The Beatles: Time to let it be?
Today marks 50 years since Ringo Starr first performed as part of the Fab Four at the Cavern Club. Great as they were, is it time to move on, or should we join the celebrations for International Beatle Week? Two Independent on Sunday writers argue it out
I say yes...
Imagine there's no Beatles. It's easy if you try. No "Hey Jude" below us. Above us, only Dylan. When John Lennon's totemic song rang out at the Olympics closing ceremony last week, accompanied by his image cast in polystyrene relief, it showed that no musical director can ever imagine a world without Lennon or McCartney. Which is a pity because isn't it time, on this 50th anniversary of the Cavern Club performance, that Britain finally got over The Beatles?
Maybe it's because I'm a Scouser. More than that, I went to the same school as Lennon, which used to be called Quarry Bank. Those of us sneaking out to Calderstones Park for a cigarette had to dodge busloads of tourists taking pictures.
Maybe I have always had enough of them. In any case, we Liverpudlians are already over The Beatles. When I ran a magazine in Liverpool, 20 years ago, we managed to fill our pages with cutting-edge music, from the new nightclub Cream to local bands, without once mentioning the Fab Four.
I'm not saying we shouldn't recognise their contribution to music, occasionally. They got there first, and some of their songs were sublime. But why must every national event, jubilee, X Factor series, or sporting occasion, have to feature The Beatles? How many of the athletes (average age: 26) in the Olympic stadium last week would have requested a Beatles song if they had had the choice? What did the teenage audience watching at home think? Did the rest of the world groan like me?
We had Paul McCartney battling through "Hey Jude" at the opening ceremony. Yes, this is good for a karaoke singalong but even Sir Paul, I'm sure, must be desperate to give this up.
Is the music even that timeless and relevant today? Listen to Bob Dylan's Desire or Blood on the Tracks albums and they could have been released yesterday. You cannot say the same of Help! or Abbey Road. I am sorry, but it is time to send the "Yellow Submarine" below water once and for all.
You say no...
Just as a young Paul McCartney and John Lennon first listened in wonder to Chuck Berry and Little Richard, there was a similarly humble but no less joyous beginning to my first hearing The Beatles. At a very young age, I saw the Fab Four on a black-and-white television and, apparently, immediately began to dance.
This somewhat embarrassing image of unfettered joy has been and will be, repeated in living rooms around the world for as long as footage of The Beatles is shown. It is right that we continue to celebrate the group because we owe them so much. As the music critic Anthony DeCurtis once pointed out, they are like a young artist who died tragically before his time. Generations of musicians and bands simply set out to complete the sketches they provided. But since those heady days of the 1960s, no one has yet improved on the original.
Following Paul McCartney's performance at the Olympics opening ceremony there has been a morphing in some quarters of English modesty into a paranoia about how our behaviour might make us look on the public stage: a fear of being a braggart or a bore. Few other countries or cultures would have such hang-ups.
More than any other band of the time, The Beatles merged high and low in a way that set the tone for the democratisation of culture for the next half century.
And their story just gets bigger as the years roll by. Take the fact that you can now study the group at university; that populations in most countries on the planet could sing "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah"; that the biographies get fatter and the press attention never dwindles – all this is proof that people want to know more about what can only be described as a modern phenomenon.
We revere Shakespeare almost 400 years after his death, and we would never dream of putting him to rest.
So when people stop revelling in The Beatles, when the music stops selling, when the books are no longer written, when the films are no longer produced, when the degree courses are no longer available, when children's limbs stop moving involuntarily as they first hear a Beatles song – perhaps then we can put them to rest. But somehow I doubt those things will ever happen.
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