It seems that every so often in the course of history there comes along a songwriter or songwriting team that stands head and shoulders above all of their contemporaries. The partnership of Lennon and McCartney represents a high water mark of songwriting in the latter half of the twentieth century. Without a doubt, they had many songs of meager quality, but they more than made than made up for that with a good number of songs of excellent quality in a diverse range of styles.
The Beatles were so much more than a mere pop group. Sure, they had their share of typical 3-chord rock songs and standard blues songs, but at the same time, they created such beautiful ballads as “I’ll Follow the Sun” and “Yesterday.”
“Here, There, and Everywhere” is, in my opinion, the most beautiful love song of the twentieth century. “I Will,” from the so-called White Album is another outstanding love song. To attempt to make a list of their best songs would be too much here. I would rather just discuss the reasons why The Beatles were so successful.
First of all, they were very talented musicians who had learned to play together while playing all night long in nightclubs. From this experience, they developed a tight, precise ability to perform live.
Lennon and McCartney, while growing up, had listened to a wide array of styles of popular music, from skiffle, to jazz, rock and roll, blues, to American country music and Broadway. Their diversity of interests translated into a diversity of styles in their own songs. From the Latino rhythms of “Happy Just to Dance With You” and “And I Love Her” to the French cabaret style of “Michelle,” they were always exploring new territory.
From 1964 until the end of the decade, they were at the cutting edge of pop music. They led. Others followed.
It has been pointed out long ago that the Rolling Stones stayed one step behind the Beatles, imitating everything they did. Well, not everything, but here are some examples. After the Beatles used a string quartet on “Yesterday” the Stones used one on “As Tears Go By.” After the Beatles used a sitar on “Norwegian Wood” The Stones used one on “Paint it Black. The song “Child of the Moon” by the Stones, bares a certain resemblance to the Beatles’ “Rain,” though I cannot quite define exactly what that similarity is other than to say it just has the same sort of feel to it.
The Beatles were highly influential on the songwriting of the sixties and seventies, and their influence is still felt today. They had the perfect combination of tradition and innovation.
If you were not alive in the sixties it is hard to convey to you the sense of anticipation felt by their fans when word got out that they were going to release a new song, or especially a new album. No other group or individual has created such an deep feeling of eager anticipation in such a large number of people. Popular music in the sixties was dominated by the Beatles. And they never failed to please.