Sgt Pepper: Are The Beatles a boy’s club?

This is a response to Amanda Marcotte’s article on Salon.com called Against “Sgt Pepper”: The Beatles classic made pop seem male, nerdy, and “important” – and that wasn’t a good thing.

Sgt Pepper is now 50 years old. Incredible how time flies by. Most people are very happy, celebrating the anniversary of the colourful classic that showed the Beatles evolution in sound.

However, there are always Debbie Downers. I won’t say it’s my favourite Beatles album. The author even said as much, that she preferred Revolver to Sgt. Pepper. I prefer Revolver and Abbey Road, although Sgt Pepper has its great moments and I love it as an album. Let’s go through the article, point by point, I’ll give you my thoughts as a woman who loves The Beatles and classic rock in general.

For those who find Rolling Stone-style hagiography tiresome, last Friday was a rough day. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” the most celebrated record by the most celebrated band in the history of pop music, turned 50 years old. Men who love rock music got really competitive trying to outdo each other with their lofty prose exalting the greatness of this seminal album.

I think Amanda got a bit carried away overanalysing this and chalking up the music critics’ lofty prose to their gender. Sure, music critics can be pretentious, but that’s nothing to do with gender. There are pretentious female critics too. Water is wet. The Pope is Catholic.

“Sgt. Pepper’s,” you see, is the album that marked the shift in rock music away from the grubby fingers of the teenybopper crowd and into the hushed halls of Great Art. It was the transition album that turned rock from a debased music for ponytailed fans twisting the night away to music for grown men whose tastes are far too refined to worry about whether a pop song has a beat you can dance to.

“Sgt. Pepper’s” was the point when rock stopped being the music of girls and started being the music of men.

I wouldn’t say it’s Sgt. Pepper that marked the shift from the Beat music of the early 60s to the more complex subgenres of psychedelic rock and the beginnings of the concept album of the late 60s. The subcultures were also changing around the same time. Mod was the thing up until the mid-60s, and then hippie was the big thing. Mod is a way of life that is about dancing, drinking, having impeccable style, and scooters.

I can’t pin down the shift in rock music to just one album, but Sgt. Pepper is not that album. I would say the albums that proved that rock musicians are more than a 2-3 minute pop hit are Pet Sounds (1966) and Revolver (1966)Those albums marked the beginning of an album oriented era of rock music, where people see the music as a whole package, not just a few singles and skipping the rest of the tracks.

I didn’t live in the 60s, but I think the transition was gradual, incremental growth. A good band will change with the times. That’s what makes The Beatles legendary; that’s what makes them stand out in the sea of classic rock. They didn’t just keep doing the same thing over and over again. Please Please Me is different from A Hard Days Night which is different from Rubber Soul which is different from Revolver which is different from Sgt Pepper.

As for the change in sound changing the fan base, I wouldn’t say that’s the case. The biggest Beatles fans I know are women and they stay true to The Beatles, loving all their material from the beginning to the end and beyond with the solo careers. Men also have loved The Beatles from the beginning. Read about the rock bands of the 70s, many rock stars of that era looked up to The Beatles.

But during all this celebration, I’d like to take the time to pour one out for teenyboppers, who always get there first and all too rarely get the credit for it. In fact, the fate of the teenybopper is to watch her music get sneered at, right up until it gets taken away and turned into a respectable art form that it’s OK for grown men to like.

Fair enough. Female fans get shit on unfairly. The most vocal fans will be the teenyboppers of course, but it doesn’t mean that the quieter fans weren’t there. Quieter fans don’t mean less loyal fans.

It’s no surprise, then, that the Beatles’ shift toward a more respectable and artistic branding meant shedding their sex appeal. The “Sgt. Pepper” album cover features the Fab Four dressed in goofy-looking uniforms that couldn’t be better suited to repel the female gaze.

Go on Tumblr, find The Beatles fandom and you’ll see them fangirling over all eras of The Beatles, even when the band members had their awkward 80s phases. The Sgt Pepper era was no exception. Beatles fangirls love that era too, trust me. That’s how you know a true fan, when they think their favourite rock star was hot in the 80s.

Beyond the title track and “Lucy in the Sky with the Diamonds,” there’s very little on the record that makes a lady want to shake her hips on the dance floor.

That’s psychedelic pop for you. It’s not danceable like British Invasion or surf rock or garage rock or R&B. And even then, you’ll find people dancing to psychedelic music. Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive” (I know this is a different kind of psychedelic).

Disco is classic girl music — or, more accurately, music for girls and gay men. Those things, along with some barely concealed racial resentment, were among the biggest reasons that disco was so demonized and despised by so many straight white men of the 1970s.

I wouldn’t say this is the case. My dad is a straight white man and he loves disco. I’m a bisexual mixed woman and I’ll say this again: I don’t think people’s hate of disco was necessarily because of prejudice based on sexuality or ethnicity. A lot of people really liked rock music and were sad to see disco taking over and rock getting less time on the airwaves.

But disco is also the backbone of every prestigious musical form that was invented after it. Hip-hop is built on disco samples. All that electronic dance music (EDM) that white dudes love these days? Ripping off disco.

Hip-hop also uses R&B and soul samples, not just disco samples. Heck, I can think of some rock samples used in hip-hop. I don’t know anything about EDM, so I won’t say much about it. I wouldn’t say EDM is that disco inspired, though. I would say the roots were Terry Riley, Kraftwerk, and Yellow Magic Orchestra, though today’s EDM isn’t as good as the older electronic music of the 70s and 80s, but that’s just my opinion.

The good news is that girl music won in the end. The same kind of music snobs who mocked girls for loving Duran Duran in the ’80s now put Rio on hip best-of-the-’80s lists, such as the one at Pitchfork. Disco isn’t a shameful taste anymore and the most girlish post-disco form of EDM, house music, is making a comeback. Phil Spector’s early ’60s girl-group music is as distinguished as the Beatles are now. The soundtracks to both “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, made up of pop classics by artists like Fleetwood Mac and the Jackson 5, are darlings not just of audiences but critics as well. Calling someone a “rockist,” i.e., someone who believes that manly rock music is inherently superior to bubblegum, is now an insult. Contemporary pop artists who might once have been shrugged off as disposable crap, like Taylor Swift or Beyoncé, now get treated with respect by the music press.

I think we need to get rid of terms like “boy music” and “girl music”. Rock music isn’t inherently manly and pop music isn’t inherently girly. It’s all just music in the end, it’s for all to enjoy regardless of ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, age, whatever. There were and are boys who like The Monkees. There were and are girls who like hard rock. Simple.

It’s like the whole thing with makeup and rompers. Makeup and rompers are for all. Screw gender roles – that’s the rock and roll way. Wear what you like, listen to what you like, stop caring about other people’s opinions. Last part is easier said than done and I admit I’m working on it too.

Whether or not music was shamed depends on who you talk to and who you associate with. Quite a few girl groups charted high back in the day and are still remembered to this day so I wouldn’t say they are dismissed.

For example, The Ronettes, The Shangri Las, and The Supremes charted better than Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and The Who. For the longest time, there was no rock category in the Grammys. Pop was the winner charts and sales wise over rock. Maybe because of selective memory people remember rock music better and rock fans might be more vocal than pop fans. The rock music that charted then, for the most part, had a crossover appeal – it wasn’t too heavy. Many radio stations in the 60s and 70s were rather conservative and didn’t want to push the envelope.

The true rock and roll thing to do is not care about what others think. Stay true to yourself and love the music you love and love what you do.

I agree that we shouldn’t straight away dismiss bubblegum pop. There’s good music in all genres. However, some musicians are more talented than others and have better technical skills playing bass, guitar, keyboard, drums, etc.

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