Myths of the Beatles

Are you a Beatles fan? I am. Maybe that paints me with a certain brush, but I should say that I’m not a collector. I’m just a guy who likes the band. I’ve found them musically inspirational. I’ve listened to them my whole life. But whenever the Beatles come up, all of these popular myths start percolating. These are some of my answers to the most common ones.

Myth one: Yoko Ono Ruined the Beatles.

Yoko Ono is a great and deserving artist completely apart from her relationship with John Lennon. People who say differently usually have a few agendas, like thinking that somehow without her John would have stuck with the band and been happy, or his divisive and difficult relationship with Paul would have been cured. Or, they’re outright racists who think that somehow she was somehow subverting her geisha heritage and cashing in with the rock star. If you would like to argue to me about Yoko’s negative influence on the Beatles, first prove to me that you have a working understanding of Dada and Fluxus, and then frame your argument without falling back on easy-to-dismiss stereotypes. If the thrust of your argument is “her music sucks” then keep it to yourself. If your argument is “she’s ugly”—the most common I’ve heard—well then. You showed John. Good work.

Myth Two: Linda McCartney ruined Wings

Okay, this is outside the balliwick of what I’m talking about, but despite some embarrassingly bad vocal tracks pulled from live performances, rock music almost always benefits from a little naivte. Good for Paul for sticking to his guns and doing what he wanted, damn the critics. In any case, blaming the women in their lives for ruining the Beatles is to say that they were just whipped little boys who were puppets for the pulling. I honestly think that both of these men, in their day-to-day lives, were probably tremendous pains in the ass to be around—more to each other than to anybody else—but likely to everybody in their lives. Lennon particularly so. In any case, let’s give them a little credit to make their own choices about their lives, without second guessing everything they did, and then blaming it all on the women they had the good fortune to love.

Myth Three: A Beatles Reunion would have ruled

A Beatles Reunion would have sucked. Proof? Free As A Bird. Don’t get me wrong, I like the song as a cool Beatles-sounding thing by some tribute band, but the one thing you should expect from hearing a Beatles album for the first time is that it won’t sound like you expect. It should challenge you and sonically take you somewhere you haven’t been yet. Did Free As a Bird do that for you? Secondly, although all of the Beatles at one time or another made good music after the band broke up, I would argue that none of them made great music. This is a matter of taste, obviously, but John’s strongest albums suffered from his seriousness, and Paul’s suffered from his lack of seriousness. I personally love some of John’s solo work very much, but nowhere near as much as I like the Beatles.

Of course, that argument might be rendered null by the fact that the Beatles strength was their interaction. It could be that Lennon and McCartney getting together again would have sparked something. My belief, however, is that a reunion would have required super-human transcendence of their own legend. It would have been double-edged sword. Either they would be the Beatles of old, and satisfy the fans who just want to hear the hits and more hits like them, or they would have been innovators and dissapointing to the fans who want the hits, but potentially exciting to the fans who love the Beatles because of sheer musicianship. Either way they cut one swath of fans. Damned if they do. Best to don’t.

Myth Four: Ringo’s songs suck.

C’mon—let’s hear your best tune in context next to a Lennon/McCartney juggurnaut. Ringo’s songs were better than 50% of the guitar-by-numbers crap that was flooding U.S. shores from Britain in those days. His latest album, Choose Love, is actually quite good.

Myth Five: The Beatles were a great live band.

The key word in that myth is “were”. When they were rocking the cavern club, or singing to prostitutes and druggies in Germany, yes, they were from all accounts a great live band. But after they stopped touring, and their music got more introspective they became a studio band. Masters of the medium. But what about Let It Be? you might ask. Doesn’t that dissprove this point? Well, that might depend on how you feel about Phil Specter. It may hint that they could have owned the stage again, but they didn’t. This, of course, ignoring the argument that Let it Be is one of their weakest albums, and essentially was an abandoned project put out by the studio to capitalize on the Beatles breakup and contractual obligations.

But more to the point I’m trying to make is not that the Beatles wouldn’t have been good or great live, but that they choose not to be a live band and became a studio band. Let’s not forget to give props here to Sir George Martin, who was as much a master of recording technology, composition and music as the Beatles were of crafting pop songs. Pick up his All You Need Is Ears for some good inside-the-studio perspective on the Beatles.

Myth Six: Michael Jackson should have never sold the Beatles music to commercials.

Fact is, the Beatles are a money-making commodity item. Like it or not. They are also, currently, 40 years old. It’s fine to argue that art should never be sold for commercial purposes—and actually I agree with that sentiment for the most part—but let’s not impose our punk-rock ethos on the Beatles, whom are beloved by millions of people. Fact is, the Beatles at some time or another need to become old and tired to people’s ears so that some new partnership may arise—some new Lennon and McCartney—and recreate what popular music is. Some might argue that Kurt Cobain did it, others will point to Radiohead, Wilco or even the White Stripes—but I say we haven’t yet experienced it. Or, if might be years before we realize that we’re experiencing it now.

As much as I hate hearing rock favorites recycled on car commercials, the fact is that we need that music to degrade in the pop-culture landscape, like a hillside degrades in the real-world landscapes. The sooner it happens, the sooner innovators will come in and prove to us that you can be a pop sensation without losing any artistry. My prediction, is that like the Beatles, they’ll do it as a band that sell singles. And, when they hit, they will avail themselves of the newest technology to make us discover that things we never thought possible were within the reach of humans all along. That, I think, is worth the admission price of not letting the Beatles fester in a hermetically-sealed memory, but to let them wax and wane in memory.

Just to be extra clear: My position is not that it was right to sell the songs to be used in commercials, I am sad that it happened. What I am saying is that this is a natural progression and started when the Beatles became a phenomenon. If you want to blame anybody, blame the fact that Michael Jackson was able to buy the songs in the first place. He was just acting as any good capitalist and maximizing returns on his financial investment.

Posted by: Martin McClellan
On the date of: February 3, 2006 10:30 PM
comments

Wow, are you biased! Hope nobody says anything bad about the Beatles in a pub within earshot of you.

First off, Yoko Ono may have been a muse of some sort, but she was the equivalent of the psycho girlfriend. In an interview John did for Playboy not long before he was killed, he mentions how Paul would stop by their apartment to hang out, which annoyed both him and Yoko. Paul still considered himself a friend and it was John that was pushing Paul away. Forget their celebrity status and think about you and your friends. This situation happens when a woman becomes controlling of the man's life. And Yoko was very controlling. How else to explain her awful participation on the Mike Douglas show?

Wings was a mediocre band at best. Pop tunes that never explored any deep meaning that a Lennon or George Harrison song could. Linda McCartney didn't break it up, but thankfully it is broken up.

Ringo Starr's songs don't suck, true. But that's like saying cucumbers don't suck. Easy to digest, but you don't crave them.

Michael Jackson betrayed Paul McCartney by selling the songs. Surely Paul must have had conversations about Jackson's intent. They recorded together. So why did their relationship sour after Jackson's business dealings? Only two people can answer that.

That said, however, it is just as despicable that Paul McCartney is still suing Apple Computer. They have seen millions on a "name" that nobody outside of McCartney and Starr even care about. Who still associates the Beatles with Apple Records? Enough is enough. Let it go and stop the baseless litigation. Greed? Here's the very definition.

This situation happens when a woman becomes controlling of the man's life.

Are you seriously suggesting that John Lennon was coerced into his relationship with Yoko Ono? Or, that at any point in their relationship, he didn't have the option of leaving should have chosen to?

This is one of my points: As fans, what gives us the right to second-guess the choices they make in who they love? And, if we don't like the decisions that they made--with or at their partners behest--that we dismiss them as being controlled or whipped? That strikes me as arrogant at best, naive and degrading in the middle, and abjectly misogynistic at worst.

You ask me to think of this situation in context of my friends, if this happened to one of them. To that I ask you to think about your relationship being judged not by your friends, but by millions of people who don't know you, but feel that they do. I'm inclined to believe that there are only two people who really knew what happened between Lennon and Ono.

As for Yoko Ono on the Mike Douglas show: I'm afraid you'll need to explain what was objectionable about it.

Martin, thanks for the reply... I agree with you on two points. Firstly, I can in no way state what John and Yoko's relationship was. Only they can -- definitively. I am sure there are those close to them who might argue that point though. As I tried to articulate in my earlier post, from my personal experience, I could see my friends in destructive relationships, ones in which the women would get angry if they went out with friends or didn't pay 100% attention to them (I've even dated a couple) But just try to speak to them about it and you'd find they were too blind "in love". After a tumultuous time and a nasty break-up, in hindsight, they'd acknowledge how insane and destructive it really was. I don't doubt Lennon loved Ono and I'm not saying that he didn't have a healthy relationship wiht her. But that doesn't mean that she wasn't domineering or demanding of him and his time. Secondly, you are absolutely right that we as fans have no right. I've argued this exact point with my fellow Pink Floydians who still maintain Roger Waters was selfish for leaving the band. Who is to tell an artist how they must create? Finally, I laughed when you asked about the Mike Douglas appearance. I only hope it was meant as a joke...
Wow. This site is fab. First of all I would just like to say that I am only 14 years old, which just goes to show that you can love the beatles at any age, at any time. Second off, you explore and explain like, every point of conflict in the history of Beatles myths. That is so great. You're open to every viewpoint, yet throw in some of your own thoughts at the same time. My language arts teacher would give you an A+! But honestly, the people in the comments above me need to get a grip. What's done is done. Sooner one of the Beatles would have called it quits, regardless of his romantic involvments. It's not like the beatles were immune to death or anything. I mean look at George, his death would have killed the band right then and there if Lennon were still alive and the group was still running. He died of natural causes, but I bet you a million bucks that someone, somewhere would've come up with an arguement about how his death was a hoax, blah blah blah, basicly coming to the conclusion that Harrison was selfish and just wanted out of the band w/out a whole bunch of publicity. It's like that whole Paul is dead thing. Uh, no Paul is not dead. Who is honestly stupid enough to believe that bull? I mean come on, there always has to be drama all of the time, people constantly have to be fueding about everything. So blaming Yoko or Linda for any of this 'breaking up the band' buisness is just mental. Completely. Like I said before, The Beatles weren't immortal in any way shape or form, and deffintly were perfectly capable of controlling their own lives thank you. People get tired of doing the same thing over and over again, especially if that same thing is dying out and has been going on for a little short of ten years straight. People that attempt to make either arguement are just die-hard 'I can't believe The Beatles are gone, something tragic must have happened, let's blame it on someone' fans. I mean, I absolutly adore The Beatles, there is nothing better in the world to me, but I'm still not mental enough to actually believe half of the crap that the media puts out there about them. It's not like I cover my ears everytime I hear a myth about them, in fact I research that stuff for fun. But that's just it, its for fun. People have to take these things lightheartedly, otherwise the world would be at each other's throat's 27/7 about this stuff. So anyway, I would just like to say that this is a great site and I hope that the people reading it understand these falsehoods and thier own oppinions at the same time.
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