I grew up listening to The Beatles. My dad had all their CDs and played them every Saturday afternoon while he washed his car and worked in the yard. He had all The Beatles books and anthologies, had seen all their movies and knew so many facts about John, Paul, George and Ringo. He and my mom even went to Las Vegas once to see the Beatles LOVE Cirque Du Soleil show.
Because of my dad, I also grew up appreciating what The Beatles left behind – an expression of self and society through music, a shared musical bond between generations and a timeless commentary on societal issues.
So this semester, I signed up for an online Beatles music course at the College of Charleston, where I am a senior majoring in English.
Blake Stevens, associate professor of music history, teaches the online course titled Music of The Beatles.
As it turns out, I signed up for this class at the perfect time – this November marks the 50th anniversary of one of the The Beatles’ most complex records, The White Album.
Even 50 years after this influential album was released, College of Charleston students of any level or major can learn, listen to and decipher The Beatles’ music. That this course is available to students 60 years after The Beatles’ formation confirms the band’s continued relevance with younger generations.
Cullen Denny, a senior marketing major at the College and one of my classmates in the Beatles course, says she became more interested in ’60s and ’70s rock after starting at the College.
“One summer my parents let me look through their dusty record collection and keep my favorites. Among the ones I kept was [The Beatles’] Abbey Road,” says Denny. “What really sparked my desire to enroll in this class was my intrigue in what was happening in their lives that inspired their lyrics, so I could better understand the meanings past the surface level.”
With such unique and beautiful songs as “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Blackbird” (all from The White Album), it is easy to understand why Denny and other students are curious about the inspiration and meanings behind classic Beatles songs.
Kathy Karel, a junior exercise science major at the College, says that she also grew up listening to The Beatles. She chose to take this course in order to learn about their personal and professional histories.
“I knew they played a large role in influencing the music industry,” says Karel. “I realized I didn’t know any of their actual history as a band other than their songs, and when I saw that CofC offered it as a class, I thought it would be fun to know.”
The course covers the whole span of the Beatles career, from their working-class upbringings in Liverpool to their first gigs as the Quarry Men to selling out stadiums in the United States to inspiring five films and being “more popular than Jesus,” as John Lennon famously said.
Our first class assignment was to introduce ourselves to the class by sharing our favorite Beatles song. Mine is “Dear Prudence,” Denny’s is “Norwegian Wood,” and Karel’s is “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” “Dear Prudence” is the second song on the White Album, and I think it’s one of the Beatles’ most beautiful songs, lyrically and musically.
I asked Denny and Karel what influence they think The Beatles have had on their generation.
“I think they are the base for the impact music has in everyone’s life,” says Karel. “Although there are musicians that were successful before The Beatles, I think the industry would not have grown as much and become the centerpiece for everything without the craze that they sparked in the 1960s.”
Denny believes The Beatles did much more for subsequent generations than make pretty songs.
“The Beatles give us what we didn’t know we needed to hear,” says Denny. “While a lot of their songs are centered on more serious subjects such as relationships and love/hate, their other songs never fail to surprise us with their wit, ingenuity, and light-heartedness. Millennials are a generation faced with increasing rates of depression and anxiety. Music is an outlet and The Beatles can remind us that we need to let go sometimes and just enjoy.”
Four Fab Facts About the White Album:
- All in all, it spent nine weeks at number one and a total of 155 weeks on the charts. The album sold 9.5 million copies in the U.S. and is the most-certified Beatles album, at 19-times platinum.
- “Blackbird” is about the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. Paul McCartney explains that “bird” is slang for “woman,” so the combination of “black” and “bird” means “black woman” in the song.
- The phrase “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” is from the Yoruba tribe (Nigerian) and it means “life goes on,” a phrase used frequently by conga player Jimmy Scott.
- George Harrison wrote “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” after picking up a children’s book at random and seeing the phrase “gently weeps.” It was not Harrison who played guitar for this song, but his good friend Eric Clapton.
Emily Warner is a senior from South Carolina studying English at the College of Charleston.