1970 May As Well Be 100 Years From Now.

Surely it must be the mark of greatness that we continue to discuss so passionately art that stopped being created forty years ago. No doubt subsequent generations will continue the conversation. Like Shakespeare, Mozart, Beethoven, Picasso, Chaplin and the rest of the historically cultural elite, The Beatles transcend time, seeming ancient, ageless and somehow beaming in from somewhere in the future, all in the same breath. Any listen to any Beatle recording yields not only great joy and entertainment obviously, but the fascinating illusion that you are listening to something that literally just came out yesterday or today, it appears so modern. There is no real date on works like Revolver or The White Album or With The Beatles, they’re all so firmly in whatever the present moment is. Don’t believe me? Give “I’ll Cry Instead” or “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” or “Eleanor Rigby” a spin and you’ll see what I mean. And it’s been four decades now since the four of them were in the same room.

So in the spirit of stranger and stranger anniversaries, I’d like to discuss that magical year 1970, when Western Popular Culture shifted dramatically, because The Beatles announced they had broken up. What was the title of George’s first solo album again? Well, we all know that sunrise doesn’t last all morning and a cloudburst doesn’t last all day, but here we are all these many, many years later, with two of them already moved on to the next plateau, and I’m still wishing The Beatles hadn’t called it a day. It’s a bittersweet fun imagining you can get lost in dreaming up what the 1970 Beatle album would have been after Let It Be, or the ‘71 edition even.... Wow. Can you even picture in your ears the sound of “Maybe I’m Amazed” or “What Is Life” or “Isolation” as a Beatle track? I shake and shiver at the thought of Lennon and McCartney singing the backing on “All Things Must Pass” or “Apple Scruffs” or “Let It Down.” I mean, they could have been the next Crosby, Stills and Nash, those guys! Oh wait a minute. They were the original Crosby, Stills and Nash, weren’t they? And I guess what George was saying so beautifully is that nothing lasts because it’s not supposed to. It’s not designed to be that way. Everything has it’s time, and then ends, to make room for whatever’s coming next. So it was with The Beatles.

And thinking on it, what came next immediately was really quite fabulous. The breakup of The Beatles left a huge void in Popular Music to be filled, and was it ever. Upstarts from the previous year like CSN and a terrific little psychedelic boogie band called Led Zeppelin were allowed to literally explode into superstars with the departure of The Fabs in early 1970. Had the lads stayed on longer, perhaps the massive amount of youth that listened to Rock wouldn’t have given as much of their attention to masterworks like the first CSN album or the first two Zeppelin albums. Perhaps it was the tidal force of artists like these that subconsciously influenced The Beatles to step aside in the first place. Certainly Crosby, Stills and Nash's debut album and 1970’s incredible Deja Vu were almost enough to make you feel not so bad about it all coming to an end. At least you could put “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” or “Carry On” or “Our House” on the turntable and feel right at home if you were a Beatlefan. In retrospect, the beautiful sound and collective attitude of the first two CSN(&Y) albums was an impressive evolution and development from late ‘60’s Beatles: Three (and then four!) wonderfully individual singer/songwriters coming together to create something vastly superior to anything any of them could ever have done on their own, except perhaps Neil. Proof of this lies in literally everything Stephen, David and Graham ever did after 1970, either together or apart. But for a year and a half there, they were very much inheritors of the crown. That ego, drug use and the pressures of fame and fortune got in the way quickly is not surprising, albeit somewhat disappointing. But if I want to know about the greatness of those guys, all I have to do is think of 1970. It’s all there in “Ohio,” “Teach Your Children,” and “Woodstock.”

The same and even better can be said of Led Zeppelin, mostly because of the fact they were a true band from day one to decade’s end. Safe to say they’d still be together had John Bonham not sadly perished in the sun kissed summer of 1980, with “Coming Up” topping the charts and John Lennon recharging his creative engines in Bermuda. In 1970, because of the very fact The Beatles had relinquished the title, Led Zep was indeed the biggest band in the world, with their brilliant third album riding high atop the album chart and their unabashed love of Joni Mitchell shining westward toward California like some beautiful acoustic beacon across the Atlantic Ocean. Certainly using The White Album as a kindred blueprint, Led Zeppelin III is the work of a band already breaking its own vision of itself, and exploring the outer and inner reaches of its collective consciousness and sound. Daring, multi-dimensional, and explosively colorful, III features some of the most gorgeous acoustic music ever recorded in the shimmering “Tangerine” and the effervescent “That’s The Way.” Not to mention what might be the single greatest Rock vocal performance ever in Robert Plant’s astounding take of “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” All this in the wake of The Beatles. If the torch had to be passed, here was not a bad place to hand it off.

But perhaps no one benefited more from the seismic shift of The Beatles stepping down than Aspirers To The Throne Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Little brothers and even peers for a moment there in 1969 when “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” was actually a little cooler than “Lady Madonna” or “Get Back,” The Rolling Stones spent the Sixties having to be content with always being Number Two. Not anymore. Think about the difference between Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out Stones and Sticky Fingers Stones. 1970 is the reason. By ’71, it was The Stones at Number One. And rightfully so, given the carnal strength of tracks as brash and brilliant as “Brown Sugar” or “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin?” You can bet it didn’t escape the mind of Mick Jagger that this was his moment. You can see it in the footage from The Rock and Roll Circus from late ’68. With the two of them sitting together and making fun for the camera, it’s clear who is King, and who is Prince. The Prince who would be King took firm hold of the crown in 1970 and would hold it well until the last strains of “Start Me Up’s” “you make a dead man cum!” could be heard on your car radio more than a decade later. Certainly the greatness of records like Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main Street, Goats Head Soup, Black and Blue and the fantastic Some Girls can be traced to the full gale freedom of expression granted The Stones by the departure of The Beatles.

The same can be said for The Who. And just like The Stones, The Who were there, already fully formed by 1965, blowing the doors off The Marquee club with “My Generation” and “The Kids Are Alright,” the young and hungry Pete Townshend criticizing openly the “lack of physicality” of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967, but shooting for the same conceptual moon with that same year’s brilliant Who Sell Out album. No matter how brilliant they could be, they were never The Beatles. Not nearly.

But this all changed dramatically, first by performing the best of Tommy at Woodstock in the summer of ’69, with The Beatles all but over anyway, other than for the announcement that would make it legitimate, and then for good in the summer of 1970, with Live At Leeds being recorded and Townshend blazing a brave new trail for himself and an entire generation of Rock listeners with the Lifehouse demos that would become 1971’s Who’s Next, arguably the single greatest Rock album ever made. Again, it’s hard to imagine the audience Who’s Next would have found had The Beatles remained a working recording act. Maybe it wouldn’t have affected the outcome either way, I don’t know. But a Beatle album released in 1971 containing the best songs of RAM and IMAGINE would certainly have been more prominent in the record buying public’s mind than anything by The Who or The Rolling Stones, or CSNY or Led Zeppelin, that is for sure.

It is fun to think about The Beatles in this way, meaning what was enabled to happen in their wake, given how HUGE they really were, not only in popularity, but in actual range and breadth of artistry and genre. Obviously, The Beatles were not only a Rock Band, but a Pop Music group, a Folk Music group, a collective of Singer/Songwriters, a Glam Band, a Heavy Metal progenitor (see the loud parts of The White Album), and just about the greatest bunch of comedians the world has ever known. And so, with their ending came what can be viewed as a fracturing of everything they were into all these sub-genres that were allowed to flourish in their absence. Just The White Album alone contains several different styles of Popular Music that all became major musical territories through the ‘70’s. For instance, it is without question that the Singer/Songwriter movement spearheaded by CSNY and other greats like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Paul Simon was a direct offshoot of not just Bob Dylan, but what The Beatles were partly doing in 1968 and ’69. It’s no coincidence that James Taylor was initially signed to Apple and that CSN were rejected, even in the face of their gorgeous three-part harmony version of “Blackbird.” 1970 saw the release of Joni Mitchell’s beautiful Ladies Of The Canyon album, which then set the stage for her masterwork, 1971’s Blue, arguably the pinnacle of the form. It can also be stated that any vocal group of the Singer/Songwriter genre that found major success in the 1970’s had it’s main inspiration in The Beatles and found that success because of their absence, whether it be The Eagles, America, or Fleetwood Mac.

Which brings us to the other major artist that enjoyed the most benefit from The Breakup. Simon & Garfunkel were there and already majors in their own right with the release of 1968’s Bookends and The Graduate soundtrack. In terms of sheer numbers, only The Beatles were outselling them, as “Mrs. Robinson” even bested “Hey Jude” at that year’s Grammy Awards for Record Of The Year. But the Breakup allowed for S&G to play one more trump card: Bridge Over Troubled Water assumed the number one position on the album chart in March 1970, and remained there firmly as the news broke around the world that The Beatles were no more. It can be argued that millions literally turned to Simon & Garfunkel for solace over such a devastating announcement. Thankfully, the album they turned to still stands as one of the towering achievements of Pop Music, and perhaps the album closest to the spirit of what The Beatles were doing themselves on Abbey Road and Let It Be. How sad then, that S&G would also be planning a breakup of their own. But for the time being in mid-1970, Bridge Over Troubled Water was exactly what it claimed to be to anyone who cared about such trivial things as the demise of a popular music group.

It should be noted that the after-effects of The Breakup, musically speaking, seemed to be somewhat differing between America and The United Kingdom. In America, the sound on the radio seemed to get a bit softer, leaning toward the Singer/Songwriters and pleasant sounding acts like The Carpenters, Elton John or Chicago. In England, it went the other way into Glam Rock, with the coming of David Bowie and Marc Bolan, both somewhat hatched from the Maharishi-inspired meanderings of John Lennon’s 1968 mindset, when songs like “Sexy Sadie” and “Polythene Pam” were written. Surely the sound of “Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam” was on the mind of the young David Bowie, as The Man Who Sold The World and Hunky Dory can attest. Certainly most of Bowie’s career could be seen as an extreme cartoon-like attempt at emulating John Lennon. And finally, maybe the coolest record happening in England in 1970 was the daringly offbeat and twistedly Beatlesque “I Hear You Knockin’” by Dave Edmunds, and it’s no coincidence that Lennon himself cited the track as one of his favorites in the Lennon Remembers interview from December of that year.

Why it got weirder in England and a bit gentler in America, who can say? Perhaps because one country was involved in a highly unpopular war and needed some refrain on the radio and one wasn’t? Maybe. Maybe because The English are generally more offbeat in their sense of humor? Who knows? Whatever the cause, both directions flowed right out of The Beatles, so overwhelming was their cultural scope and importance. And like a great ocean flowing in reverse and dividing itself into all these little rivers and streams, The Beatles continued to be heard and felt in all kinds of music released in 1970 and on into the rest of the decade. Maybe it was just a nostalgic longing on the part of their audience that created this feeling. Maybe it’s that the biggest ever casts the biggest shadow. Either way, four (or surely ten) decades on, they remain with us, even bigger and more influential than ever, constantly being compared to, but never equaled or surpassed. Surely it must be the mark of greatness that they mattered and counted so heavily not only while making their art, but even long after they stopped.


Sunrise doesn't last all morning. A cloudburst doesn't last all day.