Why every English learner needs to listen to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles

Level A2 / B1, Genre: Pop, Rock ‘n’ Roll

(You’ll find a short vocabulary list at the bottom of this article containing the underlined words. If there are any other words you don’t understand, don’t hesitate to ask).

Hello, today we’re going to look at two of the best bands the British have ever produced: the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. In this blog entry we will look at why all of you should look at them. Let’s go going!

 Raw Rolling StonesBeautiful Beatles
Band membersNumerous; main members: Sir Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, Charlie WyattMain members: John Lennon, Sir Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr
Active years1964 – present1962 – 1970
UK No.1s817
Type of musicEarly years: R ‘n’ B (Rhythm n Blues),Later: Rock ‘n’ Roll, Rock, PopEarly years: Skiffle, R ‘n’ B (Rhythm n Blues), Later years: Rock ‘n’ Roll, Rock, Psychedelia, Pop
Which topics?Many for example sex, slavery, drugsMany, but mainly: love
Language usedRebellious, improper use of EnglishEmotional, Easy-to-understand, 
Cultural effect on UKWorld-famous, Multiple albums and singles No.1., Mick Jagger knighted World-famous; Famous album for example ‘Abbey Road’ reproduced; one of the most famous road crossings in the world; Multiple No1s; McCartney knighted
My personal favourite song(s)Brown Sugar, Little Red RoosterGet Back, Day Tripper

Just from the table above, you can see that these two bands have over 20 combined British No.1 singles. They are known all over the world and, even though the Beatles may not be producing any music anymore, are still two creative masters of music.

Raw music

Normally, we all like our food cooked. But when it comes to music, this can be different, whoever you talk to. If you listen to the Rolling Stones, most of their music is raw and uncooked. The music is edgy, the topics are varied. Take for example (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. This song is a story about someone (probably a man), who is unhappy about all his choices. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the cigarettes he smokes or the women he chooses to see, there is no satisfaction in anything, perhaps a comment on young people’s view of society and the world. Take the Stones’ No.1 single Little Red Rooster. On release, people talked about it for weeks as it felt it was about more than a rooster. Some commented that this song was probably about having sex… 

Cooked to perfection

If the Stones are raw, the Beatles, on the other hand, are cooked to perfection. Their music is often smooth, easy to listen to and pulls listeners in very quickly. Take for example their second No.1 from the year 1963: She Loves You (lyrics). It talks of a man who thinks the love of his life has gone, but it turns out she stills love him. The theme of love is evident in many Beatles hits for example Can’t Buy Me Love, I Feel Fine. However there is a song that is a little more uncooked and a bit like The Rolling Stones’ songs: Day Tripper. The guitar riff played by George Harrison is raw, edgy and unlike other Beatles releases.

Easy on the ears: She Loves You
An edgy day trip: Day Tripper

Cut to perfection or rebellious

Looking at their outfits, the early outfits of both bands were cut to perfection. Both bands wore suits that made them look very good. But, in later years Mick Jagger started to show his inner self by wearing more vibrant colours for example in this video of Brown Sugar. What is a common theme, though, is that all members of the bands decided to grow their hair long – a part of the culture of rebellion in the ‘60s and early 70s.

Play-acting or keep it simple?

Most bands starting off in the ‘60s were encouraged to keep their dance moves to a minimum. You can see this in early releases of both bands. Their steps are very simple and nothing too hard to follow. But looking at releases from the Rolling Stones from the mid 60s onwards, Jagger pulls more difficult moves and it looks like he’s play-acting. Check out this release from 1965: Get Off My Cloud. Jagger and Richards are trying to show off some very arhythmic dance moves. The one man keeping it very cool is Brian Jones just playing his guitar while moving his head very slightly with the rhythm.

Have you got any questions? Don’t hesitate to send me an email!

Luscious language vs Raw rebellion

And now we come to the most important part: the language. As we said above, the topics are varied. Many Beatles songs were about love, and therefore the language shows the use of vocabulary connected with love: ‘love’ and ‘diamond ring’. The Rolling Stones wrote songs not only about love, but other more intimate aspects of ‘60s life, for example sex and breakups. We can see examples of that as in titles of songs like ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ and an indirect reference to breaking-up in ‘Last Time’.

Breaking up? The Last Time

1 thought on “Why every English learner needs to listen to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles”

  1. Pingback: How to sharpen your listening skills with the Beach Boys - Learn English with Tommy

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