Imagine there’s no Beatles. It’s easy if you try.

Beatlemania: The band has more number one albums than any other artist in Britain.

How would the world have looked without the Fab Four? That is the question posed by Richard Curtis’s new film, Yesterday. Pop, protest and the sexual revolution might have been very different.

When you hear Beatles, you immediately think insects. Coldplay’s Fix You is considered one of the greatest songs ever written. And cigarettes? Never heard of them.

This is the alternate universe imagined in the new film, Yesterday. It is about a British songwriter called Jack Malik who wakes up and realises that he is the only person who remembers the 1960s’ Liverpool band, The Beatles.

So, naturally, he steals their songs and becomes an international pop sensation.

But, music aside, the world of Yesterday is not so different from our own. Its writer Richard Curtis says he wanted to focus on a love story rather than on how The Beatles “probably changed our whole culture”.

Would history really have been the same without the world’s biggest boy band?

Certainly, pop music would have been different. “Their albums tied together the various strands of 60s’ pop,” writes The Guardian’s music critic Alexis Petridis.

Journalist Peter Doggett suggests that music would not have played such a big role in teenage rebellions. Instead of punk or rap music, we would be living in a world where “the real rebellions are elsewhere – in fashion, art, folk music and poetry”.

Lady Gaga has even credited The Beatles with “the birth of the sexual revolution”.

Times of trouble?

The real question is: can one person (or four people) change the course of history? It was certainly magical when two of the world’s greatest songwriters worked together: John Lennon’s out-of-the-box creativity coupled with Paul McCartney’s focus on detail produced a unique style of music.

But history is long. And all of us play a part in building culture. The anti-war movement, the sexual revolution, psychedelic drugs: all these events shaped the 1960s — and the decades that followed — with or without The Beatles. They just may have sounded a little different.

You Decide

  1. Were The Beatles the best band in the world?

Activities

  1. Write your own song inspired The Beatles.

Some People Say...

“Peace is not something you wish for: it’s something you make, something you do, something you are, and something you give away.”

John Lennon, singer-songwriter and co-founder of The Beatles (1940-1980)

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
John Lennon and Paul McCartney met in Liverpool in 1957. Later, they were joined by George Harrison and Ringo Starr. They split up in 1970 after achieving worldwide fame.
What do we not know?
What the world actually would have been like without them. While they certainly changed pop music, it is hard to know whether the broader cultural changes would have happened without them.

Word Watch

Cigarettes
The Beatles were all regular smokers, often photographed and filmed with cigarettes. However, it is a stretch for the film to suggest that they were solely responsible for making smoking popular.
Biggest
They are officially the best-selling band in history, with over 800 million albums sold worldwide.
Sexual revolution
A cultural movement which made sex more acceptable outside of marriage.
Psychedelic
Mind-altering drugs, like LSD, which can induce hallucinations. They had a major influence on the art and music of the 1960s.

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