Celebrate, Don’t Dwell on Yesterday

Every year, I implement the “chicken or the egg” paradox to my music composition class and ask my students: What came first, the melody or the lyric? 

It is astounding how each student works differently at combining a seamless scansion of syllables and rhymes per note value and pitch. Some write down their lyrics first and pluck out a tune later while others head straight for the melody and add words to the music afterwards. Sometimes, it all happens simultaneously, and it’s truly a sublime experience. Add your personal story and inner feelings to the mix, and you’re in heaven on earth.

The Beatles not only perfected the art of songwriting, they gifted us with some of the most catchy, reiterated, and beloved music of our time.

So, when Jack – a struggling musician of Suffolk, England – wakes up after a freak global blackout and performs songs by The Beatles to a world that has never heard them before, it’s no surprise he becomes an instant god.

This is an outrageously fun scenario, tailored made for the movies, but it is so rich in setup and promise that it cannot sustain itself for two hours. The real question is – What came first, the music or the inspiration?

Actor Himesh Patel is likable enough to play Jack Malik, who is desperate enough to claim Beatles’ hits off the top of his head as his own. His manager and best friend who truly loves him, Ellie (Lily James), wants Jack to reach the acclamation she thinks he deserves. The world, of course, wants more and more of “Jack’s” music, and with the help of talented ear, Ed Sheeran, and the greedy music industry business, Jack inevitably faces a moral dilemma.  

What’s noteworthy in this plotline is how little Ellie and the world question Jack’s inspiration behind songs that mention “Strawberry Fields,” “Long and Winding Roads,” and some “Eleanor Rigby” person. Actually, only Ed Sheeran raises an eyebrow to “Hey, Jude.” Who is Jude, and why not change it to “Dude?”

Half of mainstream film critics panned the movie for not having its characters question the journey it must have taken to create such extraordinary music, and I think that half completely missed the point of the movie.

Unfortunately, most of our music today is packaged – swiftly “composed” by four or more arrangers in a studio with an auto-tune button to correct singers’ lack of tonality, and in some cases, the image of the musician receives more attention than the music itself.   

In other words, like our world, the world in Yesterday, eats up Jack’s hit after hit because it resembles dollar bill after dollar bill. Without The Beatles context, the songs are still catchy, reiterated, and made beloved by more social media exposure. Who needs context or sources of inspiration when the lyrics and melodies are this good and made instantly popular? I’m not saying this is right or good, I’m saying this is today’s music industry.

The world without The (real) Beatles isn’t explored much in the movie, so I can understand some of the criticism. However, for all it’s worth, Jack’s solo renditions of The Beatles’ hits are a blast of nostalgia, and Danny Boyle’s constantly moving camera of the live concert performances resuscitates the legendary music of John, Paul, George, and Ringo to a fresh, new level.

True, the second half of the movie panders to predictable rom-com obligation and loses steam because of it. But, my oh my, there is a sweet twist at the end, and the optimist in me overrules the cynic.

It’s summertime. It’s The Beatles. It’s a fun movie.

***1/2 out of *****

17 thoughts on “Celebrate, Don’t Dwell on Yesterday

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  1. It was a fun movie. Definitely would have been deeper with the exploration down some philosophical some rabbit trails of what else might have been substantially different without the Beatles in the world. But I enjoyed it as a romcom.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Sitting back is what I’ll do lol. It looks like a lot of fun. I’ve played guitar for years and I was in many bands and we would always get into conversations…If you could have written any Beatle song which one would it be?
        Looks like a fun movie.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It would have to be Hey, Jude because I’m primarily a piano player, it’s got that anthem ballad feel, and what a crash of coda for the whole world to sing along. It got my belly so full of joy when I was a kid. I listen to it on my Walkman over and over… How about you?

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    1. The less you think about it and suspend disbelief, the more you will enjoy it. The cynics make great points, and I considered those as well, but if there was a Beatles-less world and suddenly a man who could reiterate all of their hits, I think our world would eat them up in a heartbeat – despite context. Thank you so much for reading!

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    1. If you sit back and suspend disbelief for a fun summer movie with Beatles music in it, you’ll have a great time. But, yes, it’s normal and probably healthy to dissect even a fantastical plot line because a scenario like this will inevitably have its loopholes. I think what sold me was how much fun my fellow moviegoers had all around me. If you’re a Beatles fan, you’ll be fine 🙂 Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with Tim. I think it could have explored a little more about how it wasn’t just the catchy hooks riffs that made the Beatles the Beatles. That said I’ll take any chance to listen to a bunch of Beatles songs in a new movie (but thank god I wasn’t alive to see the Sgt Pepper’s Bee Gees film released). I also really appreciated the twist Berno referred to, which saved the second half of the movie for me.

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    1. Thanks for reading, Conor. I agree too, but I think the fact that the movie didn’t explore what was behind the catchy hooks was exactly the point – it portrayed an unfortunately realistic music industry that wanted more the manufacturing, consuming, and investing in the “hits” rather than the “meaning” and context. I’m not saying that’s right or good, I’m saying that was the movie’s choice, and it makes sense in this immediate gratification world, and I think it would have taken an extra hour to delve deeper into Beatles history and impact. I guess what I’m saying is that the movie “entertains” as an ode to Beatles music, a rom-com genre, and a fun summer flick. Maybe writer Curtis and director Boyle should look into a prequel that actually does focus on a Beatle-less world and how much things would be different today (?).

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      1. I agree it was entertaining for what it was. I certainly walked out with a smile on my face. I guess I wish Danny Boyle had higher aspirations, since we know how good he can be.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I like your consideration you’ve given to the artistic process behind music creation. The movie basically makes a claim that it’s just the catchiness of the Beatles music + social media that sparks success; it diminishes the Importance of culture relevancy. Fun concept though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely! The movie could have been more forthcoming with its “this is the evil side of the music industry” message, but it went with fun concept first, and I think that is both a good thing and a bad thing: good for summer movie entertainment, bad for a deeper, more explored experience that maybe analyzed a world without The Beatles first. I wonder what “love” would be celebrated as, for example. “All You Need is…?” Thank God for The Beatles.

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