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June 19, 2019 6:25 AM   Subscribe

In advance of a new film set in a parallel universe in which the Beatles never existed except in the memory of one man, several music writers consider the question of how popular culture and society in general would have differed had the band never existed. Would rock'n'roll have died out in the early 60s, with folk or jazz providing the basis of pop music? Would pop music have been more ephemeral and insignificant, with something else (possibly surfing or chess) serving as the core for generational rebellion? And what would have happened in the lives of everyone from the four erstwhile Beatles themselves to Brian Epstein, Mick Jagger and antecedents including Elton John, Noel and Liam Gallagher and Ed Sheeran. (SLGuardian)
posted by acb (155 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm interested in what our own little lives would have been like. What would I have been without my huge, unbearable Beatles phase at about age 12? (And would there have been a Queen for me to subsequently become obsessed with that next year?) Would I have been quite the same person if my mother did not sing "I Will" to me when I was tiny?

What about all the people whose paths crossed, or didn't cross, because of a Beatles concert, or a line to buy an album, or an argument about them at a party?
posted by Countess Elena at 6:36 AM on June 19, 2019 [6 favorites]


If not having the Beatles means not having our current political climate, I'm all for this other time-line. Cross the streams, steal the almanac, whatever, let's do this. Anything but the one we're currently inside of.

On the subject of Danny Boyle's films, he's a bit hit or miss for me. I do appreciate his style though, his films always look beautiful and slick.
posted by Fizz at 6:36 AM on June 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


If not having the Beatles means not having our current political climate, I'm all for this other time-line. Cross the streams, steal the almanac, whatever, let's do this. Anything but the one we're currently inside of.

One such "what if there were no Beatles" story that I've read makes the case that the ensuing timeline would have been even worse; that this kind of neo-fascism we're seeing now would have started even sooner.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:41 AM on June 19, 2019 [20 favorites]


"...aided by the fact that they were just better songwriters and more alive to the possibilities of the studio-as-extra-instrument than anyone else, the Beatles tended to hone those ideas to their point of greatest effect."

I'm with the first scenario, that it all still would have happened, only less dramatically. The powder keg was waiting to be set off, and another band of cute, fun, energetic boys would have taken their place. And once that band is in the spotlight and under those unique pressures, who knows what they would have produced in the studio?

Luckily that other band would have been Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, so we still end up with my man Ringo.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:41 AM on June 19, 2019 [14 favorites]


If not having the Beatles means not having our current political climate, I'm all for this other time-line.

It's interesting to think about what would have happened musically, culturally and politically had there been no Beatles nor equivalent - but I'm wondering if you see some tie between the current political climate and The Beatles that I'm missing.

I mean, if I look at the forces that power Trump / the GOP, Brexit, etc. there don't seem to be a lot of Beatles fans behind those movements. A lot of this goes all the way back to post-WWII efforts to tie Christianity to politics and capitalism. The only thing I see in common between the right and The Beatles is boomers.
posted by jzb at 6:43 AM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


i'm as big a beatles-obsessive as you're likely to find, but i think it's wrong to suggest that no beatles = no rock music or even 60s culture. the beatles were indeed trend setters, groundbreakers, etc, but they had some EXTREMELY talented, visionary peers in the likes of the stones, the kinks, the who, clapton, etc. and those are just the brits - let us not forget dylan, joni, neil, paul simon, the band, hendrix, stevie wonder, etc. this is just the top of the list - it could go on and on. surely all these people were deeply influenced by the beatles. but their impulse to create was (is!) deeply powerful and would have exercised itself with or without liverpudlian influence.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 6:46 AM on June 19, 2019 [34 favorites]


"The only thing I see in common between the right and The Beatles is boomers"

And there you go.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:48 AM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


The powder keg was waiting to be set off, and another band of cute, fun, energetic boys would have taken their place. And once that band is in the spotlight and under those unique pressures, who knows what they would have produced in the studio?

The thing is The Beatles were kind of a reverse boy band. They were already a touring band who played their own instruments and wrote their own songs along with the covers they played. It was under Brian Epstein's guidance that they crafted the "Fab Four" image that made them superstars, an image that they chaffed under and eventually rejected in favor of turning to serious studio work.
posted by Sangermaine at 6:50 AM on June 19, 2019 [6 favorites]


Luvs diapers used the Beatles song "All you need is love" in one of their commercials. If the Beatles had never existed, Luvs would have had to come up with a similar song on their own, like "Here's the underwear that absorbs urine" or "Luvs, the thing your baby should shit in". Or they might have licensed a Rolling Stones song if The Stones already did something along those lines. Wouldn't know, not a huge Stones follower here.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:52 AM on June 19, 2019 [69 favorites]


Sympathy for the Doo-doo.
posted by Mogur at 6:54 AM on June 19, 2019 [9 favorites]


Greg Nog, "Won't Get Fooled Again"
posted by meinvt at 6:55 AM on June 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


For me, I can barely fathom a world without The Beatles. I was thunderstruck by The Beatles at the tender age of seven, watching Help! running on Sunday afternoon on a local TV station. (mid-70s) It was years before I'd even entertain the idea that maybe another band could be as good, and then only because they had been heavily influenced by the Fab Four anyway. (The second part I still hold to be at least partly true.)

Maybe some other band would have taken their place, but I'm skeptical. Maybe rock & roll never would have been seen as a legit art form at all, maybe the counter culture stuff would have never gained any traction...

Dunno. For me personally, so many things spun out of my interest in The Beatles that I have a hard time imagining a world without them. Not just musically. I thought John Lennon was so cool*, and he was bookish so I wanted to be more bookish. I wanted to be a pacifist. (It was a mixed bag. Even as a kid I knew they did drugs, I didn't want to do drugs. And I had no access to musical instruments or learning how to play anything. Thanks, mom & dad.)

Just... can't imagine it.

* Yes, yes. I know. John Lennon was not the person I thought he was when I was seven, or ten (when he was killed).
posted by jzb at 6:56 AM on June 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


"Won't Get Fooled Filled Again"
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:57 AM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


kevinbelt: "And there you go."

Somehow, I have a sneaking suspicion the Boomers would have continued to exist regarldless.
posted by jzb at 6:57 AM on June 19, 2019 [8 favorites]


The more interesting question is, what didn’t happen because some equivalent to the Beatles didn’t exist?

I feel like music has kind of stalled. Did someone not arrive?
posted by argybarg at 6:59 AM on June 19, 2019 [8 favorites]


My favorite online discourse about this movie has been a series of Twitter musings about what did and didn't happen in the universe of this movie. Like: did the Manson killings happen? I think it was ArtW who was asking if this meant no Handmade Films (and thus no Monty Python's Life of Brian).
posted by the phlegmatic king at 7:02 AM on June 19, 2019 [8 favorites]


The more interesting question is, what didn’t happen because some equivalent to the Beatles didn’t exist?

We wouldn't have Murakami's novel Norwegian Wood. And that would be quite sad as it's a lovely story/romance.
posted by Fizz at 7:02 AM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Maybe rock & roll never would have been seen as a legit art form at all

I think this may be what the biggest difference would have been. It's not that rock music would literally not have existed; as fingers_of_fire notes above, there were plenty of talented rock musicians from that period.

But rock coming out of the 50s was seen as just dance music for teens, or just musical rebellion. The Beatles consciously tried to infuse their rock and pop with an artistic sensibility. Not in terms of creativity, but in terms of conceiving and approaching it as a legitimate art form. This had a profound effect on popular music, so much so that there arose movements like punk that sought to strip that (what they saw as) pretense away from rock and move back towards its origins.

Would that infusion of "Art" into rock/pop have happened without them? Hard to say, but I do think they played a major part in changing how those types of music were seen by both the musicians themselves and the public.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:04 AM on June 19, 2019 [6 favorites]


... did the Manson killings happen?

Oh, I think he'd have got somebody killed. Manson always wanted to be what he was; the trappings and the victims might have been different, that's all.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:04 AM on June 19, 2019 [6 favorites]


I don't know about this... I tend to like Danny Boyle, but Richard Curtis writes films that look as if they are designed to appeal to my interests, but then turn out to be unpleasant and rapey (boat film, time travel film). Anyway, I'm sure that a world in which Noel and Liam decide to become the new Beach Boys is probably worse than this one.
posted by betweenthebars at 7:05 AM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'd like to think that Lennon would have had some fulfilling career, perhaps as a writer, if The Beatles had fizzled out. But I can also see him ending up as a mean fucking drunk, dispensing vicious putdowns from a stool in the pub until someone kicked his ass again.

McCartney could have ended up writing musicals or something like that, although his lack of musical schooling (writing scores, arranging, all the stuff that George Martin did for The Beatles) would have held him back.
posted by thelonius at 7:05 AM on June 19, 2019 [6 favorites]


Like: did the Manson killings happen?

Chuck Manson was a failed singer-songwriter with ambitions much bigger than his talents. He landed a few gigs as a studio musician, including a few recordings with the Beach Boys because Dennis Wilson liked him. He died of an overdose in '71.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:06 AM on June 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


Sangermaine, re: art rock without the beatles - two words for you: brian wilson.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 7:08 AM on June 19, 2019 [14 favorites]


Well, of course the boomers would continue to exist; they had already been born by the Ed Sullivan appearance. But I think what Fizz was hoping (and what I hope) is that the cultural history of the boomers would have turned out differently. Specifically, that the rock-and-roll-fueled counterculture of the late 60s and early 70s would not have reached such critical mass as to inspire a revanchist reaction that has been the fuel for both the ideology and the tone of the modern conservative movement, and that the boomers' Beatles- and rock-influenced "do whatever you feel like" attitudes toward things like drugs and sex would not have subsequently been applied to things like antitrust policy or consumer protection regulations. Maybe the boomers could have had a more functional political dynamic rather than a culture war. It's a nice thought.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:10 AM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


"two words for you: brian wilson"

I'm an avowed Beatles hater, but credit where it's due. Wilson himself has said that Pet Sounds wouldn't have happened but for Sgt. Pepper.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:11 AM on June 19, 2019 [15 favorites]


There is a certain type of dude who you can make intensely angry by dropping the phrase "if the Coasters had been white you never would have heard of the Beatles"* into casual conversation and it is almost always a joy to do so.

*true
posted by Parasite Unseen at 7:11 AM on June 19, 2019 [28 favorites]


Maybe the boomers could have had a more functional political dynamic rather than a culture war. It's a nice thought.

But it sort of reminds me of an argument that I once read a film critic making that if it weren't for Star Wars, the blockbuster would never have developed, and moviemakers could have continued making the serious films of the '70s forever.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:12 AM on June 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


Also a pretty nice thought, I have to say!
posted by kevinbelt at 7:13 AM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


Sgt. Pepper came after Pet Sounds. It was Rubber Soul that blew Brian’s mind.
posted by argybarg at 7:15 AM on June 19, 2019 [16 favorites]


I watched the film Bop Girl Goes Calypso last night and it states that Rock N'Roll is over (the film came out in 1957) and that Calypso music would replace it. As evidence they show this performance by the Goofers. I'm not sure if I'd be happier with "rock" performers using more trapeze work and trombones in their performances or Calypso being the dominant music form. Pourquoi pas les deux I guess.
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:16 AM on June 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


there were plenty of people who were capable of doing artistic work in the field of rock and roll - the major thing the beatles brang in 1964 was the concept of a band with multiple frontpeople writing their own songs - but songwriting was a development that had already been done by several people

the amazing music produced from revolver on was partially a function of increased studio capibility and technology - it was going to happen, period - it's amazing to me that so many commenters, including the ones in the article simply don't get that the technology was the real factor driving all of this

i think we were fortunate that the pioneers were so talented - but less talented people were going to do the same kind of thing

i honestly don't think frank zappa or joni mitchell needed the beatles or bob dylan as an influence - neither did laura nyro or for that matter the rolling stones - listen to their first album - they were already doing what they were going to do and the beatles had little to do with it

i love the beatles and respect them a great deal - but the revolution in music would have happened without them
posted by pyramid termite at 7:18 AM on June 19, 2019 [18 favorites]


Wilson himself has said that Pet Sounds wouldn't have happened but for Sgt. Pepper.

Sgt. Pepper came after Pet Sounds. It was Rubber Soul that blew Brian’s mind.


Indeed, here's the wiki.
posted by Fizz at 7:19 AM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


But it sort of reminds me of an argument that I once read a film critic making that if it weren't for Star Wars, the blockbuster would never have developed, and moviemakers could have continued making the serious films of the '70s forever.

I did a MeFi post on this (via an article from polygon.com), I think the consensus was that we'd have blockbusters in some other form, but not the iPhone. (okay that last part is mine)
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:20 AM on June 19, 2019


I still think Stairway to Heaven, Rocket Man and Quadrophenia would have happened in some form. Maybe not exactly the same way without Help, Sgt. Pepper or Across the Universe, but there was a lot more coming out of the UK at that time than just the Beatles. Genesis and Yes, for example, in a couple more years too. The form might have been slightly different, but the British Invasion would have happened, likely lead by the Stones.
posted by bonehead at 7:20 AM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


kevinbelt, pet sounds came out in may 1966, pepper on june 1, 1967. no pet sounds, no pepper as we know it.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 7:21 AM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


The Beatles involved the mass audience in the revolution. That’s rare. Without the Beatles the 60s might have looked like punk — critically esteemed, very exciting for its audience, but mostly ignored by the mainstream.
posted by argybarg at 7:23 AM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


it has been said that the beatles were both the best at what they did and the most popular at the same time, and that is extremely rare.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 7:25 AM on June 19, 2019 [11 favorites]


The "Oh no, nobody knows about the Beatles, quelle horreur!" concept just strikes me as boomers flogging the "Weren't the Beatles just so wonderful and amazing and paradigm shifting?" dead horse in an era where it absolutely does not need any more flogging. Yes! the Beatles were a wonderful band with just the right talents at just the right moment in time. We are all well aware of it, have been aware of it for more than 60 years, thanks!

The more interesting thought experiment for me is, where would the Beatles have wound up if George Martin hadn't been around?
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 7:29 AM on June 19, 2019 [25 favorites]


60 years ago was 1959.
posted by argybarg at 7:31 AM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


Music enhances life in so many ways, and though it’s present for almost everyone without choice (think hymns, music on commercials, music class at school), The Beatles gave an untold number of people a passion for music, and an understanding of how music can express deep feeling and hold memories, that they might never have had otherwise. Would music have been as central to popular culture without them? Maybe, I mean, Elvis Presley and Little Richard predated them. But The Beatles ushered the next generation into the pleasure of music. Not to mention all the kids who might not have picked up instruments without them.

It reminds me of what life might have been like without Harry Potter—a similar door into the pleasures of reading fiction that some children might never have otherwise accessed.
posted by sallybrown at 7:33 AM on June 19, 2019 [6 favorites]


Sorry, I was too lazy to use a calculator. 50 years.
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 7:34 AM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'd like to think that Lennon would have had some fulfilling career, perhaps as a writer, if The Beatles had fizzled out. But I can also see him ending up as a mean fucking drunk, dispensing vicious putdowns from a stool in the pub until someone kicked his ass again.

He would have been unlikely to have had his (undeserved, though popularly held) reputation as a living manifestation of Peace And Love.
posted by acb at 7:35 AM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


"two words for you: brian wilson".

Also Bob Dylan who probably wouldn't have gone electric if he hadn't seen the Beatles and the like having way more fun he was, which means the real and comparatively sudden seriousness of so called rockNroll (ie: amped up young peoples' music) would never have erupted the way it did around 1965-66-67.

Would Jimi Hendrix have remained stuck playing backup in various r+b outfits? Would Robert Fripp never have almost crashed his car because A Day In The Life came on the radio one night? Which means he probably would have gone into the family business as planned, rather than trying to reconcile The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Bela Bartok.

"You can't negotiate the past" is something they say in Conflict Resolution circles, which has helped me more than once. Questions such as this one (how popular culture and society in general would have differed had *** never existed) generally deliver me to the same overall conclusion. We'd all be dead. The wrong apocalypse would have erupted sometime before 1968. Everybody's worst zombie imaginings would be like Care Bear stories in comparison.

I don't believe in fate. I don't believe the universe is remotely that simple. But I do believe that once something happens, it had to.

Also LSD. There's the real question? What would have happened if LSD had never escaped the laboratory confines of the CIA etc? The answer to that one is simple. Because there is no answer. It was always going to happen. It was always part of The Plan.
posted by philip-random at 7:37 AM on June 19, 2019 [7 favorites]


the amazing music produced from revolver on was partially a function of increased studio capibility and technology

Remember this important difference, kids!

White artists: "Use the studio as an instrument"; genius, auteurs
Black artists: Can't play, just use samples; not "real musicians".
posted by thelonius at 7:38 AM on June 19, 2019 [24 favorites]


"Sgt. Pepper came after Pet Sounds. It was Rubber Soul that blew Brian’s mind"

I thought it sounded weird saying it. Rubber Soul -> Pet Sounds -> Sgt. Pepper -> (Smile). But the larger point is, while I admire Brian Wilson's genius, he went down the road he did because of the Beatles. Had he not heard what the Beatles were doing, he likely would have continued making novelty surf records. Good ones, yeah, with nice melodies and incredible harmonies, but not "Wouldn't It Be Nice?".
posted by kevinbelt at 7:38 AM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]



60 years ago was 1959.


thanks for reminding me. I turn sixty in about a month.
posted by philip-random at 7:39 AM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


The more interesting thought experiment for me is, where would the Beatles have wound up if George Martin hadn't been around?

Where would we be if Kraftwerk had never existed? Or Giorgio Moroder?
posted by acb at 7:40 AM on June 19, 2019 [7 favorites]


Robert Fripp .... the family business

He lends a hand on occasion, it seems.
posted by thelonius at 7:40 AM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


Without the Beatles, would the internet have been invented? Without the Beatles, would the Berlin Wall have come down? Without the Beatles, would the Earth quite literally still exist?!!?!! ! !! ! !!
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:42 AM on June 19, 2019 [12 favorites]


My (2.5 yo) sister would not have spent all of Christmas 1977 repeating the phrase 'Mull of Kintyre' over and over and over again.
posted by biffa at 7:56 AM on June 19, 2019 [7 favorites]


See also: Beatles 3000, ca 2009.
posted by Richard Saunders at 8:01 AM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


Obviously the answer is that the Velvet Underground would have become the biggest band in the world.
posted by Automocar at 8:03 AM on June 19, 2019 [11 favorites]


Sister Ray would've been at least as big as Free Bird. It stands to reason.
posted by philip-random at 8:12 AM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure how the following story fits with Beach Boys chronology but I'd like to print the legend. It's said that Brian Wilson heard Strawberry Fields for the first time while driving. He pulled his car over to the side of the road and wept. It was a full-on Salieri-in-Amadeus moment, finding himself uniquely able to appreciate how good it was and emptied out by the feeling that he could never create something so beautiful.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:24 AM on June 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


Would rock'n'roll have died out in the early 60s, with folk or jazz providing the basis of pop music? Would pop music have been more ephemeral and insignificant, with something else (possibly surfing or chess) serving as the core for generational rebellion?

Sorry, these are the most Boomerish questions ever. The Beatles did not invent rock; they did not invent pop; they did not lend some unique artistic credibility or mass appeal to either. We'd still have the music. It would sound a little different. The world would be much the same. There's a lot of confusion of the sufficient with the necessary here.
posted by praemunire at 8:27 AM on June 19, 2019 [20 favorites]


(Also, I'm pretty sure that if the scenario from the movie as I understand it occurred, the reception of Beatles songs in a present day that had never had them would be quite different, because this is the 2010s, not the 1960s. The cultural and musical contexts would be different.)
posted by praemunire at 8:29 AM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


Luvs would have had to come up with a similar song on their own, like "Here's the underwear that absorbs urine"

Under My Bum
(I Can't Get No) Clean Bum Action
Paint It Brown
Brown Poopy
Waiting on a Deuce
Baby's Little Helper
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:33 AM on June 19, 2019 [7 favorites]


1. I have heard that the Rolling Stones were having a hard time getting over and the Beatles let them record "I Want to Be Your Man" to help them break through.

2. Didn't George Harrison at least partially fund Monty Python and the Holy Grail?

3. Are we saying that there were no Beatles, but that they individual members still existed? I think Paul may have become a star anyway, but I dont know about any other the others.
posted by Billiken at 8:34 AM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


they did not lend some unique artistic credibility or mass appeal to either.

But they demonstrably did, as evidenced both by contemporary critical and mass reaction and their legacy.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:35 AM on June 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure how the following story fits with Beach Boys chronology but I'd like to print the legend. It's said that Brian Wilson heard Strawberry Fields for the first time while driving:
Brian Wilson, who had been struggling to complete the Beach Boys' Smile album, first heard "Strawberry Fields Forever" on his car radio[176] while under the influence of barbiturates.[177] In the recollection of his passenger at the time, Michael Vosse: "[Wilson] just shook his head and said, 'They did it already – what I wanted to do with Smile. Maybe it's too late.'"[178] Vosse recalled that the two then exchanged laughter, but at "the moment he said it, he sounded very serious."[178] According to author Steven Gaines, the "wondrous and different-sounding" quality of the Beatles' single was one of several factors that accelerated Wilson's emotional descent and led to him abandoning Smile.[179] In response to a fan's question on his website in 2014, Wilson denied that hearing the song had "weakened" him and called it a "very weird record" that he enjoyed.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:38 AM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


White artists: "Use the studio as an instrument"; genius, auteurs
Black artists: Can't play, just use samples; not "real musicians".


this is why the "beatles or the stones?" question irritates me - because my answer was "motown" - in 1967, that music and the other r&b stuff played on top 40 was the music that really moved me

the beatles and the stones knew damned well they had some real competition in detroit
posted by pyramid termite at 8:42 AM on June 19, 2019 [23 favorites]


I think it's always amusing to see versions of the future where [major cultural force] never happened, but in which the world is mostly the same, down to being a version of life that's almost, but not quite normal. It's one of the things I've come to hate about science fiction and all that parallel universes nonsense, because for it to work that way, all the rest of the tiny decision points that land us where we are need to go exactly the same way, in a system in which the nearly infinite numbers of tiny decision points in our lives and the same points in everyone else's lives need to line up nearly perfectly to arrive at this magical almost-world.

If the Beatles hadn't existed, I would not exist as I am today. Not because I'm a Beatles fan (I am) or because my parents were Beatles fans (they were neither big fans nor not big fans, being born in the thirties), but rather because the chain of events that ended up in my being here would have been stirred up through a chain of things attached to other things attached to other things and the timing of my conception would have been different (should I have happened at all) and what my mother was up to would have been different, so the gestational environment would have been different, and there's no realistic scientific mechanism that could justify a similar result for adult me with those tiny things being different .

There's a little motel outside of a park in Maryland just southwest of Baltimore at which I was once offered a job as manager with a more or less guaranteed outcome, and I was sufficiently uncommitted to the outcome that I opted to flip a coin to make the decision. The coin had me turn it down and I slogged along at the bottom of the financial barrel for several years before a friend in a lab of the University of Maryland head-hunted me for a position and I'm now contentedly ensconced in an odd academic position with a decent paycheck and fantastic benefits.

I pass by that place with my gentleman caller and his daughter some days when we're heading to the Korean barbecue place with crazy hours, and I always look over, thinking of the little phantom limb of a life there, where the coin was the right temperature and sat in my hand in precisely the right way and where I picked tails based on some fleeting thought that had nothing to do with coins, in which I'd have probably done okay, but would have never fallen through the tight chain of choices that had me meet my gentleman caller and find myself inexplicably quasi-parenting in a life that was never going in that direction. I can navigate backwards through the bigger decision points I remember, like the feeling lonesome and checking my messages on a dating site I'd given up on years earlier, thanks largely to my work as the sole employee of a little community theater where I worked after I'd turned down the motel job, and I can reflect on how a sudden change in career path took the strain off in my trying to balance a relationship with a little person in it and almost certainly made it sustainable, and how that happened because a guy I knew vaguely from being a disco-dancing nun at a museum struck up a conversation with me after I'd unsuccessfully attempted to avoid his attention ended up being a friend, and I'd been on that train because I'd been head-hunted by a friend of the museum's founder to run a giant clock tower for a few years when the museum job lost its luster, and how I'd ended up working at a museum as a fancy janitor after taking a temporary job as a mosaic arts coordinator that I was seemingly unqualified because...and you can chase these threads from here to the beginning of the universe, but they are subject to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle or something like it and outcomes are only probable once they've already happened.

It frees me from any need to ever regret my past choices (if not my obligation to make amends and restitution for the ones that hurt other people, which I honor), because changing anything would obliterate this now, to a degree that increases in an unpredictably non-linear way the further away those decision points are from now.

In the end, it's neat to follow chains backwards to see if, say, the absence of the Beatles would have made the creation of Community Memory fail to occur, without the hippie spirit that fueled that group, leaving the me-less universe without an internet or computers in the home, but it's all an exercise, because the chains are all interconnected in an infinite stack of analogue interaction on a scale that minds can't process.

So the world without the Beatles is, to me, indistinguishable the manager's office of a little motel somewhere in a universe that is inconceivable because I didn't follow that route. Imagining it is fun as a diversion, I guess, but I think I'd rather fight one hundred duck-sized horse. What would have doodled on the blotter on the desk of the office, and who would be friends have been, and what would have I done for fun in my free time? Somewhere out there, the people I never met in that life, who might have been my bosom buddies for ever and ever, are walking around, and maybe I've met a few in some casual situation in a grocery store or a bowling alley, said "Oh, excuse me," and kept on with my life without ever knowing that would could have been great friends.

It's too much to think about, but I get by with a little help from my friends.

er' perrehnne
posted by sonascope at 8:47 AM on June 19, 2019 [25 favorites]


Sure, rock'n'roll would exist in the repertoire of past genres that musicians could draw on, alongside calypso and ragtime. Pop music would exist in some form. There'd have been a recording industry making a variety of product (7" singles of pop songs for teenagers, the likes of Sinatra and Mantovani for adults, philharmonics recording the classics on schedule for the discerning bourgeoisie, and such). But had pop music not become as central to the idea of being young as an identity rather than a condition—i.e., not something you listen to because you're 14 and buffeted by hormones but something you listen to because you're part of the new generation who will change the world—would we have had music as a lifestyle to the same extent? There'd be professionals making it as a product, and a market of people buying it, but would the norm be bands of amateurs getting together and playing music, well or otherwise, with little formal training and little hope of making a sustainable career of it?

The decades from the 60s to the 90s/00s could be seen as a multi-generational youthquake, a phenomenon where, for a few generations, music meant more than the sum of what it was. When people (mostly young people, but later aging into middle age and beyond without dropping out) would join subcultures centred around music genres as markets—Mods, Rockers, punks, goths, metalheads and more. The subtle signifiers of the music genres were at times matters of life or death. The recording industry made money from this when they could, but the real action took place at the grass-roots level. Then, in the 00s plus or minus a decade, the fever subsided, and music became just a thing you partook of rather than what you were. You didn't have to choose to be a Mod or a Rocker, a goth or a grebo or whatever, you could pick and choose from the catalogue of the past. There was no more stigma. Poptimism reclaimed unabashedly mainstream pop music; loungecore, yacht rock, vaporwave and such reclaimed what had been considered kitschy. In the age of iTunes and Spotify, knowing who Joy Division or the Velvet Underground or Les Rallizes Dénudés were had been devalued to the point where it no longer carried insider cachet. Genres were no longer totems to be rallied around but mere objects. As Jarvis Cocker commented, music had become like a scented candle one lit in the background.

What I'm wondering is whether, if various of the commentators in the Guardian article are correct, would a world in which neither the Beatles nor anything equivalent to them had shown up be one in which the music-genre-subculture fever had never dominated popular culture for the best part of a half-century, and music would have been just another commodity influenced by fashions, like clothing or homewares?
posted by acb at 8:51 AM on June 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


Dave Clark is no doubt working feverishly to make this hypothetical situation a reality.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:51 AM on June 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


We'd still have The Sonics, so I'm good.
posted by whuppy at 8:55 AM on June 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


I'm of the opinion that while individuals can shape the revolution, revolutions are bigger than one person, particularly social ones. Pop music would have still been huge in the late 60s. Punk and Disco were going to happen in the 70s, regardless, shaped by social and economic forces beyond music. There was a hole the Beatles filled, but rock as spectacle might equally have been "invented" by Elton John in 69 or 70.
posted by bonehead at 9:07 AM on June 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


this is why the "beatles or the stones?" question irritates me - because my answer was "motown" -

Completely agree. The phenomenon of the "pop" Beatles is inconceivable without Motown (they were huge fans), just as the lyrically serious Beatles are inconceivable without Dylan and the studio savvy Beatles are inconceivable without Brian Wilson.

So yeah, The Beatles didn't just happen. They were formed. Four young men drinking deep their influences and chasing their passions and obsessions to the limit at a place and time (culturally speaking) where for all manner of reasons (from the banal to the apocalyptic) nobody was really trying to stop them, not with any serious effect anyway. And the world will never be the same.

But if you want to get picky, you can say the same for some random butterfly that flapped its wings sixty-seven years ago.
posted by philip-random at 9:11 AM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


We'd still have all of the funk.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:17 AM on June 19, 2019 [8 favorites]


It was under Brian Epstein's guidance that they crafted the "Fab Four" image that made them superstars, an image that they chaffed under and eventually rejected in favor of turning to serious studio work.

The bigger question is what would have happened if Epstein had lived.

But I can also see him [Lennon] ending up as a mean fucking drunk, dispensing vicious putdowns from a stool in the pub until someone kicked his ass again.

This. Yeah, I'm on team Lennon was an asshole, so much rage in him.
posted by Melismata at 9:17 AM on June 19, 2019


It was under Brian Epstein's guidance that they crafted the "Fab Four" image that made them superstars, an image that they chaffed under and eventually rejected in favor of turning to serious studio work.

It's funny the Beatles had a squeaky-clean public image compared to the Stones because the Beatles started out wearing leather, screwing strippers, and doing drugs in Hamburg when Mick Jagger was in art school.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:22 AM on June 19, 2019 [8 favorites]


Line for line McCartney prolly did more blow than Mick though. Maybe gave Keith a run even.

And yesterday was Sir Paul's b-day! I'm sure he went to a party party.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:24 AM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Obviously the answer is that the Velvet Underground would have become the biggest band in the world.

And every single person who heard them would have started a band of their own, so that by 1985 electric guitars and heroin production accounted for fully 80% of global GDP.
posted by No-sword at 9:34 AM on June 19, 2019 [16 favorites]


if it weren't for Star Wars, the blockbuster would never have developed, and moviemakers could have continued making the serious films of the '70s forever.
Jaws was released in 1975.
posted by fullerine at 9:40 AM on June 19, 2019 [12 favorites]


But they demonstrably did, as evidenced both by contemporary critical and mass reaction and their legacy.

...their legacy would not exist in a world without them. The whole point of the exercise is to imagine a world in which they didn't take up that space.

I know the music that comes out when you're a teenager/in college is the Most Important Music Ever, I get it, but at a certain point you have to accept that that's an intensely subjective phenomenon.
posted by praemunire at 9:42 AM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


did the Manson killings happen?

I remember reading a prison interview with Manson in which he said he never really liked The Beatles and "hippie music" and was much more a fan of Hank Williams and the other hillbilly musicians that he grew up on. So while I think there still would have been murders, the "family" would have had a completely different aesthetic and demographic makeup.

(And maybe instead of "Helter Skelter" written in blood, it would have said "Jambalaya On the Bayou")
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:42 AM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


And yesterday was Sir Paul's b-day! I'm sure he went to a party party.

And at that party, they were serving...
scrambled eggs

posted by Atom Eyes at 9:44 AM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


This gets to a larger question that never has been, and never will be, resolved: Do individual events and people actually change the course of history? Or is it so overdetermined by material conditions that individual events are just the foam on the wave?

I always like the third option: Mostly determined by material conditions, but sometimes those material conditions allow for the influence of individuals. I think the Beatles/60's are a good example of the latter, but A) even if the Beatles changed music, let's not overestimate how much music actually changed the world; and B) always be wary, because you're going to think the pivotal events in your life were the rare pivotal events in history.
posted by argybarg at 9:52 AM on June 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


Hot take : no Beatles means no British Invasion. No British Invasion means Rock n' Roll continues to be a biracial art form, instead of being taken over by white dudes in the Rock Guitar God Era.

As was pointed out to me in a different thread (quoted from the Wikipedia entry for the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart):
From November 30, 1963, to January 23, 1965, there were no Billboard R&B singles charts. The chart was discontinued in late 1963 when Billboard determined it unnecessary due to so much crossover of titles between the R&B and pop charts in light of the rise of Motown. The chart was reinstated with the issue dated January 30, 1965, as "Hot Rhythm and Blues Singles" when differences in musical tastes of the two audiences, caused in part by the British Invasion in 1964, were deemed sufficient to revive it.

Beginning August 23, 1969, the rhythm and blues was replaced in favor of "soul", and the chart was renamed to "Best Selling Soul Singles". The move was made by a Billboard editorial decision that the term "soul" more accurately accounted for the "broad range of song and instrumental material which derives from the musical genius of the black American".
posted by panama joe at 9:53 AM on June 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


I don't think the world would be markedly different. I say that as pretty big Beatles nerd. The capitalist pig dogs would have found something to fill the airwaves, and cut the records too.. and eventually some would resonate with the youth, and some of the artists would change and grow. And then a mythology would develop.

That said, I can't wait for this flick. I'm a sucker for Beatles covers. (The first blu-ray I bought was Across the Universe)
posted by DigDoug at 9:53 AM on June 19, 2019


The Stones would have been the band of bands, and Keith Richards would be dead, with their career lasting about 8 years in the stead of the Beatles splitting up. More importantly Sticky Fingers or Exile on Main St. would be the equivalent Sgt. Peppers... There would be no Tattoo You. There would be no Undercover. There would be no Rolling Stones for most of the 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, and 10s...
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:02 AM on June 19, 2019


...their legacy would not exist in a world without them. The whole point of the exercise is to imagine a world in which they didn't take up that space.

You're confusing yourself here. I was responding to your point, which I quoted, that "they did not lend some unique artistic credibility or mass appeal to either". That's simply wrong. Yes, we're discussing their impact and how their absence would have changed things. That's why we're discussing how they influenced music and culture. Your position seemed to be that they had no impact at all, which is just wrong.

I know the music that comes out when you're a teenager/in college is the Most Important Music Ever, I get it, but at a certain point you have to accept that that's an intensely subjective phenomenon.

I'm not sure what you're trying to imply. I was born in the mid-80s, I'm not a Boomer on a nostalgia trip.

But to address the larger point: no, you're wrong. You're confusing "Most Important Music Ever" with "Best Music Ever". Whether The Beatles music is good or not is of course subjective. What their impact was isn't. It's an objective fact that can be demonstrated by their influence on other musicians, the culture at large, the perception of rock music, etc. Some bands are objectively more important to the history and development of pop music and culture than others.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:03 AM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


Keith Richards would be dead

Now you're just being ridiculous.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:04 AM on June 19, 2019 [9 favorites]


Also, why are we forgetting about Country? At one point in time, Country was giving Rock n' Roll a serious run for its money as the dominant/most profitable genre of American music. Sure, most of this was probably already decided by the time the Beatles come in on the scene, but I think it's possible that without a heavy hitter like the Beatles in the Rock n' Roll camp, perhaps an even bigger Country star would have come to the fore.
posted by panama joe at 10:08 AM on June 19, 2019 [6 favorites]


the beatles and the stones knew damned well they had some real competition in detroit

Come to think of it, the first Motown song I ever heard was probably the Beatles cover of "Please Mr. Postman" (My parents' idea of kicking out the jams being the classical music station and The Weavers......)
posted by thelonius at 10:13 AM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


"By the end of their phenomenal run, this unheralded group of musicians had played on more number ones hits than the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Elvis and the Beatles combined - which makes them the greatest hit machine in the history of popular music. They called themselves the Funk Brothers."
posted by kirkaracha at 10:33 AM on June 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


I'd say the question is sort of a backwards way of thinking about eras and change. Did the Beatles make the sixties the sixties with their nifty music or was it the hordes of young people looking for something to make their marks in the world and differentiate themselves from "the greatest generation" and change the politics associated with that past that led to conflicts like Vietnam that made the sixties? Youth rebellion was happening world wide. Check out news or movies from almost anywhere during that time period and rebellion was happening. The Beatles didn't cause it and removing them wouldn't have stopped it, just caused the direction of it in some locations to shift and find another commonality of identity to latch on to.

It was the young people of the time that made the Beatles, not the other way around and erasing them and their music wouldn't even be noticed now, even as, yes, certainly some things would be different, some couples wouldn't have coupled, some memes wouldn't ever have memed, but the trends that came from social dynamics around power and privilege wouldn't have disappeared or been ignored had the Beatles not been their as the most popular band of the time. People would still find music they liked, comedy that amused them, and the ideals to aspire to without the Fab Four. Besides, if Donovan still existed what else would people need?
posted by gusottertrout at 10:35 AM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


Hot take : no Beatles means no British Invasion. No British Invasion means Rock n' Roll continues to be a biracial art form, instead of being taken over by white dudes in the Rock Guitar God Era.

Would Wes Anderson still have been inspired to make films if the soundtracks he chose in this universe didn't exist?
posted by acb at 10:36 AM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


My sense is that the Beatles were more apotheosis than catalyst--the culture was going where it was going because of the sum effects of everything mentioned in this thread already (and much more, e.g., King Crimson produced the first concept album, not the Beatles; Velvet Underground were already profoundly influential on other musicians; King Tubby was still inventing delay and reverb down in Jamaica; funk was already brewing in dance clubs; so on).

It's also important to note that the counter-culture portion of the Baby Boomer age cohort was not even a majority of young people in its time (my 20-something mother was a suburban working mom, not taking acid five times weekly and migrating to SF). So I think that, sans Beatles, most of the stuff that happened culturally would still have likely happened in some form or another--we just wouldn't have that specific, delightful body of musical work.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:37 AM on June 19, 2019 [6 favorites]


More importantly Sticky Fingers or Exile on Main St. would be the equivalent Sgt. Peppers...

Would the Stones have gone in a more arty, baroque direction and ended up prefiguring prog had there been no Beatles to take up that space and push them in a more rockist/rootsy direction?
posted by acb at 10:38 AM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


I kinda think that a more interesting question is, would western political and social culture of the late 20th-century have been the same without Monty Python's Flying Circus?
posted by LooseFilter at 10:39 AM on June 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


Had there been no Monty Python, at what point in history would the change have affected the United States?
posted by acb at 10:44 AM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


I've read a lot of musician bios and an almost universal theme is "I asked my parents to buy me a guitar because of how girls reacted to the Beatles", so a lot of great bands simply wouldn't have existed without them. Their (early) music was secondary to their heartthrob image.
posted by rocket88 at 10:49 AM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


I wonder what proportion of those musicians would have instead asked their parents to buy them saxophones, for the same reason.
posted by acb at 10:56 AM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


Had there been no Monty Python, at what point in history would the change have affected the United States?

I wasn't thinking of only the U.S. with my question, but it seems to me that the whole liberal/conservative dynamic that precipitated a Thatcher- and Reagan-ite 'backlash' would have been quite different. But also maybe, no Saturday Night Live over here; no South Park; no real speaking truth to power through mass entertainment...stylistically, no straight-faced satire or controversial topics or amelioration of unnecessary high-/low-brow divides or stream-of-consciousness or non sequitur absurdism or etc. So tectonic effects on comedy itself, more uniquely attributable to the Pythons than similar innovations are to The Beatles in music, I think, and thus large consequent effects on culture, if nothing else.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:56 AM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


"two words for you: brian wilson"

I'm an avowed Beatles hater, but credit where it's due. Wilson himself has said that Pet Sounds wouldn't have happened but for Sgt. Pepper/Rubber Soul.


Of course, there's probably an alternative universe out there where Wilson says Pet Sounds wouldn't have happened but for, say, SF Sorrow.

While everything would have mostly continued as is (with blues-inspired (e.g. Stones) and mod (e.g. Who) bands continuing to evolve, Motown continuing to be a cultural force, and hundreds of garage bands finding something to be inspired by), I also wonder if (on US shores at least) surf would have continued to thrive and even similarly evolve if it hadn't been wiped out by Beatlemania.

Of course, the big question is what, if any, form would Power Pop have taken sans Beatles.
posted by gtrwolf at 11:04 AM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Also, where would the Bonzo Dog Band figure in all this?
posted by gtrwolf at 11:05 AM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


Also, where would the Bonzo Dog Band figure in all this?

Neil Innes and Eric Idle would have made a mockumentary about the Rutling Stones.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:08 AM on June 19, 2019 [8 favorites]


[#disclaimer] This is an aside

[#disclaimer2] ...only possible by the combination of Metafilter and idle time on the privy


So I was thinking of this comment:

this kind of neo-fascism we're seeing now would have started even sooner

And first I thought, 'what happened with the old fascism? Of course, WW2 and the Alliance response and the ascendant US. And this created the baby boom and this cultural trajectory of liberalism (I'm aware that this is a weird choice of words, bare with me).

Second I thought, if this is history rhyming and there is another wave of fascism, it'll probably be contended by the ascending Chinese, right? So if they win, what will be the cultural trajectory? I'm no expert on Chinese culture, but I know it's heavily influenced by Buddhist thought and ideas about collective good. What would be the victorious, but obviously highly ambivalent boulder-rolling-down-the-hill of collectivist ideology?

So finally I wondered: Would it help me to answer that by thinking of the jekyll/hyde version now in the US? if I think of the entitled assholes in this country, they're not about collective good at all. It's a country of people born on third, thinking they hit a triple. They're all about a lack of accountability. So what's the antonym of accountability?

It's not freedom. Even incorporating parts of positive and negative freedom, it's not quite that.

The dictionaries don't really help. The results were either more negations of positive words or weird idioms:

daredevil, devil-may-care, foolhardy, harum-scarum, hell-for-leather, kamikaze, reckless

But then I found a few that weren't accurate, but I liked where they were going:

exempt, immune, innocent

And this is, I think, the posture of empire. When people are allowed to believe that they are in a utopia, that they are disconnected or above the human, this is what you get.

I'm not sure the Beatles were active helpers in this self-deceived cultural trajectory, but maybe there's something about their music that's a bit escapist, a bit platonic or dreamy.

I wonder if the music of this current period will be the opposite: exacting, literal, vivid.

Maybe something like this?
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 11:12 AM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


I would say that beatlemania was the beginning of centering the desires of boomers no matter the cost, no matter who it hurt. It is a pretty direct line from that to the me first eighties to the first tea party movement to the trump era.

If not for the beatles we would have fully automatic luxury gay space communism by now.

I actually don't beleive any of this but is just as likely as 'The beatles changed the very nature of time and space' comments we are getting.
posted by iamnotangry at 11:48 AM on June 19, 2019 [8 favorites]


McCartney would have been a teacher had music not worked out--he quit the band once to pursue teaching for awhile.

Lennon--hmm. No, probably not a writer. I doubt his art career would have gone much of anywhere, either. I can easily see him repeating many of the mistakes of his father--which he did, anyway--going to work in some sort of blue collar job after Cynthia became pregnant and then disappearing. He did later take up sailing so maybe he would have been a sad sack of a sailor, too. But I do think the issue of his queerness kind of queers the question. He said in some 70s interviews that he fantasized as a child living as essentially a high class kept man as a way to get out of Liverpool and I could kind of see that happening even though it is very different from the public (macho) perception of Lennon.

Whether Stu would have died without the Beatles is a bit of a question, if you believe his sister's memoir where she states that John and Stu were in a homosexual relationship, got into a fight, and John kicked Stu in the head, but that was all a bit salacious and I'm not sure that I do. I think if Stu hadn't died, though, he would have been a very famous artist.

Yoko and Tony Cox would have never gotten divorced. I wonder if Yoko would have gotten involved in "The Walk" like Cox did.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:00 PM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


> But the larger point is, while I admire Brian Wilson's genius, he went down the road he did because of the Beatles. Had he not heard what the Beatles were doing, he likely would have continued making novelty surf records. Good ones, yeah, with nice melodies and incredible harmonies, but not "Wouldn't It Be Nice?".

Certainly not. Today! came out in March 1965 and was already their first "post-beach" album. Brian Wilson had already decided to stay home to focus on writing and producing, rather than touring. You already have "When I Grow Up," "Please Let Me Wonder," "Kiss Me, Baby," "She Knows Me Too Well" -- "Wouldn't It Be Nice" is imo a direct continuance; he would have gotten there regardless. He wasn't focused on "Surfer Girl"-type material by then.

It's true Capitol would have pressured him to focus on more commercial albums (as they did for Summer Nights) -- but then he likely would've sued Capitol to terminate the contract a few years earlier than they actually did (1967). Could he have had more useful working years of freedom before his breakdown? Is it possible the perceived challenge and pressure of the Beatles could've contributed to his mental health issues?
posted by booksandlibretti at 12:00 PM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Some of the thought experiments I find most interesting about this kind of thing involve periphery Beatle-figures. For example, would Roag Best--son of Beatles' road manager Neil Aspinall and Pete Best's mother, Mona--have grown-up with a father? From what I can tell, Neil broke up with Mona under pressure from the band after they fired Pete. It's interesting to me to see how many of the men involved with the Beatles--either in the band or peripherally involved--did this kind of thing, and quietly (it was only after decades of being a Beatles fan that I ever heard of Roag Best despite knowing all about how they shitcanned Pete). Of course, they were young guys in a whirlwind of fame and with often-absent fathers in one form or another themselves. I wonder if they would have repeated the same mistakes had fame not been a factor, though.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:19 PM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


It's funny the Beatles had a squeaky-clean public image compared to the Stones because the Beatles started out wearing leather, screwing strippers, and doing drugs in Hamburg when Mick Jagger was in art school.

Keef was the art-school student; he'd gone to primary school with Jagger. Jagger, the son of a teacher, studied at the London School of Economics before joining the band. He's the driving force behind the Stones' stunning financial success.

IN A WORLD without Beatles, Motown girl groups seize control of their own destinies and reign supreme.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:23 PM on June 19, 2019 [7 favorites]


Also, the Stones' first manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, who positioned the band as the anti-Beatles, was an early publicist of the Beatles and was recommended to the band by the Beatles. Lennon and McCartney wrote songs for them. The two bands were more involved socially and in terms of development than is often acknowledged and while I don't doubt that the Stones would have happened somehow I don't think they would be at all The Stones as we know them without the Beatles as a shape to react against, at the very least.

Here for the Motown girl group influenced reality, though.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:26 PM on June 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


Like my usual counterfactuals, this will be structured like a Choose Your Own Adventure tale.

Absent the Beatles, charts are dominated by Beach Boys, Four Seasons, and Dave Clark Five.
The British Invasion is a bit more of a fad of 1964, the main beneficiary being The Kinks. The Kinks become the only well known British band. The Byrds also have some minor success, but the Yardbirds and the Animals never cross the pond.

Dylan stays acoustic, and earnest folk and Americana become the rule. Hendrix steers more heavily into Blues, but not rock. By the late 1960s the dominant music groups are The Band, CSN&Y. The Doors kick off the psychedelic rock scene into high gear, which goes more electronic and keyboards based earlier, paving the way for Emerson Lake and Palmer. But for the most part, musical of the late 60s is painfully earnest folk ballads: Bobby Darin, Harry Chaplin, Neal Young. Grateful Dead still build a legion of faithful Deadheads.

Meanwhile, Clapton and Page are living hard-scrabble lives in the British blues rock scene, not enjoying the relative commercial success that Hendrix (considered the most controversial of the blues musicians) is.

The really big hinge next lays with the evolution of Birmingham's band Earth. If they stick to Hawkwind style folksy twee blues, turn to page 120. If, inspired by their favorite horror movies and the Doors, they rebrand themselves as Black Sabbath, turn to page 241. If they break up, like so many British Blues acts, turn to page 308.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 12:53 PM on June 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


IN A WORLD without Beatles, Motown girl groups seize control of their own destinies and reign supreme.

Reign Supremes, surely.

I think this question gets more interesting the more weirdly fine-grained it gets. Like what's track 5 of Word of Mouth by Jaco Pastorius if the Beatles never existed?
posted by tobascodagama at 1:02 PM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


Now just imagine if Hendrix, Joplin, even the Wilson sisters main influence was Polka!

Cobain the PunkPolkaKing would still be slamming those bouncy rhythms.
posted by sammyo at 1:08 PM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Groups like ELO and World Party wouldn't exist without the Beatles.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:14 PM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


I was born in 1964 but didn't get into The Beatles until a Paul is Dead revival around 1980, when I was in high school. I was a huge fan throughout high school.

I don't listen to The Beatles that much anymore, but I definitely love power pop and bands that were influenced by them.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:21 PM on June 19, 2019


It seemed like everybody knew or at least recognized every Beatles song and I don't think there's been a band like that since (though there was before). It's hard to doubt they left an indelible stamp on music. Interestingly, though, because their rights-holders were very very late to the digital and streaming party, it seems to me there's now a generation who are almost entirely unaware of the Beatles. And, perhaps for that reason, and surely also that they were no longer active as a band, they also fell out of rotation on the radio while other acts almost as old continue to get airplay on classic rock stations. What I'm saying is, it almost feels like they never existed even now.
posted by sjswitzer at 1:25 PM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


What I'm saying is, it almost feels like they never existed even now.

Nah, there's still the everlasting battle between "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime" and "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" in every retail store every December.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:28 PM on June 19, 2019 [9 favorites]


PhoBWanKenobi, you have brought the John vs. Paul debate to a whole new level.
posted by sjswitzer at 1:35 PM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


Whoever wins, we lose.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:41 PM on June 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


"Where were you the day Russell Mael got shot by Mark David Chapman?"
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:48 PM on June 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


And, perhaps for that reason, and surely also that they were no longer active as a band, they also fell out of rotation on the radio while other acts almost as old continue to get airplay on classic rock stations.

You know who seems to have met with the approval of multiple generations of teenagers, more than any other 60's bands? The Doors, Zeppelin, and, to a perhaps lesser degree, Hendrix.
posted by thelonius at 1:48 PM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


“Merry Christmas (War Is Over)” is trite and smarmy, but at least musically listenable. “Wonderful Christmas Time” (a.k.a., the Dad Bought A Synth song) is dire. It's hard to believe that someone with as much musical experience as Paul McCartney would have made that for any reason other than spite and contractual obligation.
posted by acb at 1:54 PM on June 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


Perhaps the real genius of the Beatles was that there were three other people (but mostly John, I suppose) who could say, "No, Paul, no!"
posted by sjswitzer at 1:59 PM on June 19, 2019 [9 favorites]


“Wonderful Christmas Time” (a.k.a., the Dad Bought A Synth song) is dire.

THE CHOIR OF CHILDREN SING THEIR SONG! DING DONG! DING DONG!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:31 PM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


If the Beatles had never existed, Luvs [...] might have licensed a Rolling Stones song if The Stones already did something along those lines. Wouldn't know, not a huge Stones follower here.

"I've got those moves like Jagger, I've got those moves like Jagger, I've got those mooooooooooooooves like Jagger."
posted by WCityMike at 2:35 PM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


White artists: "Use the studio as an instrument"; genius, auteurs
Black artists: Can't play, just use samples; not "real musicians".


I appreciate the sentiment but bringing sample-based music into it specifically makes the comparison kind of a mess. I'm a big fan of sample-based music, but the artistic questions it raises are another whole deal from "studio-as-instrument" as the Beatles practiced it (although they did mess around with samples and tape music a bit). A more apt comparison might be what kind of pop performers get more or less credit as the authors of their work, given that the Beatles required significant assistance from George Martin etc. to make the records they did.
posted by atoxyl at 2:44 PM on June 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


The Doors, Zeppelin, and, to a perhaps lesser degree, Hendrix.

also Black Sabbath and AC/DC, because kids always wanna rock dangerously
posted by philip-random at 2:54 PM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


So, FWIW, I think the Beatles were all they were cracked up to be. But there's another thing too. They were the culmination of the resegregation of musical genres. In the early sixties, there was a lot of concerted effort to make rock and roll safe for white people. (I need a footnote here about the Stones, Zep and Hendrix, but eh.)

Several years ago, Bob Dylan gave an interview to, of all possible outlets, the AARP. In it, he is quoted,
From its fused inception, rock ‘n’ roll was already a racially integrated American invention being blasted in teenage bedrooms as early as 1955, but as the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum going into 1960, the genre was being commercially segregated, on the sly, into white (British Invasion) and black (soul) music by the (WASPy) establishment.
So, the dirty little secret is that since the sixties there has been something just a little bit reactionary about rock and roll. I don't blame the Beatles for this, but they were right in the midst of the ethnic cleansing of rock and roll. The next decade would see the rise of southern rock (Lynyrd Skynyrd, etc.), and the appropriation of the "let it all hang out" ethos of the left by the right.

In the years since, rock and roll has become increasingly white. On the one hand, this excluded a lot of voices. On the other hand it created a new space for non-white artists to flourish, to the point where no one would seriously argue that rock and roll has much cultural currency at all these days.
posted by sjswitzer at 3:08 PM on June 19, 2019 [7 favorites]


And, perhaps for that reason, and surely also that they were no longer active as a band, they also fell out of rotation on the radio while other acts almost as old continue to get airplay on classic rock stations.

I’m 46 and he Beatles have always been old people music that my parent’s generation cared about and was on oldies stations I didn’t listen to. Expecting kids today to care about the Beatles would be like expecting kids of my generation to care about music from the 1910s and 1920s.
posted by fimbulvetr at 3:43 PM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


I don't know what to tell you. Maybe give Revolver a listen?
posted by sjswitzer at 3:54 PM on June 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


Expecting kids today to care about the Beatles would be like expecting kids of my generation to care about music from the 1910s and 1920s.

In the mid 90s, a teacher of mine captivated a large classroom full of noisy, bickering, hormonal sixth graders by playing us “Nowhere Man.” Not sure if any of us had heard it before, though most of us knew who The Beatles were, and it definitely sounded retro (and still does)—nothing like we were hearing on TRL after school every day. This was the year before “Hit Me Baby One More Time.” You could just tell it was special, magic somehow.
posted by sallybrown at 4:06 PM on June 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I think saying the Beatles are overrated is kind of like saying Shakespeare is overrated.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:51 PM on June 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


That's just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:15 PM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


Expecting kids today to care about the Beatles would be like expecting kids of my generation to care about music from the 1910s and 1920s.

I would accept this as true if I didn't keep encountering evidence to the contrary. That is, young people who discover the Beatles via their parents collections or maybe some movie and they suddenly can't get enough of them. I'm not saying this is all young people, that the Beatles are currently bigger than Drake or whoever's big these days. But it happens in a way that my generation (I turned eleven the year The Beatles broke up) didn't go for stuff that was just fifteen or twenty years old. If it was pre-rock'n'roll, we generally had ZERO interest.

relevant link: Nardwuar vs Calpurnia (none of them over 17)
posted by philip-random at 5:43 PM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


re: the beatles's current popularity - back in the heady days of 2006, i found myself in a thumping, packed disco in tokyo, where the masses were undulating as one to some nondescript electronic groove. all of a sudden, the dj decided it was time to play the song "Help" - not some re-mix, mind you - just the original version as the gods intended it, from 1965. without missing a beat, the entirety of the sweaty masses stopped what they were doing and sang every word of every line in rapt attention. once it ended, the electronic beat resumed, as did the undulations. everyone seemed perfectly happy with all of this - there was no mass exodus to the bar or the bathroom.

i tell you, that shit is timeless.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 6:24 PM on June 19, 2019 [13 favorites]


we all need help
posted by philip-random at 7:57 PM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


The relevance of The Beatles to The Youth has gone through many phases, I think - and also is different to people in different phases of life. They have a pretty early appeal to younger kids, in my experience. Then they seem a little un-edgy, if you're a teenager. But then if you're a little older and you're a bit of a music nerd you may discover, as some people were discussing upthread, that they were kind of edgy. And then John Lennon being shitty might kind of ruin that for you again and so on.

And they have certain songs that will always have some psych credibility. A little while ago I saw Sean Lennon perform "Tomorrow Never Knows" and I gotta say - even though Sean Lennon actually seems like kind of a shithead - it gave me chills.
posted by atoxyl at 8:27 PM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


That the Beatles were much tougher individuals than the Rolling Stones was also something the late Lemmy Kilmister was fond of pointing out.
posted by atoxyl at 8:32 PM on June 19, 2019 [9 favorites]


I meant "pretty easy appeal" but whatever.
posted by atoxyl at 8:33 PM on June 19, 2019


I wasn’t commenting on whether or not the Beatles’ music is good music. I don’t personally care for it, but so what, that doesn’t mean it is bad music, just not my thing. There was fantastic music in the 1910’s and 20’s as well (and ironically, despite my comment above that actually is my preferred cup of tea). But the Beatles were oldies when I was young and is ancient to youngsters today. I try to get my kids to listen to the 80s music of my youth and while they will grudgingly admit that some it is good music, they just aren’t into it. It is old people music to them. I can’t blame them... music of the 80s is older to them than the Beatles were to me at their age.
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:08 PM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Like my usual counterfactuals, this will be structured like a Choose Your Own Adventure tale.

If Joe Meek manages to extend his sanity/career without the added pressure of mop-topped competition, go to page 50. If Dylan sees the (originally) blues-based Stones and thus still decides to go electric, go to page 157. If Brian Wilson is similarly influenced by the Stones' swagger and literally bitch-slaps Mike Love out of the Beach Boys, put the book down and high-five the person closest to you.
posted by gtrwolf at 9:59 PM on June 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


I think the Beatles are very much like Star Wars, it's not how good they were, but what an impression they made on very young people. I loved the Beatles when I was 12-14ish, but never cared after that. But many, if not most, of my favorite musicians were heavily influenced by them. Go figure.

So it's hard to say they're overrated. But I think their influence is overstated by people who were huge fans. It's impossible to say that someone else wouldn't have filled that spot with something equally inspirational.

The debate about timelines tends to not note the differences between the major and the minor (thank you). I tend to think that if you change some major influence like the Beatles every single detail about the future is changed, but the overall picture is incredibly similar. Like Americans shopping in Canada.
posted by bongo_x at 10:22 PM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


I think the real question is whether punk, new wave, art-rock, alternative, etc would have existed without the Beatles. It is really hard for me, a solid Gen Xer born in 1970, to consider the differences in the world pre and post Beatles. Is it merely the incorporation of African-American blues motifs into white music? Or an elevation in the level of skill and complexity in popular song writing and lyricism? The developing idea of the "concept album?" Or the adoption of psychedelia into mainstream entertainment? I have no perspective on how revolutionary these things were because they existed from the time I was born, but it seems to me that all of these things were happening in popular culture in the 60s independently of the Beatles and there are examples of other bands doing these things who were arguably not copying the Beatles.

The hallmarks of popular culture in my lifetime include the rejection of corporate curation, the rise of a DIY ethic, the idea that popular music can transcend mere entertainment and can be properly considered serious art, technology and distribution mechanisms being made available to ordinary people without corporate affiliation, and the special power that music possesses to critique the world. I think one narrative is that this all developed as a reaction to a stale, predictably profitable product being offered by billion dollar record companies -- The Sex Pistols and Black Flag were a direct response to people being bored by the same old offerings from record companies that made a ton of money off of the Beatles and The Eagles and gave us a lot of stuff that was just like the Beatles and The Eagles.

I think it's more complex than that. If the Beatles never existed, you still have some pretty fierce early music from The Who, The Kinks, The Sonics, Hendrix, etc. The Rolling Stones were bad boys who occasionally made really ugly music praising Satan and describing violent revolution. And then there's people who appear to have zero influence from the Beatles who were *really* out there like Zappa, Sabbath, the Velvet Underground.

Were the Beatles part of the money generating "safe" corporate product which led to a lack of innovation and ultimately a backlash in popular culture which shapes the landscape today?

Or were the Beatles a mellowing influence on a trend towards an anticapitalist aesthetic that permeates a great deal of popular culture now?

I tend to think that much of the current US pop culture milieu would look the same with or without the Beatles. They were a great band, and John and Paul were really gifted song writers , but this notion that that they changed the world is just more Baby Boomer conceit.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 11:53 PM on June 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


> "Groups like ELO and World Party wouldn't exist without the Beatles."
Oh, I dunno. Skiffle was a big thing, at least in the UK, pre-Beatles, so that gives you Lonnie Donegan, The Vipers, Tommy Steele, etc. More importantly, it also gives you The Vikings, The Mayfair Set, Nightriders, which gets you to The Idle Race and The Move. And that gets you to ELO - though, granted, the pre-1975 version up to about Face The Music.

A bit later, and partly in reaction to that, you'd get the The Waterboys / World Party.

Personally I like to think The Beatles' gap would've been filled by a combination of Lonnie &/or Tommy, Tom Jones, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks - and Roy Wood desperately flipping around trying to ape all of them at the same time…
posted by Pinback at 1:04 AM on June 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


Cobain the PunkPolkaKing would still be slamming those bouncy rhythms.

I was thinking the other day that, had Cobain lived, his legacy may have ended up being that of having been the finest hobo bluesman of the early 21st century, with Smells Like Teen Spirit being dismissed as Laughing Gnome-esque juvenilia.
posted by acb at 1:16 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


Now do one where Buddy Holly lives past 22 pls. 22!
posted by threetwentytwo at 1:24 AM on June 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


I’m 46 and he Beatles have always been old people music that my parent’s generation cared about and was on oldies stations I didn’t listen to. Expecting kids today to care about the Beatles would be like expecting kids of my generation to care about music from the 1910s and 1920s.

Similarly here. I've heard the obvious songs that everyone has—She Loves You, Yellow Submarine, Strawberry Fields, and so on—and a few slightly deeper cuts of note (i.e., Revolution No. 9, noteworthy for its bringing of musique concréte practices to a pop record), though have never owned a Beatles album or listened to one end to end, and my awareness of the chronology these songs fit in is fuzzy at best (I know the more straight-up teenage rock'n'roll is earlier on, then they dropped acid, bought Mellotrons and got into Eastern mysticism and things got more baroque in style). Other than that, the Beatles are something that has always been in the background, like cosmic radiation from the Big Bang. I get the feeling that queueing up, say, Rubber Soul or Revolver and listening to it from end to end would be more a historical exercise than something one would do for entertainment, partly because the entire corpus of music which followed and was influenced by them would distract from the possibility of hearing said album in the way that its original audience was able to. (I got the same impression with the Velvet Underground; listening to their albums, one hears every underground indie-rock band that followed.)
posted by acb at 1:28 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


There was fantastic music in the 1910’s and 20’s as well (and ironically, despite my comment above that actually is my preferred cup of tea). But the Beatles were oldies when I was young and is ancient to youngsters today.

I don't know if it's going to matter, long term. My child still came back from preschool singing Camptown Races one day. "It's old and I won't listen to it" is a very standard adolescent complaint but it doesn't mean that most kids won't experience these songs in one way or another. Mostly from piped in muzak/retail spotify.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:02 AM on June 20, 2019


I’m 46 and he Beatles have always been old people music that my parent’s generation cared about and was on oldies stations I didn’t listen to.

As a counterpoint, I'm 51 and the Beatles were my obsession as a young man. Curiously, my dad also was obsessed with 'old peoples music,' which for him was big band and music popular at the time of his birth. One reason for this I postulate is that, several decades on, the dreck has been forgotten while only the best music is remembered and indeed is still available for purchase. (A British friend once told me he though it was hilarious that Americans thought British TV was 'classy.' He said: Only the best 5% makes it across the pond, you don't see the other 95% of the crap we have to put up with.)

Beyond that, I think a lot of people approach songwriting and musicianship based on their tastes, and many people like(d) the Beatles. Billy Joel once said that he tried to be all four Beatles at once when writing/recording music, and you can hear that in his music. Similarly, as a (talentless) electric bass player, I tried to emulate McCartney. So I think there's also the butterfly effect to the influence of the Beatles, in addition to the actual Beatles songs, etc.
posted by jabah at 5:15 AM on June 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


There would be no Blues Beatles, or Better Beatles.
posted by thelonius at 8:42 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


And then there's people who appear to have zero influence from the Beatles who were *really* out there like Zappa, Sabbath, the Velvet Underground.

Lou Reed hated the Beatles, but how much of what he did (particularly with the Velvets) was driven by this hatred? Zappa was perhaps dimensions beyond the Beatles musically, but the cover of We're Only In It For The Money is a clear response to Sgt. Pepper's, which feels like influence to me. As for Sabbath, Ozzy's on the record somewhere as describing the early Sabbath as a band that absolutely loved the Beatles, that never would've formed were it not for the Beatles, but they were absolute no-hopers when it came to sounding like the Beatles ... so something else happened.
posted by philip-random at 9:18 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


more a historical exercise than something one would do for entertainment

As far as I'm concerned, it's the same thing. I don't see how it's possible to comprehend and appreciate modern popular music without a working knowledge of the Beatles, any more than it's possible to comprehend and appreciate popular music of the Beatles' era without a working knowledge of Waring's Pennsylvanians and Paul Whiteman's Orchestra.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:23 AM on June 20, 2019


Lou Reed hated the Beatles, but how much of what he did (particularly with the Velvets) was driven by this hatred? Zappa was perhaps dimensions beyond the Beatles musically, but the cover of We're Only In It For The Money is a clear response to Sgt. Pepper's, which feels like influence to me. As for Sabbath, Ozzy's on the record somewhere as describing the early Sabbath as a band that absolutely loved the Beatles, that never would've formed were it not for the Beatles, but they were absolute no-hopers when it came to sounding like the Beatles ... so something else happened.

The Beatles were so popular and omnipresent it's almost impossible to think of any musician making any kind of even vaguely similar music to not have had some reaction about the Beatles involved in it even as just an acknowledgement of something that's been done. (Of course it doesn't follow though that had there been no Beatles no other music would have been possible for not having that music as an inspiration or point of opposition.)
posted by gusottertrout at 9:42 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


Lou Reed hated the Beatles, but how much of what he did (particularly with the Velvets) was driven by this hatred?

There are so many rabbit holes to disappear down in this conversation, but I couldn’t let this one pass: musically speaking, Velvet Underground is much more John Cale than Lou Reed, who (IIRC) was mostly a poet when they first met. Cale, on the other hand, was an experimental musician working with La Monte Young and Pauline Oliveiros, having studied and played John Cage’s music extensively prior to that. So lyrical content, sure, let’s talk about Lou Reed; but if we’re talking about the Velvet Underground’s musical influence, it’s mostly Cale and early minimalism and drone music that are in play, much more so than the production-as-composition techniques being pioneered by Emerick & Martin for the Beatles, and Brian Wilson for his band.

Also, w/r/t the musical tastes of young people these days, as a college music teacher I work with young folks in musical contexts all the time, and what’s most fascinatingly new to me about their cultural frames-of-reference is that they are much, much more temporally flattened than anything I ever experienced (Gen Xer myself), which is of course because of the internet. They don’t think of things as ‘old’ or ‘new’ in the ways I do (or used to), and there is a clear creative canon shaping up in each medium, regardless of age (for example, I can still make Ferris Butler references to groups of contemporary high schoolers, because that is a canon movie for them, they’ve mostly all seen it; same with lots of music—they know the Beatles’ music because it’s culturally influential and because it’s well-made, good music, and they recognize that. It abides because it’s good, and it’s ‘old’ in the way that a Brahms symphony is ‘old’; more like classic, timeless).

I do notice that the Beatles are really not a cultural touchstone for any of the various Latinx cultures represented among my students (which, being in California, are many). Not sure why that’s the case, but that’s been my experience, at least.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:45 AM on June 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


I usually think of it as the Beatles did it first or they did it best.

The Beatles were inspired, down to their name, by Buddy Holly and the Crickets, who "helped set the template for subsequent rock bands...with their guitar-bass-drums lineup and the talent to write most of their own material." Their original lineup was the classic rock lead guitar/ rhythm guitar/bass/drums lineup.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:57 AM on June 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


I do notice that the Beatles are really not a cultural touchstone for any of the various Latinx cultures represented among my students (which, being in California, are many).

Examples of (English language) concerts with majority Chicano audiences: Smokey Robinson at the Hollywood Bowl, Johnny Marr at the Glass House.

The Art Laboe definition of "oldies" doesn't include The Beatles, so that's what Kids These Days in one culture are hearing from their grandparents and great-grandparents. I have seen a grandma and middle school-aged child wearing Smiths t-shirts (not matching, unfortunately).
posted by betweenthebars at 5:16 PM on June 20, 2019


There's a huge fanbase for the Smiths and Morrissey in the Latinx community. I don't totally get it, but I get it.
posted by sjswitzer at 5:40 PM on June 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


There are so many rabbit holes to disappear down in this conversation, but I couldn’t let this one pass: musically speaking, Velvet Underground is much more John Cale than Lou Reed, who (IIRC) was mostly a poet when they first met.

and lou had worked in the sub brill bulding type mills of new york city - the chorus to run run run? - pure shirelles - his phrasing? - very influenced by dion - i hear a neil diamond influence in "sunday morning" - likewise, there's a lot of nyc pop in "femme fatale", "there she goes again"

it's one of the brilliant aspects of this album that it owes so much to the melodic sense of pre-beatles post doo-wop rock - and that came from lou, not john
posted by pyramid termite at 6:03 PM on June 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


There's a huge fanbase for the Smiths and Morrissey in the Latinx community. I don't totally get it, but I get it.

There's a great shout-out to this in Ant-Man & the Wasp, of all places, when Luis is forced to reveal that the jukebox in his grandmother's restaurant only played Morrissey ("...what can I say, you know? We relate to his melancholy ballads...").
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:09 PM on June 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


because the entire corpus of music which followed and was influenced by them would distract from the possibility of hearing said album in the way that its original audience was able to. (I got the same impression with the Velvet Underground; listening to their albums, one hears every underground indie-rock band that followed.)

This is a really good point. I could not get into the Velvet Underground for the longest time, despite, say, liking Yo La Tengo, and then one day listening to Belle and Sebastian I finally got it.
posted by sjswitzer at 6:20 PM on June 28, 2019


listening to their albums, one hears every underground indie-rock band that followed

Plus all of punk. (Punk artists pioneered DIY in the early & mid-80s, using zines to sell cassette copies of the albums they recorded in their garages, and indie-rock/grunge of the 90s is really third-generation punk rock.)
posted by LooseFilter at 7:42 AM on June 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


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