Did Beatles change the world? Yeah, yeah, yeah

The Beatles arrive in America, February 1964

The Beatles arrive in America, February 1964

By Jim Tortolano  E Pluribus Unum

We’re in a frenzy of Beatlenostalgia, which is only fitting considering that so much of the world we live in has been shaped and soundtracked by the four boys from Liverpool.

Folks like to make a big deal out of the way that the Beatles affected popular music, and that’s just as it should be. It’s probably not saying too much to insist that John, Paul, George and Ringo saved rock and roll from being a transitory musical fad and established it as one of the most important art forms in the modern world.

It almost had to be. The arrival of The Beatles in the U.S. in February of 1964 had an impact without precedent. My sister, June, 11 at the time, went bonkers as did most of her female friends.

She was wild for the cute one, Paul McCartney. Once, when the Beatles were in Southern California for an appearance at the Hollywood Bowl, she sighed dreamily and said, “Gee … I could be breathing air that Paul breathed.”

Unable to get into any actual Beatles’ concerts (where tens of thousands of girls screamed non-stop), she and her friends went to movie showings of concert films, where they – of course – screamed non-stop.

But that was just the surface storm. The Beatles became such cultural deities that everything they did and said and wore became popular. Before Beatlemania, a male with long hair would be considered a very brave homosexual. Once their feet hit the tarmac at JFK Airport in New York, shaggy locks became instantly fashionable (at least among the younger set).

That style rippled through the males of my world. High schools began to adopt dress codes fighting (first) long hair, then long side-burns, then mustaches and beards, all of which were popularized by the Fab Four.

Battles erupted between fathers and sons, and school vice principals and hairy students. At my high school, if they caught you with ‘burns that exceed the limit, you had to shave them of with an aged razor, which was akin to using a cheese grater.

Girls had their own battles to fight too. The success of all things British meant the rise of Carnaby Street fashions. That resulted in short skirts of what were originally considered scandalous altitudes. At some schools, girls were required to kneel on the carpet to make sure the hemlines touched the floor.

The effects of their influence were not entirely so cosmetic. The Beatles, whether through example or music or whatever, helped introduce the use and abuse of drugs into the American mainstream.

They also shaped our ideas about war in general (and the Vietnam war in particular), Eastern religion and more. Men’s fashion, band composition, rhe military draft, sexuality and more were all influenced to one degree or another.

So it’s not just the music. Did the Beatles cause a cultural earthquake akin to the civil rights movement, environmentalism and information technology?

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

 

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