9 - How The Beatles Communicated Through Their Songs
9 - How The Beatles Communicated Through Their Songs
Professor Michael Conway, of the Communications Department at Humboldt State University, performed an Aristotelian analysis of Beatles songs to establish why and how The Beatles were
effective communicators through their songs.
He says that for many of us, The Beatles’ music provided an association with our own firsts – a first love, first job, first car, a marriage, a first baby. They were the preachers, the psychologists, our best friends, big brothers, and fathers all rolled into one. They were having interesting experiences; they were the people we wanted to be. They provided us with advice set to a melody. They let us know they were feeling the same things we were feeling – doing the same things we were doing.
The Beatles were effectively communicating our lives through their songs – illustrating our lives on the canvas of song. Another way they communicated with us was by helping us to release our tensions. Deanna Sellnow of the University of Kentucky writes:
“Music is the patterned, or tonal analogue, of emotive life worked out in pure measured sound and silence. Beatles music symbolizes inner feelings of tensions and subsequent releases of that tension.”
Conway says The Beatles played many different roles in the public’s history. They were active and influential, similar to the wandering minstrels of the Middle Ages, the itinerant poet-musicians who used their musicianship to fulfill a multiplicity of roles: entertainer, critic, chronicler and commentator.
“Beatle music itself becomes the medium or vehicle transmitting the pattern of personal experience, and it has the potential to function as persuasive communication. Each song tells a story of love, friendship, and regret, emotions common to the general listener. When the auditor hears music, she or he may ascribe or associate her or his own personal experiences to it. Beatles music can be designed to invoke the emotional state of consciousness as it is experienced within the self and others.”
The American researcher contends that Beatles music can also function as a form of persuasive communication. Their songs not only act as persuasion to an individual, but also to marginalized groups. They play a key role in the development and maintenance of attitudes and values held by various groups within the general population.
Because the experiences and knowledge of members of submerged groups tend to be excluded from mainstream discourse, developing an “authentic voice” (the music) is crucial for legitimization. Beatles music was a very effective communicating medium to which groups’ perspectives can be brought together and publicized.
Beatle music increased in novelty over time
In their 1996 essay Creative trends in the content of Beatles lyrics, scholars Alan West and Colin Martindale explained that in order to compensate for the tendency of observers to habituate to stimulus characteristics common to a given artistic style, successive works of art
must have more and more arousal potential to be liked.
A poet must regress to deeper, increasingly primitive states of awareness to generate associations that are more unusual. This became known as Martindale’s Theory of Artistic Evolution. It was also discovered that regression could not continue to deepen indefinitely.
Regressive content increased steadily within each major artistic expression, but would drop sharply whenever the prevailing style was replaced by a new one, thus beginning a new climb.
Martindale and West claimed that The Beatles’ melodies increased in originality over time. They used more off-scale and rare notes, and uncommon note-to-note transitions across a chronological list. Their findings confirmed the theory’s prediction of increasing novelty in Beatles music over time.
Their lyrics involved less repetition, a greater tendency to use words only once, and more difficult verbiage. Language use became more novel and complex. This was consistent with their companion study of melody which demonstrated chronological increase in novelty
of their melodies.
Could the increase in novelty increase arousal potential? If so, then The Beatles had a high arousal potential to a listener.
Instruments were used to give another “voice” to their music
The use of guitar as a “voice,” instead of a backing chord instrument, was seen mostly in Jazz and Blues. This could accentuate the melody, providing more attention to the lyrics. Lyrics were the major form of communication in their music.
Conway says that not only did they “borrow” the call and response from blues and jazz, but they also “borrowed” the chords. This increased their variety of “vocabulary” used in songs. The “borrowed language” of a musical chord allows an artist to expand their songwriting ability, creating new ways to communicate a specific story or idea.
He writes that the use of alternate instrumentation also increased the communication process. In songs like Eleanor Rigby and Yesterday, the use of strings, and the absence of the drum set, gave the music a more subdued message. They were learning to create a song with proper instrumentation that could enhance the communication of a specific message.
In the case of Eleanor Rigby, they were telling the story of a woman experiencing loneliness and solitude. The use of a string section and acoustic guitar added to the depressing imagery already conveyed by the lyrics.
Although the use of strings and orchestras made for a novel idea and increased listening potential, they also explored themes based on storytelling, philosophy, satire, religious text, and narrative.
Additionally, The Beatles used pronouns and proper nouns to stimulate conversation and appeal. The listener hearing “I” and “You” in a song would find it easier to relate to the character’s feelings of love, denial, hate, fear, or whatever other emotion they were writing about.
The unique structure of their songs
Conway believes that Beatles music was primarily reflection upon, or conversation about, three subjects of perennial interest to all of us: (1) our own emotional states and self-esteem, (2) our success and failure in sexual relationships, and (3) our ability to predict the behavior of others, especially regarding loyalty and betrayal.
“As time went on their songs progressively became more intricate. With the use of strings, ‘borrowed language’, and lyrical themes untouched by many other artists at the time, they were able to organize and develop an original voice. They organized conversation, or a story that could be told many different ways by a narrator.”
The Beatles were never superfluous in terms of providing information in songs; they were never too specific with the use of time or place, or characters. This allowed for a more personal
interpretation of a song. Each listener was free to determine the time and meaning of a song differently from their friend, or differently from what the band may have intended.
The American researcher concludes:
“Popular music is a form of communication because it is persuasive; it represents emotions. Beatles music, being a specific form of popular music, is an effective form of communication because of its inventiveness, unique delivery, style, and organization. The Beatles were singing of everyday feelings, emotions, and questions. They offered the listener the option to interpret the song in their own way.”