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Why the Beatles Are the Greatest Rock And Roll Band

The Beatles posing on stage
The Beatles
by Samuel Litman

The Beatles are the most talked about, loved, adored, and even overrated band in the history of rock music. The Beatles were only together for eight years, from 1962 to 1970, but made a lot of memorable music that has crossed listeners’ ears. There have been endless debates over the last couple decades from people who are on both sides of the issue. The Beatles fans, including myself, are mainly the people who have always agreed that, yes they are the greatest rock and roll band. However, rock music singers, such as Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, and also Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys disagree simply because they have been around a lot longer than the Beatles were, although the Beatles have influenced them in some way. Other musicians in bands that have been around a lot longer than the Beatles also concur with Mick Jagger and Brian Wilson. However, the Beatles are the greatest rock and roll band, because of their revolutionary recording techniques done in ways that other musicians had not even dreamed of, especially in the early to mid 1960’s. The Beatles producer, Sir George Martin and their engineer Geoff Emerick starting in 1963, steered the Beatles in these new and exciting ways. The Beatles used several experimental ways in how they recorded their music during their entire career.

They were the first band to use the mellotron, in the song “In My Life”. The sitar, an instrument from India is played on the song “Norwegian Wood”. The Beatles also used tape recorders played backwards in a lot of their songs, which is how they experimented like no other band had done up to this point.

The Beatles consisted of John Winston Lennon (1940-1980), Sir. James Paul McCartney (1942-) George Harrison (1943-2001) and Richard (Ringo) Starkey (1940- ). Ringo Starr was not an original member of the band; he joined in 1962 replacing Pete Best (1941- ). after Best was fired from the band. At the beginning, since the band was only just starting out, they did not have much experience in a recording studio, except they were honing their chops in a live concert setting.

The Beatles in the Studio with George Martin 1963
The Beatles and producer George Martin in the Studio 1963

The Beatles released their first album “Please Please Me” in 1963, in which they first started using three-part harmonies. Since this is the debut release from the Beatles, some rock critics were not very impressed. However, this was the start of “Beatle mania” originating in Liverpool, the Beatles' hometown.

The Beatles Second Album, released in 1964, had a first when their song “Thank You Girl” featured the only “True” stereo version. In some of the Beatles recordings, John Lennon played the harmonica, which was not widely used by other artists at this time. For the album “Beatles for Sale,” John Lennon became more personal in his songwriting. The album also contained cover versions of other artist’s songs.

From the album, “Beatles ’65,” two songs, “I Feel Fine” and “She’s A Woman” were recorded in mono, but added extra echo and reverb for the single and album mono release. By this time, Ringo Starr had started using a “cha cha” drumming style, which other drummers had not experimented with yet.

From the album Beatles VI, the song “Ticket to Ride” has a couple of firsts. It was the first Beatles single to run past three minutes, and on the day the single was recorded, John Lennon passed his driving test. As for recording, the Beatles overdubbed drums, guitars, lead vocal, tambourine, and backing vocals.

From the song “We Can Work It Out” from the album “Rubber Soul” released in 1965, the Beatles were the first rock band to use a keyboard-like instrument called the harmonium. A rock critic from “Melody Maker” said that” the album was not their best on first hearing, and that it may not receive as much acclaim.”

The album “Yesterday and Today” from 1965, was the first rock album to have a front cover that was banned and had to be redone. The album “Revolver” from 1966 had many new innovations recorded in the studio. The song “Eleanor Rigby” was the first song to have a complex string arrangement, scored by Sir. George Martin. It’s also unique because each Beatle contributed a lyric idea. On the song “I’m only sleeping,” The Beatles perfected a backward guitar sound, which some sources say took more than 14 hours to record. For the song “Tomorrow Never Knows” another key innovation was John Lennon’s processed lead vocal. For “Revolver” a production technique that was used for the first time was called “Automatic Double Tracking”.

The Beatles in the Studio - 1967
The Beatles in the Studio - 1967

The album “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” has the distinction from “Rolling Stone” magazine for being one of the most influential albums in the history of rock music. Even rock critics, who in the past didn’t give the Beatles more credit than they deserved, gave the album the title of the greatest album of all time. The album took an astounding 129 days to record. The album was also the first “concept album”. For it, The Beatles used four French horn players. It was the first album of its kind to have a gatefold sleeve. The cover also was the first to have its lyrics printed on the back. The song “A Day in the Life” also had a first when three grand pianos, in the key of E major were all struck at the same time and lasted 53 seconds total. After the piano chord has faded, a high frequency sound was recorded because John Lennon wanted to “Annoy your dog” followed by “Beatles chatter”.

From the album “Magical Mystery Tour” the song “I Am the Walrus” Sir George Martin himself calls the song “Organized chaos”. “Magical Mystery Tour” was the only Beatles record to be divided into two halves. The first side was the film’s soundtrack and the second side was a collection of A and B sides released in 1967.

From “The White Album” released in 1968, it was the first Beatles record to transition from 4-track tape to 8-track tape. The album was also the band’s first double record, spanning over 95 minutes. A reviewer from the New York Times, Nik Cohn, considered the album “Boring beyond belief.”

The Beatles' Final Photo Session - 1969
The Beatles' Final Photo Session - 1969

The album “Yellow Submarine” from 1969 turned out to be the Beatles weakest release. It was not considered a “proper Beatles” album because they weren’t as involved in the recording sessions, as the last six songs were not recorded by them.

The Beatles' last two albums “Let It Be” and Abbey Road were recorded during a time of upheaval and disagreements within the band. “Abbey Road” turned out to be the Beatles best-selling album ever.

Even though the Beatles started off 1962 with a bang, and ended quietly in 1970 when they broke up, they are considered one of the best rock and roll bands in the history of rock music. Because of their innovations in how they recorded their albums, they are revered by rock critics and fans alike. There are always going to be some rock critics and rock singers from other rock bands that argue this point, but still appreciate and respect the music, and the Beatles themselves.

Guest article by Samuel Litman (with some editing by BeatlesLane).

The Beatles circa 1966
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