The Beatles, as seen from an outsider.
One would think that everyone knows who The Beatles are. The iconic group has a fan base of all ages and their popularity has transcended generation. I was raised listening to classical music, so I had never heard a Beatles song until I was in middle school. However, I would be lying if I said that I was completely oblivious when it comes to The Beatles at this point; I wrote an article on Kurrent Music about how Cuban composer Leo Brouwer created Baroque arrangements of The Beatles. Though I mainly focused on the classical music aspect of the music, there something to be said there about the musical style of the Beatles that I can relate to my classical music expertise.
I think that it’s safe to say that The Beatles pushed the boundaries of the music industry, challenging what one would consider to be popular music. The band’s original rock roots was infused with other musical elements, such as classical strings, psychedelia, pop, country, and so much more. There are not many artists have attained a level of success comparable to The Beatles by using their genre-infusing techniques. I was prepared to think that The Beatles were overrated because of their immense popularity, but unlike the other artists in their realm of popularity, the band create music that has a distinct style and sound that is uniquely theirs.
When I first began listening to The Beatles, I was immediately struck by how melodic their sound was. The melodies ingrained in every track are not elaborate, but they are certainly dynamic. I would describe the band’s overall sound as simple. Many would say that saying that their music is simple is an insult. However, simplicity in music should not be associated to being inferior or bad. Music does not have to be complex to be good. The Beatles’ musical style lends itself to good classical arrangements like Brouwer’s arrangements because both genres have the same essence, which both centre on simplicity.
Because The Beatles are not in the realm of my familiarity, I wish to focus on their more baroque-pop styled repertoire, as it lends itself to better comparisons between the simplicity of classical and pop music. The baroque-pop movement in music was mainly contained in the 1960s, and many of The Beatles’ contemporaries were infusing classical elements into their music as well. However, said music has not gained the attention of modern audiences as The Beatles have, with the main example being Yesterday. An iconic Beatles’ tune, the song contains a string quartet and is one of The Beatles’ more classically-infused pieces. Classical music has not always been big orchestral and symphonic works. Specifically, Baroque music can be generalized as being simple melodies that are played with Baroque ornamentation and musical flare. This concept of simple tunes with flare is applicable to much of The Beatles’ music.
For example, In My Life is musically simple, but the use of a sped-up piano adds an early Baroque keyboard interlude that contains the style appropriate ornamentation. Though the moment was brief, the solo adds some flare to the song. When I listen to Yesterday, the string support in the song are comparable to JS Bach’s Air on the G-string, with both pieces sporting a steady pace and minimal dynamic build. With the absence of the direct classical music influences, The Beatles manage to ornate their music with dynamic melodies, such as in I Want to Hold Your Hand, or with lyrics that are contain either vivid imagery, such as Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, or are audibly enticing to the imagination/mind such as Back in the U.S.S.R. Of course, these are only a few examples and there are countless others, but there is only so much Beatlemania that a newbie like myself can take in at once.
Classical music that has a huge sound and is saturated with emotional dramatics has only been around for a relatively short period of time. I like to think that a lot pop music is an extension of the essence of simple, classical music, and The Beatles embody this pop simplicity very well. Even with the absence of classical aspects in their music, the essence never fades, even though many of their songs could probably contrast each other genre-wise. There is something about simple music that has always been appealing to the masses, whether it take the form of jamming on the harpsichord or playing an electric guitar. The Beatles have taken simple but eloquent music to appeal to audiences of all ages, and they have done well with this endeavour. So, rather than reading an article about a classical music aficionado spiting The Beatles, I would consider this to be insight on what it is like to experience The Beatles as someone not extremely familiar with pop music; an outsider, if you will.