There’s nothing you can make that can’t be made.
No one you can save that can’t be saved.
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you (It’s easy)
1! 2!! 3!!! 4!!!! was replaced by a woozy “a-one, a-two, a-three, a-four!” and the bass that inspired The Jam’s best track kicks in. The Beatles had replaced the urgent intro to the faux live show of Please Please Me with the lazy faux ambience of their studio recording. Presence, the Holy Grail of recording since Edison in 1888, was to be replaced with artifice. Revolver, what goes around, was to come around again, this time at the bidding of the artisans.
“It was like letting the workmen take over the factory,” said McCartney about Revolver two years before May 68, five years before Lennon supported the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in and ten years before the Lucas Aerospace Shop Stewards alternative Corporate Plan. But before they could run their own factory they needed yet another Fifth Beatle, the golden-eared wunder-kid Geoff Emerick who, as a nineteen year old studio engineer was promoted to work on Revolver. A fan, young and imbued with the shape-shifting sixties spirit, Emerick was to set up Abbey Road for recording in ways that were forbidden by EMI, but demanded by the Beatles. He miked McCartney’s bass with a loudspeaker on Taxman and told the stuffy classical string players on Eleanor Rigby to play loud.
Despite their productivity tending to support McCartney’s industrial assertion, The Beatles in fact turned Abbey Road into an Art School not a factory. A musical research lab for their creativity, just before Arts Labs, from which David Bowie would emerge, gained popular currency, along with the mid-sixties fad for multi-media happenings and various forms of experimental art. McCartney befriended the emerging leading lights of London counter-culture, Hopkins, Miles, Dunbar, supported the Indica Gallery and it, engaging with various tropes of the English counter-culture. Lennon, of course, was ready to Howl on a Daily basis if he could throw a Spaniard in The Works. So let’s get inside The Beatles creativity like Vpmatt on the Beatles most “experimental” track.
Heutagogy (Learning…With The Beatles Part 3)
Heutagogy can be seen as an “enabling capability” or, more fully, as the ability to play with form and create new ones. In the Open Context Model of Learning we argue that this is about epistemic cognition, the ability to understand how to create knowledge, through what Bill Ford calls “knowledge-sharing” rather than “knowledge hoarding”. We argue that this is most likely to happen once you understand the discipline you are engaging with, hit records for The Beatles, and have developed collaborative relationships to support and extend that understanding; several Fifth Beatles for John, Paul, George and Ringo, notably Brian Epstein and George Martin. So in the heutagogic phase of their learning, after Rubber Soul, The Beatles should, arguably, be at their most creative.
As with Rubber Soul The Beatles took a brief break before Revolver and had allowed themselves to be influenced both by various avant-garde musical techniques, such as those pioneered by Stockhausen, and by the many breakthroughs and stylistic advances of their peers in 1965, especially the anthemic trilogy of the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction, The Who’s My Generation and Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone, all huge advances in popular song. Even the competition worked as supportive, if challenging, collaborators.
Geoff Emerick’s desire to create original sounds, and his close-miking expertise, meant that their endless studio experiments, changing instruments, tape loops, slowing tapes down, varying playback speeds, playing instruments beyond their normal range, created the quirkily inventive Revolver. As an album it was a significant advance on Rubber Soul because now, thanks to Geoff Emerick, they were also playing the studio, as well as an even broader range of instruments. On Revolver they had that magic feeling that comes from a combination of musical collaboration, with George Martin, and an innovative recording collaboration with Geoff Emerick. Constrained by a four-track recording studio and with a deadline to meet, the working collective known as the Beatles would never be so productive, effective and purposeful.
They had moved beyond the pedagogic template of Merseybeat and by Rubber Soul were also the sum of their many influences and “Fifth Beatle” collaborators, broadening their palette with more reflective lyrics and demonstrating a wider range in both their songwriting and music-making. The Beatles creative reach was phenomenal but as Kenneth Womack indicates in Long and Winding Road, nostalgia became their main subject.
After the vicissitudes of the summer of 1966 it would hardly be surprising that they would become nostalgic. England were engaged in winning the football World Cup when Revolver came out and working class attentions were elsewhere. The Kinks dominated the singles chart and The Beatles rushed off on their final world tour, almost getting killed in the Philippines and the United States on more than one occasion. After the final concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco George said “that’s it, I’m not a Beatle any more,” and they quit being live Beatles. Their new-found studio skills were going to be crucial, once they had convinced George Martin to support their new ambition of recording without touring. He didn’t get it at first.
The Beatles had moved on once again and found new stimulation and new problems to address in the emerging counterculture. Unlike the more clearly politicised counterculture in the US, the counter-culture in the UK was critically more class-based and more concerned with subverting post-war social norms. We still had constitutional issues left unresolved since 1689 to deal with, and the impact of the 1944 Beveridge Report, and its creation of the meritocracy, had unleashed forces that challenged the rigid social landscape in Britain. Even whilst John and Paul were meeting for the first time at Woolton, Richard Hoggart, a sixties cultural critic par excellence, was writing in The Uses of Literacy that the eleven plus exam was useful in allowing through only those working class kids who deserved social elevation. In the sixties The Beatles would show that working class creativity was so rich, man, that we had no need of filtering out “oiks” like them before they entered mainstream society; not least because they were driving it. However in many ways Sgt Pepper represented their eleven plus exam and they were rewarded by being allowed to graduate into polite society and become patronised by the very classes that their actions were in the process of rendering redundant.
Richard Poirier also argues that there was “something centrally important about the Beatles” as a group and this is “their fascination with the invented aspects of everything around them.” He argues that they see the artifice in everything and so “they respond with a participatory tenderness and joy to styles and artefacts around them.” The Beatles brought a joyous sense of play to anything they had to deal with, and were ready to participate whole-heartedly and inventively. Interestingly Poirier roots this playfulness in their “constant subject, musical creation”. They can’t tour, they can’t play live, but things are changing and their default position is musical creativity. Hey Ho! Let’s Go…
The Beatles Year of Experimental Advances
The Dutch publication soundscapes analyses the creativity of the Beatles by creating a framework of their exploratory characteristics, measured against their baseline Merseybeat template and the analysis is intriguing. In “The rise and fall of the experimental style of the Beatles” Tuomas Eerola uses Gjerdingen‘s model of the “normative life span” of style to analyse when The Beatles were at their most “experimental” compared to their baseline Merseybeat style. You can check the criteria here.
The conclusions are fascinating as they are both song based, and unintentionally reflect the importance of the Andragogic phase of the Fifth Beatle. Effectively Eerola is saying that you can measure the Beatles heutagogic phase by the degree to which their musical creativity is not continuing the style demonstrated on Please Please Me and With (Meet) The Beatles. Ironically he only lists The Beatles Top Ten most experimental songs, and I intend to use these to analyse their heutagogic phase.
|24.11.1966||Strawberry Fields Forever||9|
|19.01.1967||A Day In The Life||8|
|15.03.1967||Within You Without You||7|
|05.09.1967||I Am The Walrus||7|
|01.03.1967||Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds||6|
|25.04.1967||Magical Mystery Tour||6|
|08.02.1967||Good Morning Good Morning||5|
|14.06.1967||All You Need Is Love||5|
|17.02.1967||Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite||5|
Table 3: The “prototypical” songs of the experimental period of the Beatles
What is immediately obvious is that these cover just two Beatles albums. Their classic “best” album Sgt Pepper and the mongrel Magical Mystery Tour; which partly explains why it has lasted as an album, as it also just edges Pepper for originality. The # column lists the number of original features, out of a possible 11, each song displays. Poirier argues that musical creation is their “constant subject” and Kenneth Womack that nostalgia is their primary aesthetic concern and they fuse strongly during this time; their first year as non-touring studio musicians. Set free by Emerick and Martin to push their musical boundaries creatively, they applied this innovative freedom to a “scouse” nostalgia, probably induced by the incredible distance they had travelled socially in less than four years. This intense process lasted just ten months, starting with Strawberry Fields (played with a Mellotron) and Penny Lane, almost as soon as they stopped touring. It ends with the Magical Mystery Tour, where they attempted recreating the charabanc seaside trips of their youth. And then it was 1968.
More significant to me from this is that their “experimental” period covers just under a year following Revolver, starting in November 1966 with Strawberry Fields Forever and ending in September 1967 with I Am The Walrus. Or put another away their heutagogic period ended when Brian Epstein died on August 27th 1967. As Paul McCartney said in the Brian Epstein Story “If anyone was the Fifth Beatle it was Brian”. So The Beatles heutagogic creativity ended when their andragogic support network broke down.
Epstein died whilst they were away meditating with the Maharashi, wanting to move on from using drugs for inspiration, according to George and Paul. Arguably they were seeking yet another Fifth Beatle or “supportive collaborator”, as described last week, as they extended the range of their creativity; The Beatles were masters of co-creation. Unfortunately Epstein’s death turned out to be the first of many incisions to be made into the musical instrument known as the Beatles, as they slowly suffered death by a thousand greedy cuts. Not least as the bad deals they made on Epstein’s naïve advice slowly took their creative outputs away from them, stored in various Neverlands and introduced the Blue Meanie known as Klein.
I find this “experimental” analysis fascinating as The Beatles most creative period is bookended by Strawberry Fields and I Am The Walrus, the two tracks that have resonated most with me over the years. Eerola also points out that the most experimental tracks are amongst the best remembered and the most highly regarded of their work.
And In The End…
After Epstein died The Beatles never reached the same creative heights. Yet even in this decline, in which Magical Mystery Tour was explicitly seen as a failed experiment, they still extended their creative palette. However with new artists like the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream, amongst many, pushing the creative envelope, and all playing live, the Beatles slowly marginalised themselves musically, whilst retaining considerable social reach and musical influence.
The dalliance with the Maharishi eventually ended, although the time spent with him meditating in Rishikesh, away from the maddening crowd of fame, produced 30 new songs. Ironically the Beatles met at Harrison’s house in May 68 and produced a master tape of new songs for the White Album, a kind of Beatles Unplugged 21 years too early. Let It Be became their back to basics album, arguably anticipating the spirit of punk, and with their final album Abbey Road they demonstrated that they had mastered 8 track recording; George Martin finally got his wish to record a different, more operatic song form. Despite failing to transform British society they did change it and The Beatles went out in a creative burst with Abbey Road, in many ways their most iconic album in the 21st Century. And In the End… “there’s nothing you can know that isn’t known.”
The Learning You Take is equal to the Learning You Make
The sixties were the adolescence of post-war Britain and the Beatles were proxy teenagers for us all, growing up in public and subverting many of the class limitations we faced in the fifties. They created a post-modernist future in which they wanted to live, but never got there. In the end they split up and, without our problem-solving gurus, we all gave up on making a land fit for the rest of us and settled for sex and drugs and rock n roll. Marcuse was right, we accepted being one-dimensional and then accepted the repressive tolerance of a National Curriculum Society which gives us the Unchained Melody of a Simon Cowell-directed teenage movie for life. We broke down the wall after the war, and then Roger Waters built it up again. The record industry had too many trump cards and became the cultural industries which now exist to sell us “living the dream;” in a stretch limo, drinking prosecco, stuck on the autobahn of life. You always get what you want, but you just might find…
To paraphrase Larkin in Annus Mirabilis
Social discourse ended,
(Far too early for we),
Between the end of Sgt Pepper,
And Led Zeppelins first LP…
But 63 to 68 remains “An Index of Possibilities”
Tune In next week to see what happens After Heutagogy…