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Music

How The Beatles influenced David Byrne

@SamWKemp

The 1960s is a fascinating decade. Looking back, it’s as though everything lined up at precisely the right time. The interaction between technological advances, a growing youth culture, and a whole range of intellectual, spiritual, and political movements led to an explosion of culture. In no place was this fruition of art more apparent than in the world of music. 

Throughout the 1960s, bands like The Beatles expanded the notion of what music could be. All over the world, young people rejected the easy-listening culture so beloved by their parents. In its place, they wanted something that spoke for them, that stood in opposition to the establishment, that pioneered new forms of personal expression. Suddenly, music was something more than entertainment. It was no longer a static art form but one that lived and breathed, one that young people could use used to cement their identities.

For countless people in the 1960s, music opened a door that had previously been locked and bolted. David Byrne was one such person. In an interview with Simon Reynolds, author of Rip It Up: Post Punk 1978-1984, the Talking Heads frontman recalled the profound impact of The Beatles: “Everyone probably goes through the thing of realising there’s more than your parent’s music and Thomas the Tank Engine,” Byrne said, “That happened to me in the mid-to-late ’60s, a pretty open time musically.”

Bryne’s musical discovery came at the perfect time. He once recalled spending much of his teenage years playing with a customised dictaphone that allowed him to overdub multiple tracks on the same tape. With this piece of primitive recording equipment, he created strange and experimental musical collages, layering simple guitar lines to create something much more complex. It’s an approach that would define much of his work with Talking Heads and obviously reflects The Beatles’ influence. With albums like Revolver, Magical Mystery Tour, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, the group also experimented with audio manipulation, developing a compositional technique based on stitching song fragments together. Strawberry Fields Forever, for example, is made up of two different takes, one of which was sped up in post-production to sit in the same key.

This kind of innocent exploration of sound is one of the most fascinating things bout the 1960s. As Byrne recalled, the music coming out at the time didn’t seem affected by arbitrary rules and limitations: “Not only was I hearing stuff that seemed directed towards me and my friends, but it was all over the map,” he continued. “Anything seemed possible. It seemed like you could make music out of anything, as long as it adhered to a vague pop structure.”

Of all the bands releasing music in the 1960s, The Beatles were perhaps the most pioneering in this regard. Their songcraft was built on a pop foundation, but as the decade progressed, they began exploring new approaches to lyrical and musical composition. For Byrne, it was The Beatles later records that really made an impact. As he recalled: “I tend to go for the more psychedelic ones, like ‘I Am The Walrus’ or ‘Strawberry Fields Forever,” going on to conclude, “It was a wild sense of freedom. That’s what caught my attention.” And thank god it did because, a decade later, Byrne would continue the pioneering legacy The Beatles left behind, chasing a new and unfamiliar sound that would come to form the soundtrack of a generation.

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