Pop Music: The Messengers

  • Share
  • Read Later

(5 of 10)

matter how hard anybody tries, no matter how good they are, almost everything they do is a cop on the Beatles." Yet the Beatles' example is not limiting but liberating, as other rock musicians have attested with generous praise. Says hefty Cass Elliott of The Mama's and The Papa's: "They're untouchable."

Today, the rock scene has shifted from England back to the U.S., and particularly to the West Coast (some San Franciscans are calling their city the Liverpool of the U.S.). There, as elsewhere in the States, rock is currently in the midst of a huge syncretic surge toward a new idiom—and the Beatles' wildly eclectic spirit hovers over it all. As the Lovin' Spoonful's songwriter, John Sebastian, says: "Here we are in the middle of the mulch."

Blues, folk, country and western, ragas, psychedelic light and sound effects, swatches of Mahler, jazzlike improvisations—all are spaded into the mulch by such vital and imaginative groups as the Doors, the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the Byrds and the new British trio, the Cream. Like the Beatles, most of these groups write their own music and thereby try not only to arrive at their own peculiar mixture of elements, but also to stamp their identity on whatever they do.

Hippie Anthem. None has so far matched the distinctiveness and power of the Beatles' mixture—which, after all, is responsible for having boosted them into their supramusical status. Thus their flirtation with drugs and the dropout attitude behind songs like A Day in the Life disturbs many fans, not to mention worried parents. The whole Sgt. Pepper album is "drenched in drugs," as the editor of a London music magazine puts it. One track features Drummer Ringo Starr quavering, "I get high with a little help from my friends." Another number, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, evokes a drug-induced hallucination, and even the initials of the title spell out LSD, though the Beatles plead sheer coincidence.

The overall theme of drugs is no coincidence, however. All four Beatles have admitted taking LSD at least occasionally. Yet it is not clear whether their songs are meant to proselytize in behalf of drugs or simply to deal with them as a subject of the moment. In the most recent Beatle pronouncement about LSD Paul McCartney said: "I don't recommend it. It can open a few doors, but it's not any answer. You get the answers yourself."

Some segments of the Beatles' audience read messages into the songs that may never have been intended. The hippie brigade, for example, has adopted as an anthem of sorts She's Leaving Home, which tells of a runaway girl whose parents gave her everything money could buy but no happiness. "Man, that's the story of the hippies," says one of them. A 15-year-old boy who left home to become a hippie interprets the Beatles' songs as a put-down of his parents: "They're saying all the things I always wanted to say to my parents and their freaky friends."

Blowing Away Cobwebs. Even the Beatles' nonmusical utterances tend to take on the tone and weight of social prophecy. "Only Hitler ever duplicated their power over crowds," says Sid Bernstein, who organized their three New York concerts. "I'm convinced they could

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10