The fab four’s influence can be found far beyond the obvious…
The Beatles changed popular music forever, there are few people who will argue with this. It may have been a case of ‘in the right place at the right time’ but the fab four’s success, creativity and unwillingness to compromise their integrity paved the way for music industry standards and practices which are the norm today.
The Beatles developed a new style of music that was a mix of rock and roll and pop with a smidgen of black rhythm ‘n’ blues. Their sound was unique and their lyrics and melodies were hard not to sing along to in many cases. Their new sound excited people on both sides of the pond and got both British and American youth interested in popular music once more; the scene in the early sixties having become stagnant and formulaic since the fifties success of Elvis and Buddy Holly. In many ways, their success in America, which happened almost overnight, could be said to have brought Britain and the US closer in terms of pop culture and collective values. Before The Beatles, no British group had been successful in America.
In fact, The Beatles revolutionized music in that they were the first ‘band’ per se, to really have huge mainstream success. Before them, what was generally popular were solo artists, with a band who did not share the lime light, such as Elvis, or earlier than that, The RatPack singers such as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. After the Beatles success, musicians began to perform in groups more frequently, rather than trying to ‘make it’ on their own.
Prior to the Fab Four, the conditions for musicians to record were very different also. In fact, it is in this respect that their legacy can be most acutely felt by contemporary musicians. Musicians were told by their record labels where and when to record in the early sixties, as the record companies all owned their own studios. As they began to become megastars, The Beatles began to rebel against stringent recording times and places and began to record wherever and whenevr they wanted (including independent studios not affiliated with their record label if they so wished) with whichever producer they saw best. This may seem like a simple thing today but it is important to remember the hold record companies had over their artists prior to The Beatles; today it is the industry standard to use independent producers and recording studios.
Most pop/rock recording artists of the early sixties still did not write their own music and were more or less modifying or out and out copying classic riffs and melodies from old blues and country classics. The Beatles however, sensed the freedom their record label EMI had started to give them due to their huge success and started a trend for pop/rock artists to write, compose and record their own songs. The famously ‘open-eared’ listening habits of John Lennon and Paul McCartney resulted in a rich variety of influences to their music and their output of songs which have become instant classics, in the relatively short space of time the band were together, is still unparalled today.
Their influence can also be found in fashion and their later use of unusual instruments in their songs, as well as their interest in Eastern mysticism which they translated in many of their late sixties’ lyrics. When all is said and done, I think it is hard to overestimate the influence of the Beatles in music and in pop culture in general.