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Working Class Heroes: Beatles

Aman Kanth

They came, they saw, they conquered. Yes, we are talking about the Beatles, the biggest super groups ever produced in the history of music. A Liverpool based English group which began in the 1960s with a bunch of teenage prodigies; the Beatles or more popularly ‘Fab Four’, comprised legendry John Lennon (1940-1980), Paul McCartney (1942-), George Harrison (1943-2001) and Ringo Starr (1940-), went ahead and became one of the biggest music acts of the twentieth century and sold multi-million albums throughout the continent.

Beatles established themselves as the most skilful composers of their time, with their harmonic progressions compared to none other than Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828) and the German composer Gustav Mahler (1860-1911).

Beatles, who began their journey as modest club entertainers ended up as the cultural icons of an entire age. They represented the very ethos of the newly evolved cultural and social mores of their times, a product of counterculture era; the very success Beatles made them the spokesman of angst ridden age, thereby catapulting them into demi-god status. History has it that the working class Liverpuldlan roots of the Beatles, their take on ordinary, day-to-day human experiences and progressive ideas interspersed with rock n roll, their vociferous views on contemporary issues of their times, and their experience with psychedelic drugs (all thanks to Bob Dylan, who introduced them to marijuana) propelled them into instant stardom.

An age which grappled with the burning issues of Vietnam war, anti-establishment ideology, race and gender politics and prevalent use of psychedelics and drugs, Beatles were greatly influenced by the changes which took place during the 60s. Under the able guidance of a music store owner Brian Epstein and producer George Martin, Beatles arose to the heights of super stardom. Post the exit of Pete Best (ex-drummer) and Stuart Sutcliffe (ex-bassist), Beatles went ahead and experimented with various musical styles such as pop ballads, classical rock and psychedelic rock in lieu of skiffle, a musical form which the band usually restricted itself to until its initial years.

The real success of Beatles came from its band manager Epstein, who was the driving force behind the band’s professionalism. Even John Lennon acknowledged what Epstein used to say to the group, “He`d tell us that jeans were not particularly smart and could we possibly manage to wear proper trousers, but he didn`t want us suddenly looking square. He`d let us have our own sense of individuality ... it was a choice of making it or still eating chicken on stage."

The band, which churned out hit albums like, 'Please Please Me' (1963), 'With The Beatles' (1963), 'A Hard Day`s Night' (1964), 'Beatles for Sale' (1964), 'Help!' (1965), 'Rubber Soul' (1965), 'Revolver' (1966), 'Sgt. Pepper`s Lonely Hearts Club Band' (1967), 'The Beatles' (White Album) (1968), 'Yellow Submarine' (1969), 'Abbey Road' (1969) and 'Let It Be' (1970) made them a household name in both US, UK and the rest of the world. (History has it, when Beatles arrived at Kennedy International Airport, US during 1964, they were greeted with more than three thousand teenagers, who cheered the band at the top of their voice.)

The unprecedented popularity of the Beatles, or more popularly known as ‘Beatlemania’ was deeply rooted in the contemporary issues of their age. One should not forget that Beatles were the product of an age that had already witnessed the mass destruction caused by the two World Wars - World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945) and the annihilation struck by nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The 60s saw the rise of working class and consumerist culture, Beatles swayed an entire generation of disillusioned youth to its tunes, which was drowning itself in the pursuit of materialistic pleasures. As popular culture – music and films worked like a pressure valve for the angst ridden youth and soon became a liberating experience for the youth, which was greatly inspired by the hippie movement, beat movement, anti-authoritarianism and utopianism ideals of the age.

Talking about Beatlemania, Beatles were always special in many ways, they never used conventional rock music instruments and secondly, their lyrics, chords, progressions and harmonies were very different from their contemporaries. For instance, unlike Elvis Presley, Beatles never wore garish clothes, sported long sideburns or sang about love and passion. Beatles lyrics were more about nostalgia, friendship and working class ethos.

The Fab Four, which popularised ‘mop-tops’, Edwardian collarless suits, Cuban heeled pointed shoes and later Lennon’s signature glasses became the ultimate style statement and cultural symbols for whosoever worshipped the Beatles. However, fame has its own price. Haunted by the demons of fame, stardom and madding fans, Beatles started seeking escape in alcohol, marijuana and psychedelic drugs. After the sudden death of Epstein, Beatles trip to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in India was both emotionally and spiritually an enriching experience. Later, Lennon’s growing fondness for an avant garde artist Yoko Ono and his creative differences with McCartney lead to constant frictions and, ultimately, the break-up of one of the biggest super groups of the twentieth century. Post their break-up, most of the band mates went solo, but none of them could recreate the magic and success of the Beatles.

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