How the Beatles Changed the World by Martin W. Sandler

How the Beatles ChangedCindy: Yesterday…I thought I knew a lot about the Beatles, but I should have known betterHow the Beatles Changed the World (Walker 2014) is an attractive, colorful chronicle of the many ways in which Beatlemania had more influence than just making young women scream. Sandler chooses to organize the book topically (and loosely chronologically) starting with the unforgettable first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and makes an argument for the ways in which the four boys with long hair went on to make a lasting impact on our culture. 23 million viewers witnessed the show, Sunday, Feb. 9, 1964, and the waves are still rippling through our culture fifty years later.

Sandler highlights a list of Beatles musical firsts (first band to play in a stadium, first to print song lyrics inside the album, first popular music band to use electric keyboards and synthesizers in some of its songs, etc.) but the impact goes well beyond music. Movies, music videos, clothing, hairstyles, religion, politics and even (as one chapter title proclaims) the world were influenced by the band. The stories in Chapter 12 about the Beatles’ impact behind the Iron Curtain in the Soviet Union was fascinating. It was forbidden to play Beatles music or to own their albums. Even electric guitars were not for sale. Russian teens were not to be deterred and were tape recording songs from Radio Luxembourg, making records on X-ray film (the sale of vinyl was regulated), and stealing magnetic coils from pay phone receivers to use as pickups for their homemade guitars. A variety of soviet leaders give credit to the Beatles’ influence on the Soviet youth but this quote sure speaks volumes:

“More than any ideology, more than any religion, more than Vietnam or any war or nuclear bomb, the single most important reason for the diffusion of the Cold War was … the Beatles.”
–Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Communist Party

The world, indeed. There’s something to be said for listening to music that champions love, peace, hope and freedom. Imagine.

Lynn:  Wow do I remember the first time I heard the Beatles!  My father who scorned popular music and ruled our household, forbade the playing of “such trash” when he was around so of course any chance I got I tuned into WLS out of Chicago and rocked the house.  I was listening to Dick Biondi laying down the tracks one day when out of my tiny little radio came a sound that literally froze me in my steps.  It was “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and I was paralyzed by the sound.  It is hard today to convey just how enormously different the Beatles were.  It was a sound like NOTHING I had ever heard before and I couldn’t get enough of it.  Teens today know the Beatles but I don’t think anyone who wasn’t a teen then can ever quite appreciate how totally unique they were to the music scene.  It felt like nothing less than being struck by lightning.  They certainly changed my world then and I was fascinated by Sandler’s intriguing look at the many ways they changed so many worlds.

I loved the structure of this book and even though I lived through this time and have been a huge fan of the group, I felt that I learned so many things!  Like Cindy I was amazed at the impact on Russian teens and the lengths they went to hear and play Beatles music.  I really appreciated the list of Beatles innovations from albums with all original songs to the first group to use an electronic synthesizer to essentially inventing MTV.

One of the many things I loved about this book was the wonderful selection of photographs.  Each one was so interesting to study and perfectly suited to illustrate the focus of the text.  As a visual chronology, it was fascinating too to track how the group changed in appearance as their music changed and developed.  I hadn’t seen some of the pictures of the group in the Hamburg period and I either hadn’t known or hadn’t remembered how young George Harrison was when he started with the band.  Neither had I known the story of how Ed Sullivan happened to land in Heathrow as the Beatles, unknown then in the States, were mobbed by fans as they returned from a tour.

I think this is a very accessible and appealing book for teens and the attractive cover should lure in readers.  There is a little something for everyone here from old fans to youngsters who are only vaguely aware of the group.  Sandler’s focus on how they pioneered so many of the elements that are fundamental to current music gives teens a great toe-hold into understanding the relevance of its amazing subjects.




About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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