Phony Beatlemania Rises From the Dust


For reasons that are not entirely clear, Commentary's Terry Teachout performs an autopsy on the Beatles' legacy:

Such an appraisal must begin by taking into account the fact that the Beatles were the first rock-and-roll musicians to be written about as musicians. Elvis Presley, for instance, had attracted vast amounts of attention from the press, but for the most part he was treated as a mass-culture phenomenon rather than as an artist, and so were the other rock musicians of the 50's and early 60's (and the swing-era band-leaders and vocalists who came before them). Not so the Beatles. Almost from the time they began making records in 1962, their music was taken seriously—and praised enthusiastically—by such noted classical composers as Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Ned Rorem and such distinguished critics and commentators as William Mann, Hans Keller, and Wilfrid Mellers.

What was it that made these four musically untutored pop stars stand out in such high relief from their contemporaries? And has their music proved to be of lasting interest, as their admirers of four decades ago predicted it would?

Teachout is a strange case, a mix of genuine insights and open-minded criticism, a fuddy-duddy posture that nobody can possibly find credible at this late date, and howlers like this claim that the popularity of some torch singer demonstrates an important political and intellectual shift in America (a shift that, surprise surprise, happens to be exactly the one Teachout's been looking for). Who's he kidding, after all, with that Beatle moptop and supermodel pout he shows off while posing in some arbor somewhere? This article seems strangely like one of those think pieces from the sixties, wherein some intellectual would concede that yes, some of that longhaired kids' music has some artistic merit. You'd think that in an era when, as Nick Gillespie proved, the Beatles have stopped being kids music and become ruin-your-kids'-lives music, the Fab Four wouldn't really need this kind of validation.

But it does put me in mind of a book project I'll never get around to: Turn Down That Noise. The essay collection Turn Down That Noise would survey every type of establishment publication between 1958 to 1968 and cull a comprehensive collection of anti-rock 'n' roll commentary. All the oldsters who dismissed rock as the Martial Music of Every Sideburned Delinquent would get to speak out loud and proud in the pages of Turn Down That Noise, which will prove decisively that the squares were right all along.

Chuck Freund analyzed the Beatles' real roots in dork-rock and ultimate legacy as a music-hall quartet.

"No Pakistanis" lyrics of "Get Back."

Video of Al Capp handing John and Yoko their asses at the bed-in.