I have a confession to make: I do not enjoy listening to music played by The Beatles. I am fully aware that this should result in me having my musician’s card removed, my guitar taken away from me and me being locked in a room with a TV playing “Yellow Submarine” until I can recite every line and song in the movie backwards. Unfortunately (or fortunately for me) this is Colorado College, and we are accepting people here. Thus I have my right to exercise my free-speech. However, I shall hold my tongue for arguably the first time of my life, and instead attempt to evenly discuss what the topic of our class has been for the past two days: The Beatles.
This being a Stage to Screen class, we not only focused on The Beatles’ music, we also focused on some of their uhhhh… Interesting endeavors into other forms of performance, such as movies. Before diving into their cinematic trials, I want to state that I have great respect for the Beatles as pioneers of the British Invasion. I think that they were extremely important for music as a whole in relation to the start of the “Classic Rock” era. They proved that a British band could experience huge success in the United States. Yes, I’ll even admit that some of their songs are catchy. However, there is one element of the Beatles which really leaves a sorry feeling in my stomach: their authenticity as artists.
Much of what we have been discussing in class recently pertains to how authentic a group of musicians are, and what makes them authentic or inauthentic. According to Philip Auslander, there is one element which is paramount in authenticity: the live performance. The live performance validates what we hear on the record. If you attend a show and the singer sounds like an emaciated camel with a hoof in its mouth, you are going to think “Wow, these guys are awful; I can’t believe I wasted my money on them” and write them a letter laced with your finest and most eloquent language. I could just be the minority, but I expect that the music I have paid money for to be real, not something thrown together for a chunk of change. A prime example of this is the 1990 Grammy scandal where Milli Vanilli had their Grammy revoked after it was revealed that they hadn’t even sung on the record. They had hired people who could actually sing to record it for them, and then toured and lip-synced along with the music as if they had recorded it. What if we learned that some modern day performers didn’t actually write their own music, or that one man actually wrote and produced Katy Perry’s “Hot and Cold” Ke$ha’s “Tik-Tok” and Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA”? Oh, wait, one man did. Now, I know you’re probably saying “But i saw the Beatles perform live in 1964 on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show!’ They didn’t have the ability to pull such shenanigans in the sixties!” And you’d be correct, but the Beatles did begin to pave the way for such acts.
The Beatles started their last tour in 1966 a week before Revolver was released. And they never performed any of their new material live. Why? Because they couldn’t. Many of the tracks on Revolver required special instruments or special effects that could not be reproduced in a live performance. Essentially, their music became a thing only for the stereo at home. And yet, the Beatles were– and are– still worshipped world wide as being the greatest rock band of all time. What does this say about Philip Auslander’s insistence that live performance is necessary for musicians to be taken seriously? What does this say about the Beatles and modern music? Do we even care if the musicians are actually performing what they played on the record?
As much as I found “Yellow Submarine” to be an intriguing display of psychedelic art, I felt a bit cheated– as if the Beatles were trying to compensate for their lack of live performances with cartoon caricatures. This is even without acknowledging that the Beatles didn’t even voice themselves for the film, and only appeared for a few minutes at the very end. It was thoroughly discussed in our readings for class (by Kenneth Womack and Todd Davis) that later in their careers, the Beatles wanted to be taken seriously as artists, and not just be the record selling pop-group that they had been before. To accomplish this, they released movies and albums. The music itself was some of the best that the Beatles ever recorded, and yet, to me it feels hollow. It’s like when you have a huge chocolate rabbit from Easter and you’re really excited to engorge yourself on the creamy goodness only to discover that it’s hollow. To me, studio music is exactly that– it lacks substance until I can see that it is real. The half-baked cinematic efforts such as Help! the Magical Mystery Tour (which was so bad that it wasn’t even broadcast in the united states) and Let it Be didn’t exactly give the Beatles a more mature appearance. In fact, it seems more like they only cared to turn a dollar without actually having to go on tour. It makes me sad.
I again encourage you to leave comments. If you don’t, I shall automatically assume that everyone agrees with me.