One of the sharpest rock critics currently working has come up against an interesting pop cultural phenomenon: a lot of apparently reasonable people are saying the Beatles weren't really very good.
From TNR Online this week:
I Have to Hide My Love Away? Help!
by David Browne
In case you hadn't heard, the Beatles blow. They're overrated lightweights who aren't as influential as certain pivotal punk bands, and they're to blame for all that soft rock commemorated in the latest Time Life Music infomercial. And those Sgt. Pepper costumes are, let's face it, cornier than any boy-band outfit of the '90s.
Of course, what you have heard and already know is that Beatle-bashing is as old as the Beatles' music itself: They've been derided by everyone from Lou Reed to incensed Christians. Lately, though, rampant Beatle-dissing has taken on an intensity and force it never had before. The impetus for much of it has been the fortieth anniversary of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," which produced not only the expected media nostalgia wave but a storm of revisionist thinking. And the backlash will only grow louder when Julie Taymor's eye roll-inducing movie musical "Across the Universe" arrives on September 14.
In a New York Times op-ed, no less a pop classicist than Aimee Mann admitted she loved the album as a child but now feels it's missing "emotional depth," that "John Lennon's melodies feel a bit underwritten while Paul McCartney's relentless cheerfulness is depressing." On Salon, rock writer Gina Arnold weighed in, "There's a number of current bands that you can say, 'These guys like Sgt. Pepper,' but they're oddballs, like the Polyphonic Spree." So the album's legacy amounts to a bunch of toga-clad, faux-cheery ironists: Ouch.
Simultaneously, the Internet burst with "Beatles are overrated" threads that went to the heart of the band itself. "When you really think about it, they were a good but not great pop band," wrote a Slate letter writer: "A little lite [sic] and fluffy, a bit quirky, but not much else," and certainly, the writer added, not nearly as good as the Stones, the Clash, Jeff Buckley, or Radiohead. On the same page, another reader argued that Beatle music "has not aged well" and that their influence "has been limited to soft pop acts and perhaps Oasis." Others called their music irritating--or, in the words of a 27-year-old writing to Salon, "a bore, a relic, and decidedly tame."
Wow. Holy Revisionism, Batman.
Actually, I've been aware of the tendency Browne's describing at least since the mid-90s and the release of the "Anthology" sets, but my feeling has always been that anybody who says they don't like the Beatles is just being difficult. On the other hand, from what I've seen of the Taymor movie, I can also understand somebody not wanting to hear a Beatles song again for as long as they live.
In any case, you can read the rest of Browne's interesting take here.
Postscript: Sir Paul played disc jockey on the BBC yesterday. You can hear the show here. Turns out he likes Radiohead and the Killers.