Howard Goodall’s 20th Century Greats, Channel 4

by | Nov 27, 2004 | All, Reviews

What’s it all about?

Composer Howard Goodall looks at the (in his lofty opinion) the best musicians of the 20th century, beginning with the Beatles.

What to say if you liked it

A definitive analysis of why, where other bands in the history of popular music were happy to be able to keep afloat in the turbulent waters of musical genius, the

Beatles walked gracefully over it.

What to say if you didn’t like it

An indulgent exercise in which Howard Goodall seeks to find the impossible empirical proof that the Beatles, and any other stuffy, unlistenable composer he chose to namedrop, are so much better than your favourite band through questionable, impenetrable evidence.

What was good about it?

• The concentrated examination of the Beatles’ music, in which Howard showed exactly why the genius of Lennon or McCartney made Strawberry Fields, Penny Lane or Eleanor Rigby are classics as opposed to merely hummable tunes through an analysis of their key sequences, modes and harmonies.

• How music is not often the work of a flash of inspiration, but more a drawn out manipulation of an accepted set of chords, modes and harmonies that has remained the same since the classical era.

• We learned how the Beatles were inspired more by the technical excellence of Mozart than their popular contemporaries.

• The experimental Tomorrow Never Knows that used looped vocals and other odd sound effects that showed how the Beatles weren’t content to be a simple pop band.

• Howard recreating the Beatles songs sat behind his little accordion in the most ludicrous of locations such as at the end of a pier.

What was bad about it?

• Howard objectifying music through a pseudo-scientific approach during which he seemed as intent on despoiling the achievements of all pop bands in history as beatifying the Beatles.

• During his scrutiny of I Am The Walrus Howard remarked on the 16 chord changes which made you listen to the chord changes rather than the record itself – although this was a merciful release in itself from the auditory torture of that awful record.

• Howard’s tyrannical objectification of music, which is the most ultra-personal of all the arts. On Tchaikovsky’s Romeo And Juliet: “Everyone who listens to the climatic surge feels a lurch in their stomach.” On Eleanor Rigby: “It is without doubt one of the most brilliant and poignant songs ever written.” On Penny Lane: “The new verse greets us like a day full of optimism and youth.”

• Despite being highly innovative Tomorrow Never Knows is an incredibly dull song.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

27/11/2004

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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