Did the famous decade of pop music that followed the Beatles’ 1964 British Invasion spread leftist ideas? Many think so. For example, economist Tyler Cowen writes:
People tuned into the radio, in part, for ideas, not just tunes. But the ideas that spread best were attached to songs. Drug use spread, in part, because famous musicians sang about using drugs. Anti-Vietnam War themes spread through songs, as did many other social movements.
But did leftist lyrics inculcate leftist ideas? If so, it ought to be easy to name scores of well-known politically relevant songs from this immensely famous era of pop music.
A striking paradox is that only a tiny number of the best-known lyrics of the era were overtly political, with some even being on the right. For instance, Lynyrd Skynyrd topped Neil Young’s whiny “Southern Man” with “Sweet Home Alabama.”
This is not to say that Lennon and McCartney were apolitical. One revelation of Peter Jackson’s eight-hour Get Back documentary about the 1969 recording of the Let It Be album is that John and Paul avidly followed politics in the newspapers in a slightly middle-aged fashion.
But in his songs during his pre-Yoko prime, the contrarian John tended to wax anti-politics and pro-drugs:
You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We’d all love to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free your mind instead
But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow
Strikingly, Paul was the more serious-minded liberal thinker of the pair. As early as 1965, he sat down for two lengthy sessions with the ancient philosopher Bertrand Russell to learn why Russell opposed the Vietnam War, and came to agree with him. (By the way, McCartney has the shortest known living handshake link to Napoleon: Paul shook Earl Russell’s hand, who was raised by his prime minister grandfather who had interviewed Bonaparte on Elba in 1814.)
For example, Paul demoed a song during the Let It Be sessions called “Commonwealth” scoffing at Enoch Powell’s opposition to immigration from the now-almost-forgotten British Commonwealth of former imperial possessions.
But the Beatles didn’t go ahead with it. They mostly avoided releasing topical political songs, just as George’s friend Eric Clapton didn’t write his anti-immigration views into “Layla.”