Nitsuh Abebe’s article “How To Hate The Beatles” is a crime against reason, good taste and the considered opinion of mankind. If I were merely a layperson – a casual Beatles fan peripherally conversant in their work – I would find the piece stunningly provocative. However, as the world’s preeminent Beatles fan, peerless in my knowledge of Beatles ephemera, I find Abebe’s piece simply abominable. After due deliberation, here is my response: “How To Love The Beatles.”
1. John Lennon. The World’s Greatest Rocker. Consider the musicians who confess to emulating John Lennon. Kurt Cobain. Neil Young. Bono. Rock’n’roll had no greater representative than Lennon, the tortured genius with his growling rhythm guitar. Yes, Lennon had his artsy side (one word: “Yoko”), and this is no strike against him. Truly, Lennon shined as a rocker. Lennon’s legendary performance on “Twist & Shout” ensured his legacy in the pantheon of rock greats, but his lesser known early performances on “Money,” “Bad Boy,” and “Dizzy Miss Lizzie” are equally impressive. Lennon’s guitar work on songs like “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” perhaps the greatest rhythm guitar performances of all time, showcase an innate sense of timing and rock style, woefully unappreciated in his time. I could go on and on about Lennon’s rock cred, from his screaming vocals on “Yer Blues” and “Happiness is a Warm Gun” (an ode to heroin junkies everywhere) to his solo masterpiece “Plastic Ono Band,” the original confessional rock album. In short, anyone who claims to love rock’n’roll would quite naturally love John Lennon, the original rocker, whose talent achieved stratospheric heights as the leader of the Beatles.
2. Paul McCartney. The World’s Greatest Pop Star. Where Lennon shined as a rocker, Paul McCartney displayed pure pop virtuosity as the musical architect of the Beatles. Lennon often bridled when the majority of Beatles songs covered by other artists were Paul songs. Indeed, the songs most commonly associated with the group – “Let it Be,” “Hey Jude”, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” – are 100% McCartney. With an ear for a catchy hook, the mind of a craftsman, and the musical ability of a renaissance man (McCartney played at least seven instruments as a Beatle), McCartney is simply an unequaled talent in the world of popular music. He could simply do it all. Need a love song? “Here, There and Everywhere” is one of the most beautiful songs ever written (no less an expert than John Lennon named it his favorite Beatles song). How about a voice-shredding rocker? “Helter Skelter” still sends shivers down the spine. Perhaps something more mainstream? Here you have many choices – “Martha My Dear”, “Honey Pie,” “When I’m 64” and “Lady Madonna” all showcase the vaudevillian influences on the young James Paul McCartney. It is often repeated that the Guinness Book of World Records has accorded McCartney the honor of most successful songwriter in the history of popular music. This is no fluke. Anyone with an ear for a catchy hook, an eye for a charismatic performer and an appreciation for unequaled musical talent need look no further than Paul McCartney, the beating heart of the Beatles.
3. Musical Accessibility. Anyone Can Play Along! This is an area where I have unique expertise. Beatles music is quite simply a joy to play. Budding musicians, picking up a guitar for the first time, can strum along to a decent share of Beatles hits in a matter of minutes. Few songs are so complex that they require great musical talent to master; I’ve often found that the simplest way to play a particular riff of rhythm is often the way the Beatles played it. Musical snobs criticize the group for this, claiming that the group might have been strengthened with John Bonham behind the drumkit, or Eric Clapton on lead guitar. This view shows little appreciation for the secret behind the Beatles’ style: musical understatement. Any amateur musician, emerging talent or musical virtuoso who appreciates music that is both simple to learn and delightful to master would be blown away by the musical accessibility of the catalog of the Beatles.
4. Personality. After all the re-releases, anthologies and encomiums since their tumultuous breakup, people seem to have forgotten a key aspect of Beatlemania: The Beatles were funny. The moment that truly crystallized their fame in America came not on the Ed Sullivan Show, but at John F. Kennedy Airport days earlier. At the band’s first press conference in the United States, The Beatles transformed a potentially contentious meeting into a flurry of one-liners, zingers and barbs that would make the Marx Brothers blush. The press wanted nothing more than to kill the Beatles in the cradle, but the group charmed their pants off, and America’s too. Watch “A Hard Day’s Night” and try not to laugh. Anyone with a sense of humor and a sense of the absurd naturally gravitates to the comedic sensibility and sharp wit of the Beatles.
5. Consider the competition. Although I am most devoted to the Beatles, there are other groups that belong in the pantheon of rock greats. Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and, yes, even the Rolling Stones have their own strengths that challenge those of the Beatles. Floyd took the idea of the concept album introduced by “Sgt. Pepper” to stratospheric heights with “The Wall” and “Dark Side of the Moon.” Zeppelin’s musical ability easily surpassed that of the Beatles, and their live performances are some of the most exciting rock music I’ve ever heard. And although many self-professed music critics present a binary “Stones vs. Beatles” argument, there’s no reason they can’t coexist. I often put it this way: If I’m going to a bar and want pure entertainment, I pick the Stones nine times out of ten. But if I want the whole package: musical masterpieces, vocal talent, personality, and a wide range of styles and sounds, then there’s simply no match for the Beatles.
This merely scratches the surface. I could go on and on, but alas, I have guitar parts to learn…
Michael Sokil (MJ Sokes) is a multi-instrumentalist who has taught himself every Beatles song on guitar, drums, bass and piano. His YouTube channel, approaching 2 million views, is one of the top 100 most-viewed music channels on YouTube.