The Beatles are acknowledged to be the greatest musical act of the rock & roll era. Thirty-eight years after the release of Let It Be, their last official original album, let's take a look at their lofty status, as well as some of their huge accomplishments, and ask ourselves why. Were they really better than everybody else?
The Beatles were the first rock band to make writing and performing their own music fashionable. The only other rock band to regularly record their own original songs were Buddy Holly and The Crickets about a half a decade earlier. No one else seemed to follow suit until The Beatles who made it almost essential for an artist to write their own music in order to receive any kind of critical success.
The Liverpool quartet had three outstanding composers. A lot more has been written about the much loved duo of John Lennon and Paul McCartney but George Harrison was no slouch either. He didn't really shine until 1965 with "Think For Yourself" and "If I Needed Someone" from Rubber Soul, yet by the time the group ended in 1970, one could argue that his songs were equally as good as those of his two more prolific and revered bandmates. If you don't believe me consider almost everything Harrison wrote for them from Rubber Soul and beyond.
The Beatles had two excellent lead singers. Paul McCartney's voice has always been one of the best in rock music and their three-part harmonies ("Yes It Is" and "Because" are perfect examples) were often impeccable.
The Beatles were not afraid to wear their musical influences on their sleeves. The cover versions they recorded for their early albums were often the "B" sides and rarities of other artists that few people were familiar with before they appeared on a Beatles record. Quickly, can anybody tell me who recorded "Mr. Moonlight" and "Anna" before they did?
The Beatles were among the first bands to use outside musicians to supplement the rock band format as their arrangements and productions became more intricate and sophisticated. They were early users of the synthesizer. They were pioneers of multi-track recording techniques that often allowed the four musicians to sound like a band twice its size.
I've listed only a few of The Fab Four's accomplishments. They achieved so many other "firsts" that have been so well documented over the last several decades that I'll spare you the boredom of listing more of them here. Music fans the world over already know them anyway.
So, let us move on to the big question that is the title of this article. I've often been curious about how much of the band's artistic freedom was a result of their superlative talents and how much was granted to them because of their enormous popularity and commercial success. The Beatles were permitted to take chances that other artists were never allowed to take. For instance, when someone told Lennon that radio wouldn't play "Hey Jude" because it was way too long at 7:11 his response was a simple, "They will because it's us." Not only was he right the song went on to become their biggest selling hit single.
Tracks from Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band were played on big-time commercial radio, even Top 40 stations, without the benefit of a hit single. What other rock band could say that in 1967? Did it mean there was nobody else was making albums at the time that deserved the same widespread airplay? Of course not. The Beatles fame made it easier to be granted privileges nobody else received.
I'm not trying to take anything away from The Beatles. They always have been, and probably always will be, my favorite artist. It's just that I've often wondered if other musicians were given the same freedom The Beatles had throughout their careers would they have been able to reach the same artistic plateau?