Why I Hate The Beatles
That’s right. You heard me. I hate the Beatles. You’re going to tell me I’m being a deliberate contrarian, a hipster who cannot bring himself to like things that are popular, but I assure you, my loathing is both sincere and real. It’s weird. I can listen to covers of Beatles songs (Ghost, Type O Negative, and Sonic Youth have all done pleasantly distorted things with the original tracks), as long as they don’t hew too close to that damned Beatles sound. But I can simply no longer abide the Beatles.
It’s taken me a long time to get to this point. I was probably 12 years old when I started digging through my father’s record collection and found what was, more or less, the complete Beatles discography. And I loved them at first, listened to them endlessly. But over the years something happened. Ever so gradually I went from “I love the Beatles” to “I like the Beatles” to “Oh, someone put the Beatles on, that’s fine” to “God this is annoying” to “If you don’t turn that off right now, I will destroy your stereo.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the Beatles are a bad band or that the members were bad musicians. I simply just don’t like them. At all. Look, I get that they are hugely influential. Changed the course of pop music and all. They went from writing simple pop songs to writing more complex pop songs with unusual instrumentation to whatever the hell “Revolution 9” was. Their influence is everywhere and “Beatle-esque” is a standard description that critics throw about wantonly. I don’t deny any of that, but that doesn’t mean I hate the Beatles any less. Their influence is positively insidious. And perhaps that is a part of the problem: when I hear bits and pieces of their sound in so much other music, going back to the source leaves me cold. It’s the same problem that I, being a Philistine, have with Citizen Kane, save for the fact that the latter doesn’t actively annoy me.
The Beatles took cultural appropriation to a whole new level.
But it is far more than simply tiring of the Beatles sound and their pernicious influence. Their changing sound, growing ever more “experimental,” even when one tries to hear it with fresh ears, just hits me as thin and dull. There is no excitement in hearing them, no joy, and nothing, in the end, all that new. For all their alleged innovation, they were working in a genre appropriated from black musicians, and then added in lyrics featuring pseudo-Eastern mysticism, changed up the instrumentation, and bought George Harrison a sitar. Want to sound psychedelic? Write some semi-coherent lyrics and slap a sitar over it. There you go. Points should be given, I suppose, for adding a whole new level of cultural appropriation to rock and roll, but that doesn’t make the end result any more listenable to my ears.
I get it: “good artists copy, great artists steal.” There’s much to be said for pastiche, and the blending of genres and influences and sounds. But that is contingent on the end result being something I want to hear. And therein lies my problem. While I can listen to the Beatles and pick out the innovative, recognize the clever studio wizardry, note the presence of a french horn or an orchestra, when I pull back from being analytical and just listen, I get nothing.
And let’s talk about Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Yes, let’s talk about that one. One of the first albums to be widely recognized as a “concept album,” it is a sprawling mess of a work, and if there is a concept in there, it is as elusive as the plot of “Finnegans Wake.” It veers wildly from the mawkishness of “She’s Leaving Home” to the unlistenable “When I’m Sixty-Four” to the incoherent “Lucy In the Sky With Diamond” to the quasi-profound boredom of “Within You Without You.” And “Getting Better“? What the fuck is going on there?
“I used to be cruel to my woman I beat her
And kept her apart from the things that she loved”
I know, I know. It’s a masterpiece and the best album in the world and there was a time when I believed that. Not anymore. Despite all the innovative studio techniques, and despite the fact that the album itself has become the subject of scholarly inquiry and discourse, I simply cannot listen to it. And as goes the album, so goes the entire Beatles discography. It’s been over five years since I walked away, and I don’t plan on returning.
And yet, after all that, I like the Monkees. Go figure.
Photo/Illustration: cc 2011 Luiz Fernando Reis.