Madonna vs. the Beatles

Over on MSNBC, Tony Sclafani argues that Madonna has surpassed the Beatles in regards to her influence on pop music.

It’s Madonna‘s impact on the course of pop music that bests the Fab Four, not her sociological importance, songwriting skills or recording innovations. Influence means an artist has an effect on the future direction of music. While the Beatles influenced scads of artists in their time, after their breakup, their sound became yesterday’s news. Artists that tried to copy them (Badfinger, the Raspberries, Squeeze) seemed quaint or quirky.

But a quarter century after Madonna emerged, artists still use her ideas and seem modern and edgy doing so.

There’s a jump in logic there: comparing artists that “tried to copy” the Beatles to artists that “use [Madonna’s] ideas” is apples/oranges. I mean, the Beatles proved that mainstream pop music can be taken seriously; the fact that the phrase “sociological importance” comes up in a commentary about pop music owes a lot to the Beatles.

But he points out a few interesting things:

• “[B]efore Madonna, most music mega-stars were guy rockers; after her, almost all would be female singers.”

• “Top 40 and MTV back then treated black music like a subgenre — not the backbone of 20th century American music, as it’s recognized now.”

• “When the Beatles hit America, they changed the paradigm of performer from solo act to band. Madonna changed it back — with an emphasis on the female.”

I could easily argue both sides of this argument. But what do you think?

Video: The Beatles – “Rain”

Video: Madonna – “Like A Prayer”

MP3: Madonna – “Hung Up”

11 thoughts on “Madonna vs. the Beatles”

  1. Complete horseshit by someone who either doesn’t know or like music.

    Did this joker ever hear of a guy named Michael Jackson?

  2. Not to mention that his entire thesis (which he pretty much admits has nothing to do with actual music, by the way) corresponds not only to a post-Thriller world but one in which the entire complexion of the idustry changed, not so much because of the artists, but because of huge corporate mergers and what they required of artists. Only in such a world could someone with Madonna’s mediocre talents become a superstar.

    And I say that with all due respect to Madonna. I like nearly all her singles, I think she’s smart, and I do think she inspired a lot of girls and has kept her career alive in very canny ways. But honestly, to compare to the Beatles influence in nearly every aspect from the purely musical to strictly music biz–he must not know a heck of a lot.

  3. Let’s say you asked a cross section of Americans ages 25 to 64 how they felt about Madonna and The Beatles.

    Each would be asked to check

    LOVE, LIKE, OKAY, DISLIKE OR HATE. While she would get very high likeability numbers with women and gays, I bet Madonna’s combined DISLIKE and HATE scores would be as high as 75 percent with heterosexual white males. This is not to say that “only white straight males count”. It is to suggest that The Beatles in all likelihood would not receive over 25 percent DISLIKE/HATE among any group–women, men, blacks ,white asians, latino, gay, straight. Many Latinos might not love The Beatles but they certain would not score them DISLIKE or HATE in large numbers.

  4. I guess somebody forgot to tell Mr.Sclafani that THE







    PARADIGM PERIOD!!!Their impact

    is still felt to this very day and age.THE BEATLES ARE AN ENTITY!

  5. Like most of the commentators, I find the argument made at MSNBC somewhat insane, but there are a couple of good points.

    However, it’s an interesting question, just the wrong analogy. The band from the 60s with the longest-running stylistic influence is the Stones. From the Faces to Aerosmith to Guns ‘n Roses to Pearl Jam…they are all direct spiritual descendants of Keith and Mick (and always in that order, by the way).

    The other reason for this is further testatment to the Beatles’ greatness: they were too original to be effectively copied. Madonna, Michael Jackson, et al., while each with their own points of brilliance, were decidedly unoriginal musicians.

  6. Madonna ‘s contribution to our society is really writing the “How to create Fake-Media Controversey” handbook.

    I do agree she opened the door for more women to become stars, but instead of talented ones…we get the crop of yearly one hit wonder hacks…that is her influence.

  7. But the “yearly one hit wonder hacks” end up having careers spanning years and years now. “Baby One More Time” came out in October 1998, yo. That’s 10 years!

    Maybe Madonna’s real legacy is in showing how to extend your “one hit wonder” status into a lifelong career…

  8. Yeah thats a good point Jake. I forget Britney has been around a while (well, sort of). I should have left off the phrase ‘one hit wonders’ and just referred to them as hacks, haha.

    Madonna has kept it going less on the music and more on the controversey…the naked sex book, the ‘kiss,’ dancing in front of burning crosses…etc. She is a genius in that respect.

    I do admit liking some of her songs and I think ‘Ray of Light’ is her best …and the video is genius.

  9. Wow. I love the Beatles, but let me tell you something. When I was little I didn’t know too much about the Beatles until John Lennon’s death. I was 12. When I discovered their music I was emotionally touched by it. There was so much honesty in their words. Not to knock other very famous artists but The Beatles to me spoke intelligently. Let me tell you I get that same feeling from Madonna’s music. I honestly believe in my heart of hearts that Madonna is knocked because she is a woman. I mean I have never seen someone who gets an ounce of praise once in awhile jumped on like being attacked by wild dogs. The Beatles had 3 strong songwriters, two who collaborated on most of their early music which propelled them to the top. Madonna is one person. The Beatles and Elvis and even MJ didn’t have to deal with gender discrimination. I for one will enjoy listening to the Beatles and Madonna over the commercial fluff. The Beatles woke up but Madonna slips in and out. She is an amazing artist who happens to have a great need for fame. I treasure her words as I treasure the Beatles.

Leave a Reply