Ask anyone to name a famous British band, and it’s not a wild gamble to suggest The Beatles might be the answer they give. One of the most successful bands ever, they are the best selling music act of all time, with over 600 million units sold across the globe. Despite breaking up in 1970 – over half a century ago – their legacy remains immensely strong. Paul McCartney in particular is a hugely significant figure in music history.
Their legacy touches society today in so many ways that go far beyond their exceptional songs. Just think even of their album covers. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, from 1967, contains such an eclectic mix of people, with the cover design used elsewhere on multiple occasions. Similarly, in 1969, Abbey Road, the home of the EMI Studios, had that oh-so-iconic photo of the four men walking across the zebra crossing. Their cultural and historical influence is without a shred of doubt unrivalled.
While their songs should still be listened to and held in great esteem, their domination could, arguably, be holding back future musicians
However, might they enjoy just a bit too much influence? While their songs should still be listened to and held in great esteem, their domination could, arguably, be holding back future musicians. This is demonstrated just as their influence slips into politics. The late John Lennon was well known as a left-wing pacifist campaigner, with his song ‘Imagine’ recognised and often used as a tool of political messaging.
Yet politics and The Beatles have found an unlikely alliance in this Conservative government. In his recent budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that £2 million would be provided for a Beatles museum on the Liverpool waterfront. It was described as a venue that could both showcase the musical history of The Beatles, while also seeking to inspire the next generation of musicians to see how far they could get.
That, indeed, was one of the exciting things about The Beatles. They were seen as ordinary people, who had not come from wealthy backgrounds. Instead, they were able to utilise their talents to become international stars. It’s understandable why a government supposedly supportive of meritocracy would want to defend the belief that your talents can take you anywhere – The Beatles are a perfect example of that.
However, despite the near-universal praise for The Beatles, the response to the Chancellor’s announcement was lukewarm. Mark Davyd, chief executive of the Music Venue Trust, said that the plans were “headline-grabbing, pointless nonsense,” suggesting that it would not help musicians or the industry.
Similarly, the important work done by museums could be dedicated to offering exposure to talents currently not as well represented, who don’t enjoy a legacy as strong as The Beatles
I am a huge fan of museums. I believe they are vital for understanding our past, and how society became the place it is today. Mark Davyd, however, has stated that musicians will not be inspired by days out looking at exhibitions and that instead funding should be allocated towards local music venues, which have naturally struggled under Covid-19.
Indeed, Liverpool already contains a number of Beatles attractions, including an existing Beatles museum, suggesting there is already a plentiful array of attractions and ways of marking their history. I am not opposed to music museums in principle. The reason children in primary and secondary school so often go to museums is because of the experiences and different opportunities on offer they can learn about.
But this can only work alongside adequate funding for schooling and general encouragement of music education. Given the cuts in educational funding over the last decade, schools have understandably prioritised English and maths over arts subjects. Investment here could create and inspire a new generation toward working in the artistic world.
Similarly, the important work done by museums could be dedicated to offering exposure to talents currently not as well represented, who don’t enjoy a legacy as strong as The Beatles’. I’m sure there are many artistic geniuses currently forgotten, who are not given the recognition and attention they deserve. A wider focus given to them would be no bad idea at all.
The 2019 film Yesterday imagined a world where nobody knew who The Beatles were. It was an impactful, different world, where iconic talent was forgotten in a way it didn’t deserve to be. While the legacy of The Beatles’ music should be celebrated, the talents of new and upcoming artists should also be recognised. That, alongside excellent arts funding in schools, could be what finds the next John Lennon. There is no need to only imagine that.