Pop Music: The Messengers

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That includes not only college students but parents, professors, even business executives.

Hardy Minority. Considering that the Beatles' trademark is offbeat irreverence, their effect on mature audiences is odd ly amusing. If the teeny-boppers made the Beatles plaster gods, many adults make them pop prophets, and tend to theorize solemnly, instead of seriously, about their significance. The Rev. B. Davie Napier, dean of the chapel at Stanford University, says that "no entity hits as many sensitive people as these guys do." Napier, who has dwelt in past sermons on Yellow Submarine and Eleanor Rigby, is convinced that Sgt. Pepper "lays bare the stark loneliness and terror of these lonely times," and he plans to focus on the album in an address to freshman students. Atlan ta Psychiatrist Tom Leland says that the Beatles "are speaking in an existential way about the meaninglessness of actuality." There is even a womb's-eye view. Chicago Psychiatrist Ner Littner believes that the Beatles' "strong beat seems to awaken echoes of significant early experiences such as the fetal intrauterine serenity that repetitively reverberates to the mother's heartbeat."

Other over-interpreters include the listeners who—like literary critics dissecting a sonnet—ferret out indirect references in Beatle lyrics and persist in catching a whiff of drugs in such innocuous songs as Yellow Submarine. And there is still the hardy minority that insists on viewing the Beatles as the great put-on of the century.

Derivative Mewing. Not so long ago, the pop scene was going nowhere. Rock 'n' roll had catapulted into the bestseller charts in the 1950s on the chugging riffs of Bill Haley and His Comets (Rock Around the Clock) and the rhythmic caterwauling of Elvis Presley. But even they were bleached-out copies of the vibrant, earthy rhythm-and-blues sung in the subculture of Negro music. Until the early 1960s, rock 'n' roll went through a doldrum of derivative mewing by white singers, with only occasional breakthroughs by such Negroes as Ray Charles and Fats Domino.

The Beatles, along with other British groups—the Rolling Stones, the Animals—revitalized rock by closely imitating (and frankly crediting) such Negro originators of the style as Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. Soon the Negro "soul sound" surged into the white mass market. The old-line blues merchants have enjoyed a revival, and a younger, slicker breed of rhythm-and-blues singers—notably Lou Rawls, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and the Supremes—have taken up commanding positions on the sales charts. "Until the Beatles exposed the origins, the white kids didn't know anything about the music," says Veteran Blues Shouter Waters, 52. "Now they've learned it was in their backyard all the time."

As the Beatles moved on, absorbing and extending Bob Dylan's folk-rock hybrid and sowing innovations of their own, they were like musical Johnny Appleseeds; wherever they went, they left flourishing fields for other groups to cultivate. "They were saying, 'If you want to get better, here's the route,' " says Art Garfunkel, 25, half of the folk-rock duo, Simon and Garfunkel. Nowadays, according to independent Record Producer Charlie Greene, 28, "no

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