The aspect of prophecy that interested me most this semester is form of communication. Most of the prophets we have studied, like Lincoln, Stowe, and Thoreau, have communicated through speeches or essays or novels. (Yes, we have studied Bob Dylan, but he was mostly a lyricist, not a musician, the importance of which I will explain later.)
The seed of my project was planted when Professor Fox had several students read the Gettysberg Address aloud in class. Every person emphasized something different, the timbre of each student’s voice, the musicality of their speech, was unique. For example, one student emphasized “OF the people, BY the people, FOR the people” as opposed to “of the PEOPLE, by the PEOPLE, for the PEOPLE.” Although this does not completely change the meaning of the Gettysberg Address, it does shift the tone, creating a new facet to the speech. But because the speech was never recorded with Lincoln’s intended voice, we will never know the exact tone that Lincoln wanted to convey.
The same thing happened when we watched Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama give speeches on YouTube. Hearing how the original orators meant to perform gave the speeches a whole new meaning. What they emphasized and the way they milked certain words, told me more closely what the prophet was trying to convey. For me, when I heard King’s I Have a Dream speech, he did not say it at all how I imagined. I have read this speech countless times and have always thought it exuded pure hope and confidence. But, when I heard it for the first time, King’s voice made me feel the hardships the movement had been through; the tone was more of a tired strength. I missed this important aspect of one of the most famous and prophetic speeches in the United States even though I had read it many times. It was the tone, the “music”, behind the speech, that I was missing.
This is what songs have that speeches and written works don’t. Yes, songs have music, but what does this music provide? The actual musicality of the words; it shapes them, it sometimes even overcomes them.
Now let’s go back to Bob Dylan. Dylan often felt that most covers took his songs in completely different directions, changing the meaning of his songs completely. Only the music was changed, not his words. But, when Johnny Rivers covered Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street” Dylan acknowledged that Rivers’ version got the attitude and melodic sense to complete and surpass even the feeling that Dylan had put into it; it was obvious to Dylan that life had the same external grip on Rivers as it did on Dylan. Dylan is basically saying that it takes more than just the words to truly convey a message, it takes the right music too.
This brings us to The Beatles – one of the many musical prophets that came out of the 60’s. The Beatles are one of the most famous bands of all time with 23 of the Top 500 songs of all time according to Rolling Stone –the most of any artist. So why is that?
Yes, there are definitely some songs, like ballads, where the words are as important, or more important, than the music. But, when you look at the top 10 songs consistent in every formal and informal list, many of them have very repetitive lyrics that, yes, are catchy, but what is it that catches the listeners’ ear? What is it that gives these repetitive and sometimes simplistic lyrics a prophetic quality? The musical genius, that is where the Beatles’ prophecy lies. Bands to this day use their chords and follow the new musical path that the Beatles carved out. They are musical prophets of their time.
This website contains a few songs that I have analyzed and researched. This site aims to put what makes the Beatles prophetic into words. Hopefully you will begin to hear the prophecy in the Beatles’ music too.