Comments: "Sweet Virginia"

In other words, Bernard likes the Stones better than The Beatles. :-)

Never seen the point of the Stones, truthfully. If I wanna listen to American blues, I put on Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, etc. Do the Stones have some great songs? Sure, about ten. But you or I could come up with ten great songs if we'd kept at it for forty years. The rest is music to be drunk to. Fine, but nothing special.

That's opinion, but here's the fact: the Stones wouldn't even exist today had there not been a Beatles to create the world for them. If The Beatles hadn't done what they'd done, Mick would be teaching econ in some red-brick uni; and Keith and Brian would be fronting the umpteenth edition of The Yardbirds, appearing on a double bill with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers at a reeky little bar somewhere in England.

The Beatles CREATED rock as we know it, and from the moment they split, the art form has been decaying. That actually helps the Stones, because it allows them to be a tribute band to themselves circa 1968. Nothing wrong with that, but don't compare 'em to the people who transformed Western pop culture.

Posted by Mike of Angle at October 30, 2009 02:31 PM

"The Beatles CREATED rock as we know it, and from the moment they split, the art form has been decaying. That actually helps the Stones, because it allows them to be a tribute band to themselves circa 1968. Nothing wrong with that, but don't compare 'em to the people who transformed Western pop culture."

this is inherited wisdom, and it's crap! rock was no more an invention of the beatles than vocal harmony was an invention of the beach boys. the beatles were prolific, and they were decent. that they "transformed western pop culture" and that they "CREATED rock as we know it" are two very very different claims, the former arguable, the latter ignorant.

black americans created rock and roll, in a process that began several generations before any of the bluesmen you mentioned got started. the beatles injected mass-marketing to suburban teenagers into the stream, in my opinion giving birth to the horrible monster known as the modern music industry, but doing fuck all to invent the forms they lifted.

Posted by nnnnnn at October 30, 2009 02:58 PM

Bernard.. I love these things you do but you assume so much of your readers. I would dearly love for you to turn that last paragraph into something I could play. I've played "Sweet Virginia" my self a hundred times, so I could dig up the tab again and go through it but if you would give me a feeling for the whole progression (as I read this from my desk) I would have a better sense of what that last paragraph meant.

Posted by Dilapidus at October 30, 2009 03:30 PM

Ah, but you can't jam to the Beatles. It's so unfun. I can't recall anyone in the various rock bands I've had ever asking for a Beatles song. Grand alley to snoozeville. Musically the Beatles are very confining. Like a train on a track. If you want to have fun in a rock group, you'll cover Hendrix or the Stones or even Pink Floyd or CCR, but not the Beatles.

But I have lots of great memories associated with the Beatles. I still remember waiting desperately in the 60s for their albums to be released. All of my friends did. The Beatles were in the 60s what Harry Potter was recently. We couldn't buy sheet music so we'd spend hours figuring out the chords on our guitars (and ruining our records in the process). It was an absolutely wonderful experience. And I loved the music. I used to go to London on occasion around that time (I have English cousins) where the insanity was even more pronounced than in Paris. It was great fun.

But then something went off and the music began to bore the living daylights out of me. I feel I've heard every single note too often already and it's too entirely predictable.

But then I can't really listen to rock any more (maybe, after all, it is a young person's music). I wonder what it was really all about: rock as "art form" (as you call it) is on the whole a monument of mediocrity.

There's enough blues in the Stones and Dylan that I don't turn off the radio when I hear those guys. But otherwise, you know, I'd rather switch to Rush Limbaugh.

I don't know enough about the history of rock to dispute your scenario -- though it does sound a bit farfetched. Although, if Mick Jagger had been teaching econ 101, maybe we wouldn't be in the financial mess we're in.

I don't buy your argument, "If I want the blues I listen to JL Hooker." Then you could say, if you want good Beatles songs, listen to the Beatles, but if you want great Beatles songs, listen to Schubert. I think you can do both. Plus I am not crazy about John Lee Hooker anyway.

Great songs? Meaning what? That we'll remember in 200 years. Then the answer is probably zero. European rock will be probably remembered as one of the lowest points in music.

I am not sure I get your argument about transforming western pop culture. What exactly did the Beatles invent? Musically, zippo. And as far as pop culture goes, the revolution is the absorption of American music as the dominant form of pop music. Which goes on today. Hip hop today is much more influential than the Beatles music ever was. It's a whole idiom. And as far as rock goes, Little Richard, James Brown, and others (like Dylan) deserve much more credit than the Beatles.

I think the Beatles were a fine band, and much of their music is sweet and lovely. Commercially they were huge and therefore influential. But in the end what exactly was it all about?


Posted by Bernard Chazelle at October 30, 2009 03:54 PM

The tune is in A (A mixolydian, ie, with the G ready for action). The progression is: IV-II-I, ie, D-B-A-repeat, with the dominant seventh (the E7) in bar 14. My point is that a classical theorist would say haha, IV-II-I is a plagal cadence with II subbing for IV. Never mind what that means because it's wrong. The key to the progression are the leading tones: D,Eb,E. You get the D from the IV (that its tonic), then you get the Eb from the II (that's its major 3rd), and then the E from the root chord A (that's its 5th). My point is that the chromatic run D,Eb,E goes through the blue note Eb (which in the blues scale is not precisely an Eb but never mind).
If you jam on it on a guitar, you'd be bending the G string on the 7th fret up continuously from the 4th to the 5th via the blue note. Can't do that on a piano.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at October 30, 2009 04:09 PM

Guys, "rock" and "rock and roll" are not synonymous.

Also, the Beatles were heavily indebted to Motown, alongside their many other influences. They have been said to have ushered in the era of "rock", as distinct from what was "rock and roll". The Stones were more explicitly the latter. But they were both great pop bands, no need to take sides.

Posted by Richard at October 30, 2009 04:25 PM

FYI, for some great writing on both the Beatles and the Stones, check out the blog Then Play Long. The latest post is on the white album. Some excellent stuff on what was going on musically in their work.

Posted by Richard at October 30, 2009 04:29 PM

A lot of rock is about "the sound", which is defined by engineers, starting with the Rickenbacker and Les Paul and Fender and the Dobro people and continuing to the present. Pop even more so. (Alas. I hate the Swedish producers).

There were pre-electric rockers I imagine, but most of rock has been electric, and that's what gives the music its penetrating effect. Look at Chicago (electric) blues v. Delta, or folk Dylan v. electric.

The raw sound of Chicago Blues wasn't primitive, actually came along later than a lot of jazzier electric guitarists like Charlie Christian or Tbone Walker.

Posted by John Emerson at October 30, 2009 04:59 PM

Thank you very much! That is precisely what I needed. Keep em coming!

Posted by Dilapidus at October 30, 2009 05:07 PM

Scattered comments:
"Contrary to received opinion, the influence of the blues on the Beatles is negligible.""If the Beatles stole from America, it's mostly from white musicians."

Mostly agree with this.I forget where I read it but IIRC , one of the members of the Stones said that many of the Merseybeat groups like the Beatles,Gerry & the Pacemakers, etc. had besides ,Buddy Holly, the Everly Bros.and other rockers as influences, also listed "The Northern Soul" sound as major influences i.e. the Marvelettes, Arthur Alexander, the Miracles, the Isley Bros. etc. Whereas the bands that came out of the London scene were more influenced by Chicago blues and Southern Soul.Thing of it is all of these sounds were black popular music styles from different regions. Chess records had both Northern soul artists, like the Flamingoes, and of course the blues singers like Muddy Waters, on its roster back in its prime, but back then it was all R&B to black audiences.

"The raw sound of Chicago Blues wasn't primitive,it actually came along later than a lot of jazzier electric guitarists like Charlie Christian or Tbone Walker."

The Chicago blues players like Muddy, Howlin Wolf, Elmore James , Little Walter etc. , I think were kind of like what singers like Hank Williams,Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, Ray Price and Buck Owens are to country music. They both took the distinctive musical styles of their regions, usually rural, and incorporated some features and fads of the popular music of the day (full rhythym sections, electric guitars, etc.) to appeal to the audiences of the time.i.e. B.B. King putting mambo beats into his smash hit "Woke Up This Morning," or the sounds of "Hawaiian" electric steel guitars showing up on country records. It sounds "authentic" now, but all of those singers records were somewhat cutting edge for their time.Something like today, Big and Rich or Kid Rock putting hip-hop samples into their Top 40 country songs.(Not that I care for it too much.)In his book, Escaping the Delta:Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues, Elijah Wald argues that dividing blues, R&B,rock and roll and soul into different styles was a result of the British Invasion as younger white audiences got exposed to these styles with the rise of marketing and more radio stations.

"The outer shell of the Beatles' music might be American (Elvis, Everly Brothers, Little Richard, and the standard rock stage furniture) but the inner core is British. What they sing is syncopated Anglican hymnody plugged into the rich tradition of Anglo-Celtic balladry."

This is what David Crosby heard in the song "Help." In a rock documentary I saw on PBS years ago, Crosby noticed that the Beatles played folk chord changes in their songs like "Help" and not rock and roll changes. He credited that, and Dylan of course, with inspiring him to form the Byrds and write folk-rock songs.

I like this blog ,especially the music posts, they're very enjoyable to read.

Posted by Walt C at October 30, 2009 06:54 PM

Scattered comments:
"Contrary to received opinion, the influence of the blues on the Beatles is negligible.""If the Beatles stole from America, it's mostly from white musicians."

Mostly agree with this.I forget where I read it but IIRC , one of the members of the Stones said that many of the Merseybeat groups like the Beatles,Gerry & the Pacemakers, etc. had besides ,Buddy Holly, the Everly Bros.and other rockers as influences, also listed "The Northern Soul" sound as major influences i.e. the Marvelettes, Arthur Alexander, the Miracles, the Isley Bros. etc. Whereas the bands that came out of the London scene were more influenced by Chicago blues and Southern Soul.Thing of it is all of these sounds were black popular music styles from different regions. Chess records had both Northern soul artists, like the Flamingoes, and of course the blues singers like Muddy Waters, on its roster back in its prime, but back then it was all R&B to black audiences.

"The raw sound of Chicago Blues wasn't primitive,it actually came along later than a lot of jazzier electric guitarists like Charlie Christian or Tbone Walker."

The Chicago blues players like Muddy, Howlin Wolf, Elmore James , Little Walter etc. , I think were kind of like what singers like Hank Williams,Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, Ray Price and Buck Owens are to country music. They both took the distinctive musical styles of their regions, usually rural, and incorporated some features and fads of the popular music of the day (full rhythym sections, electric guitars, etc.) to appeal to the audiences of the time.i.e. B.B. King putting mambo beats into his smash hit "Woke Up This Morning," or the sounds of "Hawaiian" electric steel guitars showing up on country records. It sounds "authentic" now, but all of those singers records were somewhat cutting edge for their time.Something like today, Big and Rich or Kid Rock putting hip-hop samples into their Top 40 country songs.(Not that I care for it too much.)In his book, Escaping the Delta:Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues, Elijah Wald argues that dividing blues, R&B,rock and roll and soul into different styles was a result of the British Invasion as younger white audiences got exposed to these styles with the rise of marketing and more radio stations.

"The outer shell of the Beatles' music might be American (Elvis, Everly Brothers, Little Richard, and the standard rock stage furniture) but the inner core is British. What they sing is syncopated Anglican hymnody plugged into the rich tradition of Anglo-Celtic balladry."

This is what David Crosby heard in the song "Help." In a rock documentary I saw on PBS years ago, Crosby noticed that the Beatles played folk chord changes in their songs like "Help" and not rock and roll changes. He credited that, and Dylan of course, with inspiring him to form the Byrds and write folk-rock songs.

I like this blog ,especially the music posts, they're very enjoyable to read.

Posted by Walt C at October 30, 2009 06:55 PM

Ignorant, eh? I resemble that remark! But I'm standing by my guns: the Beatles created rock as we know it. Here's how:

1) Prior to the Beatles, the template was solo artists. After, it was groups. This state of affairs remains today. Yes, the Beach Boys were great, and quite popular, in the years before The Beatles--but The Beatles were and are a force of much greater magnitude.

2) Prior to the Beatles, bands made their money via singles. After, it was LPs. Music downloading has shifted the balance back to songs somewhat, but for the past forty years, it's basically been an album/CD format.

3) Prior to the Beatles, bands were disposable, with careers lasting months. After, they were units with lifespans of years, creative arcs, etc.

4) Prior to the Beatles, bands performed in much smaller venues, as part of lineups of acts--music hall culture. After, they performed in stadia. Tours became national and international affairs.

5) Prior to The Beatles, no pop group received much critical attention, and certainly no respect from the keepers of high culture. Yes, Dylan was acknowledged prior to 1966-67, but it was The Beatles, and specifically Sgt. Pepper, that set the parameters for rock criticism that we still labor under today. There's a reason John Lennon was on the cover of the first Rolling Stone.

6) Prior to The Beatles, it was laughable to ask a "pop star" his/her opinion on matters of import. After, rock musicians have been looked to as oracles, gurus, genuine political leaders.

Now obviously The Beatles weren't working in a vacuum, but they were the prime movers in all of this stuff. And I'm also not arguing that all the changes were great for rock music or popular culture; the guys themselves were divided on what they'd wrought. But by luck, genius, commercial force and being in tune with their times, The Beatles rewrote the rules of the game, and those rules are by and large still in effect today. So: nyah!

As to the commenter who sneered about The Beatles being marketed to teenagers in the suburbs--yes, that too. The Beatles, even more than Elvis, were the first band-as-product. But you can't hold J/P/G/R accountable for that any more than you can charge Mick and Keith with murder at Altamont.

It doesn't surprise me that nobody can jam to The Beatles, Bernard. That's not their aesthetic--although they could jam plenty well, as some of the Get Back sessions attest. Ascertaining what music will be remembered in 500 years is strictly opinion; but the fact that I, a nominally well-educated American could get to 40 without having heard ANY Bach might give you pause. That I'm ignorant about...Beatle history, not so much.

Hip hop today is much more influential than the Beatles music ever was. It's a whole idiom.
Well, I can't really fault you for swinging for the fences, after my claiming that The Beatles created rock as we know it, but you're comparing an entire genre (hip hop) to four people (actually two). That you can even make this comparison with a straight face shows just how influential The Beatles were--in just eight years as a working band.

And as far as rock goes, Little Richard, James Brown, and others (like Dylan) deserve much more credit than the Beatles.
I don't know what this means. Credit for what? Why Little Richard and not, say, Elvis? Or Ray Charles? Why James Brown and not, say, Barry Gordy? Popular culture is unending larceny; what makes The Beatles unique is how they blended and transcended their influences. As far as Dylan was concerned, it was hearing The Beatles that broke Dylan out of the folkie ghetto. In return, he introduced them to pot, which is a fair trade. You can say, "X person did this first" or "Y person did that first," but the overwhelming significance of The Beatles in the postwar West is simply unquestionable. Yes we've all heard the songs a million times and are sick of 'em; no, nobody can tell whether we'll be humming "Yesterday" in the year 2525 ("if Man is still alive"). But they are what they are, and to deny that is like preferring Golden Age Flash to Superman; nobody can argue taste, but--c'mon. I love Ray Charles, but the world isn't anxiously awaiting Ray Charles Rockband--and when discussing cultural influence, that stuff matters, even if it's fun to cop attitude.

As far as The Beatles versus The Stones, I think John Lennon said it best:

"I was always very respectful about Mick and the Stones. But (Mick) said a lot of sort of tarty things about the Beatles, which I am hurt by, because, you know, I can knock the Beatles, but don't let Mick Jagger knock them. Because I would like to just list what we did and what the Stones did 2 months after, on every fuckin' album and every fuckin' thing we did. And Mick does exactly the same - he imitates us. And I would like one of you fuckin' underground people to point it out. You know, Satanic Majesties is Pepper. We Love You, man, it's the most fuckin' bullshit, that's All You Need Is Love. I resent the implication that the Stones are like the revolutionaries and that the Beatles weren't. If the Stones were or are, the Beatles really were, too. They are not in the same class, music-wise or power-wise, never were."


Posted by Mike of Angle at October 30, 2009 08:46 PM

I really love the Stones. I like Jagger's swagger (his chateau is nice too) and sorry Mike, but "music to get drunk too" is great even if people like me have a foolish legacy of being too stupid to "get drunk" to it without booze. The Stones are fabulous. I can almost even dance to them, and I'm a big-footed galoot.

But John Lennon the Stones aren't. They didn't take a weekend to write John Sinclair (hey, I guess the Beatles really didn't either, if that matters). And I really just can't see Mick or Keith trying a bed-in to end a war, not that I don't envy the excellent use they have made of beds.

I admit to being appallingly ignorant about music, but I can't shake this feeling that John Lennon was a musical genius and a cultural genius, and not confined to a little old tradition of any kind. Maybe I just want to believe it. Maybe it's his funny glasses, or that unique radical spirit, or maybe it's that his seems to me to be the spirit of the 60s, the people's decade. I like that spirit, even if it was corrupted by evildoers and has been subsequently defamed ad nauseum.

So I prefer the Beatles to the Stones, even though Sympathy for the Devil, Satisfaction, and Gimme Shelter are really, really great songs. I love the Stones too, just not like I love John Lennon.

Of course, maybe the Beatles were (just?) a syncopated Anglican hymnody plugged into the rich tradition of Anglo-Celtic balladry. And maybe Bach was an accomplished German composer of organ music plugged into the rich harmonic tradition of the Lutheran church.

Or maybe that and so much more.

Here's John Sinclair, which deserves more than a few thousand views on Youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbNQnQCZReY

Posted by N E at October 30, 2009 10:11 PM

I love your writing about Bach, but that last paragraph makes me think of a quote by the jazz pianist Joanne Brackeen that she dropped out of music school because they had names for things that seemed incredibly obvious to her.

Anyways, in the history of the world, how long were the rules of harmony followed strictly? A century maybe?

Posted by godoggo at October 31, 2009 12:27 AM

No, no, sorry, that was interesting. My favorite song with the II substituting for V thingy is Unsatisfied by the Replacements.

Posted by godoggo at October 31, 2009 01:03 AM

Regarding your statement about Lennon and McCartney learning harmony on a guitar, it's always been my impression that their first instrument was the piano. Keith Richard, on the other hand, clearly learned music on the guitar.
And don't take it wrong (because some of what I'm reading is really interesting and a helluva lot more insightful than anything I've got to say on the subject- especially the comment about the Stones being a tribute band to themselves- sad, but true- Keith Richard's solo stuff is better than almost everything the Rolling Stones did after Exile), but I think the Beatles vs Rolling Stones discussion was a regular feature of Tiger Beat and about 50 other magazines 40 some years ago.

Posted by rs at October 31, 2009 07:58 AM

I am always amazed how people have to grade music like a competition...I guess it is sign of our culture. If you like it, thats is all that matters...

As some of you might know, I am guitar player....have been playing for over 25 years. I appreciate all different styles and players from all genres. I tend to go for the real technical monster players like Satriani, Malmsteen, Vai,Eric Johnson, Chet Atkins, Django Reinhardt, Tommy Emmanuel, Stanley Jordan etc and so on, but i also like the raw power and emotion of blues players like Albert King, Albert Collins, Freddie King, Lonnie Johnson and so forth...on a pure technique perspective no one is going to confuse Albert King with Yngwie Malmsteen....and Malmsteen is by far a better technical player but so what, who cares...

My teeth get goose bumps when King hits his standard double stop slurs that he always does when playing a slow blues. I also get goose bumps when Malmsteen rips through a four octave sweep arpeggio as easily as you and I can tie our shoes. The point being both a great and i appreciate both...comparing as to who is better than whom is silly to me...Just enjoy them...

Arthur Silber has a good blog post on this fascination to measure one music against another but I can't find it...Well worth reading if you can find it on his blog. I think it is somewhere in his tribalism series.

Here is a clip of the remarkable Stanley Jordan playing Zeppelins's Stairway to Heaven...for those who don't Jordan or how he plays the guitar this will be a revelation for you.-Tony

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjXN3OLgoqs

Posted by tony at October 31, 2009 09:52 AM

Godoggo has it right.....the Replacements are the best rock band ever.

Posted by Aaron Datesman at October 31, 2009 11:02 AM

re: mike of angle

you don't say a thing about music! most of what you listed were pragmatic adjustments to the fact that they beatles were way popular, which, once more, no one is trying to take away from them. some of what you listed was simply wrong, like the beatles were the first group, and before them it was solo artists.
INHERITED WISDOM! EXAMINE IT!

"The Beatles rewrote the rules of the game, and those rules are by and large still in effect today."
yes, motherfucker, that's what i'm arguing. i'm also arguing that musically they weren't particularly innovative. and you haven't brought up anything against that, because the only people who say the beatles invented rock and roll are people who KNOW FUCK ALL ABOUT MUSIC!!!!

Posted by nnnnn at October 31, 2009 12:31 PM

A Beatles vs. Stones discussion? Sweet creeping Jesus...what a moldy chestnut.

How about giving it is a snappy title? Maybe: "The Bald Guy With a Ponytail Dilemma"? Wait, that sounds like a Mamet play. Oh well...

Posted by John at October 31, 2009 01:23 PM

I didn't wish to imply that the Stones were better than the Beatles. It's that I prefer listening to them. Just personal taste.

But the implication that Lennon is some kind of genius is simply redefining the meaning of the word genius. Bird and Trane were geniuses -- of this I have no doubt. So were Stravinsky and Debussy. Monk was a genius. Those guys completely transcended artistic boundaries. They invented a new language.

In pop music, James Brown is as close as it gets to a musical genius.

Now maybe culturally Lennon is a major figure, but musically -- and for me it's all about the music. I don't care about the pop culture phenomenon -- Lennon is a journeyman. The fact is that he did not invent anything. How can one call a man a music genius if he didn't invent one single new musical idea? Yes, A Day in the Life is inventive, but even Andrew Lloyd Webber had his inventive moments.


Posted by Bernard Chazelle at October 31, 2009 01:44 PM

My music posts are meant to bring peace to the world. Maybe this one did not.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at October 31, 2009 02:12 PM


Well, err, as to Lennon being a musical genius, or whether he invented any new musical idea, one did actually admit that one is actually an idiot about music.

But one is nonetheless steadfastly sticking to one's idiotic opinion, becauase it's supposed to be a free country.

Posted by N E at October 31, 2009 02:44 PM

This is why you whiffed on the Nobel, Chazelle. Obama is much more diplomatic with the opinions Rahm Emanuel tells him to have.

Posted by Marcus at October 31, 2009 09:09 PM

(You need to get out more).

Posted by Amanda at October 31, 2009 09:29 PM

(You need to get out more).

Posted by Amanda at October 31, 2009 09:29 PM

Musically the Beatles are very confining. Like a train on a track. If you want to have fun in a rock group, you'll cover Hendrix or the Stones or even Pink Floyd or CCR, but not the Beatles.

Joe Cocker found a way.

Posted by Svensker at November 2, 2009 03:57 PM