Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Over, Under, Spot On

Time for another round of "Over-rated, Under-rated, Spot On" with our old friend "Smack." Though a bit brief, we do manage to stay on topic, for the most part.

Feel free to weigh in by posting a comment, and enjoy.

Within Reason: The ultimate pop-culture OUSO: The Beatles.

Smack: Spot on. You can’t say that the Beatles are under- or over-rated. They were pop sensations and the object of every teenage girl’s fantasy. Then later on, they were acclaimed for their musicianship, song writing, and innovation. So I don’t see any facet of the Beatles being under appreciated. And all the praise was deserved. They could crank out a catchy pop song like nobody’s business; they could write songs that really showcased mastery of their instruments; they could explore new territory with psychedelic music and incorporate different cultures. The only over-rated aspect of the band would be Ringo Starr being a heartthrob. Honestly, the dude is just plain ugly.

WR: Do you think, though, that their influence on subsequent generations is a bit over-rated? Influence is a metric that does not diminish over time, and I think the case could be made that The Beatles are having less and less of an impact on the music we're hearing today.

S: I’d like to see you make that case. Can you expand your comment about influence never diminishing? I think it gets diluted as artists build and build upon what they started.

WR: What I mean is that as time goes by, there are fewer and fewer bands that would list (or whom it could be listed for) The Beatles as primary influences. Further, it becomes less and less common to hear bands for whom The Beatles are even secondary influences.

This is going to sound crazy, but I don't think, musically, that The Beatles can even be called the most influential of their contemporaries.

S: I don’t know about this. I mean, how many current bands would throw out Chuck Berry or Elvis? I don’t think that discounts their influence on the direction of rock music.

Which contemporaries are you talking about? The Beach Boys? Name a modern band that they primarily influenced.

WR: Weezer.
And I would contend that the Rolling Stones have had a far greater lasting influence on pop/rock music than have The Beatles.
S: I think you can attribute any use of fuzz and/or feedback as a direct Beatles influence. I’d agree that the Rolling Stones had a bigger influence on straight Rock music, but I think the Beatles just stepped across so many genre lines that they are a bigger part of the big picture. They touched on rock and roll, metal, psychedelic rock, folk, pop rock, etc.
Also The Beach Boys would be secondary for Weezer. I think you’ve gotta go with Nirvana or maybe Cheap Trick.
WR: I disagree on the fuzz/feedback. I give that to The Kinks - another deceptively influential band. "You Really Got Me" was released in August of '64, only 4 months after The Beatles' Ed Sullivan appearance. I'd give The Kinks the edge in the 1964 fuzz/feedback battle.
The Rolling Stones also hit the scene in 1964, and by 1965 had also out fuzzed the Beatles with "Satisfaction." To complete the tangent, if you want to make the argument that The Beatles had the most innovative song of '66 - "Tomorrow Never Knows" (I'm lumping innovation and fuzz/feedback together), then it was a one year reign, because '67 saw the arrival of Jimi Hendrix.
Where I think the Beatles have diminished as influences has been more on the pop side of things. I don't think they were ever as influential - musically - rock n' roll wise as they were given credit for. I think their contemporaries were just so overshadowed that their individual influences get sucked into one giant answer of "Huh? The early to mid-Sixties? The Beatles, of course!!"
I think the disappearance of traditional 'bands' making the Top 40, in the late 80s - coupled with the rise of more techno or rock driven pop has really pulled a few groups even with, if not ahead of The Beatles in the influence category.
S: Ok, so who is the single biggest influence on today’s music scene?
Sounds like you’re leaning toward Michael Jackson.
WR: That's a tough question. If I can change the 'who' to a 'what' - I'll go with MTV.
If I could list a few 'whos' (and these may seem random - you can pick apart those you disagree with): Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Kiss, The Eagles, Neil Young, Pearl Jam (by way of Jethro Tull) - that's rock. For pop: Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Motown as a whole (say Dozier Holland Dozier, the studio rhythm section), The Bee Gees, Donna Summer, Grandmaster Flash, Public Enemy, George Michael (by way of Elvis).
S: I’m going to go with Cher for pioneering the vocoder.
WR: The vocoder's been around awhile.
Speaking of synth pop, I wonder if the case could be made that Duran Duran has been as influential on the musicians that have followed them as were The Beatles on the musicians that followed them - up to the release of "Rio" by Duran Duran in 1982.
Did The Beatles pass the torch to Duran Duran?
S: I meant Auto-tune. It’s actually different. Cher is the first instance in mainstream music that I can think of, and it’s the same effect now championed by T-Pain, Kanye, Lil Wayne, etc.
WR: Special thanks to Wikipedia for that one.
I don't think that the 'auto tune/vocoder' has had as big an effect on recorded music as it has on live performance - and I think we're veering dangerously close to Kanye West territory - who is the single most over-rated anything in the history of popular culture.
We've debated the decline of music in the past (we're kind of doing it now), and when I heard Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy refer to Kanye West as "the Prince of his generation" I thought, "Prince had The New Power Generation." Then I thought "That's sad, because it might actually be true. Problem is, it's not really a compliment." That's like saying "The tortoise is one of the mighty dinosaurs of this generation."
S: Kanye is a terrible singer, but I have to assume he’s a good producer and he definitely knows what sells.
WR: Plus, it seems that his audience has a very high opinion of him.
Final verdict: Beatles - over-rated.
S: I have a problem with just saying that the Beatles are over-rated.Please qualify that statement with “…with regard to their lasting influence on today’s Top 40, in Ian’s not-so-humble opinion."
WR: A) You are not the boss of me, and 2) Nope. Over-rated.
Musically they were very proficient, and Lennon/McCartney is the greatest song writing duo of all time. However, it's not as if they invented Eastern music, they merely incorporated it into their sound - and got credited with inventing psychedelic music. I would argue that the Pink Floyd/San Francisco version of psychedelic music - again contemporary to The Beatles - has proven more influential and enduring. The Beatles' brand of straight pop music was widely influential on many of their contemporaries, and on many that followed in the 2 decades following their breakup. However, I think that there are dozens of bands out their nowadays (speaking on rock terms) who owe more to Pearl Jam than The Beatles. That sounds sacrilegious, but I stand by it. Oasis, sure - Beatles. But even Pearl Jam themselves can veer into Beatles-land. "All Those Yesterdays" comes up, and when you hear it, you think "Beatles pop" - just like when you hear Oasis - and even Oasis sounds more like The Stones than they do The Beatles.
The Beatles were incredibly popular, the likes of their popularity had never been seen before, nor has it been seen since. Popularity does not directly correlate with proper ratings, though - ask Kanye (on second thought, don't). Due to their overwhelming popularity, I believe they are often times credited with feats that they did not accomplish - including "changing the world."
The way I look at it is: In 1964, the world was changing, and The Beatles were there. If they hadn't been, some one else would have.
S: To say that the Beatles were just in the right place at the right time is too dismissive. Maybe America had a void just waiting to be filled by a British boy band with mop tops… But they had some serious chops, staying power and creative genius. Agree to disagree, I guess.
WR: We agree about what The Beatles were, I think we just disagree on their lasting impact - most of which is out of their control anyhow.

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