More than fifty years after
his career began, Sir Paul McCartney can still sell out
A ticket to his September concert in Petco Park, San
Diego, costs $133.10, about the same as a concert by a
currently hip artist like Bruno Mars.
In 2013, he ranked in the top 20 in terms of
Sir Paul has an ace up his sleeve that
few other artists can boast.
He was part of the legendary rock act The Beatles.
That band broke up way back in 1970 and never got
back together for a reunion.
With frontman John Lennon dead since 1980 and
guitarist George Harrison since 2001, a concert with Paul
McCartney is the equivalent to fans of a one-man Beatles
More than 60% of Paul's playlists come
from the Beatles' catalog.
It's a percentage that has increased over the last
When Paul played with Wings from 1971-81, he didn't play any
As Paul's image metamorphosized from a contemporary
artist into a legendary one, fans attending his concerts
expected him to play the songs which have made him a legend. Most of these fans
probably weren't even born when Paul recorded his early
Beatles singles like "Love Me Do." If Paul had never
been in the Beatles, you have to wonder if he would have
ever had a career or one which has lasted as long.
I am not disparaging the man's
But neither am I so naïve to attribute his current
success' foundation to his solo career or his stint with
Wings. Sir Paul
got on the map and stayed on the map because of his
inclusion in pop's most successful band.
The Beatles were both a phenomenally
critically and commercially successful band.
To date, they've sold over a billion records.
They had nineteen number one albums in the U.S and 15
in the UK.
Thirty years after they broke up, a compilation album spent
eight weeks at #1.
They have 16 of the 100 most successful tracks of all
time, according to the United World Chat.
Rolling Stone magazine lists four of their
albums as the top 10 greatest albums of all time.
Their songs continue to get airplay and covered to
In an age when records seem to get
broken shortly after they're set, how is it that more than
40 years after the Beatles dissolved that no other band or
artist has come close to surpassing them?
Were the Beatles just a fluke of nature that shows up
once a millennium?
The Beatles' music really was catchy
and captured the times, but that alone would not have made
them legendary or this successful.
Other bands from the 1960's also wrote catchy tunes
in the spirit of the times.
The Beatles' legendary status, no
doubt, was aided by them showing up at the right time.
Their first records were recorded just as television
was becoming an ever more important visual medium for
Kennedy and Richard Nixon engaged in a televised debate in
the run up to the 1960 election.
The minority who only heard the debate over the radio
considered Nixon the winner.
The rest who saw a better made up and attractive
Kennedy via the television pronounced Kennedy the champion,
and Kennedy went on to beat Nixon in November.
The suited-up Beatles with their mop top haircuts,
seen performing on TV, elevated their fame in ways radio
alone could not.
Another mark in their favor was the
state of early 1960's music. American popular music was
dominated by the Brill Building-Tin Pan Alley songsmiths.
Professionals wrote catchy songs to order and
producers divvied them out to singers or bands.
Then, along came the
Beatles writing their own equally memorable songs, not
dependent on a well-oiled background machine to generate
choice material for them.
Simply being the originators of their
own material and a competent band who could play their own
instruments put the Beatles head and shoulders above most
bands of the early and even later 1960's.
A huge number of outfits used session musicians on
their hit records and didn't write their own material.
Even by 1967, you had massively successful bands like
the Turtles and the Monkees making it on to the national
charts without authoring a single tune or playing a single
The Beatles were not the first act to
pen and play their own material.
Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and Sam Cooke had already
done do. But
they were immediately granted more cred because of it in
comparison to the majority of performance-only acts from
that time period. Now
comes the qualitative question.
Was their material catchier than memorable Brill
Building-style tunes like "Downtown," "I'm Into Something
Good," "Sweets For My Sweet," and "River Deep Mountain
High," songs which continue to be played and covered to this
day just like classic Beatles' tunes?
' Probably no more or
The Beatles' tunes (and hence, the
Beatles) and the Brill Building factory-ordered songs remain
classics for the very same reasons.
They were well written songs to begin with and, the
more important reason by far, they
charted at a time when there was little fragmentation.
When the Beatles played live on The Ed Sullivan
Show for the first time in 1964, 73m people watched
among a total U.S. population of about 192m.
And these people really watched.
Back then, there was no way to record TV programs for
Tuning into Ed Sullivan every Sunday night was an American
didn't have to compete with cable shows, countless talk
shows, and reality TV.
So here you have a band in an
era before vast music segmentation playing to an American
audience with relatively undivided attention. Wouldn't any band
love that! And
because the songs were infectious and planted into the
brains of an entire generation, they stayed on radio
playlists into the next decade and the decade after that and
the decade after that.
It helped the Beatles' artistic image tremendously
that they broke up before they could commercially decline
and that they never got back together to perform or release
a submediocre reunion album.
Music genres diversified by the late
1960's. You now
had classifications like blues rock, folk rock, country
rock, garage rock, jazz-rock fusion.
The number of genres only grew from there.
Any later contenders to the Beatles' throne would
have been playing within a smaller niche in this fragmented
market, their tunes having to compete for airplay against
not just contemporary bands, but all the classic stuff from
the 1950's and 1960's that never went off the airwaves after
the 1980's. Post 2000, in the digital era, any
Beatles wannabee would be fighting to get heard among all
the trance, rap, hip hop, country, world music, etc.
This isn't to say our contenders
couldn't make it.
Nowadays, with reality television or a YouTube viral
video, there are more avenues to become famous but, with
greater competition for your ear drums, for shorter time
successful, it's easier to rake in the money more quickly,
as fame today is instantly globalized.
Lady Gaga, a complete unknown 6-7 years ago, now has
an estimated net worth ($220m) equal to Brittney Spears who
has been around much longer.
Justin Bieber's net worth at age 20 ($200m) is equal
to the net worth of Lionel Ritchie, Placido Domingo, Better
Midler, and Tina Turner, all who've been around for multiple
decades. In 2013, Bieber made just slightly more in earnings
than classic rocker Bruce Spingsteen. Beyonce's $450m net
worth is the same as Dolly Parton's and surpasses the
coffers of Barbra Streisand and former Beatles George
Harrison and Ringo Starr.
Gaga, Bieber, and Beyonce won't likely
be passing on classic tunes for the coming generations and
could well be forgotten by the masses within two decades.
There's too much music, too much choice, and too
little attention span.
Springsteen rocks on 40 years after "Born To Run"
because he didn't have to compete with Spotify, Pandora, and
YouTube streams playing infinite varieties of music catering
to individual's now eclectic tastes.
He was able to lock in his fan base before his fans
moved on to the next big thing.
Gaga, Bieber, and Beyonce, while making bucketloads
more per year than Springsteen ever did, could find
themselves out of fashion just as quickly as they came into
Fragmentation isn't limited to the
The most watched television broadcast in American history,
based on ratings and share, remains the M*A*S*H*
season finale from February 1983, with 121.6m viewers, and
it's unlikely to ever be surpassed.
This show was broadcast at a time when there were
only three American television networks, no original cable
programming and very little cable subscriptions, and minimal
M*A*S*H* had also been on the air for 11 years and
locked in a loyal nationwide fan base who had fewer shows to
Fifteen years later, with more television choices and more
options when to watch, the overly hyped Seinfeld
season finale aired and attracted just 76m viewers.
Would these finales, if airing today, manage to
attract even 25m live viewers?
Like The Ed Sullivan Show, M*A*S*H*
and, much less so, Seinfeld were events.
People gathered around the TV to view them as they
the only thing on the television at present which can
approximate these past events is the annual American
spectacles regularly draw more than 100m viewers.
People often wonder why there aren't
any more Mozarts, Beethovens, or Bachs today. These titans of composition
were the Beatles of their time period.
Likely there are.
I went online and did a search and came up with a few
names, none of which I'm sure you have ever heard of.
American Jay Greenberg began playing the cello at age
3 and entered the renowned Juilliard School at age 10.
He is best "known" for his Symphony No. 5.
By age 10, Briton Shane Thomas could play piano to a
high standard and compose classical music scores despite
practicing for only four hours per week.
Bogdan Alin Ota has been hailed as the "Mozart of
Composer-conductor Matthew Aucoin was pronounced as "a
modern-day Mozart" and "the next Leonard Bernstein" at only
24 years of age.
But just because all of the above
mentioned names (and many more if I spent additional hours
digging them up) may have the raw talent of a Mozart, they
will never really become Mozarts. They live in very different times.
Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach established their
widespread reputations in a time when classical music
was popular music.
However exceptional the compositions, they could be
singled out as so and passed on to succeeding generations
because enough people heard them early on for signature
pieces to become standards, much like the Beatles.
It also helped that the composers in those centuries
faced more feeble competition.
At the beginning of the 18th century in
Europe, less than half the males were literate. We won't even bother
with the limited opportunities for women -- that's a whole
other topic. By the
end of that century, the figure hovered around 65%.
The average rural farmboy from 1750, a potential
Mozart, Beethoven, or Bach in the making, didn't have access
to cheap electronic keyboards or scholarships to Berklee,
Juillard, or the Royal Academy of Music to develop and
nurture his talent.
Today's larger collection of Mozarts
would be unheard of to the general public.
They'd be film composers or conductors, never gaining
enough critical mass for their material to be passed on
through the generations to turn them into tomorrow's
You can only become a titan if you're
so large that everyone has seen and heard you. Yet as
celebrity becomes more ubiquitous and ephemeral and the
ability to create more decentralized, how many modern bands,
actors, authors, composers, companies/startups, or whatevers
can gain a mindhold to plant themselves permanently
in the public's collective consciousness?
We live in a disposable culture.
We're not expected to work for one company or have
just one job position.
The disposable mentality has become so widespread
that we're not even expected to have just one spouse.
There are so many giants around that everyone
seems of normal height.
Titans as we once understood them may well be a piece
of nostalgia left behind with the drive-in movie.