Strawberry Fields Forever

Updated: Feb 16 2014, 07:28am hrs
Exactly 50 years ago, on February 9, 1964, a phenomenon was born: Beatlemania. It was a historic moment in music history, and it almost didnt happen. After refusing to release previous songs such as She Loves You and Please Please Me (both were number one on the UK charts), Capitol Records in America finally decided that another number recorded by four mop-haired Englishmen may have a chance in the American market. The song was I Want To Hold Your Hand and the reaction was mass hysteria. The band, largely unknown in the US, was to appear on one of Americas most popular TV shows, The Ed Sullivan Show, a Sunday night variety show, which featured a live audience. A week before their first appearance before an American audience, the new single went to the number one spot on the US charts. On the show, the screaming fans were to become a common sight as the Beatles went on to become one of the most successful bandscommercially and criticallyin the history of popular music. Fifty years later, theres a hot debate going on about just how important the Beatles actually were.

The Beatles are still loved by successive generations and their status as a dominant force in pop music remains unchallenged. There are Beatles courses being taught today in universities across the world. The legacy of the Beatles lies in the music they made. Their music had a significant impact on how popular music styles changed and developed. What the fab fourJohn Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starrbrought was music as a communal celebration that found resonance across the world. No other comparable cultural phenomenon brought together people from all over the world in a common journey. According to Rachel Rubin, a professor of American popular culture at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, solo pop star Bruno Mars, boy band One Direction, indie rock band Cornershop and power pop band Fountains of Wayne all have echoes of the Beatles in their current work. Even hip hop owes a nod to the Beatles, who were the first musicians to use recorded samples of non-musical sounds in their recordings. Says Rubin: The Beatles created their own musical vocabulary that has become so much a part of music today that any melody-driven pop group act will have been indirectly influenced, if not directly.

Professor Bonnie Hayes, professor and chair of the songwriting department at Berklee College of Music in Boston, goes a step further. The Beatles were one of the most profound influences on songwritingever, she says. Professor Hayes is a songwriter herself and credits much of her success to the Beatles. The mere fact that they wrote all of their own songs was groundbreaking for the time, but their ability to weave together a range of musical influences that spanned the globe was genre-shattering. Whats more, they continued to break musical boundaries throughout their recording career. Even more remarkably, they did it all with little to no classical training, says Stephen Schultz, a Carnegie Mellon music history professor, who teaches a course on the music of the Beatles. Says Schultz: Paul McCartney listened to a lot of classical music and brought that influence, John Lennon listened to a lot of rock n roll, and George Harrison listened to a lot of Indian music and brought that influence.

Chad Martin, an assistant professor of history and political science at the University of Indianapolis, believes that it was precisely that lack of formal training that made it possible for them to cross genre boundaries. Pop was the music that people listened to as teenagers, then dropped when they grew up, settled down, and developed taste, Martin says. The Beatles changed all that. That they were the greatest band ever is proved by their financial impact today, which is bigger than any other artist, living or deceased. Their music continues to sell, in digital form these days. As of this year, the Beatles have sold 600 million albums worldwide. The business legacy of the Beatles has been tracked by John Covach, a rock historian, who teaches a Beatles course at the University of Rochester. The Beatles holding company, controlled by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and the estates of John Lennon and George Harrison, continues to push out products. In 1995, there was the release of the Beatles Anthology documentary, along with the book and CD. A compilation of number one hit singles from the US and UK was released as an album in 2000and became the bestselling album from 2000 to 2010. Money is being made from Love, which features Beatles music and performances by Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas. The TV show Mad Men paid $250,000 just for the rights to use the Lennon-McCartney song Tomorrow Never Knows in one episode in 2012. That same year saw a lucrative deal with iTunes. Their genius endures. Covach said more than 20,000 people have registered for his next course on the Beatles. Its incredible how people cant get enough of them, he said. Today, 50 years seems like, well, yesterday.