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The Beatles!

By Lynne Margolis Special to The Christian Science Monitor / December 15, 2000

You say you want a revolution/ Well, you know/ We all want to change the world.

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When John Lennon wrote those lyrics, he and his band mates already shared the rare distinction of knowing they actually had changed the world.

And three decades later, we're still feeling reverberations from the cultural earthquake those four lads from Liverpool created.

"The Beatles changed the pop landscape so fundamentally that their continued success only shows how hard it's been to change things since then," says Tim Riley, author of "Tell Me Why: A Beatles Commentary."

For evidence of that success, consider the statistics: "The Beatles Anthology," a hefty and expensive tome (list price $60) of old pictures and recollections by each band member, has held one of the top three spots on The New York Times bestseller list since its October release.

A new compilation of the group's No. 1 singles, titled "1," gave the Beatles yet another No. 1 album, outselling almost every other disc released this year - and not just in the United States. The album sold 12 million copies in its first three weeks, putting it on track to be the all-time bestselling album by a group. More than 3.5 million copies were snatched up in the first week. The Fab Four surpassed 'N Sync, whose "No Strings Attached" sold 2.4 million last March.

A spate of TV shows about the late John Lennon (coinciding with the 20th anniversary of his Dec. 8, 1980, assassination), including a VH1 "Behind the Music" segment, have also done well. Fans also flocked to theaters for the re-release of the Beatles 1964 movie, "A Hard Day's Night." It has earned about $170,000 (on just 12 US screens) so far.

Rolling Stone magazine just named Paul McCartney's "Yesterday" the most important pop song of all time. It and other publications have called "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" the best album in rock history. British music mag Mojo anointed Lennon's "In My Life," as "the most important song of all time."

It seems we still can't get enough of those four mop tops.

"A good deal of their continuing popularity has to do with the incredible melodies that they wrote and the diversity of the music they produced," says Terry Stewart, president and chief executive officer of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, where a new exhibit titled "Lennon: His Life and Work" is drawing significant traffic.

The Beatles "melodies seemed to appeal across all generations; there's something in there for everyone," he says.

Boston resident and author Mr. Riley, a speaker last summer at an international academic conference on the Beatles held in Finland, explains, "They're an anomaly in pop. The most successful group in showbiz history, they are also generally regarded as the best at what they did in all areas: writing, recording, singing, playing. It's very rare that you get that convergence of aesthetics and popularity."

Carl Grefenstette, a Pittsburgh-based vintage guitar dealer and Beatlephile, provided historically correct instruments and amplifiers for the first "Beatlemania" shows, in which impersonators took on the roles of the famous foursome.

"The Beatles impact was multidimensional in that they not only fulfilled the need for adolescents to have a musical hero figure, the same way Ricky Martin does now and Frank Sinatra did in the '40s, but from a musical presentation standpoint, they were breaking new ground in that they were a seriously successful, yet self-contained pop musical group," Mr. Grefenstette says.

Most teen idols, including Sinatra and Elvis, were frontmen, performing songs written by others, and backed by mostly anonymous players, he points out.