By Sage Lorenzo
In the 1960s and ’70s, The Beatles were considered one of the most influential and popular bands. Fifty years later, the music scene has drastically changed since the Beatles’ heyday.
The Beatles have sold more than 600 million albums, had 25 albums reach number one in the United States, and had 21 songs reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 – more than any other band.
The Beatles song “Yesterday” has been covered more than 3,000 times, making it the most-covered song ever.
A recent Forbes article notes that in 2020, only two bands sold more than one million physical albums – Korean pop band BTS and The Beatles. Forbes also states that on streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, The Beatles have accrued hundreds of millions of plays.
Decades after their breakup, students at FSU may not be familiar with The Beatles’ legacy and influence on the music industry.
The Beatles consisted of guitarist John Lennon, bassist Paul McCartney, guitarist George Harrison, and drummer Ringo Starr. All members contributed vocals, though McCartney and Lennon sang the majority of songs.
From their first album release in 1963 to their final album in 1970, the Beatles’ career can be divided into “early” and “late,” according to Music Professor Christian Gentry. In 1966, they decided to stop touring and focused solely on studio work.
“I didn’t know they had two different eras,” said Gwen Carpenter, junior biology major. Carpenter named songs such as “Hey Jude” and “Here Comes the Sun” as ones she had heard before, both of which are from the Beatles’ later period.
Carpenter did not know any songs from the Beatles’ early period, but said she would know if one were playing on the radio.
Jayden Seto, sophomore history major, also did not know the Beatles had two eras, but named “Yellow Submarine,” another later period song, as one he was familiar with.
The “sound” associated with the Beatles differed greatly between their early songs and their later ones, Gentry said. This was also a reflection of the music that inspired them.
Music Professor Mary Burke said the Beatles’ innovations in the musical fields and their ideas were “eclectic.”
“They’re often given credit for inspiring, along with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, the whole ‘experimental technology,’” Burke said. “[The Beatles contributed to] expanding the sound palette of rock and roll.”
Burke said, “There really is a difference between their 1963-1964 sound and their music after 1966.
“A sound that I associate with that time is that no one of them was a leader. They each took turns singing. And the background singing, I think, was also a special sonic feature of their music.”
Anthony Sims, an undeclared junior, said their early music doesn’t focus on “complex guitar,” but rather prioritized “harmonies and catchy melodies.”
Burke said their later musical style and new studio ideas led to distinct songs.
“It’s amazing to me that every single song was different,” she said. “Every song is really its own unique thing. One is not like the other, and it’s fascinating. They are so different from the early ’60s to the late ’60s… just incredible experimentation in the end there.”
When asked about the members of the band, one Beatle seemed to emerge as a fan-favorite.
“Yes, it was Paul,” said Burke. “He was basically a nice guy with a great sense of humor, and sort of sensitive. A very smart, very bright kind of a guy.”
Sims also said his favorite Beatle was McCartney, noting his success after the Beatles broke up.
“Paul just seemed to have the best career afterwards,” he said. “[He did] his own stuff, you know, [like] Paul McCartney and Wings.”
The Beatles’ advancements for music are a result of developing recording technology during the 1960s, Gentry said. Gentry said shifting records away from 45 rpm singles toward long play records and albums was “the beginning of rock as an art form.
“The record is no longer a snapshot of a live performance,” Gentry said. “It is now studio music.”
Albums could be created that had more musical freedom rather than simply being recorded versions of a live song.
With album sales dwindling and an ever-greater emphasis placed on streaming and live concerts today, however, artists may not be able to stop touring like the Beatles did.
Sims said bands could focus on studio work, but the “music quality has to be there.
“It could definitely be done,” he said. “It was done for a really long time because of COVID. It was done out of necessity, not choice, [but] I think it’s still possible.”
“If you’re popular, there’s a market for any art form,” said Caroline Hawkes, freshman English major. “People can still connect without meeting [in person].”
Carpenter said that touring and live shows were important for an artist’s success.
“That social aspect is needed,” she said. “You can’t quit that. It’s all about the fans.”
Burke said musicians nowadays need to “put themselves out there.
“I think sometimes they’re making it just by putting themselves out on social media,” Burke said. “I mean, even if you do put yourself out on social media, people expect to have a visual, not just you working in the studio.”
Gentry said live music is important because streaming services are not very profitable for musicians. In addition to live music, funding services such as Bandcamp and Patreon, as well as artists licensing their music for use in commercials, are ways of getting exposure and money, Gentry said.
The Beatles’ chemistry together, as well as their ability to adapt their music to a changing society, were key reasons for their success as well, Gentry said.
Seto said their “craftsmanship and quality of their music” were reasons behind their success.
Burke said they “were stronger together than they would have been separately.”
“The [Beatles’] music is a reflection of a culture that is changing and how the music is related to an industry that is emerging,” Gentry said. “They represent this kind of time capsule of a shifting industry that they adapted to.”
The Beatles have endured today as one of the most influential bands for artists of all generations, inspiring countless artists to write their own music, according to Rolling Stone.
Rolling Stone also cites artists that have been inspired by the Beatles, including Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, and Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters.
Burke said the Beatles’ arrival in the United States was shortly after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Their music provided “positive energy” and they were a “super distraction,” helping to catapult their success.
“In this short amount of time, they have been incredibly influential,” Burke said. “What they do rhythmically… changing meters and adding extra meters and having asymmetrical structures in the melodies … their harmonic experimentation in the later stuff is absolutely incredible.
“They were really just pushing the boundaries of stuff,” Burke said. “They were kind of like the Beethoven of the day.”
Despite their influence, Gentry advises not to “mythologize” the Beatles. He said rock was not born with nor did it die with the Beatles. Rather, they helped pave the way for future artists.
“I think the Beatles are trailblazers, but they’re not the temple at the end,” Gentry said. “They definitely said, ‘Here, we’ve got the torches. Follow us.’”