Are The Beatles the new “folk music”?

I just got back from an off-trail hike in Denali National Park (Alaska) and wanted to tell you about something interesting that happened. I was with an experienced ranger and a group of 8 visitors from various countries. A few, like myself, were from the US, but there was also a woman from Poland and 4 people from Spain.

If this were a hundred years ago, there would have been lots of singing on a hike like this. Especially since our guide asked us to keep talking to keep the grizzly bears away (they don’t like being near people here). But everyone sang back then, and with a group this diverse we would have shared folk songs from our respective cultures. Maybe even an opera aria or two.

But now, nobody sings. So up the hill we went, trudging across the tundra, mile after mile (That’s actually a Frank Zappa lyric, but if the wet shoe fits…). After an hour or so without even a hint of music, one of the Spanish guys starts singing The Beatles’ song “Yellow Submarine.” IMMEDIATELY, everyone else joins in for a chorus or two until nobody knew the verses and the singing stopped.

It was a fun moment, but what really struck me was how this song has transcended “pop” music and become something bigger. In the almost 50 years since it was recorded, “Yellow Submarine” has become part of our shared cultural heritage. It struck an emotional chord with all of us, regardless of who was from from Spain, Poland, or The United States. Even folk music didn’t do that to the same global extent!

Have The Beatles become the new folk music? Maybe in some ways they have.

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