In modern society, some facts are simply accepted: one plus one equals two, the Earth revolves around the Sun, and The Beatles are the greatest band in history. “So obviously dazzling was The Beatles’ achievement that few have questioned it,” writes Ian MacDonald in his study of the band Revolution in the Head. “Agreement on them is all but universal: they were far and away the best-ever pop group and their music enriched the lives of millions.” Today, just as half a century ago, most Beatles fans never rigorously examine the basis of the Fab Four’s stature in not just music but culture more broadly. Suffice it to say that no band has ever been as influential, and — more than likely — no band ever will be again.
To each new generation of Beatles fans, however, this very influence has made the band’s innovations more difficult to sense. For decade after decade, practically every major rock and pop band has performed in sports stadia and on international television, made use in the studio of guitar feedback and automatically double-tracked vocals, and shot music videos.
But the Beatles made all these now-common moves first, and others besides, as recounted in the video essay above, “8 Things The Beatles Pioneered.” Its creator David Bennett explains the musical, technological and cultural importance of all these strategies, which have since become so common that they’re seldom named among The Beatles’ many signature qualities.
Not absolutely everyone loves The Beatles, of course. But even those who don’t particularly enjoy their records must acknowledge their Shakespearean, even Biblical super-canonical status in popular music today. This can actually make it somewhat intimidating to approach the music of The Beatles, despite its very popularity, and especially for those of us who weren’t drawn to it growing up. I myself only recently listened through the Beatles canon, at the age of 35, an experience I’d deferred for so long knowing it would send me down an infinitely deep rabbit hole of associated reading. If you, too, consider yourself a candidate for late-onset Beatlemania, consider starting with the half-hour video just above, which tells the story of the band’s origins — and thus the origin, in a sense, of the pop culture that still surrounds us.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.