Is the Beatles’ Popularity Sustainable?

I was three years old when the Beatles disbanded. In fact, one of my first memories is of my older cousin crying and sitting outside on the curb after hearing about their breakup. The first Beatles song that I knew was “Let It Be” because it was on a toy jukebox, made by Kenner, that my parents gave me in 1971. Fast forwarding to when I was 7 years old, the first “grown up” record I owned was “Hey Jude.” I still remember the moment when my mother came home from the store and handed it to me, saying “I think you’ll like this.” Little did she know what an understatement that was.

I used to lament the fact that I was born too late to experience the Beatles when they were happening. However, as I think about it now, it’s not so bad being a second-generation fan because I was able to grow up with their music. Furthermore, I don’t think that the Beatles’ popularity ever took a nosedive during my lifetime. In the 1970s, many still held hope that they’d get back together. Sadly, John Lennon’s death in 1980 put an end to that question and also stimulated further interest in the band. “The Beatles Anthology” series was one of the highlights of the 1990s, and in the 2000s “The Beatles: Rock Band” game seemed to generate a whole new generation of fans. We also finally got quality CD reissues of the Beatles’ albums, in both stereo and mono, in 2009. Those were followed by the vinyl reissues in the 2010s, along with tasteful and enlightening remixes of the Beatles’ later albums thanks to the fact that Giles Martin stepped into his father’s shoes. Add to all of this the Beatles tribute bands and shows that began with the Broadway musical “Beatlemania” in the late 1970s, Cirque de Soleil’s “Love,” the Ron Howard film “Eight Days a Week,” and the recent film “Yesterday.” In short, the Beatles have never been far from the spotlight since their breakup, especially if you consider their solo efforts. 

Even if they don’t do anything but show their faces now and then, I think that the Beatles will still be with us, in some sense, as long as there’s a living member. When the Beatles broke up, the individual members carried the band’s torch into the future whether they liked it or not. But what will happen when we no longer have that focal point? Paul and Ringo have continued to tour and release albums, but that may not last much longer. I don’t see how it can. Ringo is now 80 years old. In 2019 he told MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough that “What’s My Name” would be his last full-length album, and that an EP would now be “enough.” Paul’s last album, “McCartney III,” is wonderful but betrays a voice scarred by decades of use and probably overuse. In October 2020 he told the BBC that he may have played his last concert due to the long-term impacts of COVID-19. Who can blame either of them? It’s just impossible for them to remain musically active for much longer, and if they continue to record I’ll just consider ourselves, as fans, very lucky.

In short, if there was ever a time for Beatles fans to begin getting angsty, now may be it. Not only are Paul and Ringo slowing down, but there’s also the question of what will happen when they’re gone. Will kids twenty or thirty years from now know who the Beatles were? Will those of us who still remember them feel like the main character in the film “Yesterday”?

I don’t think so, and one reason is because of good old-fashioned business. It’s a little odd that “The Beatles” now refers to two things – the band itself, which broke up in 1970, and the brand that is owned by Apple Corps. Indeed, Apple Corps has become very savvy in its licensing and marketing. There may be more Beatles collectables being produced now than ever before – Legos, Funko figures, guitar picks, ukuleles, socks, ties, puzzles, Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit games, Hot Wheels, Christmas ornaments – the list goes on and on. Care to add a Beatles t-shirt or sweatpants to your wardrobe? All you have to do is make your way to the nearest Target. For better or worse, I expect that “the Beatles” will be marketed as long as there’s money to be made from them.

Of course, this has its benefits and drawbacks. Who wants to see one of the greatest rock bands of all time reduced to an image to sell toys and t-shirts? While I think that the marketing of the Beatles brand will be ongoing through my lifetime, I don’t think that’s all the Beatles will become. I have confidence that the Beatles’ music will appeal to future generations simply because it has proven to be the case. There may, in fact, be a decline in their popularity over time, but I don’t think it will be to the point that fans become few and far between.

Out of curiosity, I recently put a couple of polls about the Beatles’ popularity on social media. The first asked, “If you consider yourself a Beatles fan, were you born before or after they broke up?” Just over 32 percent of the 1,434 people who saw the post responded. That’s not much, but I also don’t think that accurately represents the percentage of people who are Beatles fans because some people don’t like to participate in such polls. At any rate, 73% of the respondents were born after the Beatles broke up – a good sign for the Beatles’ continuing popularity. I then got to thinking that people may have different ideas of what a “fan” is, so I created another poll that mimicked one conducted in 2014 by CBS News. They telephoned 1,008 adults across the United States and found that 75% of them liked the Beatles, if only a little bit. My results were, of the 825 people who saw the post, 396 people responded – 95% affirmatively and 5% negatively. Allowing for the fact that my account is music-based whereas CBS telephoned (supposedly) random people, I think that both results have positive implications for the Beatles’ sustained popularity.

In the end (pun intended), I don’t think that anyone who’s an adult right now will become the odd-man-out in their lifetime in terms of liking the Beatles. But, for me, thinking about Paul’s and Ringo’s ages and the fact that their active musical careers appear to be slowing down has made me want to relish their music as much as I can. I fully realize how tinted my perspective is and that any fan likely feels similarly about their favorite artist, but I feel incredibly lucky to have been born in a time and place that enabled the Beatles to be part of my life. It all seems a little magical.

In my collection (U.S. pressings unless otherwise noted, CDs not listed except box sets):

1 (2015, Apple and Universal Music Group)

1962-1966 (1978, Capitol), red vinyl

1962-1966 (1976, Capitol), black vinyl

1967-1970 (1973, Apple), black vinyl

1967-1970 (1976, Capitol), black vinyl

1stLive Recordings, Volume 1 (1979, Pickwick)

1stLive Recordings, Volume 2 (1979, Pickwick) – two copies

20 Greatest Hits (1983, Capitol)

20×4 bootleg (1979, Remime)

A Hard Day’s Night (1977, United Artists)

Abbey Road Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (1980, Capitol)

Abbey Road (1969, Apple)

Abbey Road picture disc (1978, Apple)

Abbey Road (1969 repress, Apple)

Abbey Road 2xlp box set, remix (2019, Apple and Universal Music Group)

Abbey Road CD box set, remix (2019, Apple and Universal Music Group)

Anthology 1 (1995, Apple)

Anthology 2 (1996, Apple)

Anthology 3 (1996, Apple)

At the Alamo bootleg (year unknown, Tuna)

Beatle Talk w/ Red Robinson (1978 The Great Northwest Music Company)

Beatles ’65, stereo (1964, Capitol)

Beatles ’65, mono (1964, Capitol)

Beatles for Sale, Philippines (1973, Parlophone)

Beatles Forever, Brazil (1972, Apple)

Beatles VI (1971, Apple)

Beatles VI, stereo (1965, Capitol)

Beatles Christmas Album (1970, Apple)

Classified Document Volume 3, bootleg (1988, Tiger Beat)

Das Sid Die Beatles, München 1966, Europe (2020, AVA Editions)

Get Back to Toronto bootleg (year unknown, I.P.F. Records)

Help!, Switzerland (1966 Odeon)

Help! Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1965 Capitol)

Hey Jude (1971 Apple)

Introducing the Beatles bootleg (year unknown, Vee Jay)

Introducing the Beatles, mono (1964 Vee Jay)

Let It Be (1970, Apple) – two copies

Let It Be…Naked, Europe (2003, Parlophone and Apple)

Live at the BBC, Europe (1994, Apple)

Live! At the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany, 1962 (1977, Lingasong, Double H Licensing Corp)

Love (2014, Apple)

Love Songs (1977, Capitol)

Magical Mystery Tour (1967, Capitol)

Meet the Beatles (1971, Apple)

Meet the Beatles, stereo (1968, Capitol)

No. 3 Abbey Road bootleg, Germany (1986, Audi Records)

On Air Live at the BBC Volume 2, UK (2013, Apple, Universal Music, and BBC)

Rarities (1980, Capitol)

Reel Music (1982, Capitol)

Revolver (1978, Capitol)

Revolver (1966, Capitol)

Rock ‘N’ Roll Music (1976 Capitol) – two copies

Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, Volume 1 (1980, Capitol)

Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, Volume 2 (1980, Capitol)

Rubber Soul (1978, Capitol)

Rubber Soul (1965, Capitol)

Sgt. Pepper’s LHCB (1971, Apple and Capitol)

Sgt. Pepper’s LHCB, mono, (1967, Capitol)

Sgt. Pepper’s LHCB picture disc (1978, Capitol)

Sgt. Pepper’s LHCB Deluxe Edition CD box set (2017, Parlophone, Apple, and Universal Music Group)

Something New, stereo (1964, Capitol)

Something New, mono (1964, Capitol)

Something New (1972, Apple)

Songs and Pictures of the Fabulous Beatles (Veejay)

The Beatles (Stereo CD Box Set) (2009, Apple and Capitol)

The Beatles (White Album) (1976, Capitol)

The Beatles and Esher Demos remix (2018, Apple and Universal Music Group)

The Beatles Deluxe Edition CD box set (2018, Apple and Universal Music Group)

The Beatles and the Rolling Stones: When Two Legends Collide bootleg (year unknown, Tuna)

The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl (1977, Capitol) – two copies

The Beatles Beat, Japan (1978, Odeon)

The Beatles Featuring Tony Sheridan (1976 Pickwick)

The Beatles in Mono box set (2014, Apple)

The Beatles in Mono CD box set (2009, Apple)

The Beatles’ Second Album (1971, Apple and Capitol)

The Beatles’ Second Album, stereo (1964, Capitol)

The Beatles’ Second Album, mono (1964, Capitol)

The Beatles’ Story (1976, Capitol)

The Decca Tapes bootleg, UK (1979, Circuit Records)

The Early Beatles (1976, Capitol)

Twist and Shout, Canada (1980, Capitol)

Yellow Submarine (1969, Apple)

Yellow Submarine (1976, Capitol)

Yesterday and Today (1976, Capitol)

Yesterday and Today (1966, Capitol)

7” singles and EPs:

Can’t Buy Me Love/You Can’t Do That, UK (1964, Parlophone)

Happy Christmas Beatle People! box set (2017, Apple and Universal Music Group)

Help!/I’m Down (1976, Capitol)

Hey Jude/Revolution (1976, Capitol)

Lady Madonna/The Inner Light, UK (1976, Parlophone)

Let It Be/You Know My Name (Look Up the Number) (1970, Apple)

Magical Mystery Tour, UK (1967, Parlophone) – two copies

Magical Mystery Tour box set with EP and DVD (2012, Apple and Capitol)

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da/Julia (1976, Capitol)

Paperback Writer/Norwegian Wood/We Can Work It Out/Drive My Car, Japan (1972, Apple)

Sgt. Pepper’s LHCB/With A Little Help From My Friends (1988, Capitol)

She Loves You/I’ll Get You, UK (1963, Parlophone)

Shiek of Araby/September in the Rain bootleg (1976, Deccagone)

Something/Come Together (1969, Apple)

Sure to Fall/Money bootleg (1976, Deccagone)

The Beatles’ Movie Medley/I’m Happy Just to Dance with You (1982, Capitol)

The Singles Collection box set (2019, Apple and Universal Music Group)

Ticket to Ride/Yes It Is (1976, Capitol)

Yesterday/Act Naturally (1965, Capitol)

8 thoughts on “Is the Beatles’ Popularity Sustainable?

  1. Another thought provoking post. I am fortunate to remember the excitement of their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (I was 6). My sister who was four years older went into full blown fandom. The excitement and sound of each new release played through am car radios and records played at home generated enthusiasm for music that will never be equaled. Great collection you have there Pam. Beatle fan for life here

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I first heard the Beatles through cassettes of the red and blue comps in my parent’s car. I’m not sure they even really liked music! I don’t they’re in any danger of being forgotten. It’s too much and too big of an institution at this point. And they were the best at marketing themselves from the very beginning, so generations of McCartneys and Harrisons are going to be well taken care of. I’ve even got my 7 year old wanting to re-watch Help!

    I write this as I’m listening to “Ram” and I’m still floored at how much good music these guys had in them – Beatles or no! Great post as always!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your post and articles are always excellent and this one is no exception! I believe the really great artist of all musical genres will always find new listeners in coming generations. While the heat from the fire might not be as hot as it once was, it will still hot enough to warm their souls.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I missed The Beatles years also- I was too young to really know what was going on- but in the mid 70’s became a full time Beatles fanatic and remain that way. Saturday I was in a book store and looking at the magazines found it interesting that there were four magazines in the music section with either The Beatles or John Lennon on the cover. This is a band that has been broken up for 50 years. It is also a full time job just keeping up with the new Beatles books that come out on a regular basis. I think we can be assured we won’t live to see a decline in interest for The Beatles.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Beyond their massive impact on popular culture (like nothing else in modern history) they were brilliant composers. I think future generations of musicians will keep them alive even after no one has first-person memory of Beatlemania. We have no video of, say, Mozart but the music speaks for itself and it’s been 300+ years. So when you combine the audio and video together of the Beatles, I think they’ll live on beside the other great composers of history and maybe even surpass them in the long run.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wonderful writing Pam. Although I am also a second Beatles Fan generation (I was born in 1975), I have asked myself that question for a long time. I remember thinking in 1999 that maybe the new millennium would leave The Beatles as something forgotten, but my fears were dispelled over the years when thanks to YouTube I could see more and more videos of young collectors and music enthusiasts from The Beatles. I believe that they will never be forgotten because there will always be a new generation that will be interested in them.

    Shekespeare 💖🍏

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wonderful rumination! I have always assumed they would simply go on forever and move into the classic category like Beethoven or Mozart. What an impressive Beatles collection you have!

    Like

  8. I was never a big fan growing up. I knew who they were and a few tunes, but I had never gone out of my way to listen. I had some CDs copied from friends at one time. My roommate in college loved them and listened to them a lot so I knew Sgt. Pepper’s and Abbey Road pretty well and had exposure to some of their other music. However, when I started listening to my dad’s record collection that he passed on to me, I began to find a new love for them. My wife and I can both enjoy their music and our kids know a bit of it too.

    There are some kid’s shows that have Beatles tunes in them as well so the youth will be exposed at least. Beat Bugs comes to mind as a show my daughter watched a few times which was all Beatles tunes.

    Anyway, great blog. Really enjoying it.

    Liked by 1 person

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