Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll defines the era of the 1960s. The Beatles, whom many people consider one of the greatest bands in history, also defined the time period of the ‘60s. The band encompassed the era. It had the look, the catchy lyrics and, what Todd Evans considers, the sound that revolutionized all genres of music, including popular music today.
Evans is a professor of journalism who specializes in electronic media at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, but there is one course that he teaches in addition to his journalism courses. The course is called “The Beatles: Popular Music in Society.”
The class only allows 15 to 18 students, and there is always a long wait-list of students who want to get into the course. Evans knows there are many students who want to take the class, but he does not know how many students are on the wait-list. Not that there is any real need for him to look it over.
“I’ve never had a student drop the course,” Evans said. “I’m not saying that boastfully, it just feels good for me as a faculty member to be able to help students discover something in an area they might not normally get deep access to in today’s busy, crowded world.”
He said while students are excited to learn about this aspect of such an interesting era, many people, especially parents, wonder why a course about the Beatles is so enticing to today’s generation.
“As we talk on the first day, I ask the question, ‘How many of your parents are saying what the heck are you doing in a class on the Beatles?’” he said. “Almost half of them raise their hands.”
Evans said that in today’s world, where hip-hop is popular and young people listen to songs through headphones, music is an individualized experience. But, he said, there is something about rock ‘n’ roll that everyone can connect with, which makes a class such as the Beatles course so popular.
“When you come into a campus environment, you look at the names of seminars and they can be rather intimidating,” Evans said. “Then you see something like rock ‘n’ roll and you go ‘Ah, I know something about rock ‘n’ roll, I can talk about rock ‘n’ roll.’ So there’s a comfort factor there.”
Sophomore Brittany Elkins said she decided to take the course because she had always liked the Beatles and because she heard that students learned a lot from the class besides Ringo’s birthday and the names of songs.
“We weren’t just sitting around listening to the music, we were learning about their history and who they were,” she said. “I learned so much about how their music came to be, why it was so popular and how they affected everyone else’s music.”
Elkins said one of the reasons the Beatles’ music is still popular today is because of how relatable the band’s music is to people of all ages.
“I have used the Beatles as so many examples in my other classes that it’s not even funny,” she said. “It’s a different perspective, a different way to look at history and understand that time period. I’ve quoted them a lot in other class discussions and related them to books and readings in other classes.”
Junior Vladislav Frederick said Evans uses the course as a way to let rock ‘n’ roll enlighten other aspects of students’ lives.
“I was reminded by this class that you have to approach any subject with exuberance and full-blown enthusiasm in order to fully engage,” he said. “You simply have to have fun with the material.”
Frederick said he learned lessons from the Beatles that he can apply not only to other classes, but also to the workplace and other activities.
“I learned that excelling in both individual talent and collaboration with others can bring you success in any task,” he said, “from the lowest and meanest all the way up to forming your own band and blowing nations away.”
Evans said one of the goals of the Beatles course is to help students explore different ways of learning by trying to explain a phenomenon. He said while he does not have the answer to why the Beatles are still a phenomenon, he can explain why students today are interested in learning about a band that became popular almost 50 years ago.
“There’s a real purity to how music communicates and affects people, and you either get that or you don’t,” he said. “You’ve got to realize how universal the general sense is of a mystique surrounding the 1960s. Students are going back to the Beatles, and even if they don’t understand the music itself, they understand the simplicity of it and the purity of it.”