Trying to fit The Beatles into a genre is like the proverbial square peg into a round hole. It just won’t fit. But having been asked the question… “What genre are the Beatles?” prompts a very interesting analysis.
Nothing Before, Nothing Since
That is a fair assumption. There was nothing like them before. I suppose the closest you might get is Buddy Holly and the Crickets. But even Buddy, as good as he was, wasn’t like this. And since? There have been some good bands with some good songs, but they don’t even come close.
Some Commentators Just Get It Wrong
To understand how The Beatles music evolved, you needed to be there. Most commentators who write about them don’t know because they weren’t there at the time. They wouldn’t know Liverpool and its culture from the dark side of the moon. Therefore, they are in no position to make comments as if it is fact. Opinions, yes. Facts, no.
Some people seem to be under the illusion that the Beatles “arrived” when they did ‘Ed Sullivan’ in 1964. They arrived in America, yes. But America isn’t everything musically, and they were way behind on that one.
“Conquering America,” as it was portrayed, wasn’t possible because there are too many cultures. The Sullivan show was merely an important stepping stone on their way to what became world dominance.
They Weren’t Hiding
We had already had “Love Me Do,” “Please, Please, Me,” “From Me To You,” “Twist and Shout,” and “She Loves You.” “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was finished, in the can, and ready to go.
Two albums had been huge hits across the UK and Europe. “A Hard Day’s Night” was getting ready for film release, and “Can’t Buy Me Love” was ready to record.
We had already had Beatlemania for a couple of years before they even got on the plane. And so had Europe. So, where did this all start?
The Beatles, to be fair, were one of many bands, and they certainly didn’t start it all off. Liverpool wasn’t the only place making musical history either. London was also having its moments.
In Liverpool, there were Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Searchers, and The Big Three. As well as The Merseybeats, Rory Storm and The Hurricanes, Billy J. Kramer, and others.
In London, John Mayall and Alexis Korner were growing a vibrant Blues scene. While The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds were making waves.
Another illusion that exists is how The Beatles were formed. It’s often said incorrectly that they formed from other groups. They weren’t. John was in a band called the Quarrymen. Paul was introduced through a friend and didn’t come from another band. The same with George.
Ringo was brought in to replace Peter Best from another band, but he was the only one. The coming together of The Beatles was an accidental thing. There was no grand plan. And they honed their skills in the clubs in Liverpool and the North of England. As well as in the Reeperbahn in Hamburg.
The Beginning is a Genre?
The Quarrymen were essentially what might be loosely called a skiffle group. That was their beginning with John at the front of it. They took their lead from English skiffle people like Lonnie Donegan. But that was very minor in their real development.
They were already breaking into more of a rock n roll theme. And when John Lennon and Paul McCartney started writing together, the results were songs like “The One After 909”.
That wasn’t released until the album, Let It Be. And “I Saw Her Standing There,” from the first album, Please Please Me. You couldn’t answer, “What genre are The Beatles?” even at this stage because they moved very quickly from one style to the next.
What Goes On
It might have started with a smattering of skiffle and Carl Perkins, but it soon went way beyond that. That meeting between John and Paul at a Quarrymen gig at St Peter’s Church, Woolton, Liverpool, was pivotal for the music we have today.
There in the shadows of the graves of Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie, the introductions were made that changed everything. Music was never going to be the same. And the creativity that lived in them and inside the soon-to-be member George bubbled to the surface.
Some say Stuart Sutcliffe’s death and Ringo joining in 1962 changed them into a pop band. The reverse is the reality. The death of Stuart and the arrival of Ringo gave them a harder edge.
The rock n roll songs of Little Richard and Jerry Lee got wilder. By the time they got on the plane to “wake up” America two years later, they knew they were invincible.
Whatever They Touched
They ruled the charts on both sides of the Atlantic for almost the whole of the 60s from 1963 on. Single after single, album after album, broke records – no pun intended. They could do no wrong and whatever they touched turned to gold. But they were developing as songwriters as well.
The band, and of course, Sir George Martin, concentrated more on what could be done in the studio. This, rather than getting loud enough to be heard over the screaming. Things were changing. And this is why it is difficult to place The Beatles in one genre.
Tomorrow Never Knows
After the release of Help, you never knew what was coming next. With The Beatles, tomorrow could mean anything. Their own personal influences began to have more importance than the commerciality of making ‘hit’ records.
Not everyone would agree, but, for me, the turning point was Rubber Soul. The first signs of creating different sounds and different types of songs were creeping in. As a result, we got people asking for the first, but not the last time, “What genre are The Beatles?”
For No One… For Us
Brian Epstein was still around and guiding them. But you got the feeling they were their own band now.
They were going to record and release what they wanted, not what they were told. And with Sir George encouraging them every step of the way, the lines of any genre were crossed over and blurred many times.
And so they did…
Rubber Soul came out just in time for Christmas in 1965. It had the beginnings of the “McCartney-ballads” with songs like “Michelle” rubbing shoulders with his Fuzz bass on “Think For Yourself.” That was a George Harrison composition. Similar genres?
George was beginning to get his foot in the songwriting door, and Paul was musing with his ballads. But Rubber Soul was John’s album. “Norwegian Wood” and the iconic “In My Life” are great tracks from the album. Would you classify those two in the same genre? Of course not.
Do You Want To Know A Secret?
The battle lines were being drawn without maybe even themselves realizing it. Of course, it was no secret to some people who had access to the ‘insides’ of what was going on.
They were starting to move in their own directions…
The music soared to new heights, but the relationships started to sour. And this was evident in the Revolver album.
George got two of his songs, “Taxman” and “Love You Too,” in, the latter complete with Indian instruments. Paul had the wonderful “Eleanor Rigby,” “For No One,” and a bit of fun with “Yellow Submarine.”
Plus another weepy track with “Here There and Everywhere.” And John experimenting with his tape loops on “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
And This Week’s Genre Is?
Try assigning a genre to just those songs above. But, behind the continued success, cracks were appearing as they all went in different directions. John and Paul now wrote most of their stuff on their own and only changed a few things with each other at studio time.
I Have To Admit It’s Getting Better
And so was the music, if the relationship between them wasn’t. Was the world ready for Sergeant Pepper? It didn’t matter; we got it anyway. This album had the lot and cemented itself into music history.
It had McCartney’s musings, now getting better with “She’s Leaving Home” and plenty of tongue-in-cheek fun with “Lovely Rita” and “When I’m Sixty-Four.” Something to wonder about with LSD, sorry, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” And wrapped up in Ringo’s alter ego, Billy Shears.
The whole thing was finished off by a friend and their roadie Mal Evans. Playing three pianos with one almighty chord, and a 40-piece orchestra on John’s “A Day in The Life.”
Making mountains of music…
Can you find a thread in those songs to say they are remotely similar in style and genre? The Beatles had gone beyond being classified and put into a box to suit a description.
They had become something strange and unexplainable. The days in the Cavern and the Reeperbahn were a distant memory musically.
While Their Guitars Gently Weep
From Rubber Soul and on, the albums just got better and better. Before that, they had been a ‘pop’ band making ‘pop’ hits. But from that point and onward to Sergeant Pepper, they were leading us to a place we did not expect.
The White Album was that place, and it was indescribable. In many ways, this was The Beatles masterpiece album. So much variety, so much inventiveness, and creativity, so much fun.
Doing the ‘Charleston’ to “Honey Pie” and singing about a box of chocolates on “Savoy Truffle.” And in “Helter Skelter,” most agree to be the first-ever Heavy Metal track. Oops, another genre.
Just some examples…
I am not going through tracks again as I did for the previous albums. That is a book on its own. They were all pursuing different directions that, when pulled together and gave us something memorable.
It was also the album where George’s songwriting came of age. To try and apply a genre is laughable.
Maybe from this point is where it all started to disappear. They were still friends deep down inside. Despite the way the press portrayed it.
But they had just evolved as people and musicians in different directions. And, of course, they had their “outside” relationships and Apple Corporation, which caused added pressure.
Learning to let it be…
They had their moments of exasperation with each other. But don’t we all with people we spend a lot of time with? And bear in mind, for many years, these guys had been pretty much locked up in hotel rooms together.
Let It Be gave us “Get Back” and “The Long and Winding Road.” From Abbey Road, we had “Come Together,” George’s ‘”Here Comes The Sun,” and the unforgettable “Something.”
It was still wonderful music and more of the same. But, apart from those tracks, not at the same level as it had been. It finished with the song “The End.” Somehow, a lot of the sparkle and creativity, the adventure, and the fun was gone.
Get Back – We Hope We Passed The Audition
The time had come. They, and we, all knew it. One last soiree with their 40-minute unannounced live gig on top of the Apple building in the swanky Saville Row area of London.
Eventually, the police shut it down because of the noise. That was it. It was “good night, thanks for everything, and see you around.” John hoped they had passed the audition. I think they probably did, don’t you?
They did return to Abbey Road studios after the rooftop gig to record the album Abbey Road. But it was all over by then.
Can You Justify A Genre?
A lot of people refer to them as a pop band or rock band. Wrong. They were far more than both those words can describe. Those are generic descriptions so people can place The Beatles in a box with some others.
The reality is that there is no box for them because there is no single genre for The Beatles music to fall into. They may have started in one if you want to call what they did a genre. But, that soon became obsolete. From Rubber Soul on, they went their own way.
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What Genre are The Beatles? – Final Thoughts
They became the most creative, most successful musical act of all time. And that includes artists like Elvis Presley. There has never been a band like them and never will be again. They were unique in just about every way, especially with their songwriting.
If you want to remind yourself just how good they were, here are some of the greatest Beatles albums to get you started.
- Rubber Soul
- Revolver (Remastered)
- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Remastered)
- The Beatles (The White Album) (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) [3CD]
So, can we find a word that describes their genre? Yes, we can. Beatles. They are their own genre. And there’s only one in the box we have just created.
Until next time, here’s hoping all your troubles seem so far away.