The Beatles, not a rock band?

I have a friend who insists that the Beatles are not a rock band but rather a “pop” band. Now, the Wikipedia page, both on the Beatles and on the history of rock, seem to agree with me. But I’ve heard more than one person agree with him that they are not a rock band, so I’ll give a round-up of the claims:

  • They didn’t turn up the volume enough.
  • They weren’t bluesy enough, and rock is basically a form of blues.
  • They took influence from a wide range of styles, which is more characteristic of pop than of rock.
  • The chord structures of their songs aren’t like those of rock songs.
  • They just kind of sound poppy–listen to “Drive My Car” for Christ’s sake!

What do you think?

Depends on which album you’re talking about. I’d probably generally label them as “Pop-Rock.”

I say rock. I think context is relevant. They were pretty edgy at the time they were producing music.

They were the Beatles. They were a category of their own, and they played whatever the hell they felt like.

didn’t they have a song, “we’re a little bit bubble gum and a little bit rock and roll”?


I third this. They were influenced by a whole range of artists: Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, R&B. They certainly could play rock and roll, which you can see in their cover of Rock and Roll Music. Their early hits were pretty light, but that’s what got airplay on white radio stations. They certainly influenced the later British Invasion rock/blues artists and set the stage for psychedelic rock and the album format. Wiki is pretty interesting:

Basically, this argues that the Beatles pre-dated the rock/pop split. By '67 their music was edgy enough that i don’t think it could be called pop.

“I Want to Hold Your Hand” is poppy. “A Day in the Life” or uhh… “Revolution 9” are not so much. The separation is of course early vs. late. Or pop-rock (or pop-rock n’ roll) vs. … esoteric? proto-psychedelic?

I wouldn’t label them as rock, but as rock 'n roll. Maybe that distinction doesn’t make a difference to some people, but it is a different thing to me.

Beatles, Elvis, Chuck Berry, rock 'n roll

AC/DC, Van Halen, Aerosmith, rock

“Soft rock” definitely.

Yep. Even early on, when a reporter asked John what sort of music it was, he said “it’s *our *music.”

“Rock” is almost a meaningless term anyway.

When the Beatles covered “Twist and Shout” it was as rock n’ roll as anyone else had ever been up to that point. They did a lot of rock n’ roll. A lot of what they did could be called “pop” too. It’s not an either or. They played what they wanted to. With a little ‘help’ from their friends.

Sounds like your friend hasn’t ever heard “Helter Skelter.” Sit him down sometime and blow his ears off.

At the time, there was no question about this at all. The Beatles were rock, or rock & roll, or whatever devil music was called.

It was only later, after music turned much harder, that people could make the distinction. By these later standards, some of what they did was pop rather than rock. And that’s not even getting into what Eleanor Rigby or Michelle might be.

There are some contexts in which the distinction makes sense, at least on a song by song basis. If you’re talking about them historically, then it makes little sense to label them as anything but a rock band, since that’s how they were seen for the entirety of their active career. (I don’t remember anybody talking about them as pop, and if that distinction was used in Britain it may not have been an issue in America.) If you want to argue about the difference between rock & roll and rock, you can do that to, and we’ve had a few threads on it (with the consensus being that The Beatles were rock).

John and Paul hoovered in influences from every kind of music present in the 1950s and combined those in an amplified form. It never really made sense to stick a one-word label on a group that changed their sound every year they were in existence, and drove changes in the entire music world at the same time. But the same can be said for “rock” and most of the definitions in the OP are pretty silly, IMO.

What’s the difference between pop and rock? Seriously, I don’t know.

In my experience, “pop” refers to safe music meant to sell really, really well. It’s not something radical or objectionable or anything.

By this measure, I don’t see how the Beatles can be called pop. Of course if “Drive My Car” came out today it would be pop, but that’s because our expectations have been warped by bands like…The Beatles!

The Beatles were revolutionary and dangerous in their time. So that’s one of the big reasons I can’t call them “pop.”

The term rock is vague, but the Beatles qualify. They shared the charts in 1967 with Frank Sinatra, The Association, Ed Ames, Vicki Carr and Bobby Vinton. All of those names sang old school pop music in the Your Hit Parade vein.

There’s no doubt that a lot of The Beatles music was lightweight bubblegum, some of it - A Taste Of Honey, Till There Was You - was old school pop. But overall, they have to go down in the rock category. I consider them the catalyst in the change from rock & roll to rock.

One point is correct, they weren’t bluesy at all. The most obvious evidence of this is that there’s not one Willie Dixon song in their repertoire, and Dixon wrote a bucketload of good songs that were covered by nearly every other British Invasion band.

To the extent that they can be pinned down, the Beatles are power pop—which is a subgenre of rock.

Up until the early 80s, “pop” meant Top 40 and was played on AM radio stations whereas “rock” meant “Album Oriented Rock” and was mostly played on FM radio stations. Also, to rock listeners, pop was considered lightweight, unsubstantial, wimpy, and often annoying.

As for The Bith Shuffle’s post about his friend considering the Beatles a “pop” band rather than a “rock” band, I was wondering if he was dismissing the group with that assessment. If so, I think his argument is a good example of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

Classic rock. :cool: