Lifetime Achievement Award: The Beatles

GRAMMY winner Danger Mouse tips his cap to the Fab Four
  • Photo: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images
    The Beatles
  • Photo: Jeff Fusco/Getty Images
    Danger Mouse
February 05, 2014 -- 10:42 am PST
By Danger Mouse / GRAMMY.com

(In addition to the GRAMMY Awards, The Recording Academy presents Special Merit Awards recognizing contributions of significance to the recording field, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, Trustees Award and Technical GRAMMY Award.)

I didn't grow up on the Beatles. In fact, by the time I got to college I couldn't have named one Beatles song if you put a gun to my head. Honestly. I listened to '80s pop when I was young, and mostly to hip-hop in middle/high school. My parents were exclusively '60s/'70s soul/R&B listeners, so I was oblivious. My tastes expanded a bit when I was in college, but the Beatles were always this huge group that I just thought couldn't be all that interesting if they were so popular. Any pictures I remembered had them all dressed alike and smiling a lot. I like darker, melancholy music in general, so I was skeptical. However, as I got more into music, and even started making music, I started to hear more and more about how the Beatles had been a huge influence on much of the music I was discovering. I had some research to do. …

I bought the albums, read books and watched any documentaries I could find. What an unreal story. They were immediately a worldwide sensation by their early 20s. They wrote their own material when that was all but unheard of, worked their a**es off touring the world playing hit after hit. Girls and boys alike went crazy for them. Every year, from their first records in 1963, they got bigger and bigger and more influential in both music and popular culture.

However, the thing that really spoke to me was when at the peak of their career — with anything and everything a band at that time could have possibly wanted — they made a change. In 1966 the Beatles stopped playing live. The decision was one that allowed them to make music that wouldn't have to be replicated at a concert. This would open up all kinds of opportunities for them to try different recording techniques and experiment in the studio in ways no one making popular music had ever really done. They pioneered things like guitar distortion, overdubbing vocals, multitrack recording, tape loops, and countless other recording techniques that are now standards today … even sampling. All of these things had influenced much of the music I'd loved growing up, and now it was making me really look at creating music as an art form.

In a five-year span the Beatles released Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles (the White Album), Abbey Road, and Let It Be — arguably the greatest span of consecutive albums put together by anyone to date. They tried to push boundaries musically and challenge what's accepted of people in their popular position. Here was a band who had achieved the ultimate fame and fortune and instead of basking in more adoration, they veered away from millions of screaming girls to do something more challenging and meaningful to them. Of course, they didn't really lose much of the fame and fortune after all, but that's not the point. The point was that sometimes it's not what you have, but what you choose to do with what you have that can change the world, and inspire other people to do the same.

(Danger Mouse is a five-time GRAMMY winner, including wins as both Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical as an artist for his work with the Black Keys and Gnarls Barkley. He has been nominated 18 times in total, including a Best Alternative Music Album nod in 2010 for the self-titled debut by Broken Bells, who will release their second album After The Disco in February. In 2004 he released The Grey Album, a project combining vocal performances from Jay Z's The Black Album with samples from the Beatles' ­ White Album.)

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