The Beatles and Globalization in the Sixties

28 minutes to read
Paper
Mariska van Schijndel
19/04/2022

This paper discusses the way The Beatles contributed to changes in youth culture worldwide in the 1960s. It deals with the role of hippy counterculture (Mariska van Schijndel) and the Vietnam War (Rosalie Vaarten), the influence of technological developments and media after World War II (Karlijn Raaijmakers), the role of language (Aniek van den Brandt) and the use of music and sounds from different cultures (Naomi Dominicus). The paper shows that globalization is not just a phenomenon of the Internet Age, but also took place long before the Internet even existed.

Introduction

Globalization is a ‘catchword’ to refer to a certain historical phase in which interconnectedness and mobility acquired unexperienced global scale levels (Wang et al., 2013: 1). These historical phases, such as the colonial era and the post-Cold War era, are times of ‘deepened globalization’ which lead to the creation of a new  world order (Wang et al., 2013: 2). As a result, we are now living in a world greatly defined by “intensified global flows, both in volume and in speed, of people, goods, capital and symbolic social, political and cultural objects including language and other semiotic sources” (Wang et al., 2013: 2). Social scientists often refer to globalization as something that has – next to terrorism – dominated the world since the last decades of the twentieth century (Wallerstein, 2004: 1). By stating this, social scientists imply that globalization is a new phenomenon. Many scientists study globalization in the context of the Internet Age, but in reality globalization is something which also took place long before the Internet emerged (Wang, 2013: 1). Many popular singers of the 21st century enjoy their worldwide popularity for a great part thanks to the internet. Through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and other social media, they can easily have an influence on people around the world.               

In the 1960s, The Beatles became extremely popular around the globe, and they had a great influence on youth culture, way before the internet was invented. How did The Beatles contribute so greatly to changes in youth culture worldwide in the 1960s?                                                                                            

This paper discusses social, cultural, political, linguistic and technological factors that created ‘global patterns’ of cultural and social behaviour and that made it possible for The Beatles to contribute to changes in youth cultures around the globe in the 1960s. We will look at the social and cultural upheaval of the hippie counterculture, the political upheaval during the Vietnam War, the technological and media developments after World War II, language, and the use of music and sounds from various cultures around the world.

Trendsetters in the Hippie Counterculture

‘Counter’ by definition is an opposition or defence against something. A counterculture is the result of a reaction to a certain culture with a contradictory opinion or action. Counterculture is “the tradition of breaking with tradition’’ or “crashing through the conventions of the present’’ in order to ‘’open a window onto that deeper dimension (…) of the truly new in human expression and endeavour’’ (Goffman and Joy, 2004: 17). In a counterculture, the participants exchange controversial ideas and innovations, pushing themselves into a new territory in which they hope others will follow (Goffman and Joy, 2004: 10). The focus of a counterculture is not the political, but the ‘’power of ideas, images, and artistic expression’’ (Goffman and Joy, 2004: 10). In examinations of radical youth culture of the 1960's and 1970's reference is often to a ‘hippie counterculture’, which insists that ‘hippies’ and ‘counterculture’ have the same definition (Starr, 1985: 239). Though this is not the case, as hippies were a subgroup within counterculture.    

Under the influence of protest movements of students and young people, the hippie movement developed in San Francisco in the mid-1960s. During this period, international connections broadened and intensified, which resulted in the fact that this movement and its ideas could quickly spread throughout the United States as well as the rest of the world, mainly to Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Besides, the background of Western European countries was similar to the United States, which also resulted in young people participating in protest movements and feeling attracted to the ideas and innovations of the hippie culture (Oved, 2012: 4).

In this counterculture, hippies rejected materialism, competitiveness, militarism, rationality, and Western religions and creeds (Becker, 2007: 24). Furthermore, they opposed to all authority, from school rules and parental authority to the formalities of the courts (Falk and Falk, 2005: 188). Instead of following the mainstream materialist society, which they called the ‘plastic society’, hippies tried to create their own alternative society with alternative values and way of life (63). Their ideal community was based on peace, equality, harmony, sexual liberation, drug use, and most importantly: love (Becker, 2007: 24-25).                       

These cultural shifts created a generation gap between the youth of the 1960s and their parents. The teenagers regarded the materialist society as ‘the hallmarks of their parents’ generation’ (Misiroglu, 2015: 113). Therefore, Jerry Rubin’s quote ‘’Don’t trust anyone over thirty’’ became famous among the youth. The Beatles managed to participate  in the social and cultural upheaval of the 1960s by capturing the spirit of the hippie counterculture.

Just ‘ordinary’ boys

The Beatles were the proof for hippies that society does not require any authority in order to be successful. All four were just young ‘ordinary’ boys from England’s hinterlands, of whom none had an easy youth. Lennon’s and Starr’s parents divorced when they were young, McCartney’s mother died when he was only 14 years old, and Harrison grew up in a house which had an outdoor toilet and heat from a single coal fire (Harrison, 1980: 21). Lennon’s relationship with his parents after the divorce was bad: his father was out of sight for the next twenty years and Lennon ended up living with his aunt and uncle instead of his mother (Lennon, 2005: 11). Since the age of twelve, Starr was not able to go back to school as he had to spend too much time in hospitals because of health issues. Their background proves that they were just like anyone else, but still were able to achieve huge successes. Besides, as mentioned above, hippies rejected all forms of authority. Their background showed them that society does not need school rules or parental authority in order to achieve something big in life. Also, the fact that ‘ordinary’ boys had so much success by creating their own songs without any help of the music industry, gave young people around the world hope and optimism for their future (Misiroglu, 2015: 67).

Lyrics capturing the ‘hippie spirit’

The Beatles wrote songs which captured the ideals of the hippie movement. In their song All You Need Is Love, they criticize the material culture by implying that you do not need any money, authority, or traditional rules; the only thing that is important, is love. From then on, ‘love’ became “the catchword of the hippie culture in the 1960s” (Falk and Falk, 2005: 188) and “the central motif of Hippie immanent philosophy” including an “all-embracing love for mankind” (Hall, 1986: 181).

The hippies wanted to reach sexual liberation by spreading the message of love. Therefore, they often referred to the sentence “make love, not war” (Falk and Falk, 2005: 188). Again, The Beatles captured this dream in their lyrics. The phrases ‘’Why don’t we do it on the road? / No one will be watching us / Why don’t why do it on the road?’’ (Why Don't We Do it in the Road?) and ‘’She’s a big teaser / She only played one night stands’’ (Day Tripper) directly refer to the ideal of sexual liberation of the 1960s.

In additionto sexual liberation, the hippie community was also based on drug use, as ‘’love were drugs of all kinds’’ and ‘’getting high was the symbol for final liberation’’ (Falk and Falk, 2005: 188). The Beatles often referred to this feature of the hippie community in their lyrics, for example in their songs With A Little Help From My Friends and Mystery Tour: ''I get by with a little help from my friends / I get high with a little help of my friends'', '''Roll up / And that's an invitation  Roll up for the mystery tour'' . Not only in their lyrics they encouraged drug use, but also in their own behaviour. In an interview for the Independent Television News in 1967, the newscaster asked Paul McCartney if he had ever taken LSD, to which his answer wass he did about four times. Still McCartney did not think he encouraged his fans to take drugs by telling the truth, because he believed ‘’that is up to the newspapers, to you, the television’’. He even stated that he did not want to spread the word about drugs. Even though McCartney was right about the impact of media on society, The Beatles were aware of their huge impact on youth. John Lennon even stated in an interview with the London Evening Standard in 1966 that The Beatles are ‘’more popular than Jesus’’ and therefore have a greater influence on the youth than Christianity.     

The young people with the same 'hippie spirit' came together at concerts and music festivals. These concerts and festivals created the sense of ‘togetherness’ among hippies in their own alternative community. They functioned as gathering points and created ‘’a feeling of belonging to a widespread movement’’ (Oved, 2012: 61). The Beatles were trendsetters in this, as they provided the first United States tour (Oved, 2012: 60).

The Beatles’ lyrical content, behaviour, drug use, and world tours made them the ‘’trendsetters in everything, from clothing to hairstyles to recreational drug use’’ (Misiroglu, 2015: 68). Parents feared that The Beatles had a bad influence on their children ‘’with their long hair and loud music’’, and some parents even considered the four members dangerous (Davies, 2014).

Youth Rebellion during the Vietnam War 

The Vietnam War was a war during which the communist North Vietnam and the Viet Cong fought against the South of the country, which was supported by the United States. In 1973, the USA stopped supporting South Vietnam and as a result the South collapsed in 1975. The communist army took control of Saigon and ended up winning the war. Vietnam became a united, communist nation state. The Vietnam War led to global protests and rebellion, especially among the youth. This political upheaval caused by the war is something that The Beatles stimulated and played a part in as well.

Influence of the television on the Anti-War Movement

In the 1960’s, around the time of the outbreak of the war, television was introduced in many American and European households. The introduction of this new medium caused drastic changes and revolutions (Emerald Group Publishing, 2004). Through this new medium, people could suddenly follow everything that was happening all over the world. Many see the television as “one of the most important phenomena” in current cultural globalization (Kuruoğlu, 2004: 2). Also, it was an important cause for American citizens – but also for people in other places in the world – to get involved in the Vietnam War, even though it was taking place in a country almost 9,000 miles away from the United States. 

The Vietnam War was connected to globalization because television allowed people from all over the world to see the horrific things that were happening in Vietnam from their homes. Due to the progress that globalization made with the invention of the television, not only the population of Vietnam and the American veterans, but also the rest of the world became concerned about the war and formed opinions about it.

This global involvement led to rebellions and protests all over the world, especially by the ‘protest generation’ (Giugni, 2004: 180), which was the youth of the 1960’s. The United States were obviously violating the human rights of the Vietnamese people, but also their own soldiers were suffering in Vietnam. Many soldiers died and the ones who did come home often had to deal with  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or disabilities. Many people objected to these violations and the horrific images they saw on their television, and started protesting against the Vietnam War: 1968 became a very turbulent year (Lamb, 2016: 333).

The Beatles’ popularity and their political opinions

Liverpool was a centre of popular culture in the 1960’s. Not only The Beatles, but also many other pop groups had their home in Liverpool, as well as the Liverpool Poets, a group of Poets influenced by the hippie culture. The hippie culture ‘’featured communal living, drug use and so on; The Vietnam War, racial unrest and the pressure to adapt to pre-established norms frustrated them…The Liverpool Poets wrote extensively on the subject of love, war and peace” (Li, 2014: 69). While the antiwar demonstrations were going on globally, The Beatles wrote songs in which they expressed their opinion on the war and talked about it in interviews: “The Beatles had done a fairly good job following Epstein’s advice to not answer questions about American politics, but they could resist no longer. They came out against the Vietnam War at a press conference hours before their final New York concert” (Leonard, 2014).

 ‘Make Love, not War’

The Beatles leaned, as discussed in chapter 1, strongly towards the hippie ideology of ‘make love, not war’. The myth of worldwide love, that was alive in the 1960’s, “centered in some way around the Beatles and connected with what we would now call youth culture or the counterculture” (Burns, 2000). Back then there was a real need for such a ‘love myth’ in America to work against the ugly realities of the Vietnam War, and people began to see The Beatles as the face of this idea. Many of their songs aligned with this ideal of love and peace from the hippies, like All You Need Is Love, or Revolution in 1968 (Burns, 2000). This song was written by John Lennon and came out in the United States on August 26, 1968, on the first day of “the frightening climax to a year of violence” (Platoff, 2005: 244). This climax had been triggered by horrific images of Chicago police beating up anti-war protesters, delegates and news reporters that, one night, were shown on television. It led to mass protests and violence for days on end. Lennon later stated that he set the song out at this time on purpose, to give his opinion about revolution. Also, he consciously made the choice to release the song “as a single: as a statement of The Beatles’ position on Vietnam and The Beatles’ position on revolution” (Platoff, 2005: 246). However, Lennon stated this twelve years later in an interview and nothing in the lyrics verifies that the song is really about the Vietnam War, so this was probably not the case. Still it is pretty obvious that people who heard the song automatically made this connection, especially keeping in mind the timing of the release. Also, it is understandable when you look at the lyrics:

You say you want a revolution,

Well, you know

We all want to change the world.

 

You tell me that it’s evolution,

Well, you know

We all want to change the world.

 

But when you talk about destruction,

Don’t you know that you can count me out.

 

(…)

 

But if you want money for people with minds that hate,

All I can tell you is brother you have to wait.

The Beatles have never released a song that was clearly about the Vietnam War, although some of their songs from the time seemed to fit perfectly with the topic. Another example of such a song is Strawberry Fields Forever, which came out in 1967, again written by John Lennon. The song is meant to be an “expression of life’s absurdity”, which is very fitting for the troubled times that the world was going through. “John Lennon shows no bitterness or anger at the fact that “nothing is real” … though he does seem to be critical of people who don’t acknowledge the absurdity of reality, evident in the lines, “Living is easy with eyes closed/Misunderstanding all you see” ’ (McClary, 2000: 10). This could be interpreted as him believing people shouldn’t close their eyes when it comes to war; as if he thought it had to be acknowledged how wrong and absurd everything about it was. Because they were so popular all over the world, their message reached lots of people. It is therefore likely that songs like these have been a stimulating factor in the anti-war movements, or at least helped shape many people’s opinions about the war.

Technological developments after World War II

When World War II ended in 1945, society got back into a stage of recovery, slowly getting back into an upwards spiral again. The destruction that the war left was being fixed, which made production and employment rates rise (Eichengreen, 2007: 59). People were able to celebrate their freedom again. During the war, technology had developed a lot, because it was necessary to make better weapons, tanks, etcetera (56). After the war, these technological inventions continued, but for different purposes (56). Instead of weapons and tanks, people invented LP’s and Compact Cassettes, which will be discussed below. These new forms of ‘cultural technology’ opened up a lot of doors for other cultural developments, such as theatre and music.                                                  

Globalization got a huge boost, because these developments made it possible to, as everyone does on social media nowadays, ‘share’ a lot more. Culture was able to spread faster over the entire world, which made it easier for artists, such as musicians, to get the recognition they wanted.            

This brings us back to our main topic: The Beatles and their influence on youth culture. How did post-war technologies make it possible for The Beatles to grow their fan base so much that nowadays people still recognize their influence?

Commercial television

When Pearl Harbor was attacked, near the end of World War II, most television programming was stopped for some time (Abramson, 1987: 3). It was only in 1946 that these television stations went back on the air (18). But now, something had changed; television was used more and more for cultural purposes instead of war purposes, such as propaganda. The popularity of the TV increased really fast in many countries and in the sixties, most families owned a television (24).               

 The Beatles benefited from the rise in popularity of television by getting promoted on television and doing live performances. They appeared on the American television show The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time in 1963 (Frontani, 2007: 31). This was a very big event which drew a lot of attention from fans, which were mainly young women and teenage girls. 1963 was the year of their breakthrough and television obviously played a big part in this breakthrough, as they could now reach more people in different countries all over the world. This is also an obvious example of the world becoming more global and having better communication channels, because of these technological inventions.                                                                         

After The Beatles’ performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, everyone was very impressed, so much that they were asked to appear on various other television and performing shows (Frontani, 2007: 32). This increased their popularity all around the world. They also made several movies, one of them being A Hard Day’s Night, after their album with the same title (Frontani, 2007: 77). These were all very big steps on their way to fame.

From phonograph to LP record

When the phonograph was invented somewhere around the 1870’s, no one, including its inventor Thomas Edison, really saw its (commercial) potential (Tschmuck, 2006: 2). The phonograph ended without the actual practical applications being realized (Houston, 1888: 44). However, in 1887 an inventor called Berliner invented an improved version of the phonograph called the gramophone, which was the start of some great developments (Houston, 1888:4444-45).                                                                  

The music industry evolved slowly but surely and 60 years later, the LP record, also known as the long playing vinyl or gramophone record, was introduced, in 1947 (Eargle, 2003: 371). It would become the most popular form of consumer audio until the CD was introduced. 

The LP record is obviously an example of how new technologies increased globalization and made it easier for bands like The Beatles to become more famous around the world. Their first three LP’s made them very successful and known by many people. Time progressed and so did the quality of their LP’s, both in sound and in the music itself. They started doing fewer covers and more originals. Since most families had a record player in the house and the LP record had not been around for that long, many people bought The Beatles’ LP’s, which made them gain a large audience. After their 1965 LP record Rubber Soul topped the charts, they started ‘’taking over the world’’, from the United Kingdom all the way to Australia and America (Kurt, 1998: 9-10). Youth would almost beg their parents for ‘the next LP from The Beatles’. Their success was made possible through all these technologies.

The start of the digital revolution 

Two other steps in technology that had a big impact on the world were the Compact Cassette (also known as Music Cassette (MC)) and the Compact Disc (CD). The Compact Cassette arrived in the early 1960s, but it took some time for it to gain popularity (Tschmuck, 2006: 150). There was more interest in the CD when it got invented in 1979. It was described as the ‘child of the digital revolution’, which began in the early 1980s and it was a new step to the technologically developed society we live in now (Tschmuck, 2006: 151). After four years, the CD gained popularity and it became more clear that this digital revolution was actually starting.

The Beatles already split up before the CD arrived, but yet they hugely benefited from it. Almost everyone owned a CD player and bought CDs from The Beatles as they had better sound quality than the LPs and cassettes. The Compact Cassette has a comparable story with the LP record we discussed above. It created a more global world and made The Beatles able to share their work more with the public, since most people had a cassette player and used it for many years. This new technology made artists like The Beatles able to spread their music around the world really quick.      

Singing Songs in Other Languages than English

The Beatles sung most of their songs in English, but sometimes they added some elements of other languages in their songs as well. The song Michelle is known for the French sentence: ‘’Michelle, la belle, sont des mots qui vont très bien ensemble’’ and in Sun King The Beatles added some Spanish, Portuguese and Italian words next to the English lyrics. The most famous non-English songs are the songs The Beatles translated into German in 1964. ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ became ‘Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand’ and ‘She Loves You’ became ‘Sie Liebt Dich’. But why did The Beatles decide to sing songs in non-English? And did it actually take their career to a higher level?

The spread of the English language

If you think about it, it is not strange that The Beatles translated their songs in other languages. In the last century, the English language has become a worldwide language, but that certainly did not happen suddenly. Political, economic, social and cultural changes have affected the linguistic landscape in Europe in the 20th century. Through for example internationalisation and large scale-migration the use of English by non-native speakers of English has increased a lot. English music also stimulated the globalisation of the English language. The spread of English has been (and still is) a long-term development, so back in the 1960’s this had not gone as far is it has nowadays (Cenoz & Jessner, 2000: 1). Therefore, in the 1960’s, many people on the continent did not understand the English language very well. For many listeners, however, it is important to understand the lyrics of a song, because lyrics are an important form of communication with the audience. There is even a theory that claims that song writers tend to regress to a more basic form consciously to please the listeners, because a song that is easy to understand reaches a bigger audience than a song that is difficult to understand (Pettijohn II & Sacco Jr., 2009: 298). In other words: a song needs to be understandable, otherwise the listeners won’t be reached. So, to reach a bigger audience for their music, the producers of The Beatles thought it was important to put some international elements in their songs and to even translate some of them.

Language and identity 

Most researchers agree that language and identity are inseparable: ‘’Identity constructs and is constructed by language’’ (Norton, 1997: 419). But the fact that many people speak the English language, does not mean they identify with it. Researcher J. House stated that ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) is a “language for communication” rather than a “language for identification’’ (as cited in Canagarajah, 2006: 199). In other words, multilingual speakers will not feel a cultural affinity with the English language if it’s not their native language. But that does not mean cultural affinity is not important, on the contrary. House shows this with the example of how the revival of German folk music (Schlager) could be a reaction against the spread of English pop music; people do not just leave their native language behind and that can be seen in the music industry. Knowing that, we can say that translating Beatles songs has definitely had some influence in the spread of the fame of The Beatles around the world, because people identify earlier with songs that are sung in their native language.

Germany

As said, the two most famous non-English songs of The Beatles are original English songs, fully translated in German. The Beatles had an orientation on Germany from the beginning. They had some very early gigs in Hamburg, so Germany had met the phenomenon of ‘The Beatles’ already at an early stage of their career. But even though the German people already knew them and their songs, Odeon, the German branch of EMI (the parent company of the Beatles' record label, Parlophone) thought that The Beatles' records would sell better in Germany if they were sung in German.

Translating songs in that way is not a strange phenomenon. Back in the 1960’s many big artists and producers made German versions of their songs for the European market (Flippo, 2016). Even though The Beatles detested the idea of translating their songs in German, the project still went ahead. Two songs were translated: I Want To Hold Your Hand and She Loves You. The translations, Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand and Sie Liebt Dich, were released in Germany in 1964. It is obvious that the songs hardly changed in content; it is just the language that has changed.

A wider public

The German songs did pretty well in Germany, so they surely helped to reach a big audience in Germany. ‘Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand’ and ‘Sie Liebt Dich’ a fifth and seventh place in the West German Media Control Singles Place (the German hit-parade). But, the original English version of 'She Loves You' reached first place in the German hit-parade. It even became The Beatles’ best-selling single worldwide. ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ ended on the seventh place, just like the German version. So even though the German producers of The Beatles were sure that the songs would only sell if they were translated in the German language, in the end the English versions of the songs turned out to be just as or even more successful.

But, other than the translated German versions, which did well, ‘Michelle’, the song with the French elements, actually was extraordinarily successful in France and Belgium. In both countries, it reached first place in the national charts. It must be said though that ‘Michelle’ was an overall hit, so the success was not specific to countries with French as the main language. Michelle was also very successful in Britain itself and in other European countries. The song even won the Grammy Award for the Song of the year in 1967, so whether the French elements really had an impact on the song’s success in French-speaking countries, is very hard to say.

Did it work?

We can suppose The Beatles released records in different languages in order to achieve a wider public. The translating of songs had ‘globalization’ of The Beatles as a purpose. It is hard to say how much those non-English songs helped spreading the fame of The Beatles. Looking at the identification with songs, you could say that translating the songs definitely must have had some influence on the globalization of The Beatles. But the English songs were in general just as successful (or sometimes even more so) than the songs with elements of other languages. That does not mean the non-English songs did not have any influence at all. The effect of singing in German, was that for some people the message of the song became more clear, because English back than wasn’t as widespread as it is today. Next to that, the translated songs surely were valuable for a part of the non-English public, because they did – just as a lot of English songs – very well in the European hit charts. As the record producer of The Beatles, George Martin, later said about the German translations of The Beatles-songs: ‘‘They (The Beatles) were right, actually, it wasn’t necessary for them to record in German, but they weren’t graceless, they did a good job’’ (Lewishon, 1988: 38).

More than just Popular Music

The youth culture of the sixties created a bridge between the growing group of students and the new possibilities in their spare time by using music. The joy the youth experienced in listening to music became the highly needed counterpart to their stressful school life. Hand in hand with this development went the rise of popular music and nightlife (Tillekens, 1998:293-294). Roy Shuker describes popular music as follows: “… it consists of a hybrid of musical traditions, styles, and influences, with the only common element being that the music is characterized by a strong rhythmical component, and generally, but not exclusively, relies on electronic amplification” (Shuker, 2016:6). Popular music created an environment in which young people could meet each other and express their feelings in a whole new way. The freedom and responsibility the youth took by choosing music, clothing and where to meet prepared them in one way or another for their independent adulthood (Tillekens, 1998:294).

As part of the developments of youth culture in the sixties came The Beatles. The group started off playing popular music, which at the time was rock ‘n roll. With over 200 songs produced between the release of Love Me Do in 1962 and their disbanding in 1970, The Beatles played a significant role in the development of youth culture (Inglis, 2000:35). In order for their music to stay interesting they had to try something new once in a while and keep up with the time. As the rock ‘n roll period fades, so do the hard edges of their music. And together with the change of popular music goes a change within people; their rough edges also fade. How was it possible for their music to be so popular among youth around the whole world, and not only in Western countries in which people lived in similar cultures? 

Borrowing from different genres

The Beatles innovated new styles for their songs and developed together with their time and public (Inglish, 2000:40). They innovated these new styles by borrowing from different genres, but they never really moved from one genre to another; the group would always stick to their popular music. By using all these different genres in their songs they created a wider public around the world (Pedler, 2003:256). For instance, Yesterday (1965) was their first song to make use of classical music elements, even though it was not their first song to use orchestral strings. Gould says: “The more traditional sound of strings allowed for a fresh appreciation of their talent as composers by listeners who were otherwise allergic to the din of drums and electric guitars.” (Gould 2007: 278)

Indian sounds

In August 1967 Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an Indian guru, gave a series of lectures at the London Hilton about Transcendental Meditation. On the 24th of August, The Beatles, except Ringo Starr, attended the lecture and had a moment for themselves with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi afterwards. Inspired by his Eastern Philosophy they decided to participate in a meditation course by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India, in February 1968. Starr and McCartney were the first to leave, with Lennon and Harrison following a few weeks later when Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was accused of sexual misconduct. The Beatles’ had lost faith in him; this can be heard in the song Sexy Sadie (1968) in which ‘Sexy Sadie’ equals Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and they sing: “She made of fool of everyone. Sexy Sadie. However big you think you are. Sexy Sadie.” Despite this incident, The Beatles’ stay in India gave them a lot of inspiration and resulted in one of their most productive periods as songwriters. They have said they wrote more songs than could fit one single album (Joe, 2009:1-4). Therefore, many of the songs on the album ‘The Beatles’, also known as The White Album’, (1968) and some further songs were written during and/or about their course in Rishikesh. The album got mixed reviews when it was released. Some critics found its songs unimportant or discriminative, but others praised Lennon and McCartney for their song writing. Despite that the album got mixed reviews, it was the best sold double album at the time (Joe, 2008:5).

George Harrison in particular was very fond of the Indian styles of music, even before their trip to India. When Rubber Soul was released in 1965, the world was surprised by the second track Norwegian Wood, as it was the first popular song in which a sitar was used. A sitar is an Indian stringed instrument with a very unique and slightly psychedelic sound. As innovative as the sitar sounded, it was only used to back up the acoustic guitar. Although the song still had a traditional Western melody, it was inevitable that such experiments would be done more in popular music from now on. The Beatles’ next album Revolver (1966) contained the song Love You To, which was George Harrison’s first song to be composed entirely on the sitar. One of the most complex songs in Harrison’s Indian-field is Within You Without You (1967) in which Indian instruments – played by Indian musicians – as well as a Western string ensemble are playing. This song uses traditional Indian rhythmic patterns together with Western popular music. Besides the influences on their music, the Indian influences are also found in their lyrics. In My Sweet Lord (1970) for example, Harrison mentions a few Indian Gods and movements (Guerrero, 2015:34-36).

 

Conclusion 

Globalization created new forms of social structures around the world. The transition from industrial society to a transnational networked society, meant that people became more and more interconnected with each other. This network society emerged from cultural, social, political and technological processes. In the same period, The Beatles became immensely popular around the world. 

In culture, a new global community – the hippie counterculture – emerged because of the intensified international connections and similar social backgrounds. The Beatles played a big role as trendsetters in the hippie counterculture movement of the 1960’s by including the ideals of the alternative culture in their songs and expressing these ideals through their behaviour and looks. In this way, they were able to contribute to changes in youth cultures.

The global political upheaval about the Vietnam War by the young protest generation – which the hippie counterculture movement was part of – greatly benefited from the introduction of the television and the fact that more and more households got this new medium in their homes. This made it possible for them to follow what was happening in Vietnam. Even though none of The Beatles’ music overtly refers to the Vietnam War, their messages in the songs fit perfectly with the ideology of the protest generation (‘Make love, not war’). Also, the singers were not afraid of expressing their political opinion every now and then. Because of their immense popularity worldwide, their lyrics and political opinions reached the youth around the world and could change the way they looked at the world around them.

After World War II, as a consequence of technological developments and television becoming more and more popular people could watch The Beatles from their homes. The Beatles also made use of other new technologies like LP’s and CD’s which were sold worldwide. By using these technologies, The Beatles were able to expand their (young) fan base around the world, and therefore were able to change the way they act and look at the world through their cultural and political messages.

In order to achieve an even wider public, The Beatles chose to release records in different languages. Even though the English songs were just as successful as the non-English songs in the European hit charts, it became easier for the public to understand The Beatles’ messages on the Vietnam War, drug use and other ideological messages. 

By looking at the sounds and types of music The Beatles chose, it explains why their music was interesting and different for countries all around the world and not just in Western countries. Popular music, which became and still is especially popular in Western countries, created an environment in which young people could meet each other and express themselves. By borrowing elements from different genres, especially Indian sounds, The Beatles’ were able to keep their music interesting for the public and created a wider public of interest beyond the West.

The discussed social, cultural, political and technological factors created ‘’global patterns’’ of cultural and social behaviour. In their own way, The Beatles contributed and made use of these factors, which made it possible for them to contribute to changes in youth cultures around the world in the 1960’s.

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