Fellow ex-CityBeat writer Eric Himmelsbach has a review of How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'N' Roll, a nonfiction pop history by Elijah Wald, in the Los Angeles Times this week. From Himmelsback's recounting, it looks like Wald argues that the Beatles represent rock 'n' rolls' move away from the dance floor and away from black music in the mid-1960s. On that point I can't disagree. Himmelsbach writes:
... All music has shared a common thread: Underlying pop music's evolution, from ragtime on through hip-hop, has been the influence of black musicians. Black musicians usually give, Wald's book suggests, and white listeners are happy to take. That is, until the dreaded rock 'n' roll came along and cast aside African American influences like litter on the highway.
And he quotes Wald: "'... the Beatles destroyed rock 'n' roll, turning it from a vibrant (or integrated) dance music into a vehicle for white pap and pretension.'"
Maybe "destroyed" is the wrong word. The Beatles certainly helped fracture popular music and take it away from the dance floor, where it rarely returned. The mechanism, in part, was the misogynation of rock, for sure. For me, rock died a long time ago. I don't blame the Beatles, however. I think they tried to keep it evolving and, in fact, experimented with electronics, looping ("No. 9") and minimalism. It wasn't until the late '70s, when punk had its day and hair metal began repeating and exaggerating the staples of rock did the genre hit a creative wall. By that time, however, too much was invested in the rock industry, and the culture conglomerates kept it going even as disco, hip-hop and techno took over pop innovation in the 1970s and 1980s. My take.