U2 the modern Beatles?

That’s what Todd Rundgren thinks, apparently. I attended his lecture on the Beatles at IU and I asked him, during the Q&A section: “Is there a band today that you think is equivalent to the Beatles?” He said he thought it was U2, and said that what made them similar to the Beatles was that they have made an effort to change their music over the course of their career and that their popularity and success is the closest thing in a contemporary band to what the Beatles achieved.

I didn’t buy it. “If you ask young musicians and bands who are just starting out today who their influences are, you really think a lot of them are going to say U2?” I asked him. He claimed that they might not be as influential as the Beatles were, but that their fame and success make up for it as well as their evolving musical styles, and also Bono’s political activism (Africa, specifically.)

I didn’t continue the questioning after that, as many other people had questions as well. But if I were to ask him further, I guess I would have asked him who specifically in terms of musical influence has been equivalent to the Beatles. I don’t know what he would have said to that.

But I just don’t get the comparison of U2 with the Beatles. I don’t know anyone who really, actively likes U2. I spent four years deep inside the college rock scene, where America’s new rock music is being invented, and didn’t know anyone who liked U2 or cared about them enough to talk about them. Anyone under the age of thirty, anyway. That, to me, indicates that U2 has not been anywhere near as important to the ongoing creation of music as the Beatles have. I don’t dislike U2, but they do not seem musically relevant to me.

What do you think about Todd Rundgren’s answer? I really would have expected someone who was as deeply involved with music, and who had his finger on the “pulse” of rock music and creativity, to have a better answer.

Short answer: There ISN’T any modern band that’s as widely loved and as widely influential as the Beatles were. There CAN’T be, because this isn’t 1964 and the media have changed drastically.

Todd Rundgren is absolutely right to say that U2 comes closer to being the modern Beatles than any other band, but even Bono and the Edge would admit that their appeal and influence are far more limited.

In the same way, if you asked Todd Rundgren “Who’s the current Elvis,” he could name some very talented, very popular singers… but there’s absolutely NOBODY as universally popular or as widely mimicked today as Elvis was in 1956. There can’t be. There will never again be just 3 TV networks, and there will never again be one musical act that an entire generation rallies around and identifies with.

With due respect to Mr. Rundgren, no.

Now, I really, really enjoy U2’s music. They’re a fantastic band and have been for three decades. A list of great U2 songs is as long as your arm. In my experience that are VERY popular with youth, and have been for a damned long time.

But the Beatles’ cultural impact - well, shit, their impact on the art form of popular music - is without compare. The Beatles helped to define what rock stars are. To a large extent they helped to define what a rock band was. Bands since then have copied the way the Beatles conducted their business, the way they related to the media, the way they presented themselves. U2 has no comparable claim.

Considering the breadth of his career in the business, Rundgren is uniquely qualified to give an informed opinion on the subject. But hey, it’s just an opinion. It’s not like Todd is God or anything. :wink:

If the question was “is there a modern band that’s as big as the Beatles were, or close to it?” I think U2 would probably be a good answer. But my question was about more than that.

I like U2. I respect a lot of things about them – their longevity, their meaningful social activism, their songs, Edge’s guitar, Bono’s stagecraft, etc, but the truth is that they haven’t really been especially original or influential in purely musical terms. They are solid pop songwriters and Bono is a good lyricist, but they’ve always worked within standard conventions. They haven’t broken artistic ground. certainly nothing close to what the Beatles did. I would argue that bands like Nirvana and Metallica have ultimately been more important and influential, and neither of those bands can touch what the Beatles did. I don’t think any band will ever or can ever achieve the kind of multifaceted, longlasting impact that the Beatles has. They were a unique phenomenon. The only act that can even be compared to them at all is Elvis.

You hear “so-and-so is the new Beatles” all the time, but how is that measured? Let’s compare:

The Beatles: Four members, all play instruments and occasionally sing.
U2: Four members, only three play instruments, Bono is the only lead singer (except “Numb”)

The Beatles: First U.S. concert was an overnight sensation which launched the British Invasion.
U2: Little-known New Wave band, slowly gained popularity and critical acclaim, didn’t “take over the world” until their 5th album (Joshua Tree)

The Beatles: Broke up after seven years, never reunited
U2: Still together after 30+ years with no change in membership

The Beatles: Musically inventive, influenced many forms of pop music, including folk, psychedelia, and heavy metal.
U2: Never strayed far from their basic sound, and when they did try to experiment, it was a disaster.

The Beatles: Each member a had successful solo career, including two (John & George) who were extremely influential and memorable.
U2: No solo work to speak of – not even Bono comes close to Ringo Starr’s solo output.

The Beatles: Bigger than Jesus
U2: Devoutly Christian

The Beatles: All You Need Is Love
U2: Sunday Bloody Sunday

The Beatles: Two words = Butcher Cover
U2: Umm…Radar?

Don’t know about you, but aside from the number of members in each band, I don’t see much resemblance at all.

Well, you must realize it’s a stupid question to ask if any band today is equivalent to the Beatles. If I was asked that question and the person expected a literal answer, I would say, “No. Next question.” Who wouldn’t?

So TR translated your question into something that made a little more sense: “If there is a band today that kind of reminds you of the Beatles, who would it be?” To that question, U2 is about as good an answer as you’re going to get. That’s not to say they’re very similar in very many ways. But in a few ways they are.

What Rundgren was saying was that U2’s music has evolved and matured similar to the way the Beatles’ did. Obviously not to the same degree or at the same pace, but they are known for “reinventing” their sound every few albums. “Joshua Tree,” “Achtung Baby” and “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” are all considered significant–and highly successful–departures from what came before them.

U2 is unquestionably one of the most commercially and critically successful rock acts in history, with more Grammy awards than any other band. There is also the issue of the causes. John Lennon and George Harrison was socially active and politically active up to a point; Bono is very well known for his commitment to social causes.

Nobody, nobody, nobody should ever be compared to the Beatles. There will never be an equivalent band. But if U2 isn’t a pale shadow of the Fab Four, then what band producing music is? Nickelback?

It’s just like how every five years of so some new female artist is crowned the new Madonna - but they can’t be, because all the boundaries are now already broken down. Same thing with the Beatles. Half their myth is surrounded with the things they did (or are perceived to have done) first - the British invasion, the hysteric fandom, the transition from “lightweight” band to “mature” band, the concept album, bringing the psychedelic to the mainstream. Comparing any current band - even one like U2 that has been going for thirty years - only serves to paint the current band, no matter how great they may be, in an unflattering light.

I don’t think the Beatles are unquestionably the greatest band ever, but I know there’s never going to be an “equivalent”, if that makes sense.

If I were him, I’d have been tempted to answer ‘The Rolling Stones’. They’re still going today, after all! :wink:

In terms of musical influence I would nominate Jeff Magnum’s *Neutral Milk Hotel *. I only discovered them a couple of years ago but it was immediately obvious that most indie rock bands had heard In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. There is little of that genre released since the 90s that doesn’t adopt the musical motifs.

Once you have heard In the Aeroplane Over the Sea it is impossible not to hear it’s echoes in dozens of indie bands.

I also don’t see a resemblance, but supposedly the “Boy” cover was controversial at the time.

Come on now. We all know Oasis is the modern Beatles!

I like U2 don’t get me wrong, and I’m not a fan of the Beatles but even I’d say nope.

U2 are big but not influential and that is the key. Who are the most influential bands now?

Don’t know perhaps Radiohead, Blur and the offshoots? difficult to say.

I do think that at least U2 are willing to re-invent and experiment. They have put out albums with very different flavours. I personally prefer the more ambient feeling of “The unforgettable fire” I reckon that was their finest and an excellent example of the producers influence (Brian Eno)

The modern Beatles are Larry Page, Sergei Brin, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. The internet is this era’s equivalent of rock n’ roll - the kids know it and like it more than their parents and are using it to speak their own language, gain their own power and do their own thing. Groovy.

The only things the Beatles and U2 have in common is being involved in pop music, being a four-man guitar-oriented group and being really huge vs. other bands of the day. Beyond that, The Beatles cultural/historical relevance and significance are on such a different plane than U2’s that it really isn’t worth considering…

Love U2 but todays Beatles NO.

Apart from being a supergroup the Beatles consciously changed world music several times, and set the course for future music.

All this and they were only together for seven years.

Their genius was in their innovation.

That’s an interesting point, but the obvious problem with it is that a “like the Beatles” comparison implies, more than anything else, STAR POWER. More than anything else, the Beatles were stars.

I guarantee most kids - most people of any age group - would not have the first idea who Larry Page, Sergei Brin, and Mark Zuckerberg are, and I’m pretty sure most kids don’t know who Steve Jobs is, even if they own one of his products. And they never will. Indeed, of those four, Steve Jobs is the only guy who I even know what he looks like. The only REALLY recognizable face in the IT industry is Bill Gates. Jobs, well, maybe.

But every kid in the 60s knew who Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison were. Shit, I was born after the Beatles broke up and I’m sure I knew who they were by the time I was ten.

Really, U2?

I agree with those who say that there can’t be a nowdays equivalent of The Beatles (o any other classic) in every aspect. It’s impossible. The media is different, the music is different, the people’s approach towards it, it’s different. Now, a single band can’t cover every aspect in which The Beatles were a novelty or a highlight, but I can think of Radiohead as one of the few bands today that are permanently evolving, having a top level of musical relevance with every new record, and they are a very influential band as well but not in the magnitude shown by The Beatles, neither have that impact in pop culture. On the other hand, Bono may be the equivalent of activist thinking that made John Lennon such a remarkable figure in pop culture. And notice I didn’t used the words U2 and music.

Saying U2 is the modern version of The Beatles is like saying that windshield and headlights are the modern version of a car.

I think Todd Rundgren gave a good an answer as anybody could, but, essentially, the question is unanswerable.

Elvis, Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, Milton Berle, Lucille Ball, Charlie Chaplin, and other superstars of the era were what they were because of the technological and cultural circumstances – because of the homogeneity of popular culture and the limited number of “channels” for transmitting entertainment and information on a broad-based basis. A very small number of TV networks, a narrow range of tightly controlled radio stations, a limited number of magazines and newspapers, with heavy penetration.

These are the circumstances that gave the Beatles and other superstars their penetration of “influence.” You can even argue that it extended, in dissipating form into the 1980s – Michael Jackson, Madonna, Sylvester Stallone, with each successive generation with less and less “influence.”

The proliferation of media outlets – cable and satellite TV and radio, the internet, etc. – has splintered popular attention in a manner that it is not possible for figures of the modern age to duplicate that degree of cultural penetration.

I would argue that Harry Potter did it, but that kind of pop culture phenomenon is exceedingly rare now.