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Page last updated at 11:49 GMT, Thursday, 10 September 2009 12:49 UK

Help! I'm a Beatles hater

Abbey Road

By Stephen Robb
BBC News

The re-release of the entire Beatles album catalogue has unleashed another wave of veneration for the 60s pop band. But could there really be anyone who actively dislikes their music?

James Bond apparently hated The Beatles.

In Goldfinger, he advises Jill Masterson that "drinking Dom Perignon '53 above the temperature of 38 degrees" is "as bad as listening to The Beatles without earmuffs".

The Bond girl's own verdict on the Fab Four, unfortunately, is not recorded before her untimely demise on the inside of a coating of gold paint.

That was 1964, when 007 may have felt threatened by that year's global success of The Beatles' first movie, A Hard Day's Night.

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Two years into their recording career and with Beatlemania raging on both sides of the Atlantic though, Bond was going characteristically violently against the prevailing mood. Forty-five years later, four decades after the Fab Four parted ways, his remark would be considered even more extraordinary, almost sacrilegious.

The devotional, feverish excitement over this week's release of re-mastered versions of all 13 UK Beatles albums highlights the band's unique, enduring appeal.

The first 50,000 box sets of mono versions of the discs, priced at £170, have already sold out, according to record company EMI.

Saturation media coverage to mark the release of the albums, of which an estimated billion copies already reside in record collections worldwide, has been led by the BBC's "Beatles Week" series of programmes.

The Beatles seem to occupy a uniquely unassailable position in popular culture - everybody loves them. Don't they?

What year did Paul McCartney write Silly Love Songs? 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967...
I Hate the Beatles website

Not Robert Elms. The author and broadcaster is one of a tiny minority who seem willing to stick their heads above the parapet and rubbish this most sacred of British institutions.

"They did a few things that lots of people liked," says Elms. "Everybody can like them, from grandma singing along to When I'm Sixty-Four to the little girl singing Yellow Submarine."

But he adds: "I just think they are either childlike and simple or rather leaden and pompous - one or the other all the time."

Theirs is a sanitised and anaemic version of American blues-inspired rock and roll, he complains.

"For me they turned something that was once sexy and raw and had roots, into something that was totally soulless, playground sing-along music."

It's the sort of talk which risks a midnight knock on the door from Britain's popular culture thought police.

Robert Elms
Guaranteed a place on every Beatles fan's dartboard - Robert Elms

While he concedes that they did write some good songs, he can list rather more of what he calls The Beatles' "crimes against music" - Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Maxwell's Silver Hammer, Octopus's Garden.

Elms will not play The Beatles on his BBC London daily radio show, and says feedback from listeners suggests "there is a perhaps relatively small but vociferous group of people" who share his opinion of the band.

In an article for the Glasgow paper The Herald some years ago, author and music critic David Keenan set out to find musicians who shared his dislike of The Beatles - and could find no-one.

"It is a canon that you cannot question," he says. "Most people actually think you are just doing it for effect, putting on a front, playing the devil's advocate."

That this is the usual response is confirmed by Elms, who insists: "I do mean it; it's not made up."

Yoko lovers

However, occasionally mocking the supposed greatest band of all time can be "quite fun" as well, he admits.

Yoko Ono and John Lennon
David Keenan's favourite Beatle? Yoko Ono

"I think everything that is over-inflated deserves a pin-prick in it occasionally," Elms says. "How can they be above criticism? That's ludicrous."

Nor are the band any more sacred to Keenan, who says: "There is something so incredibly prissy about their music."

He adds: "I am in such a minority that my favourite Beatle is Yoko Ono; without Yoko's influence I don't think there would be any Beatles music I could listen to."

The avant-garde artist's influence in the latter stages of The Beatles' career inspired John Lennon, and in turn Paul McCartney, to new extremes of sonic adventure, he argues.

However, it is the slick pop of the band's early years that is to blame for the tameness of most UK guitar music today, he insists.

"The Beatles are the absolute curse of modern indie music," Keenan says.

"Anyone who says they are influenced by The Beatles, alarm bells start to go off; it means they are going to be completely ordinary. It's about writing this perfectly-crafted music, the classic song - in inverted commas. It's not about being adventurous."

Branded a moron

Keenan's search for likeminded dissenters finally found success, inevitably, on the internet.

'Phoney Beatlemania' - Comrade Strummer before entering re-education

The scattered online outposts of anti-Beatles sentiment include - tag-line: "Let it be ...over."

Sean, who runs the site, says fans' reactions range from "disbelief" to considering him "downright offensive".

"At first I'm accused of not knowing their material - usually while it's being played behind them in Muzak form," he says. "After I've proved that I'm familiar with the music, and that I can spout just as much useless trivia, I'm branded a moron who doesn't understand music and a dangerous lunatic who should be avoided."

"Q: What year did Paul McCartney write Silly Love Songs? A: 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966..." is typical of the witty tone of the I Hate The Beatles! Why don't you? web page.

But the hate mail these sites apparently attract suggests many Beatles fans fail to see the funny side of having their great heroes abused.

A rare fan's Sean, of Toronto, Canada, even refuses to give his full name, owing, he says, to past death threats.

"I've been told the Beatles are all about 'peace' and 'love' (gimme a break, they're just a rock and roll band) and in the next sentence [they] threaten me with death," explains the home page of the site, Help! The Beatles Suck.

The Beatles
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Elms confirms: "On the internet, I can find some people who will hate me to the ends of the Earth because I don't like their favourite pop group."

Daily Telegraph music critic Neil McCormick, who calls The Beatles' work "the most extraordinary musical journey in pop history", is among those fans sceptical of an opposing view.

"It is a position people adopt because of the universal high regard for them," he says. "Popular music was in its infancy - with the talents compressed into that group they pulled it in every possible direction."

The resulting musical diversity to be found between 1962's Love Me Do and 1970's The Long and Winding Road includes something for everybody to enjoy, McCormick argues.

"There is a lifetime of music in The Beatles."

He adds: "If you like popular music of the modern day, to say that you don't like The Beatles is kind of absurd.

"It is the fount of popular culture."

Below is a selection of your comments:

At the time I can remember plenty of people who were not Beatles fans. They were Rolling Stones fans instead. Like Blur vs Oasis, you were meant to take sides.
Lawrence, Crowthorne, UK

Kudos to Elms et al for being intellectually honest. No-one can dispute the impact they had on pop culture; but was their music really any good? The crazed responses these bloggers have received for voicing honest opinions simply shows the true legacy of the Beatles: rather than being truly "Revolution"ary, they have merely brought generations of mindless sheep into the useless pop culture fold.
Tom, Red Hook, New York

Music is a personal thing - what makes one person smile can sound like nails on a blackboard to someone else. But you cannot argue with the fact that if there were no Beatles, popular music today would be very different! I am proud to be a fan!
Theresa, London

I think that the majority's view of The Beatles is clouded by the fact that they are considered to be a national institution. If we were able to remove all of the glitter and hype that surrounds them, all that would be left is a slightly above average band... please don't kill me!
Jose Yossarian, London

Put simply, there are some Beatles tunes I like, and some I don't. Does that make me a non-music-loving moron? I think not. Just honest. I respect everything that they achieved, but don't worship the ground they walk on and love every track by default. That said, I would challenge anyone who is a member of one of these "The Beatles Suck" websites to, honestly, and I think that is the key word here, "honestly", say that there isn't a single Beatles track that they don't like in some way. If they can answer yes to that, then I would imagine they don't like any music at all.
Stuart, High Wycombe

I grew up in Liverpool in the 70s and 80s. This was before the city decided that The Beatles were the route to economic salvation and so I didn't pay too much attention to them. I'll never forget, though, a playground encounter with one of the many school bullies that populated the school. Asked what my opinion was of The Beatles, and thinking that this character was unlikely to be a fan, I replied that they were a bit rubbish. For that I received a punch in the mouth. I learned my lesson then and there.
Geoff, Louth, Lincolnshire

I've always disliked *most* of the Beatles music. Lennon's voice always sounded so "nasally" and the music was generally IMHO overrated. "Eleanor Rigby" and a couple of other tracks stand out as quite good, but mostly as soon as I hear a Beatles song, I switch it off.
Tym, Clitheroe

It is not sacrilege to have musical preferences. Even John Lennon said, "I don't believe in Beatles."
Perry Callas, Astoria, Oregon

I've never liked The Beatles, but I do like Oasis. Is that weird?
Rich, Plymouth

I can relate to the reactions the guys in this article get. I was treated much the same when I pointed out that Michael Jackson was just a normal human being; that he hadn't cured cancer, walked on water or done anything else similarly amazing, just lived a very public life, and then died a very pubic death. The Beatles are the same. They had some popular music that people agree to say they like so as not to look uncool - notice a pattern with the Arctic Monkeys anybody?
James B, Sheffield

To say that you don't like The Beatles is the same as saying that you don't like non-classical music. There is far too much diversity in their music for all their songs to be disliked. Such people either genuinely think that She Loves You, etc is all they did and probably haven't even heard of the White Album, or they are just trying to be controversial for the sake of it.
David Kelly, Woodbridge, Suffolk

I deeply resent paying time and time again for music already paid for countless millions of times over by Beatles fans across the globe. £200 during a recession is just pure greed and the cynics amongst us might think that Paul McCartney's stock must have taken a knock during the recent market crash. Give us back our heritage, Paul. You can't take it with you. John and George must be turning in their graves!
Carl Eley, Cardiff

I had the entire Beatles back catalogue on my iPod for a while and found myself skipping tracks constantly. I maybe like a quarter of their stuff. We shouldn't forget, though, that they were true pioneers in a time when most artists didn't even write their own songs, let alone use studio effects, orchestras and, let's not be coy, drugs, to push the boundaries of popular music. Even their style of dress and the way they wore their hair influenced a generation. Without them we'd have had another 40 years of the 12-bar blues by men in leather jackets. Their impact cannot be underestimated. For that much they deserve their adulation.
Gruff Jones, Wrexham

The Beatles are hugely overrated. That does not mean that they were bad, just that they were overrated. While they have a body of work that is not without interest and not without a few gems, the music of today would be far better off if they had never formed. Their legacy, aside from the music, is bland drumming, average bass-playing, and cliched pop songs lacking in passion - the sort of music which might have fitted in perfectly at a small club in the hometown of skiffle. The Beatles' music lacks the passion and raw emotion that proper rock and roll/blues has, and it lacks the meaning of folk music. Decidedly average.
Anthony Lazarus, London

I view The Beatles in the same way I view the Ford Model T car. There's no doubt it was revolutionary at the time and had a big influence on subsequent automobiles. However, it wasn't the best car ever made and I certainly wouldn't want to drive one today.
Brian Yim Lim, Middlesex

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