How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll

Book Review: How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll

An Alternative History of American Popular Music

Book review for How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll

HTBDR&R is an exhaustively researched history of popular music, analyzed in excruciating detail from its rural African-American songbook, through jazz, swing, and R&B, all the way up to relatively modern times.

Unfortunately for readers, it’s also an exhausting read (as 75 pages of footnotes attests to), appearing in the form of a thesis written for undergraduates to wade through, quote from, and pretend to agree with before racing home and crankin’ up ‘She Loves You’ on their laptops and ipod docks, dancing their bespectacled tushies around dorm rooms until the last of the Red Bull wears off. Afterwards they remove the elbow padded tweed jackets and enter the land of golden slumbers where Blue Meanies sing duets with bands named after wolves and bears. I digress.

The book never quite lives up the potential of its fantastic title, which the publisher warned us before mailing out a copy, “is meant to attract attention, debate and controversy.”

Nor does the promise ever realize the heights touched upon in the brilliant opening remarks by the author,

The idea of a steady progression from ragtime to rap is tempting to a historian because it shows a clear live of development over an extended period of time. And if one accepts that continuum, then the Whiteman orchestra and the beatles played very similar roles: not as innovators but as rear guarding holding actions, attempting to maintain older, European standards as the streamlining force of rhythm rolled over them. Within the small world of music nuts, there have always been some who regard the beatles in just this way. In their view, rock is rooted in African-American music, and it’s evolution was from blues and R&B through Little Richard, Ruth Brown, and Rat Charles toward James Brown and Aretha Franklin, and on to Parliament/Funkadelic and Grandmaster Flash.

By the time the beatles hit, still playing the rhythms of Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins, that style was already archaic and their contributions were to resegregate the pop charts by distracting white kids from the innovations of the soul masters, to diffuse rock’s energy with effetely sentimental ballads like “Yesterday” – paving the way for Simon and Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Elton John, and Billy Joel – and then to drape it in a robe of arty mystification, opening the way for the Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd, Yes, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. In other words, rather than being a high point of rock, the beatles destroyed rock‘n’roll, turning it from a vibrant black (or integrated) dance music into a vehicle for white pap and pretension.

The incredible scope of this tome can’t help but draw the author in meandering circles, distracting his focus and causing him never quite hit the mark, instead he only glances a few limp wristed blows against the broad side of the creaking old plastic surgery enhanced, steroid impregnated barn we call the FF.

Nevertheless, books on subjects as important as this are rare. These pages contain a wealth of interesting material, and some strong points are touched upon. It happily reinforces the fact that the FF whitewashed rock music by sweetening it with an unthreatening candy coating, causing white America to listen to the same songs which had been shunned when performed by the original artists with energy, emotion, inspiration and real danger, all of which horrified and repulsed them.

It’s hard to say anything negative about a book which Tom Waits claims, “nailed me to the wall,” and is “suave, soulful, ebullient and will blow out your speakers.” Then again, Tom Waits also once said, “The stories behind most songs are less interesting than the songs themselves,” and this may be the story of this book.

If you’d like to read more about the beatles and learn how to distinguish between articulate, cutting edge rock ‘n’ roll and bombastic, bubblegum claptrap, I heartily recommend our dear friend Gary Hall’s insightful treatise on the subject:

Living Life without Loving the Beatles – A survivors guide.

If you order directly from Gary your copy will be lovingly signed by the author.

Living Life without Loving the Beatles, A survivors guide

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (4 votes, average: 3.00 out of 5)

15 thoughts on “How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll

  1. Danny

    Where did you find the author’s quote? I read the book, hoping it would live up to its title, but I didn’t find anything nearly so harsh towards the beatles. In fact there was very little actually written about the beatles in the book. They only showed up in the preface and the last chapter, if I remember correctly. The author even says he liked them when he was young, which, on a side note, is an argument I hear beatles fans use all the time: I LOVED them when I was six! Yeah but you also loved Alvin and the Chipmunks then.

    Thanks for posting the book by your friend Gary Hall. I will definitely buy a copy as soon as my next installment of student loans comes in.

  2. Das Post author

    Hi Danny,

    Your right, the quote I got was in the preface and the only other place he mentioned anything remotely close was at the closing. Overall I was quite disappointed in this book as it wasn’t much more than a myriad of historical music industry facts crammed together under a cool cover. Gary Hall is worth a read, if for no other reason than his book is actually enjoyable.

    We’ve addressed the beatle/Chipmunk issue here before as well, good observation.


  3. Nik

    I knew typing “why does everyone like the beatles even though they suck so bad” into google would take me somewhere.

  4. DogShit

    My potsmoking neighbor had a party last week when the weather was nice and was blaring beatles music from the back porch till midnight from his Iphone Itune thingymadjig into his stereo somehow.

    I googled “How to hack into Itunes and Iphone website and power surge every Iphone out there” but was amiss of the lack of results! So I just ran my car into the pole that supplied the power for our block!

  5. Zoyelque

    If you think that the beatles sucks so bad,then is obvious that you dont have any musical talent at all.jaja

  6. anne

    It’s arguably better that the Beatles put their own white-boy art-school Brit-pop spin on their R&B influences rather than tried to appropriate those influences entirely like Elvis or Pat Boone did. At least they weren’t thieves. They acknowledged their influences and made their own thing out of them. As far as “distracting white kids from the innovations of the soul masters” I don’t know the figures, but it’s hard to believe more people were listening to Emerson, Lake and Palmer in the 70s than Stevie Wonder or the Jackson 5.

  7. Das Post author

    I don’t claim to know the figures either, but I agree the idea of so many people listening to Emerson, Lake and Palmer is a sobering and horrifying thought.

  8. DogShit

    I’d rather listen to the Carpenters, turn gay, and move to San Francisco with my cats then listen to the beatles.

  9. lukeskymac

    @overmatik He dissed Pink Floyd AND Yes. He basically dissed everything post-Beatles as being derivative from them and therefore sucking.

    That motherfucker hasn’t got a clue.

  10. Brian

    The Beatles ROCK!!!!, the guys that dont like them its because thay dont know nothing about music.

  11. DogShit

    Again, another riveting retort with facts from another beatles fan that really persuades me to join the masses of idiots. At least this one told me I knew nothing about music, and didn’t call me a fagit!

  12. overmatik

    @lukeskymac: And he laso used the terms “arty” and “pretension” which are used to refer to Progressive Rock by people who are not musically educated enough to understand the genre. The funny thing is that these term are also used in a derogatory manner by people who don’t get Classical Music, so there you go…

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