Media

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, They Stink: WFB on the Beatles

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The always-innerestin' site 10 Zen Monkeys has posted a fun tribute of William F. Buckley, Jr., titled "The Collected Controversies." There's a lot of good stuff there, including the National Review founder's dumping on the Fab Four:

In a 1964 essay titled "Yeah Yeah Yeah, They Stink," Buckley had written that the Beatles were not merely awful: "I would consider it sacrilegious to say anything less than that they are godawful." His diatribe acknowledged the National Review critic who argued that after Sinatra's twitches and Elvis's thrusts, future entertainers would have to wrestle live octopuses. "The Beatles didn't in fact do this," Buckley wrote, "but how one wishes they did!"

"And how one wishes the octopus would win."

10ZM also includes his rarely citied final rejoinder to Gore Vidal in their famous TV bitchfest ("Go back to [your] pornography"), a mention of a dreadful novel about Elvis Presley, and this quote that all conservatives should read closely:

"Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be. But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great."

(One controversy that's missing: Buckley's and National Review's odious defense of state-enforced segregation.) 

Whole 10 Zen Monkeys, well worth reading, thing here.

I've been trying to track down video of Buckley's great Firing Line interview with Jack Keroauc, the king of the Beats last TV spot (I believe) and a real melding of two very different conservative minds, but can't find it online anywhere, alas.

The editor of The New York Times Book Review and author of a fantastic bio on Whittaker Chambers, Sam Tanenhaus, has a Q&A about WFB here. (Tanenhaus is writing a bio of Buckley too).

Update: Commenter Xmas below points to the Kerouac Firing Line interview here.

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  1. I think I’d rather watch Buckely wrestle a live octopus. Especially a segregationist octopus.

  2. Here is what is funny about our media and our political discourse:

    Buckley writes an editorial stating flat out that blacks are inferior to whites as a race, and when he dies he’s lauded as a great man and as the very face of eminent intellectual sophistication.

    Someone writing for the Ron Paul Report writes that young black men run fast, and Paul and everyone associated with him is branded as an evil racist for all time.

  3. The body is plenty cold. Is it permissible now to call Buckley an asshole?

  4. Don’t forget Buckley’s proposal, made in 1985 and I-told-you-so’ed in 2005, that all HIV+ people be forcibly tattooed.

  5. But now we know what prompted writing Octopus’s Garden – Ringo’s long-awaited answer to Buckley.

  6. I’m not a Beatles historian by any means, but weren’t they in their N’SYNC phase in ’64?

  7. Wow, the elitist racism in that segregation article is astounding. Protecting “white civilization” is more important than universal sufferage? that’s disgusting. On the one hand you can almost forgive him, most white folks in ’57 were for segregation. But it seems to me that he throws away what he knows to be intellectually true and morally right in order to maintain tribal allegience. He changed his mind in the end, but still, eeww.

  8. Buckley’s article on “Imagine” was dead on.

  9. From the Volokh Conspiracy link: “By all accounts, Buckley was personally tolerant in his attitude toward racial minorities”

    This is pretty generous. At best he might have been from the somewhat less racist wing that would talk tolerance but who would not have been tolerant of his children dating nonwhites. That is typically the way to see if someone is racist, in my experience.

  10. Out of fairness, the Beatles of the time were another pop band.

  11. but who would not have been tolerant of his children dating nonwhites. That is typically the way to see if someone is racist, in my experience.

    Yes, and i’ve been suprised on numerous occassions to find out who still holds that sentiment, more people than you would think, and more diverse than you would think. When my white mother was dating my black father, his family refused to allow her to enter their home. 24 years later her middle class white parents have abandoned their racist implulses(they wouldn’t see me when i born unbtil they new what shade my skin color was), his parents have not, i’m not welcome there for no other reason than i’m “that white kid”. I bumped into a family member of my wife’s the other day and he started talking some “white purity” b.s. not realizing that i’m bi-racial. He got a black eye and i got an apology, but i was so more surprised than angery, i would never have thought those words could come from that person. you never know.

  12. According to Hitler*, I am bi-racial too as I am only half German. Solidarity, Shane!

    * Yes! Godwin! Sort of.

  13. Solidarity, Shane!

    Mixed Pride! We will prevail!

  14. Out of fairness, the Beatles of the time were another pop band.

    Sure, but they were a very high-quality pop band.

  15. Sure, but they were a very high-quality pop band.

    No question, the early Beatles were teh best. The later stuff generally drops off, with a few notable exceptions.

  16. I’m not a Beatles historian by any means, but weren’t they in their N’SYNC phase in ’64?

    No, they were already branching out in new and interesting directions. Further proof that Buckley was a snob and an ass. As if I needed any more after reading that odious “Negroes are inferior” editorial. Ick!

  17. i’m not a fan of buckley by any stretch, but yeah, fuck the beatles.

  18. What no mention of his passing over David Brooks as editor because he wasn’t Christian?

  19. Wow, what a “shocking” and “edgy” opinion. It’s a lot easier to shit all over things than to create them.

  20. I’m not a Beatles historian by any means, but weren’t they in their N’SYNC phase in ’64?

    There’s an element of truth to that – we’re talking Rubber Soul about then, and there are a few cloying tracks. I can’t imagine WFB taking too kindly to My Michelle.

    Having said that, the next one was Revolver so I think we can say The Beatles won that particular battle….

  21. The Beatles started good and only got better, few other musicians can claim such, in my opinion at least.

  22. John Waters has stated that the Beatles ruined rock and roll. Much of his motivation behind making Hairspray was to introduce people to what r&b music was like before the Beatles came around.

  23. The Beatles are the most overrated rock band of all time. They are also, arguably, the greatest rock band of all time.

    Shitting on them in 1964 was shitting on rock’n’roll. They were a pop band, but they were one of the most inventive pop bands working at that time.

    The lesson is “don’t shit on any music just cuz you don’t like it.” You will look like a closed minded ass. The notable exception to this rule is Rush. They are objectively horrible and painful to listen to.

  24. I can kind of see Water’s point, Rock was an american phenom that was affected by the brit pop guys. Makes you wonder what the current music scene would be like minus the brit rock/pop invasion.

  25. They are also, arguably, the greatest rock band of all time.

    Arguably is right, Led Zeppelin reigns over all. I agree regarding Rush.

  26. I recall Buckley ‘debating’, I can’t quite remember, but I think it was Keynes. When keynes asserted that “capitalism had devastated India”, Buckley just sat there with a goofy grin on his face.

  27. The Beatles are the most overrated rock band of all time.

    *ahem* Radiohead *ahem*.

    Music discussions are fun until you realize it mostly boils down to personal likes and dislikes.

  28. “The Beatles are the most overrated rock band of all time.”

    Agreed! Brian Wilson was the creative genius at the time. The Beatles started getting better when they started competing with him. A new book that I just started reading is “The Beach Boys vs. Beatlemania”. The author pretty much makes the same point.

  29. “I recall Buckley ‘debating’, I can’t quite remember, but I think it was Keynes. When keynes asserted that “capitalism had devastated India”, Buckley just sat there with a goofy grin on his face.”

    You probably saw Buckley debating Gore Vidal. I believe Keynes died back in the 30’s or 40’s if I’m not mistaken. Regardless, whoever it was, they were wrong. Socialism and protectionism nearly ruined India, capitalism is helping India.

  30. The Beatles are the most overrated rock band of all time.

    I think U2 might qualify for that title…

  31. Regardless, whoever it was, they were wrong.

    i think his point was that it wasn’t debated, instead of addressing the point Buckley just sat there.

  32. “The Beatles started good and only got better, few other musicians can claim such, in my opinion at least.”

    It took the Beatles 5 years before they had their first hit. It the Beach Boys only 4 months. During those first 5 years, critics considered their music abilities on stage to be average. They did generate excitement in their performances, however. That is why they became big in England and Germany and no doubt contributed to their greatness later in America. I think what else helped them was the funk young people were in after the Kennedy assasination. Young people needed something exciting and new to get them out of that funk.

  33. Best: the Clash

    Most overrated: Pearl Jam. Not even one of then best bands to comem out of Seattle in the last 25 years.

  34. Many criticisms can be made of the Beatles, but saying that the Beach Boys were better because they got a hit faster out of the box is not one of them.

  35. whoops. “box” = “blocks” above.

  36. The Beatles are the most overrated rock band of all time.

    There is a relatively small collection of individuals or groups that could produce a greatest hits compilation where every entry was worth listening to. The Beatles produced a compilation of 27 #1’s.

    There were recording artists with more talent (better singers, better players, etc) or were more innovative or whatever criteria you want to measure. But the beatles had a global impact that no one else had before or has had since.

    1. Whether or not these other people were better is opinion. The fact is, though, that there were many talented artists of the time who did get attention, too. The Beatles weren’t the only innovative band out there in 1964, I agree. If others were more innovative, that would depend on whether or not the work they put out had long-lasting affects on how music is made.

  37. “the beatles had a global impact that no one else had before or has had since.”

    Don’t forget Elvis!

  38. I got phone calls from a couple of friends recently, both of them asking me to settle the question of whether the Smashing Pumpkins were the most overrated band of the 90s. I told them that I didn’t think the Pumpkins were ever rated highly enough to be that overrated. My vote went to Pearl Jam, U2, or Nirvana.

    And about Radiohead: They’re not my cuppa tea exactly, that is to say they’re never going to be my favorite band (bit too prog), but I look forward to their releases, because I find them to be consistently challenging, high quality, and listenable – a tough mix to achieve.

  39. “Many criticisms can be made of the Beatles, but saying that the Beach Boys were better because they got a hit faster out of the box is not one of them.”

    That’s not the reason the Beach Boys were greater. It has to do with Brian Wilson’s writing and production talents.

    According to the author of “The Beach Boys vs. Beatlemania”, “The fully creative rock group – writing songs, arranging and playing backing music, producing recordings, performing them on the road – was unknown until the Beach Boys started doing just that in 1962. Producing remained outside the scope of all but one of the Beatles, arranging until Paul McCartney wrote his symphony at the end of the millennium.

  40. And Brian flamed out and was totally unproductive for a very long time.

  41. In the words of Adam Gilchrist, ‘YYYeeesss Shane…..’

    U2 are by far the most overated musical nodes on the planet. If there’s one man who would benefit from a perfectly timed kick to the testicles then it’s Bono.

    The man is my nemesis.

  42. I can buy the argument that Brian Wilson, individually, was more talented than any single member of the Beatles, but no one else in the Beach Boys comes even close to the least-talented Beatle.

    And we all know who HE is.

  43. I find them to be consistently challenging, high quality, and listenable

    I find them a challenge to listen to, and not in a good way 🙂

    +1 to Nirvana overrated
    +1 to U2 overrated, but not as much as Nirvana or Radiohead. U2 started out great & didn’t start sucking until later.

    And we all know who HE is.

    His name rhymes with ‘Dingo’. Do I win a prize??

  44. “but no one else in the Beach Boys comes even close to the least-talented Beatle.”

    Dennis Wilson gets alot of praise from music critics. Lots of people havn’t heard his music though because he wasn’t very successful commercially.

  45. Also, Bruce Johnston received a Grammy for writing the schmaltzy song “I Write the Songs” that Barry Manilow made a hit out of.

  46. “And Brian flamed out and was totally unproductive for a very long time.”

    I suspect if he had released “Smile” in 1967, we would be talking about it being the greatest album of all time instead of his own “Pet Sounds” or the Beatle’s “Sgt. Pepper” which I consider to be highly overrated except for a few good songs like “A Day In the Life”.

  47. Lots of people havn’t heard his music though because he wasn’t very successful commercially.

    Could it be because his music sucks?

  48. OK, bookworm, you have tweaked my interest. Are you old enough to actually have heard any thing the Beatles produced in the context of the other music of the times?

  49. “OK, bookworm, you have tweaked my interest. Are you old enough to actually have heard any thing the Beatles produced in the context of the other music of the times?”

    Yes, I lived through that whole era. I am familiar with all the Beatles music and own alot of it and like alot of it, but I do feel that the Beatles are overrated concerning talent when compared to Brian Wilson and no rock group can come close to the harmony of the Beach Boys.

  50. . . . no rock group can come close to the harmony of the Beach Boys.

    no doubt

  51. I think some of you might be confused, so i’ll say it again:

    Zeppelin reigns over all. end of story.

  52. When the otherwise-talented John Phillips belched up “Kokomo” and the Beach Boys snapped it up, whoever greenlighted that decision should be drawn and quartered.

  53. Does anyone else think Mozart sucks? Requiem aside, everything else sounds like a bunch of scales repeated.

    Beethoven I can dig, because I get the impression he wasn’t wearing trousers when he composed (in particular The Egmont Overture).

    But Mozart? Nope, Hughesy says no dice.

    I appreciate I could be wrong on this one.

  54. I don’t consider the beatles or the beach boys “rock” groups.

    Rolling Stones, Zepplin, etc were exclusively rock groups. The Beatles covered a lot more ground (elanor rigby is one of my all time favorites, but no one can call that a rock song). Many people belittle the Beatles and the Beach Boys because they produced some much outstanding pop.

  55. Beethoven I can dig, because I get the impression he wasn’t wearing trousers when he composed (in particular The Egmont Overture).

    Quite possibly the most bizarre reason I’ve ever heard for liking an artist. Let’s ruin everybody’s day by applying this to some contemporary artists. Tell me, Mark, do the following compose pantsless?

    Tom Waits
    Lyle Lovett
    Billy Joel
    Keith Richards & Mick Jagger

  56. @T,

    I am afraid I have no idea who Lyle Lovett is. Apologies.

    I have unfortunately had slight contact with Tom Waits’ ‘music’. I can only assume that he does in fact wear trousers, and recently soiled ones at that.

    Billy Joel wears a nappy.

    Keith Richards and Mick Jagger most certainly do NOT wear trousers. In fact, they are completely nude when ‘in the studio’, taking it in turns to cover their modesty with the enormous plastic phallus from ‘Clockwork Orange’ which they bought at Southerbys with the proceeds from Beggar’s Banquet.

  57. John Lennon is the most overrated musical artist of all time.

    In related news, American Idol has been granted access to the McCartney-Lennon songbook this season, which is really kind of sad.

    I’m not going to clutch my pearls and wave away the vapors with my hankie over the odious somethings WFB wrote 50 years ago (or even 20 years ago). Racism is as vile and stupid as any bigotry comes but Buckley evolved with our society, so I forgive him. Especially since he not only sincerely rejected his former segregationist ideas, but denounced them as well.

    I am afraid I have no idea who Lyle Lovett is

    He is a big band-country-blues-gospel-jazz musician, singer and songwriter (and Calvin Klein’s nephew). Julia Roberts was the lucky one.

  58. “Lots of people havn’t heard his music though because he wasn’t very successful commercially.”

    “Could it be because his music sucks?”

    As I said, Dennis Wilson has received critical acclaim for his music. He didn’t start writing until the Beach Boys were considered passe, that’s why lots of people havn’t heard his music.

  59. Especially since he not only sincerely rejected his former segregationist ideas, but denounced them as well.

    He did? That’s interesting; I hadn’t seen anything he wrote rejecting and denouncing (and renouncing, too, ok Hillary?) those ideas.

  60. I saw a clip of the Kerouac interview recently. Kerouac was completely plastered. At one point he made a dumb pun and Buckley smiled and said, “Very good. Get that man a drink!”

  61. Rolling Stones, Zepplin, etc were exclusively rock groups. The Beatles covered a lot more ground (elanor rigby is one of my all time favorites, but no one can call that a rock song).

    “As Tears Go By”
    “Play with Fire”

    The line between rock and pop is much more fluid than you think.

    And Led Zep played some folky numbers.

  62. I wanted to cover a lot of points but in stead of quoting them I will just go for it:

    1. Early Beatles good, Late Beatles bad? WTF? Exactly backwards. They were an okay pop group until they started on the LSD, then they became good.

    2. Regarding American Idol, my understanding is that it is only the early Beatles that is available, so we dont have to worry about one of those punk ass kids screwing up “I am the Walrus”.

    3. Whats with all the Rush hate?

    4. I agree with what everyone else has said about U2.

  63. Was it renouncing and not denouncing, joe? My mistake.

    Yes, he did. That particular question was asked and answered several times in the Q&A link Nick provided.

    If you find that insufficient and you’d prefer his own writings, you seem like quite the resourceful guy. I’m sure you’ll find more satisfactory evidence, if you’ve a mind to.

    Several years ago we bought a used video of the Kerouac documentary called “What Happened to Kerouac?” It was filed under “Mystery”. ;P Good flick. We also have a great Beat compilation, “The Beat Generation” which I highly recommend if you’re into that sort of thing.

  64. The line between rock and pop is much more fluid than you think.

    Agreed

    And Led Zep played some folky numbers.

    I don’t think there’s a single rock group that didn’t care about and pay tribute to the blues, country, and folks roots of rock. But if you ask the average-joe on the street to start naming the biggest hits of Led Zep or the Rolling Stones or other big rockers, you’re not going to get a lot of references to these kinds of songs.

    But if you ask people on the street to name Beatles songs and you’re going to get lots of references to the pop songs and much fewer people calling out the hard-edged stuff (e.g. helter skelter).

    I think that side 2 of Abbey Road is 20 minutes of about the best music produced in the 60’s. But I’d be hard pressed to declare that stuff as “rock”.

  65. But if you ask the average-joe on the street to start naming the biggest hits of Led Zep or the Rolling Stones or other big rockers, you’re not going to get a lot of references to these kinds of songs.

    When the Levee Breaks – best Zep song ever – originally a 1929 blues song.

    I realize that wont be the first song named by your avg joe, but its still up there.

  66. When the Levee Breaks – best Zep song ever – originally a 1929 blues song.

    I like Stevie Ray’s version better 😉

    They’re both great, and they’re both songs that a only true fan is likely to know.

  67. GG,

    Renouncing and Rejecting.

    Or was it Denouncing and Dejecting?

    Enunciating and Ejecting? Pronouncing and Projecting?

  68. As I said, Dennis Wilson has received critical acclaim for his music. He didn’t start writing until the Beach Boys were considered passe, that’s why lots of people havn’t heard his music.

    I’m just picking at you, bookworm. I don’t place much reliance on critics, or on popular opinion. But there is a longstanding tradition of celebrating obscure artists that critics love who are obscure precisely because the artist is, on the whole, dreadful. I’m not saying Dennis Wilson falls into that category or not, since I can’t consciously recall his work right now. However, the whole critical acclaim + no record sales often indicates a deeply flawed performer. Or, to be blunter, it usually means a whole lot of suck.

  69. But if you ask people on the street to name Beatles songs

    I always say Revolution No.9 when asked. I used to hang out in a bar with the White Album in the jukebox. I have fond memories of playing that song and snickering in the corner as everybody in the place went WTF?

  70. kinnath,

    Most people with a slightly more than vague knowledge of Led Zeppelin know Levee. I made jokes about it around Katrina all the time and everyone knew what I was talking about.

  71. I always say Revolution No.9 when asked.

    I don’t have a copy of the white album, so I must shamefully admit that I haven’t heard No. 9.

  72. Most people with a slightly more than vague knowledge of Led Zeppelin know Levee.

    Yes, I know . . .

  73. I recall Buckley ‘debating’, I can’t quite remember, but I think it was Keynes. When keynes asserted that “capitalism had devastated India”, Buckley just sat there with a goofy grin on his face.

    It was most likely John Kenneth Galbraith. It sounds like the kind of nonsense he would have spouted. He probably new more about India than most Americans – having been ambassador there – but his economics colored his worldview.

    Buckley debated him (and others like Arthur Schlesinger Jr) several times at the Oxford Union through the sixties and seventies.

    When the debates began the prevailing view in the world (including the US) was overwhelmingly in favor of “planned economies” along the lines of the American New Deal or the European way.

    By the mid seventies that view had changed significantly in favor of the free market, especially in the US and Britain.

    WFB could claim a good deal of the credit for that.

    bookworm is correct John Maynard Keynes died in 1946. Buckley was still an undergraduate at Yale at that point I believe.

  74. Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson were born literally days apart (June 18, 1942 and June 20, 1942, respectively). Lennon (October 9, 1940) was a couple years older, but not that much older. Both groups broke through in their native countries around the same time. The reason the Beatles kicked around clubs for a longer time than the Beach Boys was because they came together as a group first, not because they attained success at an older age.

    P.S. Perhaps we now know the secret origins not only of Octupus’s Garden, but of the working title for the movie Help!, which was Eight Arms to Hold You.

  75. …but his economics colored his worldview.

    In all fairness, of course, I should say that at that point it was also common to associate Colonialism with Capitalism and to attribute all of India’s woes to Colonialism.

    Galbraith was certainly not alone in the view. In fact he was likely part of a majority (of those who actually thought about such issues, that is).

  76. “I must shamefully admit that I haven’t heard No. 9.”

    It goes “number nine,number nine,number nine,number nine,number nine,number nine,number nine,number nine,number nine,number nine,number nine,number nine,number nine,number nine,number nine,number nine,number nine,number nine,number nine,number nine,number nine,number nine,all through the track, no music, and has a sound like switching radio stations in the background.

  77. “the whole critical acclaim + no record sales often indicates a deeply flawed performer.”

    Sometimes it’s a case of a lack of promotion. In the case of Dennis Wilson in both his work in the late 60’s and early 70’s, and late 70’s Beach Boys and his short solo career in the mid 70’s, I think it’s because the Beach Boys were considered passe so he didn’t get that much attention on progressive rock stations, but he did get some play on progressive rock stations of his solo album. His music sounds nothing like the Beach Boys so it’s not anything that would play on a top 40 station.

  78. “I think that side 2 of Abbey Road is 20 minutes of about the best music produced in the 60’s”

    That is one of the greatest achievments of the Beatles. I also consider Abbey Road their best album.

  79. For once I agree with joe.

    And kinnath

  80. Early Beatles good, Late Beatles bad? WTF?

    More like, early Beatles OK, mid Beatles great, late Beatles toss-up (great to some, incomprehensible to others [like myself]).

    However, the whole critical acclaim + no record sales often indicates a deeply flawed performer.

    Or an incompetent record company. (Oh, bookworm said it already.)

  81. The way “number nine” is spoken, when you play it backwards it sounds like “turn me on dead man”. ‘Course, you need a turntable that you can turn backwards while its output is on.
    Ruined a few good records doing that.

    I still can’t belive how cool we thought Revolution #9 was back in the 60s. I tried listening to it a few months ago and gave up after less than a minute.

  82. I tried listening to it a few months ago and gave up after less than a minute.

    Yeah, it’s pretty much unlistenable, but it’s damned funny to watch a bunch of drunks try to figure out what the hell is going on.

  83. I think that side 2 of Abbey Road is 20 minutes of about the best music produced in the 60’s. But I’d be hard pressed to declare that stuff as “rock”.

    My favorite part of the Beatles’ library, for sure.

  84. Other groups might have had more talent, but the Beatles were the most versatile (next to the Ruttles). No other group comes close to them in the production of variety of styles, tunes, etc.

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