Wednesday, April 30, 2014

In Search of The 21st Century Beatles

Big news! Chris Martin likes One Direction and, judging by the comments on, people aren't best pleased:

Now, I've already documented my viewpoint on matters like this, and when I was brainstorming ideas for today's blog post, I considered straight-up trolling the 'but they don't even write their own songs!' camp. I very nearly wrote an evil little thing about how One Direction are basically the same as The Beatles - something tailor-made to get The Gatekeepers of Musical Authenticity all riled up.

I eventually decided that 'Are One Direction The New Beatles?' wasn't an article I wanted to write, but I still see plenty of similarities between the two acts. I'm sure that many other people have made this point, but for all of their envelope-pushing, The Beatles had obsessive fans, feature films, and loads of hits, just like 1D.

Of course, the one big difference is practically irreconcilable: The Beatles played their own instruments and wrote their own songs, while One Direction do neither of these things. Also, I don't imagine that Harry Styles and Co. will ever embark upon an experimental phase à la The White Album.

"And we danced all night to the best song ever..."

It did get me thinking, though - what is the closest thing we've got to The Beatles right now?

The 'Head are still considered The Kings of Music in many circles, and OK Computer's status as The Best Album of All Time is pretty much canon by this point. But can they really contend with The Fab Four's legacy?
  • Legions of adoring fans? Definitely, although Radioheads are generally a lot more cynical than Directioners.

  • Hit singles? They've had seven UK Top Ten singles; Paranoid Android, which peaked at #3, was the highest-charting. Not bad, but hardly comparable to The Beatles in their heyday. Radiohead have always been about the long-players, mind; OK Computer, Kid A, Amnesiac, Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows all topped the album chart, which is quite a streak.

  • Experimental moments? Boy howdy.

  • Band members known individually? While Thom Yorke is very much the face of the band, each of his cohorts has found success in his own right. Most notable are Jonny Greenwood, who does film soundtracks, and Phil Selway, who released a solo album in 2010.

Red Hot Chili Peppers
Their blockbusting brand of California funk is reviled by many, but bands don't stick around for thirty-plus years without doing something right. Are the Chili Peppers this generation's Beatles?
  • Legions of adoring fans? We're not talking Beatlemania here, but they're certainly very popular. Pretty much every single person I know likes them.

  • Hit singles? Fewer than you might expect, actually. By the Way and Dani California hit #2 in the UK, while Under the Bridge accomplished the same feat in the States back in '91. Their CV is bereft of a #1 hit on either side of the Atlantic.

  • Experimental moments? I haven't heard everything the RHCP have released, and so I can't be entirely certain. I don't think so, though.

  • Band members known individually? Very much so, particularly Flea (who has appeared in the Back to the Future movies, voiced Donny in The Wild Thornberrys, and collaborated with Thom Yorke and others under the name Atoms for Peace) and John Frusciante (who, granted, isn't in the band any more, but if anything that just proves that he's his own musical entity - the dude has almost a dozen solo albums under his belt). I remember reading an interview with the Chilis in Q magazine - this was just before Stadium Arcadium came out, I think - and they actually interviewed each band member individually. Even the drummer got a couple of paragraphs dedicated to him!   

It was Chris Martin what sparked this train of thought, so it only seems fair to see how his merry men measure up to The Beatles.
  • Legions of adoring fans? Loads - Coldplay can sell out stadiums without breaking a sweat.

  • Hit singles? They've done pretty well for themselves; Viva la Vida topped the charts in the UK and the USA, thus accomplishing a feat that no Radiohead song has ever managed. Paradise (UK #1) was another big hitter.

  • Experimental moments? Nothing as barmy as Revolution 9, but in fairness to Coldplay, they do genuinely seem to change their sound with each new album. Still, they've never strayed too far from the middle of the road.

  • Band members known individually? They've all done their own thing from time to time (drummer Will Champion even appeared in Game of Thrones), but Chris Martin is the only household name.
Now is probably a good time to mention that I'm not overly fussed on The Beatles. I appreciate the impact that they had on popular music, but I've never bothered to stump up the cash for any of their enduringly full-priced CDs, and I don't feel that my life is any less full for it.

Having said that...I don't think we'll ever see a band like The Beatles again, and here are two reasons why:
  1. Achieving chart success is a very different game nowadays, what with downloads and interwebz and so on. It's no longer enough to write a fun song and get it in HMV; you need viral videos, a strong social media presence, and all that other jazz. Besides, 'serious' artists are no longer judged on their chart placings - it felt kind of weird to even suggest that Radiohead's consistent inability to rack up a #1 hit has any bearing on anything.
  2. If John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison were young musicians in the year 2014, there's no way they'd form a band. They'd each buy a laptop and make music individually, probably under names that make them sound like they're proper bands (I'm looking at you, Eels). It's far easier to be an auteur in this day and age - if you've got some great musical ideas, you can lay them down on your own, without the input of any troublesome bandmates.
So that settles that discussion. Feel free to leave a comment and suggest some other bands who might be The New Beatles.

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