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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Questioning "Yesterday" (non-law)

The movie Yesterday is about a world in which a power-outage causes everyone but one person to forget that Coca-Cola and the Beatles existed, so that person (an otherwise-unsuccessful singer-songwriter) becomes a world-famous star by "writing" the Beatles songs.

This review questions the musical premise, arguing that what makes the Beatles music special was their evolution. "She Loves You" was a sensation because the world had not yet heard "Hey Jude" or "Let It Be"--or better still, "A Day in the Life," which everyone seems to rank as their greatest song (not sure if it appears in the film). And it is musically impossible for those songs to be released simultaneously--and for the earlier song to catch on against the later song.

I question the premise from a different point: The movie assumes the Beatles songs sang themselves. The songs made the Beatles great, not how well the band played them. So any schmuck could perform a Beatles song (if no one had ever heard the Beatles sing it) and become as big as the Beatles were.

For more, here is a conversation at the Ringer on the broader implications of the film's idea.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 25, 2019 at 04:38 PM in Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink


Nice post

Posted by: Ahmad | Jun 29, 2019 8:24:49 AM

The review's point is silly. In comparing apples to oranges, it ignores the fact that the Beatles' music spanned numerous subgenres, each of which would appeal to different audiences. Because their songs were qualitatively superior to the competition in each of the subgenres, each song would still be a hit, even if released together.

A fan of straightforward, upbeat, verse/pre-chorus/chorus pop music would go nuts for She Loves You. Another could go equally nuts for the more structurally complex Adult pop of Hey Jude. A third person could go nuts over the proto-punk of Helter Skelter. (And all seven people who liked Revolution #9 could go get Starbucks together or something.)

Point is, each subgenre they played (or invented) was equally qualitatively "above" their competition in that subgenre. Each song would still be a hit by attracting different listeners. Khalid selling out MSG doesn't preclude Bruno Mars from doing the same.

Posted by: LawProf31 | Jun 26, 2019 5:49:43 PM

"No one would go nuts for 'She Loves You' if released at the same time as "Let It Be." Same for "I Want to Hold Your Hand" released simultaneously with 'Hey Jude.'"

I understand, Howard; just pointing out that people have been able to admire and buy multiple Beatles songs simultaneously, in a way that was unprecedented at the time. That should allow us to imagine something similarly unprecedented, which would be simultaneously appreciating songs from different stages of evolution.

Also, maybe there is a thread of similarity between "She Loves You" and "Hey Jude" that we are unable to appreciate precisely because we are aware of the timing. We recognize "early Beatles" and "later Beatles," which influences our thinking. But maybe the songs would seem more coherent to an audience hearing them all at once.

Posted by: Steven Lubet | Jun 26, 2019 6:37:20 AM

"No one would go nuts for "Romeo and Juliet" if released at the same time as "Hamlet." "

Interesting theory. It makes one wonder if any of Shakespeare's works would still be appreciated without Hamlet to cement his genius.

Posted by: Macbeth | Jun 26, 2019 12:55:22 AM

Steve: It's not songs being released simultaneously, it's which songs are released simultaneously. The mix of early and late makes sense to us because we saw the band's evolution. No one would go nuts for "She Loves You" if released at the same time as "Let It Be." Same for "I Want to Hold Your Hand" released simultaneously with "Hey Jude."

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jun 26, 2019 12:27:22 AM

we all know that what made the beatles timeless was ringo.

Posted by: Lee Kovarsky | Jun 26, 2019 12:17:05 AM

I don't like the Beatles very much; I had a father who encouraged me to memorize the lyrics of every Beatles song when I was three years old and perform them at social gatherings, and after I put a stop to these recitals I never warmed much to them since. That said, while something like Love You Do or Please Please Me is a little primitive, I think most of the earlier hits, by which I mean everything pre-Rubber Soul (or maybe even Help), are pretty great pop, superior to almost anything else coming out of England at the time. And even if one did find A Hard Day's Night comparably minor work to Hey Jude or Let It Be, which seems, to me at least, crazy, I can't at all see how what makes it special is what would follow. There isn't a great deal of continuity between the early and late work; the late work doesn't, for me anyway, contextualize the early work. And I don't think it's true that the early work wouldn't be well-received if released with the later work; after all it's still quite popular today, even though we have the late work. I do think it's true that songs like I Want To Hold Your Hand wouldn't be hits today; really, it's a little hard to imagine Hey Jude being a hit if it came out today. But the reason I Want To Hold Your Hand wouldn't be a hit today isn't that Hey Jude transformed our expectations for pop-rock or that everyone would much rather listen to Hey Jude; it's just that there's a ton of musical and lyrical water under the bridge generally (as there is for Hey Jude).

As for songwriting vs. performance, I don't know. Today, very marginally talented performers can have hits with well-written material. I'm sure that with some good producers, someone who got their hands on the more contemporary parts of their material would be successful.

Posted by: Asher Steinberg | Jun 25, 2019 7:41:17 PM

In the same way that actresses become famous for their talent and not their beauty, musicians become famous for their voice and not their beauty.

The Beatles, like Elvis and Morrison, were famous because they were better than Mozart and Beethoven and not because women found them attractive, therefore anyone who could perform their music would become equally famous.

Posted by: Ugly Duckling | Jun 25, 2019 7:36:43 PM

You make an interesting point, Howard. But it is also true that the Beatles were known for releasing singles in quick succession, especially in 1963-65, sometimes having four or five songs on the charts at the same time. Before the Beatles, artists would never release a new song until the previous one had run its course. So there is a precedent for multiple Beatles songs being heard almost all at once.

Posted by: Steven Lubet | Jun 25, 2019 7:29:12 PM

Both , 'all of the above', etc? It should be a fun movie regardless and IMPORTANT that it even raises this issue in 2019 because too much of academia and "mainstream news" ( as well as the fake news which we know is wrong top to bottom) seems to have stepped away from history being built upon events and people necessarily .

We would not have today without the past. I'd posit that we could find a studied ear that with a few thousand hours of research might hear Ozzie Ozborne metal influences in hip-hop of today ( not much, not saying he was influential yet odd enoughly one-new-note to cause a grain ) ... the riffs run back and forth and spur more.

But your questions of whether the lyrics and sheet music would stand alone? They would be influential with and without hearing a recording of the Beatles themselves yet more so with the second... not one or the other.

But the biggest blindness today is the concept we'd even have the internet without the exploitation of slavery and mercantilism and every other kind of atrocious exploitation that hastened the world to where it is. That doesn't make those things "worth it" or not - just that we'd have this modern viewpoint of expecting people to peacefully coexist in a modern society without a history of turmoil is kinda nuts.

That also doesn't mean "credit" to one group - if Western Europe hadn't been the exploiters maybe a different group of exploiters would have unified commerce from a different geographic push like Ghengis Khan both annihilated some groups but also innovated in bureaucracy of coordination, (as well as taking best practices of bureaucracy from conquered domains and replicating them) and most importantly a few centuries attributable to his system of safe travel of ideas and trade across continents.

The Beatles - who of course drew upon the African American culture born of slavery and imbued in worldview in their music - did push the worlds social notions of acceptance and reality in unquantifiable but material ways - just that they struck a nerve that made people compelled to listen meant that there were thoughts they distilled that fit the time and place - and surely influenced other artists who never even heard their music.

Posted by: Mike | Jun 25, 2019 6:26:03 PM

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