Are they really the greatest band ever?
They were great, but not "the greatest" in my opinion.
The Beatles definitely revolutionized rock music, but for me they didn't have the duration of existence to hold the title of "greatest band ever". Their first album was published in 1963, and they broke up in 1970. That's barely one phase of existence for most rock bands. I love them, but they barely even had time to mature as a group, plus the fact that they had started dividing long before 1970. And just when they started to enter their first real chance to "evolve and survive" as a group, they closed up shop.
They were hugely popular, extremely influential, and clearly revolutionary, and to many people this will be plenty to make them the best band that ever existed. And they wouldn't be wrong, because remember also that musical taste is 100% subjective. But I've also enjoyed the progression that many other bands have made over a much longer period of time.
Bands that are around for 30+ years go through "phases" anywhere from every couple of years up to 8 years or even longer. With each "phase", the band either changes their sound noticably, or completely reinvents themselves. This isn't a travesty, in my opinion, as many others may say, but rather it's necessary
. And not to "satisfy the masses" as popular fashion changes (although many bands do change for this reason), but rather this follows the natural evolution of a band as an artistic unit.
Let's use the band I consider to be the greatest of all, Pink Floyd, in an example...here's how I see their "phases" of growth and maturity. Note how their style changed to mark musical "eras", served to reinvent the band over time to give them longevity and to mark points of recovery after a loss of some sort.
1967 - The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
The "official" birth of the band known as Pink Floyd. Heavily experimental psychedelic/space rock with a heavy blues influence. Also of note: The original lead singer/songwriter/guitarist, Syd Barrett, does so much LSD in 1967 that his brain oozes out his ears (well, almost) and is kicked out of the band the next year for repeatedly peeing his pants on stage in front of fans (or something to that effect).
1973 - Dark Side Of The Moon
The completion of their jump from psychedelic rock comprised of singles to art rock comprised of more cohesive, epic albums. This is considered by many to be their best album, and also by many to be the best rock album of all time. Also spawns their first radio hit, "Money" (although that would be a milestone which most PF fans couldn't care less about).
1979 - The Wall
Their first (and only) complete "political and social statement" album (with a "movie-track" to be released three years later), and a shift more heavily into art rock. Many consider this rock opera creation to represent Pink Floyd creativity and talent at their peak.
1983 - The Final Cut
Aptly named...the last album before the (temporary) break-up of the band (mainly due to irreconcilable differences between songwriter/bassist Roger Waters and keyboardist Rick Wright). This one couldn't measure up to The Wall artistically, though (but then again, nothing could have).
1987 - A Momentary Lapse Of Reason
The return of 3/4 of the band (sans Waters) but under the same name. Still very art rock oriented, less political, more mature but more "diluted". A strong release, especially considering they were now without the primary creative talent they had through their heyday in the 70s.
...and they've cruised in "stealth mode" ever since with several live performance recordings, compilations, one other studio album (The Division Bell in 1994), and loads of rumors about a Pink Floyd/Roger Waters reunion. Now you see why their Live 8 appearance was such a thrill. "Check it out: Waters and Wright are on stage together. Whoa! I think they looked at each other!"
For the Beatles there's a similarly "phased" evolution, just on a (much) more compressed timeline. In my opinion these phases would be divided by the following closely-spaced milestones, most seperated by less than one year...
1963 - Please Please Me
First album. #1 in the UK for 30 weeks. Pop rock revolution. This is when the girls started to cry and wet their panties, and all that.
1964 - A Hard Day's Night
First of their several film/soundtrack combos. Coined reference to band as the "Fab Four". This album disproved the naysayers who said The Beatles were only a "passing trend" and would be gone by now. Also, this year The Beatles first land in the US, officially starting the "British invasion". Now American girls are crying and wetting their panties, too.
1965 - Rubber Soul
Significant style shift to something more "druggy" and experimental, but artistically excellent.
1966 - Revolver
More mature, diverse and critically acclaimed. Note that they also gave their last paid concert performance during this year.
1968 - The Beatles (but commonly called "The White Album")
A lot's happening this year, with many forces start to press on the band. In my opinion, 1968 is the year The Beatles began to die. The band returns from India with another change in musical style. Transition from psychedelic back to guitar rock. The album's critically acclaimed. Band creates recording company "Apple Records" (which quickly goes into the red financially). Solo work was increasing during this phase as well, which started to impact their collective work. Ringo Starr quits band, then rejoins. Lennon/Ono relationship grows and starts to influence the band more and more...Is this good or bad? You tell me.
...OK, now it gets confusing...
1969 - Let It Be (is recorded, but not released until 1970)
The band's in turmoil. Arguments are frequent. They all but hate each other. George Harrison quits band, then returns. They record their last live performance as a band on the roof of the Apple Records building, at least until Scotland Yard puts a halt to it.
1969 - Abbey Road
So how was this even possible? They could hardly stand to be in the same room with each other, yet they create one of their best albums of all. I call this one more of a miracle than a milestone...mainly it's in this list because it's their last studio album recorded. Things are still in the shitter between the band members. John Lennon now wants to quit the band, but holds off doing so.
1970 - Let It Be (is released)
Now it's Paul's turn. He releases his first solo album, and tells the world that he was leaving The Beatles for good. It was ironic that Paul was the one who finally dissolved the band, after each of the other three had threatened to do so long before. But Paul didn't really end the band, in my opinion. The Beatles were dissolved even before Paul's 1970 announcement. They hadn't done anything together since the year before, and considering the conditions, likely never would have again.
Some people say that since the Beatles faded out early (especially considering their huge level of fame), they preserved their solid popularity and a uniform body of work without incurring the downhill slides and recoveries that bands of longer duration almost inevitably experience. (Well, their relationships with each other slid downhill, but this wasn't well known to the public until they officially broke up.)
The way I see it, there are two kinds of Beatles fans (and then the heathens outside the fence
). (1) "They burned half as long because they were twice as bright, and hence the greatest band of all"
. (2) "They weren't with us quite long enough to supplant other, longer-lived bands as the greatest; twice as bright doesn't necessarily trump long duration when judging artistic achievement"
. I'm in camp #2.
What's your favourite beatles song/album?
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds / Sgt. Pepper's
(What can I say?...I love psychedelic rock.
Do you even like their music?
Absolutely. I consider rock fans who don't like The Beatles to be heretics and not true "rock fans".
Is any music collection right without at least one beatles album?
If you're a fan of rock music, then no. (I have 8 of their albums in mine, including a lossless extraction of the very rare mono cut LP of The White Album.)
Were they just another pop band?
Definitely not. They were an inspiration, a revolution, and the definitive British invasion band (to lead many others since). Plus, I wouldn't write this long of a post about "just another pop band".