1968 – A Bite of The Apple

The White Tiger

“The History of the World is the history of a 10,000 year war of brains between the rich and poor; the poor win a few battles but of course the rich have won that war for ten thousand years. That is why some wise men have left the poor some signs and symbols which appear to be about Roses and pretty girls and things like that, but when understood correctly spell out secrets that allow the poorest man on earth to conclude the brain war on favourable terms…”

(Aravind Adiga; The White Tiger, p254),

Perhaps modern poets leave secret sounds; cymbals and signs. Perhaps their origin lies with the multi-cultural White Teeth of a Bengal Tiger, perhaps White Noise is the sound of change, perhaps a White Album is filled with blank stamps of open permissions…

In 1968 A Year in The Life I argued that that The Beatles learning styles went through three sequences; re-using the past, listening to the present and experimenting with the future;

a) a past facing tracing 62-64; learning how to use the lessons of their past to fit into the present in the way that it is currently constructed (as we now bless Simon Cowell and all who sail in him).  This peaked on Hard Days Night, after their earlier  breakthrough work on hit singles in a Buddy Holly & The Crickets self-contained band stylee.

b) contemporaneous openness 64-66; listening to fellow artists, thereby broadening the availability of influences and styles for music making from Beatles for Sale, seen on the Dylanesque I’m A Loser for example, and finally resulting in the creation of the album as art form with the folk-rock epic Rubber Soul.

c) future-facing experimentation 66-67; which broadened the availability of forms to play with and the nature of collaboration from Revolver, such as on Tomorrow Never Knows with Paul bringing in Stockhausen inspired tape loops, Geoff Emerick on his first creative session passing Johns voice through a Lesley Speaker, Martin on piano and co-ordination, Ringo drumming forcefully and entitling epigrammatically, George playing sitar and reverse string-driven thing, then backwards ending number two, onwards through Pepper right up to I Am The Walrus. Give them Abbey Road Studio 2 and they can move the world.

The significance of post-Epstein life for The Beatles in 1968 was that this past, present then future facing cycle of learning had ended; they now had to become masters (!) of their own fates. Having pushed open many possible new futures, as heutagogy is playing with the future, they now turned to the present. Super-rich, super-lauded, super-talented they responded positively to the super-responsibilities that this brought and returned to the quotidian with a plan, and boundless energy. They would create a just and fair cultural business entity that would offer fellow artists exactly the kind of support that they had lacked when they started out. They would offer a bite of the Apple as an entrance token into the Garden of Artistic Eden that they envisioned. They would return to the collaborative andragogy as the More Able Partners of others and create a new partnership network of artists.

Keith Sawyer in Group Genius argues that the breakthrough innovations that change the world come from “group genius;” and he also debunks the myth of the lone genius innovator. He argues that group genius is extended by collaborative webs; creative networks which disseminate and re-inforce innovation. For the mid-period Beatles this had been centred round clubs like the Scotch of St James where they held court, mostly attracting fellow musicians like the earthy Animals, Modest art-school maniacs The Who, even Hendrix, but also sometimes repelling them, like Daevid Allen; along with scenester models and photographers (brilliantly satirised in Blow Up). But as they matured musically and emotionally, and their business and management networks changed, they had to take the lead in building their own, new, collaborative webs. During Pepper and Mystery Tour their support networks were not working and perversely, for a time, they did look like self-supporting gods getting close to that state of self-regard know as Hollywood Delusional.

But in the lazy, hazy, crazy days of May 68 they launched the potential collaborative web of Apples Corps and within 6 months had released Hey Jude, their biggest selling single, The White Album, the biggest selling double album of all time, a Lennono solo album, George’s film soundtrack album Wonderwall, “Candy” starring Ringo was premiered and Paul had produced the first non-Beatles Apple Number One record for Mary Hopkin. Oh and a divorce and some arrests were also dealt with. And Yellow Submarine

Like Aravind Adiga’s White Tiger The Beatles were putative agents of change in a corrupt system and were also in epistolary communication with political leaders as well as fans. In 1968 and 1969 they worked at least as hard as they had done in 1963 and 1964 but with conscious intent to change things. The only difference in 1968 was that they had become globally famous, but without an effective support network, and so ended up suffering the traditional problem of change agents; they lacked a map to the future. The significant part of their Musical Mappa Mundi unsurprisingly contained the legend “Here Be Dragons.”

So The Beatles, now marching an original, but lonesome, path since becoming the first musicians too famous to tour, had to make up the future as they went along, cadging advice from whomever they passed but, unfortunately, often ill-served by the company they kept. However they remained instinctively true to their collaborative roots and created a kind of anti-EMI in Apple with the affordance to develop in multiple media right across the cultural spectrum, often responding to relevant requests, such as with Miles and Zapple.

The Creative Team known as Apple

In Group Genius Sawyer identifies seven characteristics of creative teams. He uses his analysis of improvising jazz and theatre groups to identify key behavioural characteristics for creative organisations. So lets reverse that process and look at The Beatles and Apple in terms of how they made music as “the musical instrument known as The Beatles” and the company itself.

1) Innovation Emerges Over Time; As we have seen The Beatles musical innovation, their creativity, took time to emerge as they had to adapt to different musical contexts. Skiffle group in Woolton, rock n roll combo in Hamburg, hit recording artists in Abbey Road, until they had the “right ideas in just the right structure;” musical creation in Abbey Road Studio 2. However at Apple they also had myriad legacy companies to deal with, but without Epstein or anyone capable of running Apple as the Trust it needed to be; there was just too much money involved for it to go unmolested. They had the right co-operative instincts from their traditional andragogic habit of “hanging” with people, but in just the wrong industry, or rather in just the right industry to attract endless hangers on, such as Magic Alex; even so Apple inspired Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

2) Successful Collaborative Teams Practice Deep Listening; The iconic image of John and Paul writing together is that of a right hander and a left hander in mirror image and it was cleverly used in the film Backbeat to show how even Stuart Sutcliffe was excluded from this deep listening musical creation. But George and Ringo exhibited similar deep listening qualities, as did George Martin, resulting in their consistently inventive contributions to Beatles songs. Apple however was a black hole in terms of responsiveness and in the use of resources. Lennon’s notoriously decisive impatience, a wonderful creative tool surrounded by quick studies and deep listeners like Paul, George and Ringo, resulted in catastrophic decisions like telling a bunch of bankers, whilst restructuring their finances, that he wasn’t going to sit on his arse whilst they fiddled around and determined his future. Optimistically he expected Bankers to be as creative in their field as The Beatles were in theirs. Instead they determined the Beatles long-term future, but from their own short-term perspective.

3) Team members build on their collaborators’ ideas; Indeed as previously discussed the musical instrument known as The Beatles was a collaborative entity building on their collaborators’ ideas, and on the White Album they were often doing this in parallel; it was a pearl of an oyster bed.  Perhaps the growth of George Harrison from his first song through to his hit triple album All Things Must Pass in 1970 is the best example of building on collaborators’ ideas, his development within The Beatles was phenomenal. However in Apple collaboration was seen as an opportunity to steal the lead from the roof, or one of the cars, or just the office equipment. The Beatles were seen as infinitely wealthy, and so worthy of re-appropriation. The putative Robin Hoods were robinhooded even whilst they trying to give their money away constructively.

4) Only afterwards does the meaning of each idea become clear; The Beatles themselves didn’t understand this and nor did we, but then the PAH Continuum (or Group Genius) didn’t exist to help us back then! What they learnt to achieve on the White Album, I have just come to realise, is the ability to play each song in its best form; hard rock, jams, blues, finger picking, folk, showtune, avant-garde noisefest, metal, middle youth… When Paul was showing Ringo how to drum, or later George how to play a solo, he wasn’t telling them off, rather he was saying we are now beyond “The Musical Instrument known as John, Paul, George and Ringo” and into musical creation as form. This studio is our Atelier and The Beatles are now an art movement. Whereas on Please Please Me they were playing with a musical pallette forged in the fifties and honed in Hamburg, on the White Album they were playing with a musical palette drawing on all music and honed in the sixties. Having created the rock album as art form they were already moving on just as the music industry was catching up with that idea; but they had moved beyond metaphors and into collaboratively crafted problem-solving. Their musical creativity was so fulsome they could do an albums worth of it on a single track. No wonder they felt that they could re-invent the form of business organisation as well, they were doing it musically almost daily. As Richard Sennett says in The Craftsman, the deeper you go into craft, the higher you fly with creativity. But that doesn’t mean that Icarus wont fall to earth.

5) Surprising Questions Emerge; Revolution 0, 1 or 9 (or even 1&0)? As Sawyer puts it, “Transformative creativity results when a group thinks of a new way to frame a problem;” (Song or Album? Both!). “The most creative groups are good at finding new problems rather than solving old ones;” (EMI, NEMS or Apple? Album or Artwork?). Brian Epstein died at just the wrong time in terms of solving the business problem of creating new organisational forms to match The Beatles increasing musical creativity. The possibility of creating Apple as a new business model would have had the potential to re-vitalise him, but he also had all of his other NEMS artists to manage too. Sexy Sadie (the Maharishi) didn’t fly and “you tell me it’s the institution…you know you better free your mind instead;” hmm, really?

6) Innovation is Inefficient; it creates “fractured unities” as Tim Riley describes the White Album, and you wouldn’t necessarily include Wild Honey Pie, Number 9, nor some of the other songs left off the album, but it kept the creative juices flowing. But The Beatles were not writing hit records they were creating micro-scopic musical universes and the marginal tracks were those that failed this minituarist test. This particular side-effect of creativity, inefficiency, works supremely well in art but can be disastrous as the basis of a funding model. Apple did at least manage to excel in this dimension of organisational creativity however.

7) Innovation Emerges From The Bottom Up; There we have it, the meritocratic commune known as The Beatles had slowly forced their way up into positions of significance and influence and by the White Album had redefined the lineaments of their art and all mastered the crafts necessary to redefine forms. Interestingly Hendrix was in a similar position after Electric Ladyland as his First Rays of the New Rising Sun project testifies. As Stuart MacDonald puts it in the Regeneration of Crafts in Education, “what is extremely important in the crafts is that they are democratic,” and so they always offer the potential for social regeneration. Unfortunately The Beatles hadn’t heard of the Mondragon Co-operatives, the Webbs had denounced producer co-operatives in the UK so relevant expertise was unavailable, and the organisational experiments mentioned least week, Upper Clyde and Lucas Aerospace, still lay in the future; turns out you did “need a weather man to know which way the wind blows”.

Unfortunately the concentrated creativity of the White Album couldn’t transform society by example alone. Sadly its solid musical yang was partnered  by the broken organisational yin of Apple. The Beatles instinctively tried to leave us with a transformational cannon based on collaboration, but we insist in reading it as an artistic canon based on hierarchy. In the age of achievement we can’t see the group genius for the individual fame.

Tune in next year (1969) to see how The Beatles responded to their magnum opus being so misunderstood and their business being so undermined; it’s not the orthodoxy you’ve been sold… In the meantime you can read my story about hearing the White Album in November 1968 (although I think Revolution is funnier). Read the page about Beatles Books, or listen to my current end-of-year post My Beatles/2009 Mashup on A Beatles YouTube Album…



  1. Nigel Ecclesfield said,

    December 14, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    The other issue around Apple was that the Beatles, like many artists were failing to appreciate that managing your artisitc life also requires that you understand and can control the administration of your life, so while they were learning about creating the music they were less open to understanding the dynamics of managing their lives in other ways e.g. emotionally, financially and adopted a philanthropic approach that was not sustainable. What they couldn’t get from Alan Klein, Brian Epstein or anyone else around them was the experience of building collectives and cooperatives to sustain their creative output and no way in their increasingly hermetic circle of learning the business of their business.

    As in much of the creative industry in the 60’s the control passed from the artists to the financiers and hucksters, who tended to make sure that control was ceded to them. Co-operatives and collectives were just words as very few, in music, had the experience of developing alternatives to the “managerial and promotional system”. It’s sad that when the Beatles chose to end their career, they didn’t have the access to a concert space they could control, so ended up broadcasting to so few.

    The music was transformational, but the business was very B side and that’s where they would have benefited from another More Able Person who could help them confront business rather than succumb to the Klein’s and james’ of their world.

    Your post is really opening up some productive paths for re-appraising 68 for the Beatles, I’m wondering why I’m feeling this as elegaic?


  2. fred6368 said,

    December 14, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    I guess it is elegaic in a way, but as a part of learning why the sixties project (ultimately) failed. Any number of commentators are happy to say that it failed but, as you know, I think there was no map out. I think heutagogy is ultimately transformational, but whilst change is bottom up “the further you fly the harder you fall” I think my view was that The Beatles, as exemplary successes of the meritocracy, created the possibilities for social change as they were us and also our proxies. They got no help whatsoever and actually were acting instinctively for much of the time, or rather they had used their accumulated tacit knowledge about musical creation to play with forms that they knew, but felt that it meant that they could play with forms that they did not know…

    • fred6368 said,

      December 17, 2009 at 6:42 pm

      The Beatles did create learning and experiences for many and that’s why they are still important. I think for me the elegy is about what might have happened had there been the support they needed rather than what they got from those who profited most from their creativity. What we can learn from that is that we need collective endeavours that face outwards and draw support as well as providing support to others.

      Since then, we know some more about collaboration, but it’s time to bring it to fruition. Create the contexts!


  3. December 16, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    […] 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. […]

  4. January 14, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    […] George Harrison’s role in The Beatles. In line with my view that The Beatles display “Group Genius“, that is they exist best as John, Paul, George and Ringo, my view was that George had a very […]

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