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A new book, How The Beatles Rocked The Kremlin, makes the claim that the Beatles contributed greatly to the collapse of the Soviet Union (or at least to the collapse of the legitimacy of the communist regime among its youth; whether glasnost, perestroika and the disintegration of the USSR would have happened as they did without the Beatles is a matter for historical inquiry):

The book's main character, the Russian writer and critic Art Troitsky, makes the claim that: "In the big bad west they've had whole huge institutions that spent millions of dollars trying to undermine the Soviet system. And I'm sure the impact of all those stupid cold war institutions has been much, much smaller than the impact of the Beatles."
A grand assertion, maybe – but widely shared. "Beatlemania washed away the foundations of Soviet society," explains Mikhail Safonov at the Institute of Russian History. And the Russian rocker Sasha Lipnitsky – snowflakes falling on his beret as he talks to Woodhead in a park bandstand – insists: "The Beatles brought us the idea of democracy. For many of us, it was the first hole in the iron curtain."
The Soviet authorities didn't quite know how to respond, and alternated between trying to co-opt the new fad and attempting to stamp it out, but to no avail; once music fans contrasted the music with the authorities' denunciations of it, they became more sceptical of the official party line:
Indeed, the repression and harassment of the music ebbed and flowed as the party controls lapsed or intensified. "It went in waves: sometimes you could be approved for an official recording, and sometimes you were banned, losing your job or education. It must have driven them insane," says Woodhead. He not only excavates the minds of the rebels but also the propaganda machine at work. He recounts how a school staged a mock trial of the Beatles – broadcast on radio – with a prosecutor and denunciations in the manner of Stalin's show trials of the 1930s. A critical bulletin shown on state TV, entitled Pop Quartet the Beatles, told the story of how "these gifted guys could be real cash earners" while, "struck down with psychosis, the fans don't hear anything any more. Hysterics, screams, people fainting!" So ran the TV commentary, accompanied by shots of dancing fans intercut with images of the Ku Klux Klan and dire poverty in the American south. "Keep on dancing, lads, don't look around," the programme taunted, "You don't really want to know what's happening. Keep going, louder and faster! You don't care about anyone else."
The article also mentions the USSR and its satellite states' interaction with other forms of countercultural and popular music, some deemed less threatening than others. (Disco, it seems, is OK because it's easy to contain. By then, the sclerotic Brezhnev-era USSR must have given up on trying to inspire its youth with Leninist zeal in its vision and was merely hoping that their recreations would remain safely apolitical, and, dare one say, bourgeois.)
Looking through the other end of the telescope, it is enlightening to find what the Soviet authorities approved of. They "positively encouraged" disco music – the Bee Gees' Saturday Night Fever, Abba and Boney M (though Rasputin was officially banned) – because, says Woodhead, "it was musically rigid and could be contained within the dance floor, it wasn't going to spill out on to the streets".
Why the Beatles? There is no hint of the Rolling Stones or the Who in all this. In Czechoslovakia, the underground was being inspired by dark dissonance in the Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa. "I think the Czechs had that recent memory of democracy, before the war," reflects Woodhead. "And their culture has roots in Kafka and the surreal. But Soviet taste was more melodic, they like tunes above all, even a little sentiment, verging on the beautiful – and there, I'm describing a McCartney song, not hypersexual rock'n'roll, or Street Fighting Man.

cold war communism culture disco history music rock'n'roll the beatles totalitarianism ussr 1


In major news stories recently:

  • Couple who met at university to marry, as the Caledonian Mercury's refreshingly unhyperbolic coverage puts it:

    William Windsor (or possibly Wales or possibly Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) and Kate Middleton, both 28, met at St Andrews University eight years ago.

    Mr Windsor is a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF – and also a prince.

    Wall-to-wall, dewy-eyed hysterical coverage can be found in every other media outlet.

  • The latest thing from Apple is not the long-awaited multitasking iPad OS, nor any shiny new gadget, but that iTunes will finally sell the albums of a band who broke up 40 years ago. Granted, the Beatles were significant, but were they really in a whole godlike league above a lot of other artists, such as, let's say randomly, Led Zeppelin or Michael Jackson? (Indeed, I've seen an argument that they were only the second most influential pop group, after Kraftwerk.)

    Meanwhile, Fox News broke the news that Apple would be distributing "Manchester's favourite mopheads". I wonder whether that's a mistake or something they deliberately put in to maintain their carefully crafted image of not giving a shit about offending foreign sensibilities.

(via Rhodri) apple foxnews media murdoch the beatles the royal family uk 2


The BBC News Magazine has a piece on how the Beatles acquired a devoted illicit following in the Soviet Union, arguably helping to undermine the legitimacy of the Communist system:

Collarless Beatles jackets, known as "Bitlovka", were assembled from cast-offs; clumsy army boots were refashioned in Beatles style. And with much of the Western media blocked out, bizarre Beatles myths blossomed.
Yuri Pelyushonok recalls hearing at school how "the English Queen gave John Lennon a Gold Car; but the Beatles had to play in cages to avoid their fans".
The most persistent myth was that the Beatles had played a secret concert at a Soviet airbase on their way to Japan. Everywhere, fans claimed it happened close to them.

communism culture history the beatles ussr 0


Melbourne music critic Andy Hazel takes apart The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band:

Ah. "The best". According to most modern rock historians this is the greatest album ever released (give or take the odd Pet Sounds, Dark Side Of The Moon, or, if last year's BBC poll is to be believed, Oasis's Definitely Maybe). Genre-redefining, archetypal, seminal, analysed to death and hyped to maniacal lengths by fans and writers; anybody who wonders where modern rock begins is told to start here. Sgt. Peppers has been long-heralded as the last example of the band working like a team, as the pinnacle of The Beatles' musical talents, song-writing abilities and the last example of unclouded communication between the members. It's the supreme model of analogue recording by pioneering producer / genius / 5th member George Martin and an album still mined by bands claiming to be representative of today's youth - if you want to be a musical success, start studying here. This is it, the first and best 'concept album' and the greatest collection of songs ever committed to vinyl or etched into disc, end of story.
This overblown testament to pomposity and slackly-edited grandiosity is a mockery of music and self-indulgence almost without exception. With George Martin at your side, a record label kowtowing to any whim, tens of millions of people agreeing with every grunt and suggestion you make and Abbey Road at your disposal, how could you blow it? Even The Beatles themselves realised how far up their own arses they had crawled by going back to basics for their following, untitled and infinitely superior album (later called The White Album). Take, for example, the ridiculously egotistical cover in which they place themselves amongst and ahead of Albert Einstein, Aldous Huxley, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Marlon Brando in some visual assessment of the 20th Century they had to be talked into doing (McCartney preferring an acid-drenched picture by Dutch art collective The Fool). It wasn't for nothing that one of their manager's last requests was "brown paper bags for Sergeant Peppers".
Hazel goes on and builds up a formidable list of charges against Sgt. Pepper's: from the hubris of the album's cover to the unenlightenedly misogynistic way women are objectified where they are actually visible, though coming back to the insubstantial, drug-addledly vacuous nature of the "innovation" on the album, and The Beatles' (and their label's) complicity in ushering in a leaden age of bloated, self-indulgent pomp that would only end almost a decade later, when the Sex Pistols poured petrol on the whole thing and, with a sneer, threw a lighted match:
While it's true the Beatles couldn't be blamed for who followed through the door they opened, they can be seen as the instigators of record companies handing over huge amounts of money to artists and (more often than not) managers using arguments along the lines of "well the Beatles needed 129 days and 10 times the usual budget to make a number one record, so do we." The nadir of 1970s self-indulgence was, in fact, a misguided reinterpretation of this album in film and soundtrack form featuring The Bee Gees, Peter Frampton and, mysteriously, George Martin a debacle that was deservedly, an unmitigated flop.

contrarianism history music prog rock sacred cows the beatles 7


As part of VICE's "Kill Your Parents" issue, Jim Goad sets the record straight on a number of baby-boomer counterculture heroes:

He was many things … a First Amendment warrior, a womanizer, a hipster and a junkie … but the one thing a comedian is supposed to be—funny—he wasn’t. “Take away the right to say ‘fuck,’ ” came one of Lenny Bruce’s most famously self-serving lines, “and you take way the right to say, ‘fuck the government.’ ” Thanks, Lenny. We’re now allowed to say “fuck” in certain special circumstances. But the government fucked you harder. You turned rat on your drug-dealing friends, and it’s safe to assume your morphine overdose in 1966 was a hot shot delivered as street vengeance.
The Beatles were a great rock ’n’ roll band except they couldn’t sing, play their instruments, or keep a beat. Despite claims of being a “working-class hero” after he’d salted away millions, and in spite of his prophet-of-peace shtick even though he was an overweening sourpuss who couldn’t even get along with his bandmates or wives, this sanctimonious junkie is still embraced as a beacon of childlike truth-seeking. He was shot dead by precisely the sort of true believer his massive ego helped spawn. His murderer, Mark David Chapman, reportedly used to lead schoolchildren in singing a parody of his hero’s signature song: “Imagine there’s no John Lennon.” It wasn’t hard to do.

(via VICE) baby boomers contrarianism jim goad john lennon lenny bruce the beatles vice 0


For today's dose of contrarianism, The Graun's Dave Simpson on why the Beatles weren't really all that good:

I never bought the myth - all that thumbs aloft, wacky Scousers, lovely boys, world peace stuff which we now know to be nonsense because they were in fact either taking heroin, fighting among themselves or dreaming up the Frog Chorus all that time. Even at my early age, something in McCartney's eye said: "Sshh, in 30 years I'll be asking my lawyers to get the credits reversed to McCartney-Lennon and presiding over a de-Spectorised version of Let It Be which will show how much we relied on top producers."
The Beatles are what they always were - the safe, money-spinning, housewives' choice. Their albums are easy listening (fine for 50-somethings, but the Beatles were cardigan-wearing duffers in their 20s). Sgt. Pepper, their much-trumpeted "psychedelic" album was as mindbending as an Asda mushroom pie. Give or take Helter Skelter, they never even rocked, really. Next to the Stones, the Who or the Troggs, the Beatles are the low alcohol lager of the 60s.

contrarianism culture music the beatles 8


Poster companies in the US have attracted criticism for sanitising a poster of The Beatles' Abbey Road album cover, removing a cigarette from Paul McCartney's hand. This was done without the permission of either McCartney or Apple Records.

abbey road revisionism smoking the beatles 0


Media watch: The Onion: "Ringo Next"; the Chaser: Yoko Ono slams Beatle death as derivative.

humour satire the beatles the chaser the onion yoko ono 0

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