1968 – A Year In The Life

All We Need is Andragogy

So the ending of last weeks post on Heutagogy took me, the writer, by surprise. From a learning perspective I am interested in creativity as playing with form. The Beatles demonstrated this repeatedly but within a relatively narrow frame musically, which is why their achievements often seem limited if you were born in the eighties or nineties. Effectively they created the rock album form which, as with any new form, seems obvious when you look back on it, but is unknown when you begin. My interest lies in how you deal with the unknown constructively.

I sometimes described my teaching as showing people how to swim by standing on the riverbank and shouting instructions at them whilst they drowned. If you survive you’ll never fear torrents again… This metaphor is trying to get at the problem of understanding new concepts rather than just learning new facts, which is more like dipping your hat in the river and saying, hey I got a hatful of fresh water here!

So for me The Beatles learning period was tied in with their work at Abbey Road studios, as Schoolmaster Martin instructed them in the ins and outs of the production of hit records. Allowing Love Me Do to go forward as their first single, whilst forcing the introduction of Ringo, a drummer who marvellously serves the song in a group of harmonising songwriters, he then radically reworked Please Please Me creating several signature Beatles features; harmonica intro, chorus hook upfront and the listener interest intensely focussed on the excitement of the music. The Beatles had worked at their lyrical conceit concerning personal narratives, You, Me, and then Her, and of course had an encyclopaedic knowledge of pop in the fifties, as the well-spring of their creativity. By She Loves You, the UK single of 1963, and I Want To Hold Your Hand, the US single of the sixties, they had mastered Martin’s lessons and started bringing new tricks to the table.

In a way The Beatles had learnt a whole bag of musical composition tricks before they started recording at Abbey Road and had also gained the tacit knowledge in song craft needed to sustain their early success. As is typical of pupils who are more creative than the context allows them to be they were allowed to bring their out of school learning into Master Martins domain of the studio once they had proved to be successful at making hit records. Both Lennon and McCartney talked dismissively of their “work-songs” bashed out to meet deadlines. Arguably this is what they learnt from Martin when he established their signature sound and Paul’s “Repeat 1” formula. They had “passed the audition” musically and then compositionally. This culminated in the end of their “pedagogic” period when they took what they, and Martin, had learnt from the PAST, and refined it into the glorious Hard Days Night.

But the Beatles were Kid B and in their second, arguably andragogic, phase they became more contemporary and listened to the inventiveness of their peers, especially Dylan, the Byrds, the Beach Boys, the Stones and the Who (who specifically inspired Helter Skelter) amongst others. Despite the best efforts of Capitol records they started to evolve the rock album form; the almost Dylanesque Beatles For Sale, let down by too many work songs and covers, the switch album of HELP! where Martin became a collaborator of post-grad quality, and the Folk-rock epic Rubber Soul.

Arguably their “experimental” heutagogic phase, was their own personal FUTURE facing phase and was, necessarily, much more hit or miss than the carefully constructed mid-period albums. For every Strawberry Fields, a Revolution Number 9, for every a Penny Lane, a Carnival of Light. But if you are breaking new ground who knows what the rules are and what constitutes quality? Many artists revitalise themselves by doing something differently creatively from that which they learnt, but which then doesn’t necessarily last. Hence the enduring mystery of the highly rated Magical Mystery Tour Compilation Album. Suck it and see. Which is what they did in 1968.

Tim Riley in Tell Me Why is dismissive of the quality of the outputs of the end of The Beatles psychedelic phase, but this was also the time when Epstein died, Klein moved in with greedy intent and Robert Stigwood (the man who split Cream?) was trying to permanently take over a cash cow known as The Beatles for just £500,000. And The Beatle’s refreshingly optimistic response at a time when they were losing their long-term support network, falling apart as friends, and in the wake of their first critical drubbing, was, OMG (!), to try and introduce “Western Communism” through Apple Corps! As I write this on an Apple iBook and “rip, mash and burn” my music, I know the consequences of their efforts still resonate. Yet Tim Riley does say they subsequently rallied and produced “work that still compares with their best,” rating Abbey Road and the White Album in their best five albums.

Lady Madonna, which I found weak at the time when listening on a transistor radio, was the now annual spring break gap filler whilst The Beatles took on the world with Apple Corps. In keeping with the spirit of 68 and les évènements The Beatles, the worlds top band, offered to provide the support network that they never had in their early days to any artist who showed up at Apple. Even so their own reaction to May 68 was to meet at George’s house and compile a 27 song tape before decamping to Abbey Road with so much new material that George Martin had them working in three studios simultaneously. Paul’s workers may have taken over the factory but they were now working on three production lines, and he was supervising at least one of them.

Before the thirty track White Album, an album remembered favourably by John and Paul and George and Ringo, was released for the Christmas market they interrupted recording to bash out Hey Jude and Revolution as yet another twin sided hit masterpiece. Allan Pollack regards Hey Jude as such a “monumental favourite” he is reluctant to analyse it (don’t worry he does), and I remember it being voted the most popular Beatles song ever on BBC Radio 1 in the seventies. The Lonely Hearts had re-invented themselves as a rock band known as The Beatles.

Arguably Sgt Pepper, much beloved of the London Art and Design community, was more a door of perception that they pushed open in order to release the new reality of rock albums, and the fecund, sprawling smorgasbord known affectionately as the White Album, was rock in excelsis. This is Beatles Rock Band for stereophiles; no wonder so much of it is used on Love. Unsurprisingly for an album taking a smorgasbord approach Ringo’s “Dont Pass Me By” went to number one in Sweden (no, really, it did!). It broke many sales records and, in my experience, is the Album Americans fans reach for first. Why? Is it because it sprawls across our consciousness like America itself? Is it the City on The Hill of the new frontier of Rock; you betcha!

Well in terms of the creative process this was a step back into group collaboration from the previous two Paul dominated extravaganzas. Multiple studios, a new additional recording engineer Chris Thomas, several walk outs, Ringo, Geoff Emerick, special guest stars, Eric Clapton, and a whole range of songs, styles and arrangements to work on. Lennon was revitalized, Ringo felt they were a group again “shaking out the jams” and the record was so rich and filling you wouldn’t need a Christmas Pudding on Christmas Day 1968. And The Beatles made political, spiritual and cultural statements aplenty on an album typically 20 minutes longer than comparable double albums by Dylan, the Who, Stones, Hendrix, etc. As Galactic Ramble says in response to George Martin’s parsimonious view that it would have made a great single album; “WHAT! An album by the greatest group at the height of their powers and he wants less!” They actually wanted it as a triple with the single and the outtakes, like George’s Not Guilty, added in. (More to come on collaboration in 1968 in the next post “1968 – A Bite of the Apple”)

As Paul says in Anthology “Shut up! It’s great, it sold. It’s the bloody Beatles White Album” (I think he might have a swear word in mind too!)

If you think 1968 was significant you might like my stories “Eight Vignettes of 1968“. Tune in next week to see how the White Album is a White Tiger.


  1. November 27, 2009 at 3:09 am

    Unadulterated words, some truthful words man. Totally made my day!

  2. fred6368 said,

    November 29, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    Thanks, Kalolatoheeby, appreciative comments always welcome!
    I’ve just edited a few sentences and added some links. This is an unfinished post and I will finish it off next week with “1968 – A Bite of the Apple”
    In the meantime you might like “My Beatles 2009 Mashup” post here;

  3. December 14, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    […] 1968 A Year in The Life I argued that that The Beatles learning styles went through three […]

  4. December 16, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    […] In next week to see what happens After Heutagogy… Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Learning…With The Beatles1968Where do […]

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