Reexamining the swingin’ sixties
Exam board AQA, which sets and marks papers for about half of all GCSE exams taken by British 16-year-old high-school pupils, plans to introduce three songs from Sgt Pepper into the music curriculum from September 2016. “Pop music began in this country with The Beatles in the swinging sixties, so what better band to look to for the study of contemporary music than the Fab Four?” said Seb Ross, head of AQA’s music department.
The addition of the Sgt Pepper tracks to the board’s music GCSE curriculum puts The Beatles in the company of classical composers Joseph Haydn and Aaron Copland as well as influential guitarist Carlos Santana, whose works also feature.
AQA said students would be asked to look at the melody, harmony, structure, rhythm and meaning of three songs from the Beatles album, which influenced generations of musicians and changed recording techniques. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds has long been the subject of disagreement between those who say the title’s letters refer to the psychedelic drug LSD and those who accept John Lennon’s more innocent explanation. Lennon always maintained that the song was inspired by a drawing by his five-year-old son Julian about a school friend called Lucy.
The other two songs to be included are Within You, Without You and With a Little Help from My Friends. This prompted Times newspaper columnist Daniel Finkelstein to suggest the following multiple choice question, which might cause dismay among fans of drummer Ringo Starr, who performed the lead vocals in With a Little Help. “What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you: A. Stand up and walk out on me? B. Make me the lead vocalist on one of your most famous songs?”