Thursday, 17 February 2011

Ant Thology – Why I Love The Beatles Too Much To Worship Them

It's occurred to me over the last few months that a casual visitor to this blog might conclude I've decided to blog through every song by a band I intensely dislike. Where's the measure dispassionate analysis of an Alan Pollack? Why am I so opinionated? So intent on dividing the sheep from the goats?

The Beatles are one of the most revered rock bands in history. They deserve a lasting place in the rock hall of fame for the excellence of their work. They have broken (and hold to this day) countless records for sales, audiences & popularity. They are rightly recognised as innovators in everything from studio tricks to stadium gigs. They popularised everything from close-miked drum kits to little round granny glasses. They brought world music into pop & put lyrics in albums sleeves.

Celebrated, underrated & useless

I totally agree with my fellow FAWMer, songwriter Mike Skliar who says 'The Beatles are the most celebrated rock band in history, and they're still underrated!'

Unfortunately that's what can make them utterly useless when you are trying to learn about songwriting. As long as you revere something as perfect and untouchable you're never going to be able to take it apart and find out what makes it work.

And for many (including myself) if something is intensely popular it's hard not to conclude it's just populist fluff appealing to the lowest common denominator and devoid of merit. To overcome that prejudice you need the time and space to analysis. Which is hard if you've got to step over the prostrate bodies of worshippers to do it.

For me this challenge is encapsulated in the opening credits of the Anthology DVD set.

When Beatles become ants

You see footage of the Beatles playing live, young and virile. But as the camera pulls back two thing happen. A giant drop T logo begins to dwarf the band, and the music is drowned out by screaming fans. A perfect picture of what has been slowly happened since 1970. A band of talented songwriters obscured by their own legend and the same blind (or deaf) worship that made their live gigs so frustrating to play.

As Chris Ingham says in the fabulous Rough Guide To The Beatles

There are already signs of their music being accepted into the beyond-criticism pantheon occupied by Mozart and Beethoven, and anyone who expresses indifference to their legacy is suspected of shallow contrariness. - (p.94)

Is he overstating things a little? Consider the following quotes
The Beatles are Divine Messiahs. The wisest, holiest, most effective avatars (Divine Incarnate, God Agents) that the human race has yet produced…Prototypes of a new young race of laughing freemen. Evolutionary agents sent by God, endowed with mysterious power to create a new human species. - Timothy Leary (RGTTB p.217)
The ineluctable beat, the flawless intonation, the utterly fresh lyrics, the Schubert-like flow of musical invention – Leonard Bernstein (RGTTB p.225)
Paul, a bridge between ... George Formby and Stockhausen, Revolution and Rain, art and the commercial, salt and pepper, yes and no, the dish and the spoon... – Paul McCartney 'Let It Be' Book
Do I like the Beatles? I love them! I've learned more about songwriting by spending a year (and counting) analysing their songs than in the previous 28 years put together. I think every musician who aspires to be a songwriter should study their songs first before tackling anything else.

I wish I'd done this 20 years ago.

That's why I've steeled myself to be as ruthlessly objective as I can. Though music is a subjective thing in itself, clearing away the clutter of bad songs, good songs ruined by bad lyrics or just a bad or non existent bridge will allow the true gems to since out. And there are a lot of priceless gems here.
Speaking of which, time to move on...

to Maxwell's Silver Hammer!


  1. "As long as you revere something as perfect and untouchable you're never going to be able to take it apart and find out what makes it work."

    Yeahhh! *bangs cup on table

  2. thank you for your cup banging appreciation

  3. Hi. Ive noticed that I love a lot of the things with The Beatles that you tend not to like and vice versa. You pick on things that I find to be delightful and smart. But that only goes to show what great variety they managed to produce and the number of layers that can appeal to many different tastes. Theres always a Beatles song for everyone

    Anyways. Its an absolute pleasure to follow your blog and many thanks for writing it. Best Regards /Bo

  4. Thanks for being so gracious in agreeing to differ Bo. It's great to have you around!