Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Anatomy of a Hit

As the most commercially successful group in history, you'd expect there to be more written about exactly what made the Beatles's songs so appealing. Instead, it seems like the analysis is either blindly adoring ("It's the greatest thing since the Sirens sang to Oedipus") or overly academic ("This song is clearly successful because of the Aeolian cadence that Lennon obviously intended to write"). This is my attempt to provide something in the middle.

I've listened carefully to several tracks from what I'm calling the A-list of pre-Help! hits: those fast, infectious tracks that I think really catapulted the group to superstardom. Without inundating you with music theory, I've tried to identify the common elements, in order to provide you with the anatomy of a Beatles hit.

The songs under consideration are I Saw Her Standing There, Please Please Me, She Loves You, I Want to Hold Your Hand, and All My Loving.

Here's the anatomy:
- A driving bass line
- Rhythmic variation in the primary instrumental parts (especially the two guitar parts and the drums; the bass line tends to be rhythmically even in order to unite the other elements) make the songs slightly unpredictable, but very danceable
- Strong endings (no fade outs) that seem to be a climax leave the listener content, but energized
- Infectious, catchy melodies with strong hooks
- Heavy cymbal use and tight harmonies provide a certain intensity and depth that counterbalances the syncopated, sharp guitar riffs

And there you have it! Got anything to add? Leave it as a comment. Later on, I'll (try to) tackle the anatomy of a post-Help! hit.


  1. Theresa ZphotographyJune 25, 2011 at 8:14 AM

    Good read, I look forward to reading your post-HELP Anatomy of a hit.
    I haven't heard a reference to Sirens sang to Oedipus in ages, loved it = ) ...

    Have a Fantastic Saturday!

  2. If you haven't yet, you should check out Walter Everett's "The Beatles As Musicians," (in two volumes).

  3. @Anonymous: Thanks for the suggestion! I haven't read that one, but I'll check it out.