As you may know from experience, when moms and dads play “their” music, kids sometimes roll their eyes. But pump a Beatles tune through your iPod speakers, and you’re likely to find your children tapping their toes and singing right along with you. What’s so fascinating, however, isn’t just that the Fab Four’s appeal spans generations. It’s that each new generation of young listeners seems to fall in love with John, Paul, George, and Ringo much like kids did way back in the 1960s, when the mop-top band first burst onto the scene. How do The Beatles, a band that broke up nearly 40 years ago, continue to draw kids in and make lifelong fans out of them?
“Young people can love The Beatles the same way we can all love Beethoven even though we weren’t alive in Vienna in the 1800s,” says Glenn Gass, a Beatles specialist and professor of music at the University of Indiana. What sparks Beatles love? “In short, melody!” says Gass. “The melodic hooks and cheeriness of the music grabs smaller kids. Tweens find that same warmth and hopefulness in the music, but also the complexities and realities of their own lives,” he says. In addition to the joyous melodies, musicologists cite the consistent quality of the songs, the fact that they never seem dated, and their varying degrees of sophistication.
Love Those Lyrics
Few bands, past or present, have a songwriting team that can match John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Some of their lyrics are poetic and profound or make social statements. Others are silly and surreal. Dave Foster, a New York City–based musician who plays in a Beatles tribute band called Bubble and is the father of two young Beatles fans, is keenly aware of the kid appeal of the silly and surreal variety. “Some of the lyrics are so nonsensical and visual,” Foster says, “like ‘yellow matter custard’ and ‘the eggman’ in ‘I Am the Walrus.’”
While some of The Beatles’ amusing, if puzzling, lyrics are alleged to be drug-induced, others are intentionally sly and playful. Foster recounts how Lennon once received a letter from a young student that said his teacher was asking the children to analyze some Beatles’ lyrics. Lennon confessed that he had mischievously inserted some nonsense lines into the lyrics from a verse he remembered from childhood. Overall, Foster points out, The Beatles’ music is very positive. “Sure, there are sad songs,” he says, “but even the sad ones have humor.”
The humor surely resonates with kids, but so do the songs’ messages. Tunes like “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “We Can Work It Out,” and “All You Need Is Love” offer affirmations that kids are eager to hear. Sensitive listeners respond to the more serious stuff like “Let It Be” and “Help!” Unintentionally, Beatles’ music may actually be some of the best “kid music” ever recorded for grown-ups.
Music For Eternity
Christine Kompar, a music teacher in Brooklyn, NY, believes that The Beatles should be a part of every elementary school’s music curriculum. “It’s music that children can easily relate to, unlike much classical music, yet it still maintains musical depth,” she explains.
Bill Hedge, a Palo Alto, CA–based musician, father, and devoted Beatles fan, believes the Fab Four’s music is on par with that of the greatest classical composers. Hedge predicts that 200 years from now, The Beatles’ songbook will be studied in the world’s best music conservatories. In the way that Bach or Beethoven is familiar yet new at the same time, Hedge says, “The Beatles created music that is always fresh and new, even if you’ve heard it 100,000 times.”
Which Beatle Will You Be?
The Beatles: Rock Band video game allows your family to form a Beatles tribute band of your own. Or you can jam to the music on air guitar!
John Lennon Lead singer and rhythm guitarist. Witty and rebellious, John was often thought of as the Brainy Beatle. Some of his most enduring tunes: “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Come Together,” “All You Need Is Love,” and “Revolution.”
Paul McCartney Lead singer and bass guitarist. The Cute Beatle wrote these wildly popular tunes: “Yesterday,” “Let It Be,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Penny Lane,” and “Hey Jude.”
George Harrison Lead guitarist and background vocalist, George was the Quiet (introverted, spiritual) Beatle. Among his songwriting credits: “Taxman” and “Here Comes the Sun.”
Ringo Starr The drummer, Ringo is sometimes called the Sad Beatle, but he could also be a comedian and generally got along with everyone. His songwriting credits include: “Octopus’s Garden.”