I Read the Academic Journal Today, Oh Boy

February 2014
A Fab Foray into the Beatles in Scholarly Literature
The Beatles performing on the Ed Sullivan show. Photo courtesy of www.thebeatles.com.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of worldwide Beatlemania in 1964, when four young musicians from Liverpool, England, having conquered Great Britain during the previous year, took America and the rest of the world by musical storm.

Since then, needless to say, the Beatles and their music have enjoyed global devotion and provided artistic inspiration and influence that have scarcely flagged in five decades. Untold millions of words, in books and the popular press, have recounted the group’s exploits and dissected its work.

A small portion of this scrutiny, meanwhile, has occurred within the realm of academia, in scholarly literature. To mark a half-century of the Fab Four on the world stage, we turn to Thomson Reuters Web of Science and its store of  scholarly material indexed from 12,000 journals (and book contents), including those in the arts and humanities and the social sciences. The selection below gathers 10 papers out of roughly 500 resulting from a search on “Beatles” as a “topic” or “title” word. (For good measure, the search employed the Web of Science’s “all years” option, covering literature as far back as 1864—a good 90 years before that quietly momentous day on which teenaged John Lennon and Paul McCartney were introduced to one another at the St. Peter’s Church fete in Woolton parish.)

The papers were primarily selected, and are listed, on the basis of their influence as denoted by citations—that is, the number of subsequent publications in which the work has been explicitly footnoted. The numbers here are generally modest, in keeping with the tendency of works in the social sciences and the arts and humanities to be cited at a markedly lower and slower rate than that for papers in more populous and prolific fields such as biology or physics. Relatively speaking, however, given that the average citation rate for the initial selection of reports is less than one per paper (i.e., many have not yet been cited at all), these papers have made a mark.

The top-most paper, describing a study that utilized the titles and lyrics of Beatles songs to examine patterns of memory and recall, represents several cited reports that were identified but not presented here—those making use of Beatles music for some broader scientific aim. Studies in computer science and audio engineering, for example, employed Fab Four tunes for refining automated methods for analyzing melody, tempo, chord progression, and other technical aspects of music, including the recognition of given composers. A psychology study attempted to ascertain the differences in rats’ reaction to complex auditory stimuli, interspersing Beatles selections with Mozart and white noise. And a pediatric-neurology paper described the strange case of an infant whose “musicogenic” epileptic seizures were consistently triggered by Beatles music.

Mostly, however, our selection concentrates on analysis of the Beatles themselves, their music, and the times and places so inextricably tied to their work. Whether the approach is musicological, psychological, or political, these papers represent a mere sampling of academic treatment of the Beatles — a long and winding scholarly road which, one hopes, will stretch on and on.


Yesterday and Today: A Selection of Scholarly Papers Featuring the Beatles

Listed by number of citations recorded in Thomson Reuters Web of Science.

Where available, excerpts from the works’ abstracts have been included.

Rank Paper Cites
1 I.E. Hyman, D.C. Rubin, “Memorabeatlia — A naturalistic study of long-term memory,” Memory & Cognition, 18 (2): 205-14, 1990.
From the abstract: “Seventy-six undergraduates were given the titles and first lines of Beatles’ songs and asked to recall the songs. Seven hundred and four different undergraduates were cued with one line from each of 25 Beatles songs and asked to recall the title. The probability of recalling a line was best predicted by the number of times a line was repeated in the song and how early the line first appeared in the song....Although the subjects recalled only 21% of the lines, there were very few errors in recall, and the errors rarely violated the rhythmic, poetic, or thematic constraints of the songs.”
2 C. Whissell, “Traditional and emotional stylometric analysis of the songs of Beatles Paul McCartney and John Lennon,” Computers and the Humanities, 30 (3): 257-65, 1996.
“Traditional stylometric measures such as word usage, word length, and word repetition were paired with six new measures that described word emotionality in terms of a word’s pleasantness, its activation level, and the combination of these factors. All measurements were applied to the songs composed by Beatles Paul McCartney and John Lennon between 1962 and 1970....Lennon was the less pleasant and sadder lyricist and the Lennon-McCartney lyrics became less pleasant, less active, and less cheerful over time.”
3 S. Cohen, “More than the Beatles: Popular music, tourism and urban regeneration” [book chapter], Tourists and Tourism: Identifying with People and Places , ed. by S. Abram, et al.,) 71-90, 1997.
“Using a case study on The Beatles and Liverpool, UK, this chapter considers the relationship between music and the city, and the implications of that relationship for the study and development of tourism....Music is closely bound up with a politics of place, the struggle for identity and belonging, power and prestige, and although local tourism is not an issue that directly concerns Liverpool’s young rock musicians, the account of Beatles tourism indicates ways in which tourism initiatives can expose and exacerbate particular tensions experienced by musicians.”
4 R.J. Kruse, “Imagining Strawberry Fields as a place of pilgrimage,” Area, 35 (2): 154-62, 2003.
“This paper examines the significance of Strawberry Fields, the memorial to John Lennon in Central Park, New York City, as a place of secular pilgrimage. Situated within postmodern conceptualizations of secular pilgrimage, Strawberry Fields is shown to be the spatial focus of a variety of discourses related to John Lennon’s life and music. ”
5 W. Everett, “Fantastic remembrance in Lennon, John ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘Julia’ and voice-leading in selected Beatles songs,” Musical Quarterly, 72 (3): 360-93, 1986. 6
6 G. Clydesdale, “Creativity and competition: The Beatles,” Creativity Research Journal, 18 (2): 129-39, 2006.
“This article examines creativity, in particular the success of the British pop group The Beatles. The results suggest that The Beatles should not be seen as creative geniuses but as a creative process....Behind the Beatles creative process were two dominant forces. First was the importance of rivalry as a contributor to creative enhancement. Second was the nature of the working team that possessed high levels of exchange and complementary blends of expertise and thinking styles.”
7 J. Platoff, “John Lennon, ‘Revolution,’ and the politics of musical reception,” Journal of Musicology, 22 (2): 241-67, 2005.
“The Beatles recorded two starkly different musical settings of John Lennon’s controversial 1968 song ‘Revolution’: One was released as a single, the other appeared on the White Album (as ‘Revolution 1’). Lennon’s lyrics express deep skepticism about political radicalism, and the single, with its lines ‘But when you talk about destruction/...you can count me out,’ incited rage among critics and activists on the Left....”
8 A. Elliott, “Celebrity and political psychology: Remembering Lennon,” Political Psychology, 19 (4): 833-52, 1998.
“This article is a contribution toward the task of constructing a distinctive political psychology and social theory of celebrity. The article begins by noting some recent approaches to the analysis of mass communications in political theory, and moves to consider what these theories mean for the conceptual analysis of celebrity. A substantive example of the political construction of celebrity is given in the case study of the ex-Beatle, John Lennon—specifically, the social drama surrounding his death in 1980.”
9 S. Daniels, “Suburban pastoral: Strawberry Fields Forever and sixties memory,” Cultural Geographies, 13 (1): 28-54, 2006.
“As a cultural period the 1960s is produced through overlapping forms of social memory in which private and public recollections overlap. In both sound and imagery, pop music, particularly that of the Beatles, is a principal medium of memory for the period. For the period from 1965, the progressive aspects of pop music, particularly in sonic and lyrical complexity, expressed a retrospective, pastoral strain that was itself a form of memory of other periods and places, of childhood and country life. The Beatles single Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane, released in February 1967, epitomizes these complexities in a suburban version of pastoral recalling the Liverpool childhoods of songwriters John Lennon and Paul McCartney.”
10 N. Wagner, “Domestication of the blue note in the Beatles’ songs,” Music Theory Spectrum, 25 (2): 353-65, 2003.
“Much of the Beatles’ originality stems from the special way in which they handle blue notes....the present paper explains the formation of several of the harmonic idioms that shape the Beatles’ style. In broader terms, the paper attempts to uncover the blues affinities in the Beatles’ repertoire, even when they are latent and expressed in ostensibly non-blues details. These affinities contribute to the unity of the repertoire despite its diversity and eclecticism.”
Thomson Reuters Web of Science

The data and citation records included in this report are from Thomson Reuters Web of ScienceTM. Web of ScienceTM is a registered trademark of Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.