The Beatles and Rolling Stones didn’t ‘revolutionise’ music but hip-hop did, study claims

Research into musical trends and impact downplays the 'British invasion' of the 1960s

A new study focusing on musical trends and their impact has found that the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones did not “revolutionise” music but instead followed patterns that had already existed.

A research group of London academics studied patterns from the US pop charts over the period of 1960 to 2010, measuring the occurrence and duration of different music trends. The study, which showed three years of marked change in music (1964, 1983 and 1991) – was recently published in the Royal Society Open Science journal.

According to The Guardian, the study found that the impact of the ‘British invasion’ of the 1960s – which saw the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who and more break through in the US – has been notably exaggerated. The research found that the musical characteristics of these bands – which they measure in terms of chord changes, tone and other quantifiable attributes – were already established in the US prior.

The study instead finds that hip-hop has had more of an impact on the shape of popular music since its entry into the US charts in 1991. The authors conclude that the genre has reinvented the musical climate more than any other.

Matthias Mauch, from the school of electronic engineering and computer science at Queen Mary University of London, said of the study, “For the first time we can measure musical properties in recordings on a large scale. We can actually go beyond what music experts tell us, or what we know ourselves about them, by looking directly into the songs, measuring their makeup, and understanding how they have changed”.

“Many people claim music is getting worse and worse, and we didn’t really find anything like that. There is not an overall trend for the composition, the musical ingredients of the charts, to become less diverse.”

Mauch continues to say that he believes that “hip-hop saved the charts”.

The study has its critics, however, with Mike Brocken, who teaches a Beatles masters degree at Liverpool Hope University, saying, “Popular music cannot be ‘measured’ in this way – what about reception, the political economy, subcultures? So my first instincts are to question any study that uses the dreaded data analysis.”

Brocken added: “I don’t think that the kind of formalistic musical analysis that is suggested here helps at all. The Beatles ‘communicated’ things to people; whether it was via an A-minor chord or an A-major chord really does not make the slightest difference. Semiotic approaches yield far more than chord shapes and time signatures.”

“Most decent popular music researchers would probably agree that the Beatles were not so much innovators as musical magpies – and that’s not a criticism. They, like all of us, listened to all sorts of stuff and were duly inspired”.

Meanwhile, Paul McCartney recently performed The Beatles’ ‘Another Girl’ live for the first time ever at a gig in Japan last month (April 28). McCartney played the track from the ‘Help!’ album – which was never performed live by The Beatles – at the iconic Nippon Budokan venue to celebrate 49 years since his old band played there in 1966.

Speaking about the gig, McCartney commented. “It was sensational and quite emotional remembering the first time and then experiencing this fantastic audience tonight. It was thrilling for us and we think it was probably the best show we did in Japan and it was great to be doing the Budokan 49 years later. It was crazy. We loved it.”
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