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Musical Heritage John Lennon & The Beatles MUS 110.6533 Professor Schwanda 4/28/13 Jenny Coburn


Jenny Coburn 3/31/13 MUS 110.6533 Professor Schwanda

As I look back on the musical memories in my life, I recall scenes of helping my dad in the garage while listening to his favorite classic rock station, singing Christmas carols around the neighborhood, and being forced to take piano lessons at age 10. These and other experiences are what helped to shape my musical tastes and knowledge to this day. John Lennon and the incredibly influential group called the Beatles were such a musical inspiration to millions of people, and they too have their own experiences they brought them together. The songs of the Beatles had some influence on my early musical development, and I have had “Hey Jude” stuck in my head on and off since I first heard it around age 12. In my research, I looked at the early life and influences of John Lennon, how the Beatles became a band, and their influence on pop culture. I discovered their journey was not an easy one, but that they will likely be remembered in musical history for centuries to come.

John Lennon was born in October of 1940 in the gray, hardy town of Liverpool, England. John had many challenges in his early life, which contributed to his musical journey. Although he never met him, John’s grandfather was a bit of a musician who had spent a small part of his life in America, performing as part of Andrew Roberton’s Colored Operatic Ministrals. John’s father was also a performer, working in kitchens on board ships and performing skits and songs for the passengers. Even John’s mother had some musical inclination, as she could play the banjo, ukulele and piano accordion. Unfortunately, John was passed between family members as a child and was left with the feeling that he was never wanted. (Norman, 2008) His aunt Mimi ended up being the one who raised him, and it is my thought that if it was not for her stern and structured guidance, John may have been more rebellious and would have had a much harder time of things.


Jenny Coburn 3/31/13 MUS 110.6533 Professor Schwanda

Although off to a rocky start in early childhood, John found solace in listening to the radio his aunt Mimi had for him up in his room. I think it is neat that the radio has been around for so long, influencing people for many generations. Now with the concept of internet radio, it is easier to listen to any genre you want to, almost anywhere. I predict that we will have more multi-use devices that will allow us to listen to any kind of music anywhere we are. Listening to new musicians such as Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan gave John the inspiration to become musically involved himself. (Spitz, 2005) His distant mother took a big step in encouraging his musical inclination by buying John his first guitar when he was 15 years old. I recall when I was little and first discovered that I could make my own music. I had a toy xylophone and a recorder that I would play with, making sounds similar to childhood songs like “Mary had a Little Lamb” and “Jingle Bells”. My parents wanted me to be intellectually well-rounded, and even though they were not musically inclined themselves, they enrolled me in piano lessons so that I could learn to read and play music. Unfortunately, the lessons did not last long enough for me to get the hang of things, as my parents had to reduce spending when the economy started receding. I do still remember basic notes and can plink out “Jingle Bells” if the opportunity presents itself, and I hope to get back into learning to read music when I have more time after I graduate. Another big musical influence in John’s life was the genre of skiffle music. A break away from British jazz, skiffle was music for the working class who could not afford nice instruments, but could make music on household items like washboards and tea chest bases. It was from this grassroots amateur new sound that John formed his first band. (Norman, 2008)


Jenny Coburn 3/31/13 MUS 110.6533 Professor Schwanda

As I became more aware of different types of music, I evolved from listening to the music my parents listen to; classic rock from my dad and contemporary Christian music from my mom; and began listening to Christian rock, which lead to modern rock and contemporary pop music. I remember feeling rebellious in my teenage years when I would jump into the car and crank the radio up on the local Top 40’s station. Songs like “Get Low” by Lil John and the Eastside Boyz, and “My Immortal” by Evanescence were popular through my high school years.

When he was in high school, John formed a band called the Quarrymen, with their name derived from John’s attendance at the Quarry Bank School. (Norman, 2008) This group was the prelude to the Beatles, and was where John got his experiences with performing in front of crowds. Initially started as a purely skiffle group, they played for local events and held practices at the various member’s houses. The initial line-up included John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Eric Griffiths and Pete Shotton. George Harrison also joined the group, although it caused some controversy at first, as John thought he was too young to join the Quarrymen at age 14. As the group got better and gained some local fame, they became regulars at The Cavern, a jazz club in Liverpool. They also started including rock n’ roll music into their sets which was inspired by American musicians like Elvis Presley and Gene Vincent. (Spitz, 2005)

Although I was not directly involved in any high school bands, I remember it being very popular for classmates to put together bands with their friends and host “shows” out of their parent’s garages or basements. It was exciting to listen to friends play popular songs, and even more exciting when they would write and play their own songs. Making your own music is one of the best ways to express yourself and to connect to others in similar circumstances.


Jenny Coburn 3/31/13 MUS 110.6533 Professor Schwanda

As the Quarrymen continued to develop, they shifted band members around until they ended up with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison as the consistent players. Stuart Sutcliffe became an almost permanent member of the band as well, and in 1960, the four of them made a name change and became the Beatals, as a play on the musical “beat” and the phrase “beat all”. Later that year, they changed their name to the Silver Beetles, which turned into the Silver Beatles, and finally in August, 1960, they settled on The Beatles. (Spitz, 2005)

Development and tours Aside from a brief tour in Scotland as the backup band for Johnny Gentile, the Beatle’s first major international tour was in Hamburg, Germany. (Norman, 2008) Now, I have not been out of the country very much, except for a ski trip in Canada and a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. I cannot imagine how nerve wracking it would be to go to a different country, and one that we were recently in a military conflict with, and perform for unknown audiences. There were languages barriers, cultural differences and mobs of Germans to try to please. The Beatles were without a drummer initially, so they auditioned and hired on Pete Best which made them a five-person band. The Beatles made another appearance in Hamburg in 1961 and were there several times through 1962. It was during that time that Stuart left to continue his studies, and drummer Pete Best was replaced by Ringo Starr. (Norman, 2008)

The Beatles return trip to Liverpool proved that their fans had not forgotten about them. Playing at their old stomping grounds made them realize that they were not satisfied to play over and over at the same venues. Fortunately, people were starting to take notice that they were not just a neighborhood band from Liverpool, and that they had potential to market their music.


Jenny Coburn 3/31/13 MUS 110.6533 Professor Schwanda

Brian Epstein discovered the Beatles during one of their performances at the Cavern. (Spitz, 2005) How exciting it would be to get recognized by someone who sees your success and wants to help present your music to the world! From there, the Beatles toured England and other areas of the United Kingdom. In 1964, they spent some time performing in France and from there made a brief appearance in the United States, where they were overwhelmingly welcomed. (Norman, 2008) This resulted in another tour in the fall of ’64. Beatlemania hit the world, and they had the experience of traveling the world to perform in front of thousands. It was during this time of being “discovered” that the Beatles had to change their image to be more marketable. Instead of wearing whatever they wanted, swearing and having conversations during performances, and otherwise being irresponsible role models, the Beatles cleaned up their act by dressing in the same black suits, being polite and joking with one another, and generally gave the appearance of gentlemen in a pop/rock band.

How the Beatles Influenced Me While growing up, my dad listened to a lot of classic rock radio, and this is where I first heard the Beatles. Songs like “Yellow Submarine”, “Hey Jude”, and “Let it Be” were very catchy and fun to sing along to. To me, the Beatles represent an important part of pop culture, and although they originated in England, I grew up assuming they were an American band.

As I got older and understood the lyrics better, I was drawn to some Beatles songs more so then others. “Please Mister Postman” was relatable, not because I was waiting for a letter from a beau, but because I loved getting snail mail from friends, relatives and pen pals. The song was


Jenny Coburn 3/31/13 MUS 110.6533 Professor Schwanda

originally a Motown Marvelettes song in the R&B genre, and the a-b-b-a-b-a structure was different then the Beatles typical compositions. The familiar Beatle guitars, percussion and vocals made this song a hit and it is still enjoyed today. Another song that stands out to me is “P.S. I love You”, a simple, lyrical song by Lennon and McCartney that talks about being together again. One of the later Beatles songs, “Let it Be” is one that is comforting and encouraging to me when things are rough. I was surprised to learn that it was the last single to be recorded by the Beatles, and that by the time of its release John Lennon had already left the group. Written by Paul McCartney, this song included sounds from a piano, organ, base, percussion and guitar. There are so many influential songs by the Beatles, and I am enjoying learning more about them through my research for this report.

The pop culture influence In the 1960’s, Beatlemania was in full swing with screaming fans, Beatle merchandise and everything the Beatle’s touched being snatched up to sell to fans. The book talks about hotel linens that were bought by local business men as soon as the Beatles left: “The unlaundered sheets and pillowcases were then cut into squares and each square offered for sale at $10, accompanied by a legal affidavit that a portion of one or another Beatle truly had rested on it. Efforts were made to buy up residues of their shaving cream and bath water; in New York, supermarkets reported a brisk trade in canned “Beatle breath” (Norman, 2008)

This kind of influence by popular bands is still seen today, with fans trying to buy a lock of Justin Bieber’s hair, or a piece of chewed gum from Britney Spears. The Beatles were extremely


Jenny Coburn 3/31/13 MUS 110.6533 Professor Schwanda

influential, not only in England and the United States, but around the world. Even though I was not around for the initial Beatlemania, I still see evidence of it to this day. People in my generation still wear t-shirts advertising the Beatles, hang posters of the crossing of Abbey Road, and sing along to “Hey Jude” whenever it is played.

Although John Lennon and the rest of the Beatles did not seem to be born with the realization that they would one day be the greatest pop culture influence of their time, they sure worked hard to play the music they loved and share it with their fans who loved it just as much. The lyrics from many of their songs, including several Lennon-McCartney compositions, influenced artists who were or became well-known. Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, and Stevie Wonder were a few from the 60’s and 70’s who integrated Beatle-esque lyrics into their performances. (Norman, 2008) Artists who have done recent covers or similar pieces include Styx, Big Time Rush, and Oasis.

After the Beatles hey-day, bands like Led Zeppelin, the Sex Pistols, and the Police were taking the stage. Influenced by the Beatles, who trail blazed the way to that the door for young emotional angst, these bands were increasingly shocking and aggressive. I imagine that each time a new genre of music is developed, it is somewhat shocking to the previous generation. For instance, my family heritage is from Germany (father) and Finland (mother) and my greatgrandparents would have listened to local folk music, and probably classical music influences. Today, I still enjoy classical music and prefer Indie-rock for a contemporary genre.

In the next 5 years, I anticipate continuing to enjoy classical pieces from composers like Beethoven, Bach and Mozart. My fiancé and I are incorporating as many classical pieces that we can into our wedding ceremony, so compositions like Ode to Joy, Ave Maria, and Canon in D


Jenny Coburn 3/31/13 MUS 110.6533 Professor Schwanda

will have sentimental value to us for the rest of our lives. I don’t think that I will ever get back into the “popular music” like what is on the Top 40 radio stations. The genres that are played on there are too young and wild for me; I can’t relate to the lyrics and the increasingly fast tempo as easily any more.

Conclusion We experience music almost every day, and are constantly being introduced to new bands, songs and styles of music. It is amazing how influential past music is, and how it can still be relevant amidst the barrage of new music. The John Lennon and the Beatles made such an impression on the world that I anticipate they will be remembered and listened too for centuries to come. They are the Beethoven’s of their generation; by observing the sounds around them and making their own style.


Jenny Coburn 3/31/13 MUS 110.6533 Professor Schwanda

Bibliography Norman, P. (2008). John Lennon; The Life. New York: HarperCollins. Spitz, B. (2005). The Beatles; The Biography. New York: Back Bay Books.

Musical Heritage Final Paper  

Final paper with updates and revisions

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