This is the third installment of a three part series that discussed the creative competition between the Beatles and the Beach Boys in the mid-1960’s.
Please click here for Part One – Getting Better
Please click here for Part Two – The Power of the Individual
We have spent some time discussing the progression and creativity that led to the success of some of the greatest rock albums of all time: Pet Sounds, Rubber Soul, and Sgt. Pepper. We have seen that creative competition can pave the way for greatness. We have seen that when pushed or inspired, people can achieve heights previously unimagined. We have also seen that it doesn’t take large groups of people to start a new movement; it can really begin with just a single individual. To wrap up this series, we need to talk about one other critical element of success – failure.
Following the success of the ground breaking Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band album, the Beatles pushed the envelope even further. They hit upon a creative idea and decided to make a motion picture for television that documented what transpired when a collection of unique individuals traveled across England in a bus together. They also recorded music to go along with this “documentary” film. They called this adventure the Magical Mystery Tour.
In short, while the musical numbers in this production were excellent, the final results were, to be kind, uninspiring. The film itself was a disaster. Ultimateclassicrock.com describes the film as follows:
“The movie is a mess – incoherent, unfunny and an example of ego and authority running rampant and unchecked. Magical Mystery Tour proved that the Beatles were fallible after all.”
“The Beatles were fallible after all.”
Halfway across the world, in America, things also were not always turning up roses for the Beach Boys. Immediately following Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys recorded their greatest and most original hit – Good Vibrations. But following this single, the group faced their own disaster of a project. The Beach Boys gathered together to record an ambitious album that would be titled Smile. It wasn’t to be.
The history of the Smile sessions are riddled with strife, angst, upset, drug abuse, and other failings. The ideas and music that were supposed to be part of the album could have catapulted the Beach Boys to their highest level yet, but it didn’t happen. Smile as an album and as a concept, never fully transpired. The album as envisioned was never released. Brian Wilson, the creative force behind the Beach Boys had personal struggles that impacted on his ability to write great music and be a contributing member of the band. In fact, for the Beach Boys, it can be argued that their greatest days were now behind them.
Two giants of popular music, coming off some of their greatest successes had reached too far.
What can we learn from this?
First, the groups were not afraid to fail. One might argue that by this time, both bands felt that they could do no wrong or that everything they touched would turn to gold. And, that might have been part of the equation, but I don’t think so, entirely. In order to make it in the music business, individuals and groups face many failures. For one, the Beatles famously failed to be signed after their first recording session audition. These artists knew that the opportunity for failure was always present. They did not, though, allow this possibility to inhibit their creativity. They took risks knowing that they might fail. (And in these endeavors, they did fail, at least to a point.)
Second, they did not let the failures define them. When they didn’t achieve the accolades or successes they dreamed or hoped would come to them with the magical Mystery Tour and Smile, the bands did not sit back and decide that they were now failures. Rather, they looked at what they had achieved, assessed where they reached too far, and continued following their passions – writing and recording music.
It is at this point where these two famous rock bands tend to take different paths. As noted above, while they still recorded, the Beach Boys never again achieved the highest levels of success. They continued to produce and release records and singles. Some of their songs received modest praise and hit the charts, but none brought them back to the top. The Beatles, however, still had a collection of chart topping songs on the horizon.
Because they kept moving forward, these bands did not let failure become a permanent state. Failure is never permanent, unless we let it become permanent. One of the most damaging phrases in the English language is “I quit.” When one understands the ebb and flow of success, he knows that failures are part of the process. Within each failure is the opportunity to learn and to grow. We truly don’t fail until we stop trying.
Finally, it is important to note that, within failure, there can still be positives. This aspect was especially true of The Beatles. Contained within the Magical Mystery Tour album are some of the most loved and original tracks the Beatles ever recorded. These include The Fool on the Hill, Hello, Goodbye, I Am the Walrus, All You Need is Love, and Strawberry Fields Forever. Some of our greatest accomplishments can be parts of failures or set-backs. Within each failure is a learning experience. That is an important lesson to remember.
As we look within ourselves, we must have the drive, commitment, and willingness to seek creative solutions, to try innovative approaches, to be the individual person who makes a difference, and as we stumble on our way to achieving our successes, we have to rise again knowing that the set-backs are just part of the process. As we get there, we might make great music, we might even have a hit or two, but we’ll know that the journey is making us all the better for our efforts!