The Evolving Artistry of the Beatles

On Wednesday, March 30, Ken Womack provided the Research Unplugged audience with a backstage pass to the iconic career of The Beatles.

Womack, a professor of English and Integrative Arts and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Penn State's Altoona campus, spoke to a full house at the Penn State Downtown Theatre. He detailed the band's early days, debunked Beatles' myths and provided some humorous anecdotes about being a longtime Beatles fan and scholar.

The talk—titled Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! The Evolving Artistry of the Beatles—was accompanied by tunes from Womack's vast collection of Beatles' music. "The most boring talks about the Beatles are the ones that don't play any music," he quipped.

When the Beatles were first being formed, said Womack, Paul McCartney and John Lennon had visions of becoming Broadway composers. "The original game plan was to make pop songs with catchy hooks, become rich, and retire," he noted. Womack painted a picture of the pre-fame Beatles traveling from gig to gig, and performing with a rag-tag assortment of instruments.

After they achieved mainstream success, and "Beatlemania" started to take off, Womack said the band spent almost all of its time touring, and had little opportunity to grow musically and lyrically. It was during the "studio years" which followed that the Beatles fully evolved, stated Womack. They were able to experiment with different genres—classic, psychedelic, and pop ballads—fully developing their song-writing potential, and cementing themselves as musical and cultural revolutionists.

The biggest cultural statement made by the Beatles? Their White Album, said Womack, although it is frequently not seen that way. "The musical chaos of the album represented the world's state of confusion at the time."

It would be neither accurate nor fair to compare the group's early pop work (think She Loves You or I Want to Hold Your Hand) to the psychedelic nature of the White Album, Womack stressed. Ultimately, it is the chameleon-like nature of the band's sound that ensures it countless fans across the continents and decades.

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Last Updated April 26, 2011