Tuesday 15 September 2009

stupid bloody tuesday....

Um, Something Street?

Amongst all the coverage of the launch of Beatles Rock Band last week, I heard Nicky Campbell on Five Live wondering whether there could really be anybody who would be discovering the music of the Beatles through this game. The guy he was talking to, some expert who has written a book on the band, told him that he would be surprised how many people, especially those in their 20s and 30s, were relatively unfamiliar with the band. Well, I'm in my 30s and I own several Beatles albums, so I wasn't sure about that. To test the theory, as soon as I arrived in the office, I wandered over to the 22-year old in our team:

Me: "Have you heard of the Beatles"
22: "Yes"
Me: "Can you name them?"
22: "Ermmmm. Ahhhh. Hmmmm. Ummmmmm. Aha! Paul McCartney!"
Me: "Yes. And the other three?"
22: "Erm. No"
Me: "John Lennon?"
22: "Yes, heard of him"
Me: "George Harrison"
22: "Never heard of him"
Me: "Ringo Starr"
22: "Isn't he dead?"

This was a level of ignorance that I hadn't been expecting.

Me: "Can you name any of their songs or albums?"
22: "Um. Something Street or Road?"
Me: "Abbey Road?"
22: "That's it"
Me: "Anything else?"
22: "Um. Not off the top of my head"
Me: "Eleanor Rigby?"
22: "Nope"
Me: "Yesterday?"
22: "Yes, heard of that one. Long and Winding Road. Was that them?"
Me: "Yes. Yellow Submarine?"
22: "Is that the same as the song you sing in Nursery?"

....and so on.

22y.o. subsequently had a quick trawl through wikipedia and wrote down a number of other Beatles songs or albums he thought he had heard of ("Sergeant Pepper? I think I know that one"). He thought he was normal, and if anything, he was a little taken aback by the shock with which his lack of Beatles related knowledge was causing in those who had overheard our little conversation.

Not wishing to appear stupid, he set off to prove that he wasn't the anomaly, and that there were other people with a similar lack of knowledge.

He faced an initial setback when the 18 year old who has just joined us for a placement as part of his degree turned out to be something of a fan, but he was undeterred. His policy of asking people much older than him didn't bear much fruit ("Name the band? I can name the two that left!"), but he did have some success when a surprising number of people were completely unable to name George Harrison as a member of the Beatles (surprising in that there were about four or five people who didn't know. I was mildly surprised that anyone didn't know who he was. My Sweet Lord, indeed).

I've never been one of those people who thinks that the Beatles are somehow above criticism. A band that highly praised cannot help but be overrated, if you ask me. I think what's really amazing about them is how so much of their work still sounds pretty fresh today. Not all of it does: I'd just listened to "Revolver" in the car, so I was very well aware that some of the sitar-heavy numbers in particular were very much a product of their era (or perhaps the start of the era itself?). Much of the songwriting remains incredibly fresh though. How many better song lyrics have there ever been than those in "Eleanor Rigby"? Or am I now unable to view a song that is so embedded into our popular culture with anything approaching objectivity?

Meanwhile, as 22 y.o.'s quest continued, he faced an increasing level of incredulity from those around him:
"Are your retarded?"
"Is it too late to have him shot?"
Whilst it's true that I hadn't even been born by the time by the Beatles had split up, that I had parents who weren't really into music, I still managed to discover the band. I was therefore somewhat surprised by his total lack of knowledge on the subject. Even so, I soon started to feel mildly uncomfortable about what I'd started. Was it really fair to call him ignorant? After all, "Free As A Bird" and the fuss around the release of the Anthology albums happened as far back as 1995. 22 y.o. would have been 8 years old. Is it all that surprising that he might have missed out on the Beatles entirely?

I became more uncomfortable the next day when 22 y.o. was grilled about his knowledge of Queen - much harder than knowing about the Beatles, surely? Before long he was being asked about capital cities. Perhaps he should know what the capital of Australia is, but should we really be laughing at him? He took it all in good spirit, but by the time he was confronted with "The Ultimate Beatles Quiz" from the Times, I wouldn't blame him if he was thoroughly bored of the whole thing and starting to feel a little got at. He got 0 out of 40. A big fat zero. Then again, I don't think I got more than about half of the questions.

"Who was the first Beatle to sport a moptop?"
"Name the Beatles first wives"
"Who suggested that John Lennon change the line "Waiting for the man to come" to "waiting for the van to come" in I Am The Walrus?"
"Who pressed the panic button in Yellow Submarine?"
"Who is the only guest musician to be credited on the label of a Beatles record?"

Not impossible - but if you don't know who George Harrison was, then I'd suggest you're going to struggle with some of those.

22 y.o. hit back this morning with some questions for me:

He tried to test me initially by asking me to name the members of Girls Aloud, only to find that I could (I am seeing them live at Wembley on Friday, after all....), but he found more fertile ground with some questions from a football quiz he was at on Monday night.

"Tony Roberts (the old QPR goalkeeper) was the first goalkeeper to do what?"
"Which striker made his debut for Manchester Utd in the 2007 season, playing up front with Ole Gunnar Solskaer, and made a total of 3 appearances for the club?"
"Name the three Australian players in the Leeds Utd squad in 2001"

I got none of them right, and he felt a bit better about himself (even if he actually only knew the answer to one of those questions himself...)

I don't know though. Is it right to mock someone for something like that? I might perhaps marvel at how he hasn't been inquisitive enough to pick up practically anything at all about the Beatles, but it's entirely possible that they just haven't crossed his radar. Incredible though that sounds, they just don't register with him. Why should they? Is it fair to call him ignorant because of that? They're just a band, aren't they?

At what point does the teasing become bullying?


  1. Hmmm, interesting post.

    This raises an interesting question.

    Would the music of today be any different if The Beatles weren't around when they were? I've often heard that there was a seismic shift in the type and quality of the music as a result of The Beatles. (From talking to my parents, who were around when all of this happened, the effect The Beatles had on music was huge).

    I'd say that the music that everybody's listening to now is probably as a result of the work the Beatles did. And that doesn't just mean the music, but also the way it was produced.

    But then, I may be wrong

  2. I doubt we're objective enough to be able to answer that one. In a world where "Yellow Submarine" is sung in Nursery School, I'm not sure we're detached enough to judge their influence. The book "Revolution in the Head" was a revolution to me: it breaks down all the Beatles songs one by one, but it tries to treat them all on their own merits, and in some cases it really backed up some of the things I thought about some of their songs. Yes, they were often incredibly inventive, but then again, they could also be astonishingly lazy. All You Need is Love? Really?
    How much of the recording method was down to them and how much their chance meeting with the old school BBC Producer like George Martin? Did they really innovate, or has their success drowned out the achievements of the people they copied? I don't know. Or was their success the prime reason for their influence?
    thorny one.

  3. I like them, incidentally. For me, their solo work reveals all over again how much the dynamic of the band added to the whole.

    My favourite song? I have a massive soft-spot for "Why don't we do it in the road". Not sure I have a favourite, mind.

  4. Most of my students are in their late teens and early 20s, and I am constantly surprised by their lack of musical knowledge beyond what's currently in the charts - the other week I had a class of about 30 and only one knew who Jarvis Cocker was. I doubt many of them could name more than a couple of Beatles songs, or one member. I actually heard Sara Cox on the radio explaining who Freddie Mercury was while I was on holiday... All this does is make me feel old.

  5. "Yesterday"

    A simple, but absolutely beautiful song.

  6. wait, sara cox knows *anything*??

  7. One of my grandads was called George Harrison. It wasn't *him* though.

  8. Macca is often called saccharine, and he can be, but with the Beatles, some of his stuff is just jaw-dropping. "Yesterday" is the most famous example, but what about "Here There and Everywhere" on Revolver? It's in a minor key, and that seems to make it slightly wistful, and gives it depth... staving off that overpowering sweetness. Gorgeous song. "Blackbird" is pretty damn good too.
    He gets a bad press, does Macca.

    *holds thumbs aloft*

    (oh, I'm reminded of 22 y.o.'s Macca answer to the first wives question. His starting position was "Stella" and when I looked aghast, he asked me the name of that one who was missing a leg. Perhaps he's better off not knowing who Linda was, eh? Nice sausages though.)

  9. I once had an argument with someone who was convinced that I was wrong about Canberra. They were adamant that it is Sydney, and left the discussion shaking their head at my ignorance...

  10. I wouldn't be too hard on the kid ST. To be blunt, as great as the Beatles were, that's his GRANDPARENTS music. My 16yr old son, made me take him to a "Retro" concert a few weeks ago. The name of the band you ask? Pearl Jam. That's the oldies my friend. Oh well, at least I'm still younger than Eddie Vedder

  11. OK, I just asked the 16 yr old if he heard of the Beatles. He said they sucked. I asked him to name the members, and he got three, curiously, John Lennon was not one of them. He was also able to name 2 songs. Hey Jude, and Help. I couldn't tell you where that came from. I'm buying him the Beatles Rock Band TODAY

  12. Meh. Beatles schmeatles.

    I'd say:

    1. No idea. Did he play non-league and all tiers to the Premiership?
    2. Manucho
    3. Kewell, Viduka and Hayden Foxe

  13. LB

    1) Nope
    2) Nope
    3) 2/3 (the easy ones!)

    See me at the end of class.

  14. Everybody has blind spots – though the Beatles is an impressive one. Whether you like them or not they’ve achieved classic status and to attempt to excuse your ignorance of them on the grounds that it all happened forty years ago is like dismissing Shakespeare as just some Elizabethan dramatist. And I think it’s wrong to assume that the Beatles have just wafted through the last four decades on a wave of hysterical popular approval – when I was little the Beatles were about as cool as Duran Duran are now.

  15. "Was it really fair to call him ignorant? "

    Yes, it was fair, because that's what he is. He is unaware of the information, and therefore ignorant of it. There's nothing wrong with being ignorant of the facts. There is a problem, however, if he is presented with the facts and is expected to learn them, yet remains ignorant of them. Then he becomes stupid.

  16. asta here

    Funny you should mention this

    If you go to this website.

    and move the player ahead to the 2:04:00 mark, you will hear one of the most interesting discussions about The Beatles I've ever heard. Really.

    as for your 20-something..
    He should know something about the Beatles if he considers himself a popular music fan.
    That's it.
    Yeah...repeated quizzing was too much.

  17. asta again
    I should have mentioned that the website isn't all that friendly, so the discussion I'm referring to will only be on the player until Sunday.