UVA pop culture expert dissects ‘Fab Four’ as new Beatles documentary comes out

They were truly the first British band to make an impact on the popular American music scene – I mean, like an absolutely seismic impact. Before the Beatles, Britain was seen as a sort of afterthought to the American music industry. The Beatles opened the floodgates for what came to be known as the “British Invasion” in the 1960s.

The level of commercial success of The Beatles and the level of global cultural dominance, especially in the United States and Europe, no one had really seen anything like it before. The Beatles haven’t really been together for that long. They broke up in the early 1970s. But, it’s just an amazing streak of sustained success.

Q. How did the Beatles change rock ‘n’ roll?

A. Rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s was widely understood by many people as something that was to be a passing fad; that something was going to happen and replace it. Obviously, that didn’t happen, and the Beatles had a lot to do with it.

They came up with the model of being a standalone band that wrote their own songs, and there was something very different about them. There were certainly rock ‘n’ roll bands in America before the Beatles, like Buddy Holly and the Crickets. The Beatles were the first rock’n’roll group [however] where everyone knew who all the people in the group were. They all had these personalities attached to them. Their [individual] the contributions were really clear and prominent.

In many ways, they kind of set the pattern for what people might imagine as a rock ‘n’ roll band. Musical development and musical adventurism and experimentation, especially in the mid to late 1960s.… I think a lot of people don’t know that, but it’s definitely very important.

Q. The Beatles were only together for eight years, but they’ve released tons of music. How does that compare to artists today?

A. The The Beatles were incredibly prolific. They just made a huge amount of music during those eight years of recording and the eight years that they were really huge. This is something you don’t see in pop or rock artists today.

Many groups take years between their albums. It’s just the most common model. Nowadays, it would probably be considered really stupid to release an album every six months.

If you’re a big artist these days and wanted to release an album every six months, I think your record company would probably try to stop you from doing that as it saturates the market. They want you to turn behind and promote the album and kind of let it saturate, with spinoff singles and stuff like that. And then you make a new album maybe two years later.

It was still around that time when people still really knew how this kind of rock ‘n’ roll music business was going to work. So that’s a huge difference, in terms of pure productivity.

Corina C. Butler