Free «The Beatles’ Artistic Evolution and the 1960s» Essay
The young people of the 1960s belonged to the generation, which was born during the war but had vague memories of it. They were tired of their parents’ values and experiences, eager to enjoy life and freedom. The Beatles are, to a large extent, a product of this generation, and undoubtedly they both affected and were affected by the global trends. The secret of their incredible popularity does not only lie in the musical realm, although their innovations cannot be underestimated. The Beatles were a cultural phenomenon first of all; they grew and evolved with their audience by giving response to social and personal challenges of the epoch. Their music changes from purely entertaining to the one that addresses such themes as personal choices, anti-war protests, drugs, and sexual revolution.
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The years before 1966 were the first wave of the Beatles’ extraordinary popularity and the time when the band members were able to enjoy it. Thus, the albums and films released in this period are characterized by a kind of innocent euphoria, which made them so special and yet so simple and comprehensive to their fans. Unlike their parents, who wounded by the war epoch, the children chose life and joy. They did it demonstratively and openly, setting minds on simple values of love and pleasure. The Beatles were clearly heart and soul of their generations and managed to catch the feeling of relief and freedom, which was in the air, and put it to music. Their songs were such a huge contrast to the previous generation’s reserved and polished music that they became a sensation. Thus, one of the main aspects that made the band the voice of their generation is breaking the wall between the music and real life. The song like Love Me Do from their first album Please Please Me is an illustrative example of the early Beatles with their simple rhythms and simple manifestos of love and joy. Their music appealed to young people who were not activists or fighters but the one who enjoyed their youth and relationships. The audience was meant to be prevailingly female and teenage due to the content of the songs.
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With each of the forthcoming albums, the band grew artistically: “Contemporary critics recognized the Beatles broadening of the rock and roll idiom. By the time of the release of the album Rubber Soul in 1965, each new record was viewed as a progression in the band’s artistic development…As the Beatles matured, their music evolved and became more expansive in terms of themes and incorporation of other musical forms into the heretofore limited rock and roll palette” (Frontani 5).
By the year 1966, the Beatles had released six mega successful albums and several films, which contributed to their popularity. Their success was phenomenal and was accounted for not only by non-standard musical forms but by references to the world of the youth, which was so much different from the boring adult culture. In fact, Beatlomania included lifestyles in the first place, not just music: new fashion, new hair, new behavior, etc. However, the participants of this sensation had had enough of adoration and were tired of being in the spotlight. They felt that, while they were a global phenomenon, they still stuck to a limited number of themes and images. This dissatisfaction caused the use of drugs, learning the Oriental philosophy and religion. Despite the controversy of inspiration sources, this kind of experiments resulted in significant changes of style and content of the Beatles’ music. They acquired the sound that would later be called psychedelic, and would generate a whole bunch of psychedelic rock bands in the future. In any case, the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is clearly a new step not only in the Beatles’ artistic career but also in pop culture of that epoch. Using LCD and being interested in Buddhism and other Eastern religions were one of the trends on those days, though it is hard to say for sure if the Beatles shaped it or rather were shaped by it. Songs like Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds is a remarkable example of this new psychedelic sound and lyrics, which are no longer overt and simple but symbolic and suggestive. The irony that was previously absent, suddenly appeared in their songs. A wider range of feelings and emotions got to be covered by the new Beatles.
The change affected not only the music but also the image of the musician, which clearly became more psychedelic in line with hippie movement. They started wearing beards and long hair and changed classical suits for brighter clothes. Thus, the transformation of the Beatles is quite remarkable in terms of their social image. They used to be classical good guys next door, who were charming enough and hooliganic enough to appeal to the girls. With the emergence of the new complex rock image, the previous one had passed away forever. Now, the Beatles could not appeal to everyone, but they recorded albums, which appealed to them. As researchers point out, the cultural phenomenon of the Beatles and its evolution lies in several dimensions simultaneously: “The image existed in a web of relationships between historical, political, economic, artistic, technological, and popular forces…The symbolic value of the image is displayed in the Beatles’ centrality to much of the public dialogue of the 1960s on topics such as civil rights, religion, the drug culture, art, mass media, Vietnam, and other issues marking the boundary between the establishment and the America’s young” (Frontani 7).
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All in all, it is worth saying that the Beatles definitely belonged to the brightest pop culture stars of their epoch before the term “pop culture” was actually coined. It is true that their place in music history is reinforced by their role as mediators between the world and the new generation of young people who had the values, which were different from their own ones. Involved in the sexual revolution, changed consciousness states, and other themes outside the officially approved one, they transferred them from the marginalized ones to the mainstream. Over all, the Beatles’ evolution ran from teenage pop idols to innovative artists and reflectors of society.