I’ve never been a fan of the Beatles.
Of course I’ve heard their songs and know that they’re considered “the greatest” band, musicians, performers — you can fill in the blank. But until earlier this month, I’d never listened to a full album of Beatles music or understood the meaning behind their inimitable “I Am the Walrus.”
All of that changed at the beginning of this month — well, except for understanding “I Am the Walrus.” Since June 1, I’ve listened to the Beatles for approximately 18 hours, including multiple whole-album listens of all their songs through “The White Album.” My commute to work has been filled with songs like “Twist and Shout,” “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby.” Alexa probably got tired of me asking about different Beatles facts, and my wife has heard me pick apart everything from album cover art to guitar licks. It’s been a month of Beatlemania for me.
So why do it?
Well, it was all in the name of trying to like something that I’ve never really been a big fan of by forced consumption. I love watching YouTube experiments where someone tries to do something like eat only guacamole for a full month and then documents their experience. This was going to be a little like that, but without the chance of bodily harm. And if I’m being honest, it was also to try to have some ammunition for people’s arguments when I told them I wasn’t a Beatles fan. I thought that if I could hold up this experience as an example of a true attempt at liking the Beatles, maybe society would be able to leave me to my disgruntled dislike.
So I opened Spotify and started with the Beatles’ first album, “Please Please Me.” Because I’m a millennial, I decided to post my Beatles thoughts on Facebook. I posted the album cover along with how many times I’d listened to the full album, some thoughts and a few favorite songs. I was really surprised at how many people left comments and messages that they loved the idea and would be following along.
Here are some of my biggest takeaways:
- The Beatles were amazingly prolific. Over 10 or so years they produced 13 albums and all sorts of singles, music-inspired movies and probably so much else that I don’t even know about. As I started listening I realized just how many songs there are, including dozens of songs that I’d never heard in my life. I wasn’t a fan of too many of these unknown Beatles songs, but several, including “When I Get Home,” “Tell Me What You See” and “I’m Looking Through You,” are now on my list of favorite songs.
- I was really surprised that the earliest Beatles albums include a lot of cover songs. After hearing “Roll Over Beethoven” from the Beatles second album, I boldly told my wife that the Beatles definitely “ripped off Chuck Berry.” A little Wikipedia searching told me that the track was a cover of Berry’s song and that was why the guitar sounded so similar to “Johnny B. Goode.”
- This music incorporates so many different sounds. The sheer number of genres and parodies and homages the Beatles produced is amazing. From their noticeably old-timey rock, to country, to super psychedelic and far-out, the music really just explodes after the first few albums. They also used some really cool instrumentation like brass instruments and the sitar.
- There is an almost clear line where the Beatles seemed to change from a band to a movement for me. Once I got to their album “Rubber Soul,” I really felt the tone of their songs change. They move from just singing love songs to experimenting and taking their sound all over the place. That’s not to say I don’t like their later sound, though. Some of my favorite songs came during their later drug-infused period like “Blackbird” and “Penny Lane.”
- I was also a little surprised by some of the personal things that this journey through the Beatles uncovered. For example, when I excitedly had my wife listen to ”Blackbird” from “The White Album,” she nonchalantly pulled out her guitar and played the song for me. I sat there amazed while she played through all the guitar picking that I loved so much. I didn’t know it, but it was “Blackbird” that motivated her to first pick up and learn the guitar.
- Of course the Beatles are making a splash this month thanks to Danny Boyle's movie, “Yesterday,” which opens this weekend. I’d be lying if the movie didn’t give me part of the idea for this whole experiment. I’ve always loved movies with twisty timelines and I love the “Groundhog Day”-esque idea of one man alone in his own dimension. The movie also highlighted the fact that the Beatles have invaded culture beyond music culture or pop culture. The Beatles are no longer a staple of music — they’re a staple of life.
So, if you’ve made it to the end of this you’re probably thinking, “Well, Ryan? Do you like the Beatles now?”
The long answer is: I like a lot of their early stuff and the fun sound they created while being pop icons. I wouldn’t say that I’m the biggest fan, but on a scale ranging from “Bored” to “Beatlemania” I’ve solidly moved to the middle.
The short answer: Yeah, I kinda do.