AFTER FIGURING OUT the amazing promotion and packaging of the Beatles, which helped make them the biggest p.r. phenomenon ever, there remains the question of their music. What about their music worked—and led, with the other elements, to Beatlemania?
First, for all the borrowings, the music was unique. Or, unique enough. It was presented to American audiences as like rock n’ roll, but different. That the band was foreign and looked foreign enabled this. Their first American hit, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” sounded like no other rock/pop song that had come before it. It also presented a kind of “power pop” wall of sound which got the listeners attention.
Second, the music fit the needs of the target audience, which was, for the most part, sixteen year-old girls. The ballads of the band—the “lilting lament”—added just enough romantic softness to balance the band’s “big beat.” The Romantic and even medieval aspects of the Beatles and other early rock n roll acts was part of the great appeal. This is a key point. Another is that it didn’t matter if Lennon-McCartney were considered by peers and critics to be good musicians, songwriters, or even very good rock n rollers—as long as sixteen year olds believed they were, to whom everything the Beatles did was new and profound, and remained so.
The Beatles from the start mixed necessary elements, from upbeat fun (“I Wanna Be Your Man”) to soulful melancholy (“There’s a Place”) and everything in between.
New Pop fiction will likewise have to do all of this.