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Book: The Beatles in Perspective

Chapter: 4. "Magical Mystery Tour": Suburbia and Utopia in Music and Films of The Beatles

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.25033


Taking Richard Lester’s movie A Hard Day’s Night (1964) as The Beatles’ definitive film and a centrepiece for discussing their legacy, this chapter explores converging influences on the band’s career and image, including Music Hall, the Goons, and suburbia. Evolving themes are traced across The Beatles’ recorded output, and the author considers the role of the group’s retrospective comments in constructing a grand but nuanced narrative. The artistic impulse of the 1960s ‘to hold the moment, freeze it, show it and let it melt’ (Melly 1970: 167), must be interpreted in a spatial as well as temporal sense. Similarly, if rock is the music of growing up that promises the possibility of not growing up (Frith 1978: 209), it expresses the condition of containment and prospects of perpetual motion. The Beatles then exemplify the oppositional moment of youth, articulating precisely the impossible desire for the fully self-conscious experience of a temporal-spatial moment that is always already becoming another: for the pleasures of adulthood desired by youth, and the prospect of the city’s freedoms viewed from the suburbs. Constantly reinventing themselves and on the move in response to a sense of social and spatial entrapment, The Beatles sought not to last in the establishment sense, but to escape and so sustain an intense experience of temporal and spatial transience.

Chapter Contributors

  • Jonathan Goss ( - jgoss) 'University of Hawai'i at Manoa'