“There is an interesting paradox in The Beatles’ music. Despite their extreme stylistic variety, their songs seem to always bear a distinctive identity,” says musicologist Dario Martinelli, a professor at Kaunas University of Technology, Lithuania. His recent book, written together with a music producer Paolo Bucciarelli, looks at The Beatles legacy through crossdisciplinary lenses.
Martinelli describes the “beatlesque” phenomenon as something that we hear and recognise in the tunes by other acts, inspired (like XTC, Elliott Smith or Oasis), paying homage or making parodies (like Utopia, Vinyl Kings, The Rutles) of The Beatles: “Sometimes it is that familiar four-in-a-bar piano accompaniment, sometimes it is the vocal harmonies, sometimes it is a baroque-styled solo played with a wind instrument.”
Martinelli and Bucciarelli, the authors of the recently published The Beatles and the Beatlesque – a Crossdisciplinarity Analysis of Sound, Production, and Stylistic Impact, address the paradox through a crossdisciplinary hybrid of reflections. Being respectively a musicologist and a music producer, they draw from both the musical practice and academic research.
The book emphasises the importance of song writing and record production in The Beatles’ music in a way that does justice not only to the final artefacts (the released songs) but also to the creative process itself (i.e. the songs “in the makings”).
Through an investigation of the work of the Fab Four, along with George Martin and his team, this book aims at shedding light on how studio activity, combined with the band’s creativity, shaped the group’s eclectic but unique sound – and therefore that rich, varied and yet always recognisable style.
“To put it in simpler terms: if a song like “Penny Lane”, with that familiar four-in-a-bar piano accompaniment, those vocal harmonies, that baroque-sounding trumpet solo and the rest, sound intrinsically and unmistakably beatlesque, it is because of the marriage-in-heaven between compositional and studio work,” explains Martinelli.
Thus: what are the elements that make a song “beatlesque”? How deep is the connection between song writing and artistic production? To what extent are production choices responsible in developing a style? The authors undertake these questions in five main steps.
Chapter 1, “A Short History of The Beatles in the Studio”, offers an overview of the band’s activity in the studio: the premises, the instruments, the staff, the techniques, and the technologies.
In Chapter 2, “Style and Sound”, the authors discuss the notions of sound and style and summarise the various sources that forged the style of The Beatles, from rock to roll to experimental music, from Chuck Berry to Bob Dylan, from Motown to Pet Sounds.
Chapter 3, “(The Difficulty of) Defining the Beatles Style” classifies the six main stylistic elements of the band’s music, from the most recurrent to the most defining ones: vocals, harmony, melody, rhythm, structure, and lyrics.
Chapter 5, “Birth and Fortune of the “Beatlesque”: Transmission of Creativity and Legacy, elaborates on how The Beatles’ influence on western popular music became manifest in countless songs and repertoires. That part is implemented with an appendix containing a list of 500 “beatlesque” songs written/performed by other acts, plus 25 written by The Beatles themselves during their solo years.
While written in mostly academic style, this book is however a unique case within the vast Beatle-related literature. Not a day-by-day diary of studio activity or a song-by-song analysis (the task already covered, and remarkably, by the likes of Lewinsohn, MacDonald and others), The Beatles and Beatlesque is rather an investigation on the aesthetics, the semiotics and the philosophy behind that fascinating path that goes from the creation to the production of the Fab Four’s repertoire.