Looking Back: Sociologist says the Beatles won’t last

We could spend eons talking about the lasting legacy of The Beatles.  Many writers have placed them in an elevated status.  The lasting legacy of the group is that of Mozart and Beethoven.  I would agree.  They moved beyond the realm of simple pop-hysteria.  Few rock and roll artists possess that ability to morph and transform the way The Fabs did.

The group and their change in sound, and vision defined rock and roll.  The hysteria of the crowds, and ability to move the masses was a by-product of their biting rock and roll.  They injected the sounds of the 1950’s with a rebellion and sexuality that few had experienced before them.  They took pop music and turned it on its head time and time again through songwriting never before seen, and added depth to the music through use of technology.  It also helped that they happened to be the most popular group in the world.

This article would have taken a different slant if it was written after the hysteria of Beatlemania.  Think what this article would look like if it was written after the Summer of Love, and Sgt. Pepper’s was released.  I imagine it would look quite different. 

The Beatles defined our lives, and continue to define and influence our musical experiences even generations later.  I imagine that the future will be no different.  We will continue to study them as musicians.  We will continue to study them as a product of their generation.  We will continue to study them as a phenomenon for generations to come.  There has been nothing like them since, although Elvis comes close, and I doubt the world will experience a musical and artistic revolution like them for a considerable time to come.  Time will tell.

Here’s what we’ve read.

This story originally appeared in the February 24, 1964, issue of U.S.News & World Report.

In case you’re worried about the craze over those Beatles-here are some reassuring words from one of the best-known sociologists in the U.S. David Riesman, Harvard professor and noted author on social trends, was interviewed by “U.S. News & World Report.”

Q Professor Riesman, is the furor over the singers who call themselves the Beatles a sign that American youngsters are going crazy?

A No crazier than hitherto. In the first place, any large city will turn out a minority capable of nearly anything. One mustn’t exaggerate and attribute to the vast majority the reactions of the minority.

Q Would you say that the fad for the Beatles is a mania, then?
A It’s a form of protest against the adult world. These youngsters are hoping to believe in something, or respond to something new that they have found for themselves.

Q Will it last very long?
A No. No craze does. The way to describe a craze or fad is to point out that it starts out as a minority movement. It is self-fulfilling, self-nourishing for the minority that supports it, and every member of the minority is supposed to respond in the same way. As soon as the majority takes it up, it can no longer be a fad. Some new fad has to come along for a new minority.

Q Does the fact that the Beatles are British have anything to do with the craze over them?
A The relevance, I guess, of these young men being British is that it is perhaps more difficult to cultivate fads within America because they’re so quickly promoted by TV, records and other mass media. So we have to use other English-speaking lands in order to have a place for the fads to grow.

Q How would you compare the current Beatles craze with the Elvis Presley craze of a few years back?
A Compared to the Elvis Presley craze, it is a very minor one. Presley created a definitely “antiparent” outlook. His music-and he, himself-appeared somewhat insolent, slightly hoodlum.

Presley was a much more gifted musician than adults gave him credit for, but he antagonized the older generation. And that gave the younger generation something to hang on to which their usually permissive parents openly disliked.

In this respect, my impression is that the Beatles have none of this somewhat sinister quality that Presley represented for adults. They don’t have the quasi-sexual, quasi-aggressive note that was present in Presley.

Q What about the shaggy-dog hair style of the Beatles?
A Well, they are British, and the British are accepted as being eccentric, anyway.

So the hair styles don’t have the same meaning as they would have if the Beatles were unkempt in the American “beat” style. Actually, these young men, although unkempt in one way, are very “kempt” in another.

Q Does that account for their popularity with teen-age girls?
A I don’t know. Presley also had this tremendous impact on girls. But he had a male audience, too, with his swagger and his aggressiveness and his defiance. But it’s very safe for a young girl to admire these Englishmen. Then, too, there are four of them, and there’s safety in numbers.

Q So you would just let the craze run its course-
A What else? I don’t see it as at all dangerous. I think, actually, that adult concern, worry, monitoring, and so on, is probably the best fuel to add to the fire.

If I were the Beatles’ press agent, I’d work to have ministers and professors and the press all saying, “Oh, dear! Oh, dear!”

Source: US News and World Report


8 Responses

  1. Hilarious! I am a sociology professor who has taught a class on the Beatles BECAUSE they had such a huge impact on global culture.

  2. I would kill to take a class on the beatles.

  3. Note that David Riesman also was quoted 1967 as stating that “If anything remains more or less unchanged, it will be the role of women.” He may have been clever (I’m sure he was), but he wasn’t particularly visionary.

  4. Paul looks sexy in that picture!

  5. Hindsight is a beautiful thing….

  6. I get what this guy is saying. Most fads do start out with a minority and then when it gets too “mainstream” and everyone and their grandmother is “into” it, then you know it’s not cool anymore. Once in a blue moon there’s a phenomena that transcends being a “fad”. I think by 1964 Elvis had shown that he could be a “real” singer/musician, but the Beatles hadn’t had the time to prove that yet. There have been other pop culture phenomena since the Beatles that have staying power though like Star Wars.

  7. Great article, and in my opinion there will never be another Beatles! The songwriting, the lead and harmony vocals, the musicianship (complimenting the songs and not competing with them), the arrangements, the ever changing look and music style, The wit and the charisma were and have to this day still not been equalled or surpassed in the music world.

    Now, having said that, there is a new Cd that sounds for the world like a new Beatles album with 11 new songs. The vocals, harmonies, songwritng caliber, musicianship, and arrangements may have you looking for the Apple Records label. The Group is “The About” and the album title is “Iter Itineris”, latin for “The Journey. If you like the Beatles and have always wished ther could have been at least one more album from the Fab Four, this may be about as close as you will get. Check out the sound clips, and great reviews from Beatles fan clubs, radio, and Beatles former Apple Records manager, Ken Mansfield at CdBaby.com/TheAbout Thanks! Vic

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