The Beatles main contribution to youth culture, it seems, was to generate what the Daily Telegraph christened ‘Beatlemania’
– David Folwer (2008, p168)
During the 1960s there was not a band as successful as The Beatles, during 1965 their Official Fan Club reached 80,000 members and the band gained number one hits on both side of the Atlantic. Even with all the commercial and critical triumphs there has been a lot of criticism of the integrity of their music. David Fowler proposed in his book, Youth Culture in Modern Britain, the idea that the band were just popular entertainers and questions wether they were had an influence on British youth culture. He stated that the Mod artists were more influential to the young generation around the country. On the other hand, other critics such as Ian McDonald believe The Beatles defined the 1960s, they produced the culture and single-handedly created pop music as we know it. Even the early Beatles records were more than standardized pop songs, they represented the general mood of the youth, emotions of liberation, joy and freedom.
Youth culture is described as a group of young people ranked together by their interests within their generation, this is backed up by Bryan Wilson, a sociologist who discussed youth culture in 1960s. Wilson (1970) defined the term as the autonomous behavior of the young. Fowler develops this point and states “youth culture transcends class; but age caused fractures within British youth culture at certain periods” (2008, p5). Youth culture is closely associated with the term fandom, which derives from the word fanatic. A person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal, especially for an extreme religious or political cause or person with an obsessive interest in and enthusiasm for a particular activity. This term can directly be used for Beatlemania in 1960s. John Fiske presents the idea of “fans create a fan culture with its own systems of production and distribution that forms a shadow cultural economy that lies outside the culture industries” (1992, p30). There were two stages to The Beatles’ career, the first stage for the group being a standardized pop boy band and the other period being drug and peace loving hippies. The progression into the second stage of their music career came around 1965 with their sixth album Rubber Soul as McDonald states “the day after the second session of Norwegian Wood, McCartney informed New Musical Express that he and Lennon had found a new direction” (2008, p162). This LP helped the band break away from their boy band roots of Motown covers and love ballads to instrumental experimentation and more meaningful ambiguous lyrics. Certainly before 1965 there is evidence for Folwer’s argument that the Beatles created their fan worship, they used a standardized pop formula to create three minute songs about love. These tracks appealed and targeted to younger females, who were a passive listening audience and Ehrenreich et. Al. goes on state there has been “no culture so strenuously and shamelessly exploits its children as consumers” (1997, p100). Artists like Elvis and Sinatra came before them with pre teen girl audiences but the difference with the Beatles is there was more teenagers around after a baby boom in early 1950s living in a more sexualised society and the band pounced on this situation. The Beatles were not apart of the counter culture of 1960s as many critics proclaim, they distrustfully exploited their youth culture audience for commercial gain as Fowler (2008) claims “they did about as much to represent the interests of the nation’s young people as the Spice Girls did in the 1990s”, who were the most successful group since the Liverpudlian band in 60s.
The Beatles created the film A Hard Days Night to coincide the release of the LP with the same name in 1964 as a marketing tool to advertise the album. The group used the film as a catalyst to carry on their fandom and portray how they wanted their fans to behave. The first scene in the film shows John, George and Ringo being chased around Marleybone station and they enjoy the chase as they laugh and joke while the group flee from thousands of pre teenage girls. This scene can be read as the Beatles encouraging their fans to act in this manor and create a frenzy and hysteria, Fowler goes on state “British beatlemania did generate some disturbing behavior. At several concert venues they played during 1963 and 1964, it was discovered afterwards that the seats were stained with urine” (2008, p2). The film captures beatlemania with shots of genuine fans as extras and using closes up them when the band are performing. Along with portraying scenes of beatlemania, the film was commercially successful with Slide stating that the film “set records at the London Pavilion by grossing over $20,000 in the first week, ultimately becoming so popular that more than 1,600 prints were in circulation simultaneously” (1985, p188) and “by 1971 the film was estimated to have earned $11 million worldwide” (Walker, 1974, p241). The success on this film helped advertise the score of film which was all Beatles records from the A Hard Days Night album and the record went straight to number one on its first week release.
The Beatles were not were not a voice of the youth culture during 1960s, critics such as Fowler explain all they cared about was selling records to their fans. He goes on further to say “The Beatles were not in any meaningful sense a reflection of youth culture during 1960s, Their appeal was chiefly to pre-teenage girls” (2008/p197-98). Other successful bands of the same era such as the Rolling Stones did not care much about voicing an opinion through their music, they were not concerned in acting as mouthpieces for young people. The leader singer of the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger was quoted on saying in a TV interview with William Rees-Mogg that they were only interested in selling records and Fowler goes on to state…
The working-class youth were alienated by the representations of youth culture made in speeches by middle-class pop stars like Mick Jagger; and, to working class youth in Liverpool, the Beatles dalliance with hippie values in the late 1960s was too much to bear. (2008, p198)
This was a similar school of thought for the Beatles as later on his career, Paul McCartney commented on the lyrics to the his own penned song Can’t Buy Me Love, the lyrics go “can’t buy me love / everybody tells me so / can’t buy me love / no no no, no.” McCartney was later quoted “it should have been ‘Can Buy Me Love'” when reflecting on the perks that money and fame had brought him” (Badman, 2000). Statements as such determine the group be focused on selling records and looking to profit commercially. The group did not lead to rise to a youth culture, they had a following of a youth audience of passive teenage, mainly female. These fans who became surplus when the band finished touring Britain in 1965, Fowler goes on to state “in Britain Beatles fans were, in the main, girls of 10-14 who lost interest in pop culture at around 20 it is unlikely that group had as much of an influence older teenager” (2008, p168). By the end of 1960s they became detached with all from youth culture as they individually came recluses and only met up for studio sessions around London or at Lennon’s house.
David Fowler has a strong argument on The Beatles exploiting the culture and fans that surrounded them but others theorists and critics display contrasting views. Ian MacDonald believes The Beatles were at the forefront of the counter culture of 1960s, with a message they wanted to spread to the world of peace and love. The counter culture of the 1960s was the culture of those, especially of the young, who opposed the dominant values on the war in Vietnam, race relations, sexuality and women’s rights. Corry goes on to state “the Beatles became a major symbol of cultural transformation and the veritable leaders of the 1960s youth movement” (2010, p1). The Beatles personified the communal message of the 1967 Summer of Love through their music and fashion style, the band established major attributes of the embryonic counterculture. Corry explains the band attributed to “the maturing sensibility of rock music and [to the] greater personal freedom as expressed by physical appearance” (2010, p1). Earlier in their career, the Beatles fan base was mostly young pre-teenage girls but around the Summer of Love they were performing to an slightly older audience who wanted to make a change to the society they lived in. The band also contributed to attraction and interest in experimentation with drugs like LSD and heroin and Grunenberg expands this point by stating “one essential ingredient of the US counterculture was LSD” (2007, p45). The band went on to become the biggest commercial advocate for the psychedelic revolution with their revolutionary Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, later being named the number one greatest album of all time in numerous music critiques.
To conclude, The Beatles used their fandom to cash in and gain commercially instead of being the voice for the youth, Fowler claimed “the Beatles, who emerged in 1963 and generated a form of fan worship not seen in Britain before or after” (2008, p2). The fandom was needed to create the uncontrollable emotion and excitement for their fans of anticipation of seeing the Beatles live or buying their albums on release day as Ehrenreich et. al. go on to say “hysteria was critical to the marketing of the Beatles” (1997, p99). The fandom that was created by the band themselves may have been the making of their downfall as The Beatles feared for their personal safety while touring in the later stages of their career. The hysteria and commotion they birthed became too much to handle, they became “the first musical celebrities to be driven from the stage by their own fans” (Ehrenreich, Hess and Jacobs,1997, p86). Restricting themselves to the studio, the group lost their core fan base later on in their career and lost touch with their followers, Fowler explains “the Beatles alienated ‘Liverpudlians’ as their careers developed” (2008, p172) and therefor never really became the voice of the youth that they performed in front of. The Beatles needed to start their career as a standardized pop band in a need to gain a foothold within the music industry and they used a standardized pop formula to gain this, by releasing three minute songs of love and wearing identical clothing and hair styles. Once the group gained a fan base and critical recognition, they began to experiment and use techniques that were not seen in pop music before them. More importantly they created the music they wanted to play, but in the end their own manufactured fandom went too far as it resulted in death for the Beatles as a crazed fan named Mark David Chapman, who idolized John Lennon, shot the star in back on 8th December 1980.
The scene is nothing but absurd–a thousand groupies caught in an endless cycle of pathetic hero worship
– Daniel Nathan Charness (2010, p88)
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