No one could have predicted that a musical and cultural revolution would form in the bustling North England sea-port of Liverpool; but in retrospect it makes a certain kind of sense. For it was in Liverpool that Merchant Seamen would return with previously unseen treasures from around the globe – books, ideas, and a recent American innovation: the 45 RPM record. Music flowed into the rough and tumble sea town the likes of which the British Broadcasting Corporation would never play. Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, the soft Black R & B of Motown and, of course, Elvis.
Young Liverpudlians, previously facing an unattractive choice between the Sea and the Dole, began to see a new possibility. For many, it would seem the perfect escape: raw, exciting, rhythmic, and generally detested by the previous generation. An ideal combination for adolescent angst.
Few would rise above the “skiffle” phase. Fewer still would ever accomplish more than rough reproductions of the energized sounds coming from their turntables. A handful would begin to meld those sounds into a new, subtler energy. Four would grab the world and shake it vigorously for a scant six years.
Six years. Hard to believe that’s all it was, but from the time the Beatles burst on the world stage in February 1964 until their legal (and painful) dissolution was only six years. Of course, if they hadn’t moved on from the high energy but mostly mindless Pop music style of their early albums to the complex, evolved, so-called Rock style of the last years it wouldn’t even have been that long. Without that growth and change, the Beatles would have been nothing more than a short-lived Pop music sensation, a foot-note in history. There had been some before; many would follow.
The Beatles trancended the Pop Icon. And for all of the theories and observations in all of the articles, books, films, and theatrical productions they have inspired the primary reason for this transcendence is simply because they wrote their own songs. A simple idea; a revolutionary idea.
Compare the early (Pop) albums with their blend of covers of classic Rock’n’Roll numbers, B-sides, and original compositions with their later (Rock) albums – all original material, some of it derivative to be sure, but new and largely experimental. It said to their audience: your voice matters. The Beatles generation was told that they didn’t have to follow blindly where Tin Pan Alley or Rogers and Hammerstein went before; it was perfectly valid to create and perform their own material. That audience took the message to heart but didn’t limit it to music. The Beatles Concept came to be applied to every walk of life: you didn’t have to go to Film School to be a Movie Director, Art School to be a Painter, The Royal Conservatory to dance. Try it your own way. And, while nobody would line up to have an appendectomy performed by a self-taught Surgeon, don’t think for a moment that the virtual explosion of Alternative Health Care isn’t conceptually linked to the freedom and self-expression espoused by four working class kids from Liverpool.
The Beatles’ conquest of Canada must seem to the outside world to be little more than a blip on the chart; a drop of water in the wake of the Ed Sullivan Show. But it was more than that. Because they were English (British, to be technical, but we weren’t that technical in ‘64), we in Canada felt a certain connection, a sense of ownership, of which the Americans could not conceive. The Americans had legally and symbolically severed themselves from their British roots. They thought of England as a quaint, backward, irrelevant nation-state good for little but tourism. We, in Canada, continued to feel a kinship with our British cousins. A kinship that caused to think, if not articulate, “Good on ya, Mate” as we watched the American Empire succumb to the English Juggernaut that was the Beatles.
And, in a corner of our minds, we couldn’t help but think: If Liverpool, why not Winnipeg?
Or Moose Jaw?