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volume 3
july 2000

The rise and fall of the experimental style of the Beatles


  3. Methodology and materials
by Tuomas Eerola
  To research the adequacy of the concept of style, the recording career of the Beatles was delineated into periods and each period was characterized by significant stylistic features. Every occurrence of the features across the Beatles' recording career (1962-70) was registered. The resulting statistical distribution was compared to the model of the normative life span of the style. Next, the outcomes were related to the concrete level by using the concept of prototype, revealing those songs that fulfilled the criteria for as many features as possible belonging to the experimental period. For a comparison, the early and the late style periods were examined in a similar way.
1 Approach. My aim was to study the life span of the experimental period of the Beatles and compare the results with the model. As for the music of the Beatles, this study was a preliminary one, centering on the chosen stylistic features and their distribution. I approached this task in stages:
  1. I defined the musical periods of the Beatles and separated the music of each period into significant stylistic features, relying on literature in both instances.
  2. I registered every occurrence of the features across the Beatles' recording career (1962-70) and compared the resulting statistical distribution to the model normative life span of the style.
  3. Then I compared these results with the general knowledge of the Beatles' periods, that is, I related my results back to the concrete level by using the concept of prototype. I discovered those songs that fulfilled the criteria for as many features as possible belonging to the experimental period, in order to learn what would a "typical" song — on the basis of my results — of the period be like.
  For a comparison, the early and late style periods were also examined in a similar way. The way the periods are commonly evaluated is also briefly considered. Because the time span studied here is notably smaller (approximately eight years) than in the model, which covers approximately a hundred years, it is debatable if the model is applicable in this regard. Gjerdingen (1988: 106), however, offers his model with some reservations as a general one for the context of Western music.
2 Analysis material. The material of my study consists of the music that was written by the Beatles for the Beatles, published by the English record companies EMI and Apple officially in 1962-70. In the analysis I have used The Beatles Complete — Scores (Fujita, Hagino, Kubo, and Sato, 1993), which is the best available notation, although it is not a perfect score (cf. source criticism by Koskimäki, 1998: 127, 143). Unclear or conflicting parts I have verified by listening to the album or using other sources: for the instrumentation the most important ones being: Lewisohn, 1988; Dowlding, 1989; MacDonald, 1994; and for the lyrics: Aldridge, 1969.
3 Principles of the analysis. As there is no analytical apparatus for easily distinguishing different features or elements in popular music styles, they have to be defined case by case. The five basic elements mentioned previously form the basis of the analytical categories. Tagg (1982: 154) has presented a similar distinction for the analysis of popular music distinguishing the lyrics as a separate element. Others also outline the elements of analysis of rock music more (Stuessy, 1994) or less (Moore, 1993) similarly, distinguishing the lyrics nonetheless as an important element (see also: LaRue, 1970: 20). For a closer distinction between the different type of lyrics, I have adopted the classification of Davis (1989: 81-82) concerning the subjects of popular music lyrics. She arranges them unambiguously according to the following topics: history, realism, romance, tabulation — general stories — and fantasy. In my material realistic topics are regarded as equivalent to political lyrics and fantasy psychedelic lyrics.
  Also worth mentioning is that not all the parameters of the music are eligible for change or the change does not take place in the same time scale, which has been said to be common in music (Merriam, 1964: 309; Meyer, 1989: 101). For example, this type of stabile features — or normative traits as Treitler calls them — are in rock music the basic beat and partly the form of the songs, both being nowadays almost the same as forty years ago.
4 The music of the Beatles: stylistic periods and features. The development of the career of the Beatles is normally divided into three style periods (cf. Heinonen and Eerola, 1998: 3-4). Some authors describe or emphasize the division slightly differently, for example, Salmenhaara (1969: 51), Riley (1987: 268) and Martin (Martin & Hornsby, 1979) maintain that the psychedelic phase was during the years 1966-67. Porter (1979) suggests a division of four periods, because he sees the experimental period as two separate phases. However, his division is basically the same as the division described above but problematic on some accounts, as his work is not based on the order the songs were originally recorded and published. Nevertheless, the division referred to above, appears to be confirmed in the comments the Beatles have made about their career on different occasions. In the following I have listed those characteristic stylistic features of both periods which are used in this study:
The early period: The experimental period:
- cover songs
- ornament,
- basic line-up,
- three-part singing,
- harmonica,
- woo and yeah-screams,
- romantic lyrics.
- changing meter,
- flattened VII chord (bVII),
- tone repetition,
- descending bassline,
- static harmony,
- classical instruments,
- Indian instruments,
- sound effects,
- political lyrics,
- nostalgic lyrics, and
- psychedelic lyrics.
  As for this essay, it is sufficient to note that as the late period forms an extension of ideas from both of the previous periods, the main focus can be directed towards the experimental period. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to observe how the late period is portrayed by the sum of the previous periods in the quantitative section.
5 Procedures. The material in this study is significantly different from the study from which the model is taken, so I have had to adapt the model to fulfill my needs. It is also essential to be able to divide and arrange the Beatles' recording career in a coherent way in order to make valid comparisons, while keeping the results still understandable in the light of Beatles' career, where the albums are held as the main unit.
  Recording the occurrence of features and changing them into numbers happens as follows: If a certain feature exists in the song, it receives a value of one. For example in the instrumentation, if there is a string quartet in a song, a value of one is scored for that feature. In other words, I will deal with the features only if they fulfill my definitions or not, without ranking or rating them any further, that is, without considering the length or the style of playing. One song can represent several features, which may even represent different style periods. For example, the song Help! (1965) uses the basic line-up, but also features both the flattened seventh degree chord and note repetition.
  This method is equivalent to that used in Gjerdingen's study. The time interval is five years in his study, but I have applied his results to suit the material of this study better. I reconstructed his results from the appendix of his book (Gjerdingen, 1988: 271-283) and doubled the interval to ten. Consequently Gjerdingen's results are divided into twelve parts (120 years / 10 years), the interval being simpler and closer to the material in this study. The shape of Gjerdingen's results remains intact after this operation.
  It makes sense to keep the albums as the intervals for chronological presentation, because they are the units by which their career is characterized. Such a division has been used by Dowlding displaying how the authorship of the songs is divided between Lennon and McCartney (Dowlding, 1989: 300). My aim has been to establish a division that would be as close as possible to the "pure" chronological division Gjerdingen uses, but would keep the albums as the unit of division. When the recording period (7 years) is divided by 12 (the same amount of intervals as in Gjerdingen's results after reconstruction), the result is an interval of approximately seven months, termed recording projects — cfr. Heinonen and Eerola, 1998: 9-12, for the full account of the division. Thus the Beatles' career is divided into twelve periods, and the results are immediately comparable to Gjerdingen's results and easily understood in the terms of the Beatles' career.
  I have always used the first recording date of the song, meaning those recordings the Beatles made for EMI under contract, when assigning their positions in the chronology. Mark Lewisohn's Recording Sessions (1988) is by far the best source in these matters. In most cases, it took a couple of days to record a song and the Beatles often worked simultaneously on several songs a day. Remakes or overdubs made later are not vital to the overall recording chronology used in this study. Songs, including EPs and singles, are arranged by their recording dates into periods which are labeled by corresponding, published album names.
  On each album there is a different number of songs (with the singles and EPs the average is 15-18 songs/album, except 32 songs on White Album). Therefore I treat my samples as a relative amount (%/album). I have compared the results of this division into the recording projects to the results obtained from absolute chronological division (of seven-month periods) and to the results obtained from a division based solely on the albums. The results are not significantly altered. The differences are evident in those cases where there is a low amount of samples of the feature but the results tend to be generally similar.
  2000 © Soundscapes