This story was originally published in December 2010, when the Beatles catalogue became available on iTunes. We are republishing now because the Beatles catalogue is becoming available on streaming.
So you’ve probably heard: The Beatles’ catalogue is now available for legal download via Apple’s iTunes store. This development has been extremely well marketed and gotten tons of press. And somewhere in there, you may have seen flashes of irritation dismissiveness, eye-rolling, and complaint from those people who hate hearing about the Beatles, or maybe just hate the Beatles themselves, full stop.
Hating the Beatles is an interesting business. I personally have always enjoyed them. But if you happen to be, like most people, more or less indifferent to them, I can understand the temptation to develop an active hatred, just because it’s a lot more interesting than not caring either way. It suggests boldness, passion, and critical thinking on your part, you know? Do it at the right parties, and you can wind up standing in a corner looking like a delightful raconteur, with half a dozen people standing around you hanging on your every word, because they’re desperate to convince you that you could not possibly hate the Beatles and must be mistaken somehow.
For a lot of music lovers, though, hating the Beatles is a 101 class in basic contrarianism. So if you’re going to do it, you should do it carefully and effectively. Here are some pointers.
1. Make sure you like something interesting. As soon as you’ve announced that you hate the Beatles, the first question on some people’s minds will be what the hell you think is so much better, then, big shot. You need to answer this question in a way that confuses people. You can’t just say “Shostakovich” or “Mobb Deep” or “Dylan,” or else everyone will assume they already have your number: You hate the Beatles because you only listen to classical, or hip-hop, or are still fighting over the sixties. My advice is to pick two or three very different things you enjoy, just to underline that the people you’re talking to don’t know you like that, not yet. Maybe you prefer Chuck Berry, early Detroit techno, seventies German progressive rock, and TLC, all of which are awesome.
2. Pick the right Beatles song to begrudgingly enjoy. The Beatles released many songs of many types, and you will be called upon to confess that there is at least one you enjoy. You should do this: It’s an issue of good faith. Just be sure that the one song you enjoy doesn’t explain your taste too well. For instance, if you only enjoy heavy music, don’t say that “Helter Skelter” is okay. It’ll be much more fascinating if you listen to nothing but Satan-obsessed thrash metal but enjoy the song “Piggies” — that’s the kind of aesthetic people will want to know more about. When in doubt, “Dig a Pony” is always a good choice, because people like ponies.
3. Use the Beatles against themselves. The Beatles thought loads of different musicians were interesting, and sometimes it’s fun to tell Beatles fans you agree. Some of the options are obvious, like saying you enjoy the American music the Beatles were inspired by — Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, etc. But how about the highbrow stuff the band got into later on, like German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, or Yoko Ono’s Fluxus art scene? John Lennon thought Ono was really cool, and there’s nothing more pleasant than telling Beatles fans you concur. Recommend the six-CD Onobox, just so you can explain to people how childish their laughter is.
4. Don’t know too much about the Beatles. If you “hate” the Beatles but are conversant with every last track they ever put out, and some bootlegs besides, it will just seem weird and stalkery. Also: Your reasons for hating the Beatles should never involve stuff like the relative merits of the mono and stereo mixes of their earlier albums.
5. Don’t have some big overarching narrative about baby boomers or technology or anything. The point here is that you’re amazing people by not enjoying the Beatles’ music, not Western history. Don’t start trotting out complex arguments about the cultural influence of baby boomers or the role of legendary bands in a “narrowcast” culture — you’re disliking a band, not writing a trend article for Wired.
6. Once some time has passed, say you like a modern guitar-pop band. Now people will think they’ve caught you: After all, wasn’t the whole template of pop rock constructed largely by the Beatles? Isn’t there a Beatles song that more or less invented whatever modern guitar-pop band you like? Blow their minds by acting unconcerned. What kind of car do they drive? There would be no Toyota Camry without the Model T, but how often do you feel like driving a Model T to work?
7. Remain calm and amused. Hey, you just happen to not enjoy the Beatles — it’s everyone else who’s getting weirdly worked up about that. Maintain a sense of bafflement, as if you’ve been immersed in a glorious world of music way better than the Beatles, and are slightly confused that all this is happening. Make the face you’d make if someone informed you that one of your great-aunts was considered a huge star in a country you’d never heard of.
We’d be remiss not to note, though, that any environment in which these tricks really work is probably not a fun one for you to be around in the first place.