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50 years later, the Beatles still endure

“And in the end …”

Yet there has not been, nor will there ever be, a true end – an unimpeachable finality – to the musical and cultural phenomenon known as the Beatles. As long as music exists, as long as their recordings are played, the Beatles are the past, present and future.

Precisely 50 years have elapsed since the Beatles’ first televised live United States performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and another half century will surely pass with their music being played somewhere.

“Fifty years from now they’ll still be singing their songs,” predicts Steve Walley, who teaches the history of rock ’n’ roll at IPFW.

From the early roots of rock ’n’ roll, led by Bill Haley and the Comets, Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Elvis, countless numbers of bands and individuals have come and gone, flaming brightly before burning out like a match struck in the darkness. There were “one-hit wonders” and long-forgotten artists whose shadows ran through the spotlight.

Fifty years? Some didn’t last 50 days.

And then there were the Beatles.

It’s an often-asked question: Why them? Why did these four young men from Liverpool endure for generations?

The answer begins with their music.

“The Beatles were doing every kind of American music you could do and putting it all together. I don’t think they thought (they) were doing that; that was just their influences,” says Kenny Taylor, a local guitarist and longtime Beatles fan and historian. “They had the girl-group sound, like the Shirelles. They were a vocal group. They had a New York sound, the Philadelphia sound, the Memphis sound. They did Motown. They were on top of everything. And they did a lot of the southern stuff. Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins were so much a part of their stuff. Buddy Holly. Instead of doing just one thing and copying that, they kind of copied everything.”

Years later, in books and interviews, various members of the Beatles admit to “nicking” guitar chords and lyric ideas from other artists.

That doesn’t diminish their originality.

“They are transformative,” Walley says. “When you compare them with all the great composers, you’re always talking about people who developed and created musical styles. They were a group that actually did that.

“Up to the point of the Beatles, early rock ’n’ roll had just the three-chord guys – real simple melodies; repetitive. Most of the classical musicians looked down their nose at them, and most of the jazz musicians looked down at them.

“By the time they hit 1965, which is sort of a pivotal year for them, they completely abandoned 12-bar blues and they went totally different. They took rock ’n’ roll music and showed what it really could be in terms of creativity.”

Jack Hammer, former radio personality and Three Rivers Festival executive director, has an easier explanation of the group’s success.

“Being a music programmer, if you want to make somebody happy, you play the music from the happiest times of their lives,” he says, “and that’s what the Beatles are for this generation.”

stwarden@jg.net

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