The Beatles: The Sound of a Social Revolution

The Beatles: The Sound of a Social Revolution

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The Beatles: The Sound of a Social Revolution

It was on February 9, 1964, that the Beatles made their American debut
on the Ed Sullivan Show, marking the beginning of a musical and
cultural hysteria the likes of which the world had never seen.
Americans were drawn to "Beatlemania" instantaneously, and would
follow these four boys from Liverpool for years to come. That night in
February, 73 million Americans sat, transfixed, in front of the
television as if the world had just came to a complete standstill. The
influence of the Beatles on American culture, and the definition of
rock music are remarkable. Penny Lane refers to a shopping area in
Liverpool, where John and Paul spent many of their childhood days.

Penny Lane follows a familiar 8 bar chord structure, and tells a story
using verses that alternate with a common refrain. The blend of
instruments that comprise this tune is quite unique; bass, piano,
flute, horns, and drums with no guitar. These instruments flow
together seamlessly, never overpowering each other. While the flute
and the bass usually play straight on the beat, both instruments
occasionally pick up a melody line that mimics McCartney's singing. It
is quite remarkable that the melody is basically only sung, a
testament to the singing talent this group possessed. The vocal
harmony could easily fall into a classical category, and is a sharp
contrast to the untrained, gritty vocal sound of most rock bands of
the time. The beat is kept on the piano, which plays sharp, stinging
chords on beats 1, 2, 3, and 4 throughout the entire song. This is
interesting, especially because there is not a single time when this
chord instrument veers from this form to play a melody line, or
respond to McCartney's vocals or the improvised solos heard from the
trumpet and flute. Another unique attribute of this song is the use of
wind instruments. The flute harmonizes with the bass throughout the
tune, and the horn section plays on the backbeat later in the song,
but especially makes its presence known during the refrain, where the

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flute and trumpet call and respond to each other with impressive
improvised solos. The drum line of the song is simple, mostly
emphasizing the backbeat with snare or hi-hat hits. All of these
elements give the song a light, almost buoyant feeling, as if the song
just floats through the air.

Penny Lane is an introspective look into the childhood days of
innocence and idealism that was influenced by LSD. McCartney looks
back at his childhood as some sort of idyllic paradise; a time when
everyone was friendly, reminiscing about the "blue suburban skies".
The mid to late 1960's were a time of social revolution. Many
musicians of the time were largely influenced by the rapidly growing
drug culture in the states, and the Beatles were by no means left out
of this loop. While earlier tunes had been influenced by massive
popularity, and later marijuana which had been introduced to the band
by Bob Dylan, Penny Lane has a distinctly acid feel. "The Magical
Mystery Tour" is a reference to Ken Kesey and his band of merry
pranksters who traveled around the US in a psychedelic bus in the late
60s, protesting the system and turning on anyone they could to acid.
They used LSD in almost religious way, recognizing the need for change
at all levels of society. Hunter S. Thompson best describes the
feeling of the acid scene: "There was a fantastic universal sense that
whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…And that, I
think, was the handle-that sense of inevitable victory over the forces
of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need
that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in
fighting-on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were
riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave."

Lee, Martin A., & Schlain, Bruce. Acid Dreams: The Complete Social
History of LSD.

Grove Press. New York. 1985
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