Yet another Beatle’s fan has exploded in indignation because someone, somewhere, has dared to doubt the absolute preeminence of the mop tops. A certain tender nerve can be found near the surface of dedicated Beatles fans, making them overly sensitive and even a bit dramatic when the memory of their band catches anything less than breathless adulation.
Because they’re so touchy, let me be crystal clear in addressing my Beatles-loving friends. I do not particularly like the Beatles. I believe that they are over-rated when they are called “the best”, “the most important”, or “the most influential” band in rock history.
As you drop to your fainting couches out there, and before you respond in the full froth of righteous indignation, please reread the last two sentences of the prior paragraph. I am not saying that they suck, that they are awful, or even that any particular band is demonstrably better than they are. I’m not even really claiming that they are always over-rated, since the “over-rated” label depends on what rating we’re talking about.
A lot of this is a matter of taste. The fact that you love the Beatles is fine with me, and it’s okay if you don’t particularly like my favorite bands. I won’t insist that you kowtow to the supremacy of the Rolling Stones, Kanye, or even the Supremes. Fans of other bands generally don’t share your insistence on fealty.
Maybe my lack of enthusiasm is rooted in my particular experience - I grew up surrounded by the Beatles. When I was a kid, anyone with a guitar strummed the life out of their catalog, and songs like “Hey Jude” and “Yesterday” bored the hell out of me by the thousandth listen over speakers in doctors’ waiting rooms, fabric stores, and, yes, elevators. Perhaps you have more positive associations with your introduction to the Beatles, but, truly, honestly, literally, many of those songs are elevator music to me. That doesn’t mean that I’m somehow correct when my stomach lurches a bit when I hear the first clunky strains of “Yellow Submarine”, but the thrill you apparently manage to feel is not contagious. At all.
I prefer other music. I can happily tap my foot along to several Beatles songs, but I prefer other music. I don’t say that to hurt your feelings, nor do I think that I have thus proven that your love of the Beatles is therefore a sham
“But, but, but,” I can hear you start to stammer. And then you follow it with some superlative, delivered with all the authority of John Houseman playing Professor Kingsfield. Let’s take some of the more popular superlatives and address them singly. If you have others that you would like to discuss, please email them to me.
“They are the most influential rock band ever.” How, exactly, would one define “influential” in this context? It seems to me that Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly were influential, too. I’m not going to name names, but it wasn’t me who claimed “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'.” Influence is a pretty slippery concept to make into a superlative. I might step back to Muddy Waters if I were forced at gunpoint to assign “most influential” to anyone, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the trigger got pulled, because Bob Dylan was pretty influential, too, and hundreds of others. If you want to grant that title to the Beatles, I suppose you’re free to do so, but don’t expect anyone to be convinced, okay?
“They are the most important rock band ever.” Umm, not to me. How do you even mean that? If you mean that they are the most influential, see above. If you mean that they took music in directions it never would have ventured, I think you’re just wrong about that. Some poor schmuck was going to bring a sitar back from India, unfortunately enough. If you mean that, back in their prime, they could fill stadiums, you’re correct, but that’s pretty weak tea, I think.
I guess that does lead me to an area where I can agree with a superlative about the Beatles. It is true that they sold more records than anyone else. That’s truly impressive, but let’s not go too far with extrapolating that atatistic into broader claims of supremacy. Celine Dion has sold a lot more records than Neil Young, and Abba’s top album has sold more than the Beatles’ top album – in the UK! I’m with you in rolling my eyes at that fact, but there you go.
By all means, the Beatles were a popular band, and I’ll even agree that they were a very good band in terms of merit. I’d certainly put them somewhere in my top 25 band of all time, but I won’t be bullied by those who get strident and hysterical in their insistence that they are the preeminent band of all time.