I was reading about the “SNL 40” special last week, and apparently Paul McCartney was on the show. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but I guess if you can’t have Chris Farley, you book the guy who just sat there during Farley’s most famous sketch. (You’ll do that, but you can’t get Eddie Murphy to participate in one sketch? Nice work, Lorne.)
Anyway, as I read a couple of recaps of the show, I noticed that people were treating Paul McCartney’s appearance with the same reverence as they would if the ghost of Jimi Hendrix had wafted in through an open window to play “The Wind Cries Mary” on a guitar made of morning dew. The amount of fawning over Paul McCartney’s mere presence is absurd- it’s 2015, for chrissakes. The Beatles haven’t been together since five years before SNL started. Try as I might, I can’t figure out why, 50 years after they took the world by storm (and 45 years after they broke up), people still worship The Beatles.
In case that first paragraph didn’t make it clear, I’m not much of a fan of The Beatles. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hate them or anything, because they do have some good songs; I guess I’d say I’m largely indifferent to their music. This is not, by the way, intended to downplay the cultural and musical impact The Beatles had in the ’60s and ’70s. If you were alive back then, they were as close to ubiquitous as any musical act in history (and the argument could easily be made that nobody has replicated this feat since, except for maybe Michael Jackson). That being said, anyone who was born after Beatlemania who claims The Beatles are their favorite band is seriously misguided. (Because I have some friends who say this, I’m using “seriously misguided” as a placeholder term for “full of shit” or “a stupid goddamned idiot.”)
Part of why The Beatles are so revered is the fact that they were the first global pop stars. Before The Beatles, musical acts were largely limited to regional or, at best, national icon status. Take, for example, Buddy Holly: widely liked and respected in the United States, but he didn’t have anything approaching the same level of critical acclaim or commercial appeal in the UK. That all changed with The Beatles. And not only were they the first global pop stars, they invented the very concept of the global pop star. Which, I mean, that’s cool and all, but it’s not like it wouldn’t have happened with another band down the road. And considering where pop music has gone since The Beatles, is this really something for which we should be giving them credit? The Beatles are basically the reason Justin Bieber exists. And are we to believe that they were the only band that could have done what they did? They were a fucking pop band. John Lennon himself once said that they put very little thought into the songs on their first couple of albums. Yes, they did some groundbreaking work after they got famous, but the fact that they ever had the chance to be famous is more a testament to their early skills as writers of formulaic songs designed to resonate with the greatest amount of (young, female) listeners as possible.
[Quick aside: I’ve also had to go back every time I type this band’s name and change “the” to “The.” Holy Christ, it’s super annoying, and it makes me not like The Beatles (just had to do it again) even more.]
Look, I’m not saying The Beatles aren’t a good band (though their earlier hits are boring as shit). But for the life of me, I can’t figure out why they’ve endured this long and why a lot of people (too many people, quite frankly) consider them the greatest band of all time. Lennon and McCartney were good songwriters, but let’s be honest: as pure instrumentalists, nobody in that band was that talented. It drives me crazy to see Paul McCartney on “Best Bassist” lists, when there are easily 100 bassists that would blow him out of the water in terms of technical ability. What set them apart was their ability to take previously-unexplored sounds and concepts and create music out of them. And that’s a skill! But in terms of pure technical skill, who would you rather have in your band: George Harrison or Keith Richards? Saying The Beatles are the greatest band of all time is like saying the Model T is the greatest car of all time. Yes, they were each part of a revolution in their respective fields, but we’ve done a lot better since then. Of course, whenever I bring this up to a fan of The Beatles, the counter-argument is always that music wouldn’t be what it is without them, but…I mean, really? Yes it would. Let’s not pretend that “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was the catalyst for the landscape of music changing forever. That song is trash. If The Beatles hadn’t come around, somebody else would have.
Moreover, and because I can’t state this enough, they’ve been broken up for 45 years. Shouldn’t that count against them? Yes, they made good albums, but whenever I listen to a Beatles song, I think to myself, “Oh, this band is good.” But I think the same when I listen to the Rolling Stones (and more often, really, since I find the Stones’ albums a lot more replay-worthy).
But more than anything, what bothers me about members of my generation listing The Beatles as the best band of all time or their favorite band is that there’s absolutely no reason for someone in my generation to think that. With older generations, I get it: The Beatles’ cultural influence was insane, and if you were alive during their peak as a band, it adds an additional sentimental value to it. But a guy born in 1986 would have been exposed to so many different (and technically more proficient) bands since their birth, so unless their parents only played Beatles records in the house (which, fuck, that sounds terrible), they would have had to actively seek out The Beatles. And they’d likely only do so because of the pervasive opinion that The Beatles are the best band ever. And when they listened to The Beatles and the music didn’t disappoint (which, largely, it doesn’t), they’d feel compelled to join that bandwagon. Which is how you end up with 20-year-old Philosophy majors debating the merits of “Revolver” vs. “Rubber Soul” at coffee shops. All of this boils down to one central idea: A member of my generation has to make more of an effort to get into The Beatles than they do to get into, say, Arctic Monkeys. And a lot of people throw out The Beatles as their favorite band as a way of establishing their good taste in music. Which is a lot like saying “No dude, I know food. My favorite meal is pizza.” Everybody likes pizza, you’re not blowing minds by saying that. Anyone who says The Beatles are the best band of all time should be handed Radiohead’s discography and shot in the neck with a paintball gun. In that order.
Anyway, speaking of The Beatles, here’s a song by Tame Impala. The lead singer kinda sounds like John Lennon, so hopefully that appeases some of you.