the Beatles will endure just fine – I know plenty of people born in the 80s and 90s who really like them, and I include myself in that list. They’re not going to be as big in 2067 as they were in 1967, but they’ll be listened to in the same way jazz or classical is today.

    Also, Laird, I don’t think I’ve ever heard “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” before.

  • Interesting how as many comments are about the aside as about the quote.
    FWIW, I was born in 1980 and I don’t like the Beatles. I’m not keen on most of Queen’s output either (with the notable exception of The Show Must Go On).
    I think the Beatles will fade, just as Robert Johnson has faded… Most people won’t know the Beatles or own a recording, but I bet they will know a Beatles song, or own a recording sampling or influenced by a Beatles song.

  • Watchman

    Actually, thinking about it, the major legacy of the Beatles is likely to be the fact they (and a few other bands from the same area) basically changed rock and roll into something much more subtle by actually doing some complex musical stuff (as you might guess from that, I can’t play – but I can tell Lennon and McCartney could write things much more complex than anyone was doing in the late 50s and early 60s), and so much of modern music owes a direct debt to them in that respect, which will presumably continue.

    But you can be certain that John McDonnell doesn’t think like that – for him the point of the Beatles was that Lennon was an OK singer to quote politically, and it would provide a point to discuss. So significantly as Wh00ps points out, we instead discuss the Beatles legacy – for the speech and the man who made it which underlie Iain Martin’s rather bitchy quote (to be honest I would argue most of Lennon’s post-Beatles output was a lot worse than Imagine – hence the fact we don’t hear it) are both totally irrelevant to the future, whilst the legacy of the Beatles is as least something worth fighting over. Such is the fate of socialism – it’s only contribution to the future is some nice song lyrics.

  • RAB

    Happy to oblige Laird, and I agree with you rather than Johnathan’s dad.

    I accidentally saw the Beatles live in 1963, and it changed my life. I joined the fan club, still got the newsletters, posters and acetates, and became not just a Beatles fan but a music fan in general.

    Ok the early stuff was moon in June boy meets girl stuff lyrically, but very quickly they were showing a musical sophistication that was already going beyond anything other mere beat groups could even imagine let alone attempt.

    Their first movie, A Hard Day’s Night, still stands up now, both for their performances and the music. On through Rubber Soul, Revolver by the time they got to Sgt Pepper they had entered another universe compared to their contemporaries. There is hardly one rock riff in Sgt Pepper, apart from the title track. It is a confection of quintessential Englishness, music Hall meets the madness at the edge of the abyss. The only other bands to get even close to this were the Kinks and the Small Faces.

    I often say to friends that the Rolling Stones always describe themselves as THE rock and roll band, but the Beatles could have blown them off the stage anytime they liked. When the Beatles rocked they fuckin killed it! The Stones could only do Blues and Rock, the Beatles could do anything beyond your wildest imagining. Compare Satanic Majesties to Sgt Pepper and the comparison is deeply embarrassing for the Stones.

  • Fraser Orr

    > basically changed rock and roll into something much more subtle by actually doing some complex musical stuff

    I’m not a fan of most of the Beatles stuff, but they did experiment with sound for sure. However, when you think about the equipment they had — four track recorders basically — what they could do was very limited. And because of that, I don’t actually think their experimentation was all that impactful. Really it was the 80s when fully electronic music first developed that was the foundation of music, and that is why 80s music is obviously the best (from the guy who grew up then…)

    Honestly, I think the legend of the Beatles is something quite different — it is social. The Beatles was the sound track (or one of them anyway) of the sixties counter culture revolution, and that is important, that is something with deep lasting effects today and for the rest of the future.

    So ironically, I don’t think their musical influence is all that great (though we’ll be signing their songs a hundred years from now no doubt) it is the social impact they had, and that their music carried that is most important.

    To illustrate consider “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds.” It isn’t a great song. It is quite simple and silly really. However, at the time it was EXTREMELY controversial for its supposed drug advocacy. Today? It is elevator musak. This song didn’t change music, but it is a perfect illustration of the social changes it and the rest of their work (helped to) bring about.

  • I tend to agree with Wh00ps as to current interest in the Beatles, but for sure they will be something noted in the future by musical historians as being “significant”. The same will probably be true of Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, T-Rex, Deep Purple, Clapton, Bowie, Queen, Elton John: they were emblematic of a very significant British cultural wave. The next wave after that was the one I personally liked, as I am very much a child of the 1980’s, but the things I listened to then were probably less emblematic that what came immediately before (and overlapped of course). For me the closest I get to nostalgia (and I am not a very nostalgic or sentimental person) is Depeche Mode, The Police, The Smiths, Sade, Gary Numan, Adam Ant and Ultravox 😉

  • Sigivald

    I have heard it alleged that Imagine was meant as cleverly-hidden sarcasm and a dig at the Hippies.

    I don’t know if this can be supported by any evidence or if the speaker was just desperate to make Lennon look like not-a-complete-fool.

    (On the other hand, Lennon’s work with the Beatles made him out, if you think about it, as the giant anus* of the group, making “mocking hippies by mouthing their insane platitudes” plausible.)

    (* Norwegian Wood, a song about refusing to sleep with a groupie and then burning her house down?

    Run For Your Life, a song about threatening to murder his girlfriend if she so much as looked at another man?)

  • Thank you Perry, that’s where I was going when I namedropped Robert Johnson but lost my train of thought… Musicians and musical historians.

  • Watchman


    I’d actually argue that the Beatles happened to be the band that did it, rather than invented anything, and that if they hadn’t someone else would have done basically the same thing (there were lots of other good songwriters around), but that does not change the fact that the Beatles were the first to make others think (on a large scale) that they could make complex music like that (something Bach certainly never achieved – he was to be listened to and played, not imitated). I don’t actually see the eighties as significant, if only because if one looks in the late sixties one can find plenty of people doing things that had they had access to synths and the like would sound fairly similiar (but probably four times as long – the influence of punk was important for those of us with limited attention spans). It is significant there is no clear band remembered for changing things as much of what went on was a gradual evolution, continuing from that of the Beatles (and to a limited effect from the Sex Pistols).

    Indeed, other than for relatively niche musical trends where names such as Kraftwerk and the Sugar Hill Gang (who have predecessors who are generally forgetten – not least by me) mark the arrival of new movements (in the late seventies it seems – although one might add Black Sabbath almost a decade earlier if one wants, and there are plenty of local things in various countries (anyone know the history of Malian pop, which despite being perenially fashionable with the wrong sort of thinker is quite interesting?)), I would argue only the Beatles really serve as epoch-making enough for a band to represent an entire musical zeitgeist. And I say this as a child of grunge, who would love to believe Nirvana were as significant as they sounded to a rural teenager looking for an identity…

  • rosenquist (September 27, 2016 at 1:57 pm): “good music remains good whatever the moral character of its creator”

    Very true. Wagner could compose – and I quite see why some call him ‘the first nazi’. In symbiotic relationship is Britten (who doesn’t compare musically, but Britain is not so strong in classical music and early Britten has talent): the first nazi and the guy who went to the US when WWII broke out are in a sense well matched (the nazis loved that kind of pacifist). If artistic talent and character have any correlation, it is not a strong one.

    Like Perry, I agree with WhOOps. The OPs’s father was comparing with Bach, so rating the Beatles low. Laird compared them with Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and suchlike and rated the Beatles equal or above – an idea I’m more ready to consider. I think Irving’s and Cole’s fame is fading and will fade – though they may survive a while in some classic films. I don’t give the Beatles’ own films much chance of long-term survival but maybe a Beatles’ song is used in another film that has.

    By unlikely chance, I have heard “The Sunny Side of the Street” – just once when the Kings Singers performed a collection of period songs for a conference I was at. I’m guessing it’s more probably that I will never hear it again in my life than the reverse.

    Barring unanticipated medical advances, we will all have passed on before this is clearly decided. Meanwhile, chaqu’un a son gout.

  • Stonyground

    I don’t like Imagine I think that it is a dreary dirge. I’m not that keen on the Beatles but I do recognise their originality and influence. My favorite Beatles track is ‘In My Life’ I just love its elegant simplicity. Favorite Bach track is the Toccata from the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major, (the catalogue number is the one before the famous D minor Toccata and Fugue). I really don’t get the Smiths, the guitarist is special but Morrisey has a three note vocal range and his lyrics are so bad that they make me laugh.

  • RAB

    I can’t remember who, but someone once said that if Bach were alive today he’d be playing Bass in a heavy rock band, so kicking were his bass-lines.

  • I always enjoy these threads: they can run for days with everyone talking about influence and new styles and nobody ever mentions Chuck Berry. Without him, the Beatles might never have been.

  • Laird

    The Beatles will be remembered because they brought a level of sophistication to rock music which simply hadn’t existed before. This is not to say that before the Beatles popular music was unsohpisticated; no one was more musically sophisticated than Cole Porter or Duke Ellington or George Gershwin, and no one did more sophisticated arrangements than Billy Strayhorn or Eddie Sauter & Bill Finegan. But when popular music moved on from the Big Band era to Rock and Roll it went through a long transitional period where the music was extremely simplistic, sometimes to the point of banality. (You can do a lot with four chords, but it’s nonetheless limiting and, ultimately, boring.) The Beatles (notably Lennon-McCartney) changed all that, writing melodic lines, introducing advanced harmonies, and growing ever more adventurous in their arrangements and instrumentation. And they evidenced extraordinary musical growth in a very short span of time, going from I Want to Hold Your Hand to Penny Lane in a brief handful of years. As RAB suggests, the Rolling Stones were very good at what they did, but it fundamentally was only more of the same, different perhaps in degree but not in kind from that which had come before. The Stones were not transformative in the way the Beatles were. In some ways Queen picked up where the Beatles left off; indeed, I don’t think there would have been a Queen had it not been for the Beatles.

    Most popular music is still simplistic; frankly, not too many performers are capable of real musicality, and not all audiences appreciate it anyway. But the Beatles opened that door, and enough people are still going through it to keep music interesting.

    The Lennon-McCartney songbook will stand the test of time, and the Beatles will be influencing popular musicians for generations to come (even if some might not be conscious of that influence).

  • Rich Rostrom

    Lots of musicians aren’t Bach. That’s a very faint damn. They still do lasting work.

    (Songwriters, such as the Beatles, do have a handicap – their lyrics become irrelevant and lose traction, and the music can fade with them. This may be especially true with the most effective lyrics.)

  • BTW, as the subject of the Beatles has arisen, can anyone clear up one of the great mysteries of our time? (Well, one of the very trivial mysteries of our time, in fact.) I saw the Beatles perform ‘Get Back’ on Top of the Pops in 1969. I know the Beatles recorded widely varying versions of that song in quick succession – what ended Let It Be was fairly different from their first version – but that was the version I (and many others) heard. Several sites (e.g. http://www.amiright.com/misheard/stories/beatles.shtml) say the commonly-remembered version of the first verse (“JoJo was a man who thought he was a woman, JoJo had himself all wrong…” with ‘belong’, not ‘belonged’ in the later line and refrain, and etc.) is simply a mishearing of the true version (“JoJo was a man who thought he was a loner” rhymed with ‘Arizona’ and no in-the-verse rhyme to he refrain’s ‘…ong(ed)’).

    It was long ago, I was very young, and memories (even mine 🙂 ) are fallible. But I still recall it and I’m so sure they did not sing ‘loner.’ (I could believe they sang “JoJo was a man who thought he was a rum’un”, for example – but not ‘loner’.)

    I could be quite wrong. I could be misremembering the first and second verses conflated somehow. On the other hand, the version I recall fits better in meaning with the second verse about Loretta. So I am tempted to think they did sing it in that version at least once, though others were published.

    Can any Beatle enthusiast put me right?

  • BTW I gather “The Grateful Dead” covered it using words very like the ones I recall, but I’m sure I never listened to the dead on TotP (I very seldom watched it) and their words aren’t exactly the ones I recall anyway.

  • Cal

    >I love the logic that young people don’t know the Beatles, so Bach will survive longer

    Nobody said that.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion, too

    So, the jihadi did – and decided to do something about it.

    Which is why that precious idiot with his blue piano is such a waste of space.

  • Fraser Orr

    > I’d actually argue that the Beatles happened to be the band that did it,

    Yes, you are probably right. They were just a bunch of dudes from Liverpool. However, lots of money, lots of fame, lots of drugs and lots of involvement in the counter culture did add to their music. LSD does expand your mind in places it wouldn’t otherwise have gone.

    > but that does not change the fact that the Beatles were the first to make others think (on a large scale)

    Yes, but I agree that the thoughts weren’t particularly original, just they had a louder amplifier.

    > that they could make complex music like that (something Bach certainly never achieved – he was to be listened to and played, not imitated).

    I don’t agree at all. Classical, orchestral composers made extremely complex music through the interplay of a large number of players. They didn’t have tech, so they substituted manpower and alternative instruments (Tchaikovsky famously used cannons, for example.)

    And the sixties were full of amazingly innovative players. Hendrix and Joplin for example. Remember that supposedly the peak of the Beatles work was Sgt Pepper. And that included such rum-te-tums as “When I’m Sixty Four” and “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds”.

    However, I agree with you (or whoever said it). If you listen to Queen in the late seventies and early eighties, it is a different level of sophistication entirely. Compare the insane complexity, range, key and time sig changes and beauty of “Killer Queen” with “A Little Help from My Friends” and they are night and day different.

    Lennon and McCartney wrote some cute songs, but they are not in the same league, neither could they sing or play like Mercury or May in a song like “We are the Champions.”

    To me the Beatles were mediocre singers, players and composers (with a large output) who got kind of lucky for one reason or another. In a sense they were the first boy band who got the shit hyped out of them, and got a lot of panties thrown at them. They were about the movement rather than the music. Their music was kind of OK, but got better with the application of lots of money, resources, drugs and time. They were the One Direction of the sixties.

    Now, let’s talk about a great band…. The Bay City Rollers. “I love, you love, my only true love…” Ok everyone sing along with me….

  • Brian Micklethwait (London)

    Bach himself was nearly forgotten. By the time he died, musical fashion had overtaken him. Mozart rated him, but his music stopped being played to the public. Then, nearly a century after Bach had died, Mendelssohn dragged him out of obscurity, and Bach’s modern conquest of the universe began. At which point many of the pieces he wrote were performed in public for the first time.

    Since then there have been many other musical revivals. Schubert’s wonderful piano sonatas, for instance, have only rather recently become widely popular among classical fans like me. And it’s worth remembering that one of the starting points of rock’n’roll was Brits hearing and collecting ancient recordings by Dead Black Guys, who might otherwise have been damn near completely forgotten. Let’s hear if for cultural appropriation.

    It is worth remembering also that there will be many posterities, not just the one. A few of these posterities may revere the Beatles, while others may ignore them. Perhaps some of them will even ignore Bach.

    Most imaginable future posterities will at least have no difficulty in choosing what they like. It would take a very big civilisational collapse for the output of the modern music recording industry to be wiped. Which means that the Beatles could indeed, in the near future, become a thing of the past, but then come back into style again. Bach did not have this advantage, until rather recently.

    The huge and posthumous reputation that scares me the most, because it nearly never happened, is Shakespeare. Had it not been for a few of his old mates and professional admirers taking it upon themselves to print an edition of his plays (the so-called First Folio), they might mostly have vanished. Some of them did vanish.

  • Brian Micklethwait (London)

    Correction. Actually, those Dead Black Guys were mostly just Old Black Guys. Many lived to perform again, after rock music got into its stride.

  • Sonny Wayze


    “Norwegian Wood, a song about refusing to sleep with a groupie and then burning her house down?”

    I think you’re badly misinterpreting that line. Consider both English heating and vernacular of the 60s.

    Or else Leslie Charteris and Agatha Christie have led me wrong…

  • Fen Tiger

    Anecdata, I know, but still.

    A close friend of mine has taught for many years in a heavily-musical choir school. She says that invariably – almost without exception – the popular music that captures the children in their teens is Queen. And this still applies long after Freddy passed on.

    It’s sophisticated, and Mercury bothered to learn how to sing.

  • NickM

    I do and always have hated “Imagine” with a passion. So JL you can stick your “Brotherhood of Man”* up your sanctimonious dead arse.

    “Imagine” is a sort of utterly self-righteous, hypocritical hymn for smug atheists.

    I am glad Queen got mentioned. I have only got to like them. When I was at school (I was born in ’73) they were seen as naff. One of the few positives of ageing is not having to give a toss about fashion.

    I recall when I was 15-16… Bros. Remember those utterly talentless wankers. Loads of girls in my school worshipped.those I bet those useless tripe merchants playing support at Pontins in the off-season. Some things last and the Beatles shall.

    As to the ticklish thing about “being influenced without knowing it”. That is the greatest thing the “influencer” can possibly achieve because because it is becoming part of the culture itself. We all use Shakespeare without even thinking of him. Or… dare I? Part of the metacontext?

    *Not The Brotherhood of Man” though they were shite in different a way and probably deserve no more nor less.

  • Alsadius

    When debating the actual meaning of Imagine(serious or satire?), it’s often forgotten just how much of a champion piss-taker Lennon was. He gave the band an awful pun as a name, mostly to poke fun at the band-naming conventions of the era, and the only reason it’s forgotten was because “beetle” is now the less-common spelling of the word because of their ridiculous success. He heard that Beatles lyric interpretation was being taught at a university, and composed “I Am The Walrus” just to mess with the class. He did lots of things just for a sly joke, so Imagine being a joke…yeah, maybe. I think he believed in a big chunk of it, at minimum – his political activism seemed to be played straight – but it’s hard to be sure with him.

  • Kevin B

    So we’re talking about the Beatles and their musicality, (or not), and no-one’s mentioning George Martin.

  • RAB

    The name Beatles was dreamed up as a response to and a play on Buddy Holly’s backing group, the Crickets.

    Yes Lennon was a supreme piss taker, but he meant Imagine, just like he meant Give Peace a Chance. He was not a Working Class Hero but a lower middle class insecure art student. In Yoko he thought he had found his muse, but he hadn’t. He should have stuck with his Spaniard in the Works sardonic wit and believed in himself more. But like many talented people, he just didn’t believe in himself enough, and was a supreme self deceiver.

    His muse Yoko also makes music. It is, in my opinion, music that will ALWAYS be before its time, i.e. unlistenable to.

  • Paul Marks

    Agreed J.P.

    But what is more interesting than a music writer producing something that is not very good – it is that the intellectual elite took “Imagine” and made it their song, pushing it to the young.

    Why? It was not because they valued the musical merits of “Imagine” – it is just a fairly ordinary tune. What they valued was its POLITICS – its far left anti patriotism, anti religion (at least anti traditional religion), and anti private property.

    The fact that it was written by a millionaire is indeed ironic. But the fact that the elite made it their anthem – is horribly revealing.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Years ago, a female acquaintance claimed that the Rolling Stones would still be played in hundreds of years time. If true, that’s a compelling argument to not reincarnate!

  • Laird

    If we’re going to talk about the (undeniable) musical sophistication and vocal quality of Freddy Mercury and Queen, we shouldn’t ignore his contemporary Meat Loaf. There’s some extraordinary stuff in “Bat out of Hell.” (The songs were written by Jim Steinman, but Meat Loaf had an operatic-quality voice and gave life to them.)

  • Fraser Orr

    > we shouldn’t ignore his contemporary Meat Loaf. There’s some extraordinary stuff in “Bat out of Hell.”

    Yes, he was and is an extraordinary singer as was Mercury. These are people who were famous for being talented rather than famous for being famous.

    But in terms of influence, innovation and significance we cannot pass by here without mentioning Pink Floyd. Although Syd Barrett was literally nuts, and his insanity undoubtedly influenced the music, really they came into their own after he left. Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall are all landmark albums in the history of music, and to compare them as equals with the Beatles is to compare George Washington with Hillary Clinton. Sure she is popular, but really there isn’t much there.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Amazing! No-one has mentioned ABBA, but they are regularly discussed in articles on pop music.

  • Alisa


    To illustrate consider “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds.” It isn’t a great song. It is quite simple and silly really. However, at the time it was EXTREMELY controversial for its supposed drug advocacy. Today? It is elevator musak. This song didn’t change music, but it is a perfect illustration of the social changes it and the rest of their work (helped to) bring about.

    Indeed, but problem is that this is the most inappropriate example of the Beatles’ musical, rather than cultural influence – it is by far not one of their great songs musically, even though it is quite famous (for the reasons you mentioned).

    And that is the thing: their influence has been immense, both musically and culturally, with different songs playing different roles in that regard. Mind you, they are by far not my favorite band of that era, but I’d hope that such things can still be discussed with personal tastes set aside.

    I’d rather refrain from commenting on the future of their influence, or the future of anything else for that matter – the only certain things in life being death and taxes 🙂

    Someone here brought up a point about “Imagine” which got me thinking: what if Lennon’s intention was not to depict a rosy dream, but rather a nightmare? 😛

  • Alisa

    I see some have beat me here to my last remark – sorry for missing those comments on first reading.

    Also, what Laird said – all of it.

    Sid Barret – yes, indeed. Post-Sid PF? Wish You Were Here, and Animals. Dark Side was interesting, but not quite there yet. The Wall was and remains “meh”.

    Brian, I did not know that about Bach – thanks for that.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    And I always assumed the name ‘Beatles’ was a reference to the beatnik type of poetry and music- the insects are spelt with a double e, beetle.

  • NickM

    Yes, obviously it refers to a few things.

    In an odd way band/musician names had to be more inventive then in a very crowded market.

    Take a young singer called Harry Webb. Why choose “Cliff Richard” rather than the much more common “Cliff Richards”? Why indeed? Because it wouldfrequently be rendered as such by the radio DJ and the opportunity it gave Richard to correct gave him an extra name-check on air. Clever.

    For the record I thought I’d mention ABBA but my comment was getting long already.

  • Thailover

    1. The worship of the Beatles has always inspired my gagging reflex. They were a music band, people, sheesh. And McCartney makes stupid monkey faces when he sings.

    2. Every leftists position is a contradiction, often a self-contradiction, and every leftist is a hypocrite. My favorite example is Patricia Arquette a “feminist” receiving her Academy award for best “actress” while yelling about the sexist wage gap (while she makes 1000 times more than scale and the female hollywood elite are not paid less) and she’s yelling to an enthusiastic audience of 1%-er capitalists who hate both the top 1% earners and capitalists.

    Reportedly, Caprio flew across the nation in his private jet to receive his award and give us all a dressing down on our carbon footprint. I’m getting to where I hate these fuckers.

  • Thailover

    Nicholas Gray.
    ABBA doesn’t inhabit the Americaverse. We think of ABBA like Norwegian death metal…something that strange foreign people listen to. LOL.

  • Thailover

    Most popular music is still simplistic;

    Most people are too apathetic to notice that Sympathy For The Devil is a riddle, much less bother to figure out what it’s about, (and no, it’s not about “Lucifer”).


    Er, uh…This is where I get off the bus. LOL

  • Thailover

    RAB wrote,

    “His muse Yoko also makes music.”

    You have a great sense of humor I see.

  • Laird

    Thailover, of course Sympathy for the Devil is a riddle (of sorts), but of course it is about Satan (or Lucifer, or whatever name you choose). Jagger said so himself. And while it’s a relatively philosophic lyric (it’s about as deep as the Stones ever got), it’s fairly pedestrian in a musical sense. Jagger wrote a song; Blood Sweat and Tears made it a symphony.

  • RAB

    Yes my sense of humour is second to none, Thailover, and I believe I made my opinion of Yoko’s “Music” crystal clear in my comment above.

    You’re right Laird. Have you ever seen Jean Luc Goddard’s One on One, now retitled Sympathy for the Devil? If not, please save a few precious hours of your life and don’t bother; It is crap of the uttermost pretentiousness. It features the Stones writing Sympathy for the Devil from a very slender guitar riff by Keith Richards, and then the tortuous process of building and padding it out. It also features a bunch of Black Panthers running around a rubbish dump with toy machine guns for some obscure reason.

  • Fraser Orr

    > And that is the thing: their influence has been immense, both musically and culturally, with different songs playing different roles in that regard.

    Can you enumerate which of their songs were so significant? Like I said Sgt Pepper is considered their peak, and honestly I don’t remember any of it being particularly innovative, never mind socially impactful.

    > what if Lennon’s intention was not to depict a rosy dream, but rather a nightmare?

    I don’t think the data supports this. Extrinsically, it was plain that Lennon was definitely a peace and love and put a flower in the rifle barrel kind of a guy. This seems to exclude the notion that it was ironic. Intrinsically, the ideas are described as a dream, not a nightmare, and he invited other to join them toward the goal of everyone being as one, which again doesn’t seem to support the contention that it was nightmarish.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Debating the merits of music is ridiculous. Music connects directly with the emotions. You either like a tune or you don’t.

    The Imagine tune – for me – is sublime. Always has been. The lyrics: ridiculous. Maybe Bach was lucky that he didn’t have to add any words.

    Whether the Beatles will be remembered in a hundred years, I have no idea. But there are a couple of things in their favour. First, they appealed to my generation; people who were largely ignorant of whatever it was that was going on in the 1960s. In other words, we got hooked by the music and the music alone. Second, they were the first electric guitar band to make it big. They were around when a number of newish technologies – probably the electric guitar, magnetic tape, wireless and the album – got to a sufficient level of maturity that they made all sorts of things possible. The Beatles were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. And the pioneers do tend to be remembered. A bit like Rembrandt – probably. Or – as Brian mentioned earlier – Shakespeare.

  • RAB

    A few quibbles Patrick.
    The electric guitar was invented in the early 30’s. The Beatles were not the first to make it big using them. See Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry…

    Sgt Pepper was recorded on a 4 track machine, positively primitive by today’s standards. But they did have George Martin as producer to translate their inarticulate musical yearnings into solid sounds.. The LP was introduced in 1948. Wireless goes all the way back to the early 1900’s and Marconi. And no they were not in the right place at the right time. By dint of their extraordinary talents and Martin’s support, they made that time their own. It would have happened very much differently without them. Four blokes called the Monkees agree with me. What were they going to do for a living without the Beatles? After the Beatles things changed irrevocably, and not just music, but socially. I saw a documentary about how the Beatles destroyed the Soviet Union, which before I watched it I thought was taking the piss. But it is a very cogent argument. Russia lost an entire generation to western pop music and culture. It left a gap that they could never bridge, which significantly led to Soviet communism’s collapse.

  • Adam Maas

    All I’ll say on the relative impact of the Beatles vs their contemporaries is the Beatles get played on Oldies stations, The Stones work from that era on the other hand get played on modern rock stations alongside today’s hottest bands (note the same goes for Pink Floyd, Queen, and even Cream, all of whom live on modern Rock Radio alongside newer bands).

    It’s bloody rare that you hear even a cover of a Beatles track these days on contemporary radio and the recent spate of bands emulating that late 60’s, early 70’s sound are riffing on the Stones, Cream or Muscle Shoals rather than the boys from Liverpool.

  • Adam Maas

    Just to be clear, the Beatles were the more relevant band in the 60’s. They were pivotal to the era and their impact on the world at the time cannot be denied.

    But like most things tied so closely to a particular point in time, they haven’t aged well at all (also their music, bubblegum pop transitioning to early prog rock, simply doesn’t tie into the core rock experience, the electric blues that was and remains so influential in rock music. The Stones remain relevant because they never strayed so far from their blues roots and those roots remain relevant today).

  • Laird

    Patrick, to add one more quibble to RAB’s post,your comment “Maybe Bach was lucky that he didn’t have to add any words” isn’t strictly accurate. He wrote mostly for the church, so a very large portion of his compositions had lyrics: masses, sancti, magnificats, the odd kyrie, oratorios, cantatas, chorales, arias, songs, etc., etc. It’s just that Bach didn’t write any of those lyrics himself; mostly he was providing musical settings for sacred writings.

  • Alisa


    I saw a documentary about how the Beatles destroyed the Soviet Union

    I saw and danced to the beginnings of it first-hand. And, your comment is obviously right on the money.


    Debating the merits of music is ridiculous. Music connects directly with the emotions. You either like a tune or you don’t.

    It is not ridiculous in the slightest. Of course it connects with emotions, but for it to that, there must be talent combined with craftsmanship – and these have nothing to do with emotions. That is not to say that emotions are not involved in the making of art, including music – they very much are. But unlike for the consumption of art, emotions alone are not nearly sufficient for its production. Which is why it is entirely possible and reasonable to discuss art on its merits or lack thereof, without having to actually enjoy it.


    Can you enumerate which of their songs were so significant? Like I said Sgt Pepper is considered their peak, and honestly I don’t remember any of it being particularly innovative, never mind socially impactful

    Personally, I never quite shared in the excitement about Sgt Pepper – expect for 3 tracks: “A Day in the Life” and “She’s Leaving Home” for both innovation and sheer beauty, and “When I’m Sixty-Four” just as an exquisite combination of a brilliant tune with brilliant lyrics.

    I already mentioned that the Beatles are not my most favorite band of that era, and I also don’t have one favorite album of theirs (although the White one comes close, and that’s why I own it). Rather, several of their songs are among my all-time favorites, and they are scattered among several of their albums – each song for different reasons. That alone is not something one could say of most bands of any period.

  • Alisa

    I agree with Adam, to an extent. I think that if we make a distinction between influence and relevance, we may get closer to understanding each other in this discussion. To use Adam’s particular example, the Stones: I think that the Beatles were the more influential (long-term, even if they are not getting or are not going to get actual airplay), while the Stones remain (for now) the more relevant – i.e. they are actually getting airplay and are listened to by the younger generation.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    I suppose that famous American rock-bands exist, but I can’t name any. Can anyone else? Bands, not singers- individuals like Taylor Swift, and Beyoncé and Rihanna are well-known. Any band names?

  • Alisa

    You are joking, right+

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    What sticks in my mind are individuals, like Katy Perry. There used to be a band called Destiny’s Child, but that was years ago. And ‘Josie and the Pussycats’ wasn’t a real band. Anyone else?

  • NickM

    OK, I’ll bite at something I have been annoyed at. Why the “60’s”? Why? It’s the “’60s” for G’s sake! You see this everywhere. there is no need for an apostrophe in the first usage – it is just wrong. There is in the second because you are missing the “19” on the (usually) valid reason that the context is sufficient.

  • RAB (September 28, 2016 at 8:48 pm): “I saw a documentary about how the Beatles destroyed the Soviet Union”

    Václav Havel’s essay specifically mentions music as one of the ways in which the communist state came unto unanticipated conflict with groups in society.who did not think of themselves as political. He does not mention the beatles and I doubt their songs were that prominent but insofar as they were important in starting a trend, creating an atmosphere, that gives them a role in it.

    I recall seeing an except from Soviet TV in the seventies which showed that the music of ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar’ (minus the lyrics of course). Caught between controlling and yielding to such trends, the communists lost their grip.

  • Laird

    Nick (UJ) Gray, here’s a list for you. Need more?

  • Snorri Godhi

    Since this debate is still going on…
    WRT the lyrics of Imagine, all what i can say is that they defy sound Hobbesian logic.

    WRT the merits of the Beatles, i am not qualified to comment because, generally speaking, i am averse to listening to any form of singing. (There are exceptions, in several forms of singing; but none from the Beatles.)

    Having said that, a mild rebuttal is in order to those who called the Beatles’ music “complex” and “sophisticated”. Compared to other rock music, perhaps, but compared to Bach’s Chaconne, from the 2nd partita for solo violin??

    That does not necessarily mean that people will not listen to the Beatles in 300 years’ time with the same enthusiasm with which some people today (including me) listen to Vivaldi. I understand that Vivaldi was considered almost a popular composer in his time, given that he was not keen on fugues. (Bach himself thought better of him.) Note also that movements from Vivaldi’s concertos are just a few minutes long, like Beatles’ songs: much shorter than the 13 minutes of Bach’s Chaconne, never mind symphonies from Beethoven to Bruckner and Mahler.

  • RAB

    I can never resist bunging this into Beatles threads…


  • Alisa

    OK, I’ll bite at something I have been annoyed at. Why the “60’s”? Why? It’s the “’60s” for G’s sake! You see this everywhere. there is no need for an apostrophe in the first usage – it is just wrong. There is in the second because you are missing the “19” on the (usually) valid reason that the context is sufficient.

    Thank you, Nick, from the bottom of my heart.

    Niall, Beatles’ songs were very prominent in the Soviet Union in the late 60s and early 70s, although obviously not on the radio.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Seeing as the subject has come up a few times I am going to give into temptation and vent my spleen about the Rolling Stones.

    It is not as if they are talentless. “Let’s spend the night together” and “As tears go by” are great songs. But lots of artists in the 1960s produced two great songs.

    For the most part their songs start well and then just die. “Paint it Black”, “Get off my cloud” and “Gimme Shelter” are examples of such second-rate plodding.

    And then there’s the lyrics. You get the impression that in about 1964 Jagger wrote down a list of social issues that would give the impression that he was “with it” and in touch e.g. pre-marital sex, middle-class drug dependency, advertising etc and spent the next 6 years cynically going through it. It’s all rather paint-by-numbers stuff.

    The redeeming feature of the Rolling Stones – and, boy does it redeem them – is that every artist that I respect, respects them. Why I have no idea but you can’t ignore that sort of endorsement.

  • NickM


    I’ll see that and raise you:


  • Alisa

    Patrick, wouldn’t rather stop being so utterly wrong? How can you even sleep at night? 🙁

  • Patrick Crozier

    Alisa, it is not as if I haven’t tried to like them but once you’ve spotted the formula you go off them really fast. And then there’s the lack of fun and lack of passion in their music. It’s all very controlled. All very tea at the mother-in-law’s.

  • RAB

    You forgot Mother’s little Helper Patrick. Jagger was tres middle class, went to the London School of Economics you know. Ah but then there is the riff to Jumpin Jack Flash, and it is classic rock n roll, right up there with the riff of the Cream’s Sunshine of your Love. Sheer simple genius.

    I have seen the Stones 4 times now, but the first was the free concert in Hyde Park 1969. They were very stoned, as were the rest of us, and they were out of tune most of the time, but we had a bloody great day nevertheless. King Crimson, playing support, blew them off the stage musically, but then went on to do stuff in 17th 42nd time, just because they could, and lost the plot. Like Chuck Berry said… I aint got no kick against modern jazz, unless they play it too damned fast and lose the beauty of the melody…

  • Alisa

    And then there’s the lack of fun and lack of passion in their music. It’s all very controlled.

    Whaaaaaat? Are we even talking about the same band? This is all very depressing – where do I unsubscribe from this RSS feed, dammit?…

  • Patrick Crozier

    Simple solution, Alisa, name a single Rolling Stones track with either fun or passion in it. Now repeat the same exercise for The Who, Small Faces, Jimmy Hendrix, Cream, The Kinks or Led Zeppelin. Easy peasy.

  • NickM

    Beatles v Stones is obvious to me. The Stones are just brilliant.

  • “Gimme Shelter” are examples of such second-rate plodding.

    Must be an autocorrect error, I think you meant to write: “Gimme Shelter” is quite possibly the finest rock track ever 😛

  • Laird

    Alisa & Nick, Shatner did quite a few of those. His Bohemian Rhapsody isn’t terrible, but Rocket Man is truly ghastly (and what is worse, the audience seemed to take it seriously; I suppose Shatner was too young at that point to have begun indulging in self-parody). But check this out. It’s from a movie called “Free Enterprise”, and it’s a must-see for anyone steeped in the sci-fi milieu.

  • Alisa

    Really Laird? I always assumed that it was outright parody on his part…

  • NickM

    What I liked was the laid back delivery on the high stool whilst smoking a ciggie. He was taking the piss. Of course the fans loved it. Captain Kirk having enough of a sense of humour to do that! As indeed did Leonard Nimoy with, “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”. Lack of a sense of humour should never be equated with a lack of seriousness, meaning or intellectual depth. Quite the reverse.

  • A couple of thoughts: the Bach suggestion (per Johnathan’s father) is appropriate. Remember that baroque music’s era ends on the death of Bach himself. For the Beatles, one would have to say that rock music died on the day of Lennon’s murder (it didn’t even die when Buddy Holly’s plane crashed; sorry, Don McLean). Nevertheless, Lennon/McCartney’s songwriting will endure, as quality music always does, but just not on the scale of Bach, or Mozart, or Beethoven. That’s not a knock on L/M, of course; the same can be said of other 20th-century composer/lyricists like Hoagy Carmichael, George Gershwin or Johnny Mercer, all of whom wrote music just as deathless as the Beatles’ offerings.

    I always thought the Rolling tones were the world’s greatest garage band, and what’s kept them popular is simple longevity. (I personally can’t stand their music, but I can understand why others love them.)

    It’s all a matter of taste; I prefer more complex music forms such as produced by people like Beethoven, Led Zeppelin, Genesis and Rachmaninoff (all of whom are my favorites in their respective genres), and I don’t have much time for simpler music (e.g. early rock ‘n roll, grunge, rap or folk music). That doesn’t mean I can’t listen to them; with the exception of rap (which I detest), I listen to all of them, and I think, for example, that McTell’s Streets of London and Rafferty’s Baker Street are genuine classics, in their genre. But while I can (and do) listen to, say, Rachmaninoff’s Air On A Theme By Paganini, Zep’s Since I’ve Been Loving You or Genesis’s …And Then There Were Three over and over, I can’t do the same with simpler music. It’s difficult to listen to, say, Honky Tonk Woman more than twice in a row, but very easy to do so with Good Vibrations.

    I also differentiate between the styles of music and the virtuosos who played them: Liszt, Beethoven, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, and Chopin in classical, and Jimmy Page, Hendrix or Clapton. (To use Hendrix and Liszt as examples: most of their music is turgid and heavy going, but the sheer artistry of the men makes it worthwhile. The same is not true of most other famous rock stars of the modern era.)

    And in conclusion: I hated Lennon’s Imagine when it came out, and my loathing hasn’t diminished one iota since. That never stopped me from loving Hard Day’s Night or Help!, however.

  • Alisa

    An excellent comment by Kim – that was my earlier point replying to Patrick: there is personal taste, and there is appreciation of artistry – and they are not always the same thing.

  • Eric

    Where I live you hear all sorts of music on the radio. Radio stations play Led Zeppellin, The Stones, The Eagles, Jefferson Airplane/Starship, The Animals, The Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys, and a whole bunch of other groups from that era.

    One group you never hear? The Beatles.

    It may be true The Beatles will live on through through their influence, but from what I can see not many people listen to the actual music they produced. As to the particular lyric in question… yeah, it’s terrible.

  • Laird

    In the long run it might not matter much anyway.

  • Steve Borodin

    The Beatles? er no, give me a clue.
    Edited. Just to take advantage of the facility, and to see if I get a second chance.

    Yes I do buit without any extension of time.

  • Bruce

    On his “Six and Twelve-Sting Guitars” album, Leo Kottke plays a very tidy rendition of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”.

    In the sleeve notes is typical Kottke bent humour: “Bach had twenty-one children because his organ had no stops”.

    That aside, I note no mention of the other “major” British band of the sixties and onwards, “The Who”.

    Two of my favourite albums of their are, “Who’s Next”, which set standards of production and performance that few have even come close to, and “Quadrophenia” an insanely ambitious double album that, musically leaves the better publicized “Tommy” for dead.

  • gongcult

    I can’t refrain from mentioning the overall pop sensibilities of the Beatles.Even later on when they still existed along with Pink Floyd, King Crimson , Henry Cow … they were not the true progressives despite some attempts at that genre…

  • gongcult

    Almost forgot to mention Tull as existing alongside the Beatles at the end of their era.Pretty adventurous band and wasn’t Soft Machine around in the Late 60s too…

  • Rich Rostrom

    NickM September 27, 2016 at 9:46 pm:

    …you can stick your “Brotherhood of Man”* up your sanctimonious dead arse.

    Oh, come now. What do you have against Frank Loesser?

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Laird, I looked at the list, but it was only mildly informative. I have heard of Bruce Springsteen, but not the band! And I have heard about Elvis Presley, but you never think of him as having a band! And how many of those are current? Didn’t the Beach-Boys disband years ago? Are they still doing tours?

  • Laird

    Nicholas, quite a number of them are current, including Springsteen and his band. (And if you haven’t heard of the E Street Band then you don’t know anything about Springsteen.)

    But this thread is about the Beatles and various 60s and 70s rock bands. Why are you now asking about current ones?

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    I was just wondering why we don’t hear more American bands, but that might be local Sydney preferences at play. I sure hope The Rolling Stoners are NOT the only bad remembered in the future!