Beatles Music: Songs of the Counterculture The 1960’s are thought of by many to be the most eventful and changing decade in the history of America. In this time period there was much excitement as well as turmoil in America caused by many factors, including the charismatic leadership of John F. Kennedy, black leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. protesting for civil rights and Malcolm X preaching black superiority and violence, Indians protesting, women petitioning for equal treatment, religion being taken out of public schools, the abortion issue burning, people protesting war, and many other events. The country was changing and doing so rapidly as a growing counterculture was rising among the largest group of adolescents America had ever seen.
In this decade the music of “The Beatles” fueled and enhanced the fast-growing counterculture and came at a perfect time, when America needed them most. When Kennedy was assassinated after the air of excitement he had caused, the country was shocked and somewhat depressed as rumors of war added to this sad time in America. The country needed an emotional lift and weeks later the Beatles showed up. They were upbeat, exciting, longhaired and hopped right into the waiting arms of the American music scene with hits like “Love Me Do”, “Please Please Me”, and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” By April of 1964 the top five singles in the U. S. were all Beatles songs.
Wilfred Millers, a Professor of Music at the University of York wrote: ” the Beatles, in common with other geniuses, such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, knew the right time and place to be born.” Kurt Loder of Time Magazine wrote: ” their overflowing gift for song craft, harmony and instrumental excitement, their spiffy suits, and nifty haircuts, their bright quips and ready smiles, made them appear almost other worldly, as if they had just beamed down from some distant an far happier planet.” The Beatles were in the right place at the right time and took control of the hearts and the minds of people in a way that no one else would ever again. “Beatlemania” took over the country from 1964 through 1967. America had become attached to the Beatles, especially the youth of America who were at the same time experiencing an absence of religious conviction, unwanted fear of nuclear war, and yearning for the idealism that Kennedy stood for. The songs the Beatles wrote not only fit in with the growing counterculture, but helped ignite it somewhat. The Beatles became the shining stars of the counterculture, which was displayed in the way they acted and in their music, which also worked against the seemingly more uptight 1950’s American Culture and greatly emulated the growing lust for change of the 1960’s, and the desire to create a new culture retreating from the world of “adults.” In the Beatles song “A Day In The Life”, McCartney said he was merely reflecting on his youth, stating: I was just remembering what it was like to to run up the road to catch a bus to school, having a smoke and then going to class.
I would have a Woodbine (a cheap unfiltered British cigarette) and someone would speak and I would go into a dream.” In the song he sings of being late for the bus, smoking a cigarette, sleeping through school, and he also alludes to smoking marijuana, not exactly painting a picture of a parents dream child. Smoking marijuana was a huge part of the sixties counterculture. In “I Am The Walrus”, a disjointed nature was used and displayed the use of acid that the Beatles were on when they wrote the song, making up words like “semolina pilchards” and “crabalocker.” In the song “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” many incorrectly created the idea that the letters of the title stood for the popular drug LSD. This was surprisingly false as the idea was actually from a picture his son had drawn for him years before.
Although Lennon stated the title was not about drugs, he left little doubt that he wrote the song without the aid of a few drugs. “Surrealism to me, is reality,” and “Psychedelic vision is reality to me and always was.” All these songs topped the charts, not to mention other counter cultural songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows” (Lennon’s attempt to capture the LSD experience in sounds and words), “Piggies” (making fun of the middle classes), and “Happiness is Warm Gun” (enough said). They made exciting music about marijuana, LSD, and surrealism and by the mid-sixties became a voice for the rebelling teens of that time period. In 1967 the Beatles released “Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which reflected the Beatles’s sixties experience with drugs and eastern mysticism, and was considered by many to be the Beatles finest work.
By the time SP LHCB came out, the rarest thing in America was a teenager with hair gelled straight back. From 1964 to 1969 the Beatles had thirty songs in the Billboard top ten. Through these numerous chart toppers the Beatles accelerated the counterculture movement by adjusting the country by taking the country by storm in 1964 and eventually laying down their acid rock with a dedicated bunch of fans still following. By the end of the 1960’s the Beatles had bridged a gap between musicians like Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley to many of the performers at Woodstock like Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana. None of these groups would have been the same or prospered as well if it was not for the Beatles, who came in a time when America truly called for them. The songs and actions of the Beatles changed the world and specifically fueled the counterculture of the 1960’s, effecting history forever..