Beatlemania: 50 years and counting
On February 7, 1964 The Beatles touched down at JFK Airport in New York City. Their subsequent performance on The Ed Sullivan Show could easily fall in the category of events that we often reflect on by saying “I remember where I was when…” Countless musicians have given a nod to seeing the legendary television performance and being mesmerized and inspired.
The effect of The Beatles transcends the realm of music. The impact and influence they had on popular culture is colossal, and is still as relevant today as it was when The Beatles were an active group of innovators. Exhibiting their impact on pop culture is a daunting task, one that could easily merit more than a simple post here on KUER Music. So for the sake of time and digital space, we’ll scrape the surface and briefly visit a couple of examples of how much The Beatles did not just for music, but for the culture that they helped shape.
Let’s begin with the musical influence of The Beatles. After all, they were primarily musicians. The number of artists that have covered Beatles songs is extensive. Of course, there is Elton John with “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and Joe Cocker’s radical re-arrangement of “With A Little Help from My Friends” which later appeared as the opening theme for The Wonder Years, one of the most successful television shows of the 1980's.
But these two examples share the list with some more unexpected tributes to The Fab Four. Isaac Hayes and Liberace both released versions of the George Harrison-penned “Something.” In 1994, Boyz II Men dedicated some space on their second studio album to a cover of “Yesterday.” On Halloween night of the same year, the jam band Phish performed the entire self-titled Beatles album, better known as The White Album, along with their own material at a concert that began at 7:30 p.m. and ended at approximately 3:20 a.m. The gothic metal band Type-O Negative jokingly dubbed themselves The Drab Four, and over the years, there have also been reports of artists like Black Sabbath, Hanson and Nirvana performing impromptu Beatles covers in their live sets, either as an entire number or as a tag between two of their own songs. Just last June, I watched Father John Misty perform a passionate and well executed cover of “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” at The Urban Lounge in Salt Lake City. These kind of drops aren’t accidental, they’re premeditated and fueled by an impression once left by the most famous men from Liverpool.
The Beatles were also chic. There are a handful of fashion trends that they either established, or at the very least pushed into the mainstream. When John, George, Paul and Ringo took America by storm, they did so adorning the mop top hairstyle, which is now often used to imitate or embody a 60’s look - whether comical or authentic. However, the hairstyle wasn’t embraced by Leonid Brezhnev and his comrades. It was considered rebellious and socially devious in the Soviet Union.
Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is often regarded as their most influential work. It was the counterculture-era of the 60's and The Beatles fully endorsed the fashion statements of that time - mustaches, velvet, bright colors, paisley and floral, etc. The Beatles were pushing the revolution of the 60's in music and threads. Toward the end of their activity, the guys took on a more casual/unconventional style: T-shirts, denim pants and full beards. Sandals, collarless shirts and Indian clothing were also adopted as inspiration of their memorable time spent in India and with Maharishi Mahesh. In one of the final but most memorable accessory additions, John Lennon began to wear the round framed tea shade glasses that defined his iconic look.
We all know The Beatles are no strangers to the screen. Help, A Hard Day’s Night, Magical Mystery Tour, and Yellow Submarine are all films The Beatles released, and could very well be given credit for assisting in the cultivation of music-films such as documentaries, live concerts and even films with fictional plots. With the latter, they had better luck than others. You're most likely now hearing of KISS’s television movie KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. The Beatles have also reached television through an excess of homages. Just a few examples include the sixth season of SpongeBob Squarepants where Plankton, Squidward, Patrick and SpongeBob explore life as musicians in the episode “Krabby Road.” In The Simpsons, Homer, Apu, Principal Skinner and Barney form a group called The Be Sharps, laden with references to The Beatles: Barney dates a Japanese artist, they name one of their records Bigger than Jesus and perform a reuniting rooftop concert. In 2010, Apple - perhaps the largest consumer electronics company in the world - and a company that has battled Apple Corps (a multimedia corporation founded by The Beatles) in a series of trademark lawsuits, announced their acquisition of the band’s catalog through nationally televised commercials. The arrival was long-awaited.
Through music, film, television, fashion, and so much more, The Beatles have been instrumental in shaping popular culture. Their popularity continues today with widespread adoration and appears to be rolling on into younger generations. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of The Beatles is gaining relevancy in a rapidly changing world of popular culture for 50 years.