I am no Beatles or rock historian. My understanding is the Beatles were pretty unremarkable for their time at the outset. By the end of their run, they were geniuses. Somewhere in between, perhaps on one album, in one song, or perhaps at one moment in one song, the first tidbit of genius first poked out. Was there such a moment, what was it?
The first 5 seconds of “I Feel Fine”.
I don’t know exactly when it started, but by the time they were playing clubs in Germany they were definitely not unremarkable. That was before they had produced an album, or were known outside of a small circle. They revolutionized rock numerous times as they released albums, and individually continued to revolutionze the genre after they split up (at least some of them did).
To be fair, when they were playing the club in Germany once they got “discovered” they pretty much had to change everything about themselves. They knew they had the music chops (writing and playing), but there was a lot of stuff about eating fried chicken on stage and joking about used condoms and stuff that their manager told them they had to cut out if they wanted to be big. So the work they did when they were playing clubs in Germany didn’t revolutionize much since they pretty much had to forget about that part of their career before they made it big.
September 1962, when George Martin selected the Lennon/McCartney composed “Love Me Do” to be the Beatles’ first single over Mitch Murray’s more polished “How Do You Do It?”. This was the first time a rock act debuted with their own material and made the charts. Then a couple of months later, they recorded another Lennon/McCartney song, “Please, Please Me”, and took it to #1, also a first in rock history. Then they blew the doors off the US market with yet a third song of their own material “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.
Showing that rock acts could generate hits using their own material paved the way for the music’s unique personal and generational perspective. It was a blow, though not a fatal one, to the Tin Pan Alley style of manufactured song-writing.
So, really, being successful with their own material (even if you want to argue whether LMD and PPM are “rock”) was the first revolutionary thing the Beatles did that mattered.
Sounds pretty fair. But it wasn’t the antics that I was referring to. I think they had developed some of the key elements of their musical style by then.
I’d place it at the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band. That’s when they ascended to cultural significance. Here’s the Wikipedia entry:
They “ascended to cultural significance” long before that. They’d already made two films and had tons of #1 albums and singles. Brian Wilson wrote Pet Sounds in response to hearing Rubber Soul, to try to create something equally as good. They’d already had serious music critics (i.e., not just rock journalists) write about their work. Revolver sounds far more revolutionary than Sgt. Pepper.
When McCartney wrote down “Yesterday”.
Before that they were just a wildly popular boy band. “Yesterday” was the first indication that they were capable of much, much more, and Lennon and Harrison both rose to the new high bar that McCartney had set.
There really isn’t one particular defining moment. They started out great and finished at stupendous.
I remember reading that Please Please me - the Album- was the first album by anyone to have more original songs written by the performers than covers of other people’s songs. That was considered revolutionary at the time.
They were innovating and going over new ground almost from the beginning. In addition to the things mentioned, “From Me to You” innovated by starting out with vocals (which had no real words) and no instrumental intro. There were also very innovative song structures, too (“Yesterday,” for instance, didn’t have a repeated chorus).
There is no right answer - or, rather, there are many right answers depending on how you define “revolutionize.”
I would go with when the came off the road, stopped touring and starting to use the studio to make music they could not / chose not to perform live (it was impossible back then, but is possible now given synthesizers and other innovations - but that didn’t matter to them since they wanted off the road anyway).
Their songs grew in sophistication as clearly did their arrangements. They entered their middle phase - Help, Rubber Soul and Revolver - where, legendarily, every song sprouted a whole new genre of rock (an exaggeration, but they were instrumental in introducing power pop, psychedelic rock, etc.). And by Sgt. Peppers - although I would go back to Help! - they firmed up the “album” as the unit of artistic statement in popular music, over the single.
These films, “A Hard Days Night” and “Help” were also way ahead of the time. Before MTV was a twinkle in anybody’s eye these two set the stage, they were full length music videos, before such a thing existed.
They still hold up well after all these years and are worth seeing again. If you are young and have not seen these films, you really should.
The Beatles were never a “boy band.” Boy bands don’t play their own instruments, write their own songs, or pay dues by sweating through marathon sets in seedy overseas dives before they ever see the insode of a recording studio.
Lots of performers recorded their own songs before the Beatles did. Even if restricting “anyone” to the rock ‘n’ roll genre, Chuck Berry was releasing whole albums of his own songs in the ‘50s; Little Richard’s early albums were also predominantly his own songs. The Beach Boys’ first album beat the Fabs to the punch as well.
Buddy Holly was way ahead of them on this score.
He hit with his own “That’ll Be the Day” in 1957.
He was also ahead of the Beatles in being involved on the production side.
The Beatles as performers were adequate, but not exceptional or revolutionary.
It was the songwriting, particularly the Lennon/McCartney compositions that went significantly beyond the terribly common three- and four-chord patterns, that broke into new territory. And we’re not talking about one or two differently formed songs (as some others had done before, here and there), but a whole catalog of them, dozens and dozens, one hit after another. They blended pop sensibility with blues/rock edge in a unique way that commanded attention and proved immensely popular.
I don’t think it can be distilled into a single moment. There was a continuum of increasing innovation that grew into epic proportion. Identifying one key turning point would be like trying to define the precise instant when a tidal wave was formed – it defies that degree of precision. And just as with a tidal wave, there comes a time when one can see its power, and one can certainly see the effects it has wrought.
They singlehandedly started the British Invasion, which was a total game change. It was one of those moments, like Elvis’ appearance, when all the professionals who had been carefully building up their audience up until then suddenly sounded old-fashioned. End of discussion. (I usually dislike it when people say that, but in this case I can’t resist.)
Okay, they were a hardworking cover band before they reinvented themselves as a boy band.
Seriously, most of what they played when they started out other people’s stuff.