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Are Black Sabbath and the Rolling Stones Better Than the Beatles?

The rock 'n' roll heretics revolt! How does "Iron Man" compare with the Fab Four's hits?

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PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates!

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May 19, 2014 - 5:01 pm

In partnership with the new fiction publishing platform Liberty Island, PJ Lifestyle is going to begin promoting and co-hosting a series of debates and discussions about popular culture. The goal is to figure out what works and what doesn’t so that in the future we can promote and create better fiction and culture of our own. These are public brainstorming sessions for writers and culture advocates interested in developing a more vibrant popular culture. You’re invited to submit your answers to any of these questions — or a related one of your own! — that interests you:

A) in the comments

B) Via email to PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle.

C) at your blog, then let us know in the comments or via email. 

The most interesting answers may be linked, crossposted, or published at PJ Lifestyle. Also check out the previous weeks’ writing prompts: 5 Geek Questions To Provoke Debates About the Future of Sci-Fi and Fantasy5 Controversial Questions To Inspire Spirited Debates About Music.

Again with the Beatles, what are they your singular obsession for defining how music influences popular culture? There were several other bands from Britain that had enormous influence as well. The Rolling Stones and Black Sabbath come to mind. How come you don’t write about them?

And before you assume that Black Sabbath is satanic music, did you know that all the original members were middle-class Catholics? In fact, the bass player and primary lyricist, Terrence Butler, had been studying in a seminary to become a priest before he decided to become a musician, which is why their music has overtly religious themes. Their greatest hit and most recognizable song, “Iron Man,” is actually about the Second Coming of Christ. It’s apocalyptic rock, hence name of the band; it’s the judgment day.

On his last day of work at a steel factory, Tony Iommi accidentally sawed off the tips of his fingers. He had been trained in classical guitar and was planning on forming a band, so he made these plastic caps for his fingertips in order for him to play. In a loft in Birmingham, he invented an entirely new form of music. People call it heavy metal, but actually it’s heavy jazz. Once he teamed up with Terrence Butler and Bill Ward, the drummer, then their music became apocalyptic rock, but they needed a vocalist and along came Ozzy Osbourne. They recorded their first album in twelve hours and changed the music world forever.

Unnoticed, underground and misunderstood, they spawned thousands of copy cat bands, although most of them didn’t clearly know what Black Sabbath’s music was really about, and created the heavy metal craze. I would say they influenced popular music and culture tremendously. Their best and most unappreciated song is “Spiral Architect” on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, by the way; it’s about the Creation–”I look inside myself and see my world / And know that it is good.”

The Rolling Stone were equally if not more influential. They were the original bad boys of rock and roll. How many copy cat bands did they spawn, and how much did that influence popular culture?

In America, of course Elvis started it all. How many bands did he spawn, and how much did that influence popular culture?

But he wasn’t the only one. Buddy Holly changed music, when he basically invented overdubbing. He didn’t have too many imitators, but he did change sound engineering.

If you want to write about American popular culture, why don’t you ask questions about country and western music? That’s the most popular and influential music in this country. I could run off a list of names, but Lynyrd Skynyrd comes to mind first. They defined southern rock, but they were country through and through, and they changed country music. How much influence did they have and how did it change popular culture?

Other bands include the Eagles and Kiss. Talk about two sides of the spectrum, but both enormously influential. Alice Cooper as well. And AC/DC, except they were from Australia. The Who and Led Zepplin also come to mind.

This single minded obsession with the Beatles is getting boring. You want to write about how popular music influences culture? There are lots of other bands to write about and more interesting questions to pose than what is the most overrated and what is the most unappreciated song by the Beatles.

If you want to write about music and popular culture, you really need to broaden your horizon.

What pop culture questions do you want to debate and discuss? Leave your suggestions for upcoming Pop Culture debates also. This week we’re going to focus more on music genres.

PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates Features a new prompt each weekday to weigh the good, the bad, the overrated, the unbelievable, and the amazing throughout the worlds of books, film, and TV. We can't figure out how to build a greater pop culture until we dissect the mess we already have. Want to contribute your perspective to the debate? Email PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle with your take: DaveSwindlePJM [@] gmail.com Image via shutterstock/ DarkGeometryStudios

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While we're talking influence -- and this is something I hope to get into at greater length on Liberty Island -- allow me a quick commercial break. I would make the possibly heretical contention that no artist -- except perhaps the Velvet Underground or Sabbath -- changed pop music as dramatically with its first three albums as did the Beastie Boys. (I wrote a little book about Paul's Boutique, the one I think is the best of the three -- you can find it on Amazon if you're interested.)

The "first three albums" caveat is important here. Have the Beatles or the Stones had greater influence overall than those bands? Yes --but not with their first three albums. Neither the Fabs nor the Stones really hit their stride till midway through their careers. The Beasties changed popular music three times with their first three albums. The list of groups about which you can make such a claim is very, very short.

https://www.libertyislandmag.com/creator/danleroy/home.html
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Good points about Sabbath, in particular. Listen to Geezer Butler's "After Forever," which is about as heretical a piece of music as you can find these days. Sabbath were making Christian metal a long, long time before, say, Stryper!

Influence is fun to debate because it's such an unanswerable question. The old rock critic saw about the Velvet Underground -- which I think is attributed to Brian Eno originally -- is that they only sold 10,000 copies of their first album, but everyone who bought one started a band. That has the ring of truth, if not literal fact. It's also true that Sabbath and the Stones have had incalculable influence, musically and culturally. It's also true that without the Beatles paving the way by changing the culture first -- remember that the Stones existed for a while as the Beatles' antithesis -- none of the above would probably have occurred, at least not in the same way or in the same time.

https://www.libertyislandmag.com/creator/danleroy/home.html
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Are Black Sabbath and the Rolling Stones Better Than the Beatles?"

Doing what?

Ben Hartley
(I write it, I sign it.)
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Are Black Sabbath and The Rolling Stones better than the Beatles? No. Led Zeppelin, yes. Fleetwood Mac at their best, yes.

The "after taste" I'm left with regarding The Beatles is not what they achieved, but what they wasted. They could have been so much more.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Beatles are better. My criterion is simple: I can stand the Beatles.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
I remember running around as a twelve year old and the older brother of a friend of mine was home from college, chilling. He called out to the yard and asked if anyone wanted to hear something cool and put on "Careful With that Axe, Eugene". This was back in 1970 and my life was changed forever. I left the world of pop and found real music. 2 years later I discovered The Mahavishnu Orchestra and their album "Inner Mounting Flame". Drove my folks crazy. Spent my HS years listening to fusion and progressive rock like Gentle Giant and King Crimson. Now its just jazz and swing. All that to say, the world is bigger than the Beatles and Stones.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, the Beatles may be boring, but I think the point is rather analogous to Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert Heinlein in science fiction: what would NOT have existed without them? When it comes to The Beatles, the answer is: quite a lot - maybe more than anyone when it comes to that band format.

Aside from that, perception, taste and experience come into it. One can say Lynyrd Skynyrd was the face of southern rock, but I'd argue the Allman Bros. and Charlie Daniels have something to say there, and Poco too. I like "Trudy" (1971) and "Anyway Bye-Bye" (1970) more than anything Skynyrd ever did and those were a few years earlier than when Skynyrd finally came to their sound. You might have to throw Atlanta Rhythm Section in there too. "Back Up Against the Wall" is a fine album and 1973.

If one is trying to backtrack to influences, I'd say the greatest unsung hero in all of this is producer/engineer Tom Dowd. His technical innovations and uncredited artistic contributions are seminal. I don't know if even The Beatles would've existed in the same way without their engineer's uses of an American recording method and innovations. Watching the documentary about Dowd is an eye-opener.

Comparing bands is a question of personal taste. Comparing innovations and influences is a matter of history. One just has to have their ducks in a row. These bands definitely listened to one another and were heavily inspired and influence by one another. It's something for historians to untangle really.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yes. Next question?
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Geez, flame-bait here...

Seriously, my all-time favorite Black Sabbath song is "Death mask/Into the void". An entire genre of music (doom metal) previewed and made redundant by one song.

But the truth is: anybody writing about popular music cannot go around the 800--pound gorilla that is the Beatles (even if they never really did it for me) --- like Mozart in classical music (who similarly is regarded by some people as "the tralala guy between Bach and Beethoven")
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Heh. Can someone now ask "What was the most under-appreciated Black Sabbath song" so we can watch the pendulum swing the other way? ;)
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
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