From Blues to Rock to Indian Classical, the Beatles Were Masters of Versatility.
With an insurmountable record of 183 million units of albums sold, the Beatles are undoubtedly the most successful musical artists of all time – and it seems like the record is impossible to break. They appeared in the music scene when British influence in popular music was diminishing and along with the Rolling Stones, brought about what we now know as the ‘British Invasion’. This term is a reference to the cultural phenomena from the 60s when pop and rock music from the UK became exceptionally popular in the United States and the rest of the world, triggering the ‘counterculture’ and the ‘hippie movement’ on both sides of the Atlantic. What attributes of the Beatles were so significant in instigating this movement and the cultural shift? Credit has to be given to their laid-back attitude, their experimental nature and the astonishing number of musical genres that they incorporated in their songs. Through their experiments, they also inspired several artists in the future to create fresh forms of music. Hence, it is only natural to be interested in the different musical styles and genres that the Beatles dived into.
The Beatles started their career as a skiffle band, so it was not a great surprise to see them try country music. ‘I’ve Just Seen A Face’ was the first completely acoustic song by the Beatles and can be considered their first country song. Although their initial phase is filled with country hits like ‘What Goes On’, the Beatles did not let go of this genre even in the latter parts of their career with the exceptional Western/Country song, ‘Rocky Raccoon’, releasing in the White Album in ’68.
From outright 16-bar blues to groovy, subtle blues influences in their other songs, the Beatles could definitely ride it. Classic blues hits like ‘Yer Blues’ and ‘For You Blue’ displayed the Beatles’ competency in the genre, whereas songs like ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ and ‘Get Back’ demonstrated how they can easily take bluesy riffs and wonderfully include them in popular music.
This is a no-brainer. Hits after hits in this field made the Beatles the Kings of Classic Rock. ‘Hey Jude’, one of the band’s most popular classic rock songs paved the way for progressive music as well since it was the longest song ever to be released at that time. While popular numbers like ‘Day Tripper’ showcased resounding hard rock guitar riffs, underrated songs like ‘Hey Bulldog’ were the first of its kind with great music but an abstract meaning, with even Lennon saying that it is a “good sounding record that means nothing”.
The maestro of sitar, Pt. Ravi Shankar, had a significant influence on George Harrison before and during the band’s spiritual retreat to India. George Harrison was so inspired by the Indian instrument that he decided to learn it from Ravi Shankar himself. Their friendship marked the beginning of an era of fusion between western and eastern music, and Harrison initiated this trend as a member of the Beatles. Although he had already played sitar in Beatles’ folk hit, ‘Norwegian Wood’, Harrison surprised the entire world by also releasing deeply Indian classical songs such as ‘Within You, Without You’ and ‘Love You To’. Moreover, due to these cultural influences, Harrison converted to Hinduism and stayed a devotee till his death.
After Bob Dylan’s revolutionary folksy ballads, the Beatles were next in line to revive folk music in the form of Folk Rock. Their earlier hits such as ‘She Loves You’ include a lot of the chords which later came to be known as folk chords. They were the first to merge the American rock-n-roll with the British folksy sounds, which gave them a cutting edge over other artists of their time. Even one of their initial critically acclaimed albums, ‘Rubber Soul’, was packed with great folk-rock songs such as ‘Nowhere Man’ and ‘Girl’.
Before we jump to the conclusion of crediting Black Sabbath for heavy metal, it’s important to read these words from Ozzy Osbourne, the band’s iconic lead vocalist – “the Beatles were the f***ing reason why Ozzy Osbourne started singing”. Lennon revolutionized the approach to singing in his famous track, ‘Twist and Shout’, by including rough vocals that seemed to crack when he raised his pitch. This began the popular trend of grunges and growls. ‘I Want You’ was the beginning of doom metal and ‘Helter Skelter’, the song that unfortunately motivated the lunatic Charles Manson to commit horrendous crimes, is regarded by many as the key influencer in the development of heavy metal.
As mentioned earlier, the Beatles started as a skiffle band, but they soon shifted their entire focus to popular music, eventually becoming the pioneers of Pop Rock. The first part of their career is mostly made up of these pop rock hits such as ‘Help!’ and ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, and this is the genre that pushed the band towards the height of their popularity – the Beatlemania. They are often regarded as the band that ‘legitimised’ popular music amongst the musical connoisseurs by integrating several attributes of classical music in their pop songs.
Undeniably one of the first bands to venture into this genre, the Beatles experimented with both psychedelic substances and psychedelic music. The most musically sound and extensive songs by the Beatles, like ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ (which is a clever word-play for the psychedelic drug LSD) and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, lie in this genre of music. Even ‘A Day in the Life’, which has been named their best song by numerous artists, encompasses heavy psychedelic elements and strange, mystical, yet extraordinarily hypnotising transitions.
The Beatles were also popular for having a deep, full sound and the credit for that goes to their producer, George Martin. He always pushed the band and helped them tremendously with their music, which resulted in him being nicknamed the ‘Fifth Beatle’. He even played certain instruments in many of their records, the most iconic being his fulfilling, melodic piano solo in ‘In My Life’. However, his biggest accomplishment with the band was including a plethora of orchestral instruments and arrangements wherever he could, which provided the band with their iconic rich sound. Songs such as ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘She’s Leaving Home’ would have been extremely raw without the excellent orchestral arrangement provided by Martin.