Essential Question

How did the input of manager Brian Epstein and record producer George Martin help The Beatles develop and refine skills that aided the band in presenting their music and personalities to a mass audience?

Overview

When The Beatles emerged as international superstars in 1964 their fans saw a cohesive unit in both sound and image. Their vocal harmonies were close and carefully arranged. They seemed tight as a band and as four friends. They wore matching suits, shared a similar sense of humor, styled their hair in the same fashion and moved with a distinct and unified body language. Like any good team member, each Beatle seemed to have an innate understanding of how his individual talents contributed to the group’s goals. To many fans, the concept of a “rock band” is defined by The Beatles’ combination of raw musical talent and personal charisma, the “chemistry” of that particular group. However, even The Beatles had help. While they did not have the sizable entourage a 21st century pop star typically employs, The Beatles did receive crucial guidance from Brian Epstein, their manager, and George Martin, their producer at Abbey Road studio.

This lesson explores first the role Brian Epstein played in helping craft The Beatles’ visual presence, group identity and team unity, the way he helped the group transition from successful nightclub act to international sensation. Though he was also from Liverpool, Epstein was a decade older and a social class above The Beatles. Yet, as Paul McCartney says in The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years: “He had a vision of us that was beyond the vision we had of ourselves.” The lesson also investigates the ways producer George Martin, a self-described “schoolmaster” to the Beatles’ as they recorded their first albums, helped The Beatles discover the creative potential of the recording studio, and move their music from the stage to the studio, finally reaching listeners across the globe.

Exploring the roles of Epstein and Martin encourages students to consider the myriad ways people–even those who appear uniquely exceptional–benefit from the guidance of “coaches” and the assistance of others. Throughout this lesson, students witness the power of teamwork by learning about The Beatles’ focus on group unity, then work as “rock bands” in groups in order to experience some of the psychological experiences the members of The Beatles faced firsthand.

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Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will:

  1. Know (knowledge):
    • How teamwork helped The Beatles attain success
    • About press conferences as a form of publicity
    • About techniques The Beatles employed to navigate press conferences in the early and mid-1960s
    • About the influence of comedy on The Beatles
    • How The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein helped them develop a group image and team ethic
    • How The Beatles’ record producer George Martin helped the group learn to navigate the recording studio
  2. Be able to (skills):
    • Interpret a range of media, including songs, comedy, image and text to develop and demonstrate an understanding of a period of time
    • Use a variety of sources to develop a group of multiple individuals that responds to issues in a single “voice”
    • Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric
    • Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions on topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. CCSS.ELA-Literacy

Activities

Motivational Activity:

  1. Show your students Clip 1, “The Beatles’ Early Years”. Ask your students:
    • What differences did you notice between The Beatles you saw on a large stage at the beginning of the clip and the early versions of the group described by John Lennon and captured in some of the still photos?
    • What do you think distinguishes The Beatles as a “rock band”?
    • If the same group was on stage but it was called “John Lennon,” would it feel the same? Would you interpret the band’s image differently?
  2. Divide your class into groups of 3-5 students each, making five groups if possible. Students will remain seated with their groups throughout the class. Inform the class that their group is a “rock band,” and their task is to develop a plan for success. Each group should name one member the “scribe” who will record their answers to the following questions:
    • What is your band’s name? (Note to teacher: if you feel naming the “band” will become a distraction to your students, skip this step.)
    • Who will play and sing what instruments in your band?
    • Where will you play your music?
    • Who is your target audience?
    • How will these people know to come see you?
    • Do you hope to be heard and seen by people outside of your immediate geographic location? Where?
    • How will you reach these people? (The radio, YouTube, playing on the street, etc)
    • How will you get these people to take the time to watch or listen?
  3. Have each group read their answers to the class and keep track of them on the board.  Discuss with the class:
    • How did your group come to conclusions for each question? Did you all agree or was negotiation involved? Are there still disagreements?​​
    • Will your band need to seek outside assistance to achieve its goals? From who?
    • Imagine yourself an anonymous viewer who stumbles across your band’s video on YouTube, what do you see? Do you look “professional”?
    • Based on what you have seen and heard of The Beatles, do you think they considered the above issues? What do you think they did and why?

Procedure:​

  1. Inform your students that although The Beatles were remarkably talented, their career was influenced by the guidance of their manager, Brian Epstein. Play Clip 2, “The Role of Brian Epstein.” Ask your students:
    • What does Paul McCartney suggest Brian Epstein did for The Beatles?
    • How would you define “stage presence”? How did Epstein help The Beatles with their stage presence?
    • Can you think of other professions in which matching attire is required? Why do you think Epstein suggested matching suits for The Beatles?
  2. Tell your students that part of Brian Epstein’s role was what Paul McCartney just described as keeping the band “together as a team.” Play Clip 3, “Four Votes,” and ask your students:
    • In what ways do you think The Beatles’ team mentality might have helped them succeed? (Encourage your students to think widely. It kept them together musically, it allowed them to manage their business as “one” rather than four individuals. It also helped them present a unified, positive image to the press.)
    • Do you think your band could function as a unit that requires a unanimous vote to proceed with any decision? Why or why not?
  3. Inform your students that during the height of “Beatlemania” The Beatles held press conferences in nearly every city they performed. Ask your students:
    • What is a press conference?
    • Why do you think people hold press conferences?
    • What is “the press”? How do you think “the press” was different in 1964 from the present?
    • Why do you think The Beatles held so many press conferences? How else would they have communicated with the public in 1964? (Encourage your students to think of all the ways artists have to speak to an audience in the present in contrast with the forms of media available in 1964. The Beatles spoke to “the press,” and the press then interpreted the event and wrote stories about The Beatles. Social media allows artists to bypass “the press” and speak directly to their fans.)
  4. Distribute Handout 1 – The Press Conference. Read the introduction paragraph out loud as a class. Allow your students two minutes to respond individually to the questions. Now have your students return to the “bands” that they formed during the Motivational Activity. Tell the individual members of the groups to compare their answers. Have each group’s “scribe” create a composite list on a separate piece of paper that notes the places where the members have agreed and disagreed on answers. While still separated into groups, discuss the following as a class:
    • How often would your band members have contradicted each other and on which questions?
    • At the press conference, if your bandmate answered a question in a way you disagreed with, what would you do?
    • Which do you think makes a more potent story in journalism, agreement or disagreement within the band? Why?
    • In what ways do you think The Beatles unity might have helped them during press conferences?
  5. Play Clip 4, “I Feel Fine” from The Beatles 1 collection. Ask your students:
    • Are there drums in this video? What is Ringo Starr, The Beatles’ drummer, doing instead of playing drums?
    • What is George Harrison singing into in this video? Does it seem like he’s singing the words to the song?
    • Overall, how would you describe the tone of this video?
    • Do you get a “message” from The Beatles behavior in this video? How does it make you think about them as people?
  6. Tell your students that The Beatles were all fans of British comedy and that they adopted elements of the slapstick style performed on BBC radio programs such as “The Goon Show” as part of their public persona at press conferences and on video. Now play Clip 5, “The Goon Show: ‘What Time is it Eccles?’”
    • In what ways do you think the “slapstick” comedy style you just heard relates to the video for “I Feel Fine?”
    • Thinking back to your own press release experience, in what ways do you think slapstick humor could work in a similar situation?
  7. Now play Clip 6, “The Role of George Martin.” Discuss with your students:
    • Why do you think the The Beatles’ and George Martin’s shared love of comedy was helpful to their relationship in the early years? (Encourage your students to see how this connection enabled the two parties to work comfortably in spite of the power dynamic created by the differences in their ages and Martin’s status as a gatekeeper at a record label versus The Beatles’ as hopeful recording artists.)
    • The Beatles had been performing nonstop for several years, why do you think in this particular situation Martin describes himself as a “schoolmaster teaching” them?
  8. Distribute Handout 2 – Excerpt from Melody Maker MagazineAssign one paragraph to each group; the photos apply to all groups. Have each group analyze their paragraph with the following questions in mind. The “scribe” should record the group’s answers:
    • What do you think George Martin did for The Beatles in this instance that they could not have done themselves?
    • Do you think George Martin acted in a way that other music industry people might not have at the time?
    • Do you think George Martin had any specialized music knowledge that The Beatles did not have at this time?
    • What do the two photos suggest about The Beatles’ feelings toward Martin and why? How do you think he fit into their ensemble?
  9. Have each group report their findings to the class. Once all five groups have reported ask the class to consider the five paragraphs together and discuss:
    • Overall, what do you think George Martin’s most important contributions to the early Beatles were?
    • How do you think The Beatles felt about Martin? (Encourage students to consider his basic instinct to trust The Beatles and guide them without forcing them to do anything in particular. Martin granted The Beatles access to the recording process, and helped them tailor their music to that format’s specific requirements. The Beatles seem to have trusted Martin. In the photos he is comfortably within the circle of the group, as both a listener and a contributor.)
    • In what ways do you think someone like George Martin would help your band?

Summary Activity:

Ask your students:

  • Can you think of any other career paths in which a talented person or group is guided to success by the assistance of an outsider? What similarities or differences do you see to the teamwork of The Beatles with Epstein and Martin?
  • In what ways do you think your life could benefit from a partnership such as The Beatles had with Epstein and Martin?

Standards

Common Core State Standards

College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text

  • Reading 7: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

College and Career Readiness Writing Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects

  • Writing 3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12

  • Speaking and Listening 1: Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
  • Speaking and Listening 3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
  • Speaking and Listening 4: Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language for Grades 6-12

  • Language 1: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking

Social Studies – National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)

  • Theme 3: People, Places, and Environments
  • Theme 5: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
  • Theme 7: Production, Distribution, and Consumption

National Standards for Music Education

Core Music Standard: Connecting

Connect #10: Symthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make music.

Enduring Understanding: Musicians connect their personal interests, experiences, ideas, and knowledge to creating, performing and responding.

Essential Question: How do musicians make meaningful connections to creating, performing, and responding?

Demonstrate how interests, knowledge, and skills relate to personal choices and intent when creating, performing, and responding to music. [MU:Cn10.0.6a, 7a, 8a]

National Core Arts Standards

Responding

  • Anchor Standard 7: Perceive and analyze artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard 8: Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard 9: Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work.

Connecting

  • Anchor Standard 10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.
  • Anchor Standards 11: Relate artistic ideas and work with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.

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