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The Beatles Legacy

Influence on popular culture

The Beatles’ influence on popular culture was—and remains—immense. In 1999, The Beatles were collectively included in Time magazine’s Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century.  Former Rolling Stone associate editor Robert Greenfield said, “People are still looking at Picasso. People are still looking at artists who broke through the constraints of their time period to come up with something that was unique and original. In the form that they worked in, in the form of popular music, no one will ever be more revolutionary, more creative and more distinctive than The Beatles were.” From the 1920s, the United States had dominated popular entertainment culture throughout the world, with the show business and superstars of Broadway, Tin Pan Alley and Hollywood and the music of Memphis, Tennessee.  Known as the “Birthplace of the Blues”, the city of Memphis had led a musical evolution from blues in the 1920s, through rock and roll in the 1950s to, in the early 1960s, soul. British bands in the 1960s, among them The Beatles, aspired to emulate the sounds of Memphis musicians including Elvis Presley—without whom, according to Lennon, “there would not have been The Beatles”.

The Beatles, triggering the British Invasion, became a major new influence in the United States and internationally, establishing the popularity of British bands and inspiring the music of other bands worldwide  — including those subsequently formed in Memphis.  The Beatles redefined the album as something more than just a small number of hits padded out with “filler” tracks,   and they were the originators in the United Kingdom of the now common practice of releasing video clips to accompany singles. They became the first entertainment act to stage a large stadium concert when they opened their 1965 North American tour at Shea Stadium. A large number of artists have acknowledged The Beatles as a musical influence or have had chart successes with covers of Beatles songs. The band also affected attitudes to fashion worldwide when in the 1960s there was widespread imitation of their haircuts and clothing. The arrival of The Beatles is seen in radio as a touchstone in music signalling an end to the rock-and-roll era of the 1950s. Program Directors like Rick Sklar of WABC in New York went as far as forbidding DJs from playing any “pre-Beatles” music.

Recreational drug use

During their periods of Hamburg residency between 1960 and 1962, The Beatles used Preludin both recreationally and to maintain their energy through all-night performances. Bob Dylan introduced them to cannabis during a 1964 visit to New York.  In April 1965, Lennon and Harrison’s dentist spiked their coffee with LSD while they were his guests for dinner. The two later experimented with the drug voluntarily, joined by Starr on one occasion.  McCartney was reluctant to try it, but eventually did so in 1966, and was the first Beatle to talk about it in the press, saying in June 1967 that he had taken it four times.  Later in 1967, all four Beatles and Epstein added their names to a petition published as a full-page advertisement in The Times calling for the legalisation of cannabis, the release of all imprisoned because of possession, and research into the drug’s medical uses. The published petition had been signed by sixty-five people including “one Nobel laureate, two Members of Parliament, a dozen prominent physicians and clergymen, numerous writers and artists, and the four celebrated MBEs who, along with their manager Brian Epstein, had put up the money for the ad.”

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