England, the 1960s, and the Triumph of the Beatles

Course No. 30110
Professor Michael Shelden, PhD
Indiana State University
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Course No. 30110
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Examine the Beatles' connections with the young English social rebels who saw themselves as beatniks
  • numbers Learn how John Lennon used his anger as an outlet for creativity in songs such as "Help!"
  • numbers Explore how manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin helped shape the Beatles' success
  • numbers Discover the cultural forces responsible for the meteoric rise of Beatlemania around the world
  • numbers Uncover culturally potent themes of rebellion against English culture in the film, "A Hard Day's Night"

Course Overview

The 1960s was a decade of shifting cultural norms, of challenged conventions, of political upheaval and social rebellion. It was also the decade that brought us a band—and music—that would change England and the world forever.

It has been more than 60 years since the Beatles first blazed across the universe, bringing with them a charming, mournful, raucous, uplifting, experimental, and transcendent sound in songs we still know the words to today: “Hey Jude,” “She Loves You,” “Yesterday,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

It’s true that the Beatles fascinate listeners of all ages because of their great, and varied, music. But how did four young men from a faded old seaport in Northern England lead such an epic musical and cultural revolution? Why could the story of the Beatles only have happened in such a charged decade? What remains to be said about this British band that hasn’t been said before?

Questions like these lie at the beating heart of England, the 1960s, and the Triumph of the Beatles. Led by best-selling biographer, Professor Michael Shelden of Indiana State University, these 12 fascinating lectures offer a fresh look at how a pop band became one of the most compelling voices against the status quo. Taking you deeper than any simple music survey, Professor Shelden’s course zeroes in on the cultural backstory of how the Beatles emerged as a worldwide phenomenon and inspired a devotion so strong, it had its own name: Beatlemania. Using the advantages of hindsight, recent scholarship, and interviews with key figures, he reconstructs an incredible period in sonic and social history.

These lectures do, of course, enhance your understanding of the Beatles’ music. But more important, they allow Beatlemaniacs and new listeners alike the chance to appreciate how England helped create this miracle band, and how the band, in turn, influenced both England and so much of the rest of the world.

An Eclectic Blend of Musical and Cultural History

Working chronologically, Professor Shelden takes you through a transformative decade in the history of both music and culture.

Giving equal weight to the Beatles’ early years as they do to the apex of their career and eventual dissolution, these lectures invite you on a whirlwind adventure that reveals the evolution of a band like no other—from school kids to musicians to pop phenomenon to film stars to artists inevitably drawn in separate directions.

But this isn’t simply a lecture series on the Beatles. It’s also a window into—often unknown—cultural events that allowed the Beatles to stage their remarkable invasion of the United States and, after that, the rest of the world.

Professor Shelden traces the subtle ways British culture had established a foothold in postwar America, how the American music scene welcomed the Beatles (and eventually left them behind). He offers pointed revelations about the fickleness of popular culture; the Cold War politics of music lyrics; and the nature of rage, creativity, love, and friendship.

The Stories behind Unforgettable Songs

How you feel about the Beatles’ music is, inevitably, subject to differences in taste and experience. Some fans prefer A Hard Day’s Night while others are more in-tune with the “White Album.” Albums and songs are open to all kinds of interpretation. Professor Shelden’s lectures offer eye-opening cultural insights into some of the band’s greatest hits.

  • “Help!”: This song, a cry for help by a young man who has gone too far, ought to be moody. Yet the lyrics are sung as a celebration of the singer’s plight, not a dirge. Hours on stage in Hamburg had taught John Lennon to revel in danger and trouble, and belt out every number as if it were his last. At its heart, “Help!” is a primal howl of the kind John would often let loose in his post-Beatles period.
  • “Back in the USSR”: Written in the second half of the 1960s, this song was so infectious at the time that it was easy for the average listener to overlook the parody and hear only a literal celebration of the Soviet Union. Predictably, right-wing critics in America condemned the song as un-American, especially when paired with another provocative song on the “White Album,” John Lennon’s “Revolution 1.”
  • “Yesterday”: Paul McCartney spent about three hours recording this song, doing it entirely on his own with an acoustic guitar as his only instrument. What he created in “Yesterday” was the kind of stand-alone classic every songwriter dreams of doing. The soft sound would serve forever more as Exhibit A in the argument that Paul was the composer of sweet melodies and John the genuine man of hard rock. But the reality was never as simple as that.
  • “Do You Want to Know a Secret”: Intrigued by the secrecy of manager Brian Epstein’s homosexuality, John wrote a coy song about it in “Do You Want to Know a Secret.” Instead of singing it himself, which might have caused Brian anxiety at a time when homosexual love was still illegal, John gave it to George to sing as an innocent romantic tune. Nobody was the wiser until John revealed the truth many years later.

“Like many other Great Courses, this is an intellectual journey,” Professor Shelden says. “You may love the songs, but I want you to stay for the stories and ideas that, I hope, will not only enhance your understanding of the music, but also create a new appreciation for how England helped to create that miracle called the Beatles—and how they, in turn, influenced England and so much of the rest of the world.”

It’s this eclectic blend of cultural history, biography, and music history that makes England, the 1960s, and the Triumph of the Beatles such a fascinating look at how a pop band became one of the most compelling voices against the status quo.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 25 minutes each
  • 1
    The Magical Mystery of the Beatles
    What happened between September 1963 and February 1964 to launch the Beatles toward international stardom? In this opening lecture, discover some of the major social and sonic factors at work in the transformation of these young musicians into a pop culture hurricane that would soon take over (or invade") America." x
  • 2
    Fateful Intersections in Liverpool
    The Beatles were not born in a vacuum. Rather, they were a product of the many worlds contained within 1950s and 1960s Liverpool. Explore how the band soaked up this post-industrial and culturally vibrant scene, storing ideas and impressions that would later turn up, with surprising sophistication, in some of their early tunes. x
  • 3
    Finding the Beat in the Beatles
    The beat" in the Beatles was about more than just the music-it was about the new group's look and attitude. Explore the Bohemian fringe known as the beatniks; follow John, Paul, and George as they search for the right drummer; and consider the importance of the Beatles' apprenticeship in Hamburg in refining their iconic sound." x
  • 4
    Nowhere Men: The Dark Side of the Beatles
    Here, Professor Shelden reveals some of the less flattering characteristics of the Beatles. Chief among these: anger-both as a problem for John Lennon (who nearly killed a friend just months before the launch of Beatlemania) and as an outlet for creativity (best seen in one of the Beatles' early successes, Help!")." x
  • 5
    Beatles for Sale: Brian Epstein's Genius
    Meet band manager Brian Epstein, without whom the Beatles would never have pushed their musical talents beyond the world of Liverpool. Discover how Epstein put the show on the road, and made sure that road went all the way around the world (and on The Ed Sullivan Show)-despite a strong degree of resistance to the band in its early days. x
  • 6
    The Cold War, JFK, and the Beatles
    During the early 1960s, the Beatles became the West's most irresistible export, as well as the best asset in the propaganda war with the East. Learn how the Cold War transformed the Beatles from a provincial act to superstars of the Western world. Also, consider new ways to think about the controversial song, Back in the USSR."" x
  • 7
    The Beatles Conquer America
    When the Beatles finally arrived in the United States of America, they did so with all the fanfare usually accorded to heads of state. How did so much sound and energy come from only four people? Plunge into the captivating fervor, communal spirit, and bacchanal of abandon that would soon be known as Beatlemania. x
  • 8
    The Englishness of A Hard Day's Night
    In summer 1964, the cinematic Beatles vehicle A Hard Day's Night broke almost every rule in Hollywood at the time. Professor Shelden reveals what lies underneath the film's surface charm and musical numbers: an overall attitude of irreverence and defiance in the face of authority, and a challenge for audiences to think for themselves. x
  • 9
    Help! The Beatles at the Top in 1965
    Take a trip to Abbey Road, a welcome escape for John, Paul, George, and Ringo from Beatlemania. More than a home away from home, Abbey Road would allow the Beatles to operate-under the guidance of producer George Martin-with an unimaginable freedom that produced hits like Yesterday" and the groundbreaking album Rubber Soul." x
  • 10
    Crossroads: The Beatles in 1966
    In 1966, the road ahead for the Beatles seemed limitless. Nevertheless, misfortune struck that year in the form of a changing American music market, and a disastrous summer tour to Germany, Japan, North America, and the Philippines that would leave the Beatles more disillusioned than ever with the show business demands of fame. x
  • 11
    The Summer of Sgt. Pepper's
    Go inside the invention of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, an experiment in everything that was untried and risky that allowed the Beatles to start over as a different group. From “A Day in the Life” to "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," consider the album's surreal, psychedelic appeal-both then and now. x
  • 12
    Hello, Goodbye: The End of the 1960s
    In their last years together, all four of the Beatles seemed headed in new directions as they grew up-and apart. Nevertheless, witness how these final years brought a range of sounds, including protest songs, mystic melodies, anthems of friendship, and an iconic double album called simply, The Beatles, but better known as the White Album."" x

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  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • Printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • Printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Michael Shelden

About Your Professor

Michael Shelden, PhD
Indiana State University
Michael Shelden is Professor of English at Indiana State University, where he has won the top award for excellence in scholarship, the Theodore Dreiser Distinguished Research/Creativity Award, three times. He earned his PhD in English from Indiana University. Professor Shelden is the author of six biographies, including Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill, which has been translated into Russian, Chinese, and...
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England, the 1960s, and the Triumph of the Beatles is rated 4.9 out of 5 by 9.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Of Course I Remember the Beatles In 1964 when the Beatles first came to America and appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York City, I was a sophomore in high school. Their incredible rise to the pinnacle of success in the pop music world was unprecedented. They changed everyone's culture and self image . Their music grew on everyone as they continued to release their energy and music to an ever increasing appreciable fan base. Then with the emergence of Sgt. Peppers, they reinvented themselves in the most unimaginable way as their fans continued to grow along with them. This course will, if you are like me, re-awaken the transformational magic of those days when John, Paul, George and Ringo could do no wrong. We grew up with them and they changed us and the world along with them forever. I loved this course!
Date published: 2020-11-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Putting 9 years of "Beatlemania" in perspective. In the last 15 years, I taken – and posted reviews – of every pop culture or performing arts video course (except for classical music) in the Great Courses catalog – beginning with “the Elements of Jazz” (now deleted). When it comes to music or film courses, there is the issue of “copyright” and “fair use” of the audio or video examples used. While a film or recorded music course taught live in a university setting needs no permission to use, a course that is produced for mass distribution does require permission (and a stiff fees). I’ve been impressed with how TGC has been able to work around these issues in cases like the wonderful course on Broadway Musicals and, most recently the one on American Folk Music. (In that case they had the speaker and his guests perform live and worked with the Smithsonian to use recordings from their catalog in exchange for promoting those albums. But here we are at a course on The Beatles (whose catalog of material is one of the tightest controlled as to rights). I wondered how TGC and the instructor of this course – Prof. Michael Shelden (Indiana State University) and TGC would handle this issue. Shelden is a professor of English and has recorded courses on George Orwell and Winston Churchill for TGC, but these didn’t involve audio or film clips.  The answer in this case was the use of a “dedicated playlist” on the Spotify app (which you can use on your smartphone, tablet, laptop or PC).  So, the ONLY “music” you will hear on the DVD during the 12 25-minute lessons is the British National Anthem (“God Save The Queen”) as the chapter title begins. There will be a playlist for each lesson that refers to the Spotify list. And, handier is that the titles of the songs (mostly by the Beatles but also by other artists that Shelden refers to) in the 120-page printed course guide that accompanies the course. Those who might complain that there is no music during the lecture should console them this way. If you were reading a book about the Beatles, for example, would the pages be playing music? Obviously not (unless it was a rare case of an “enhanced e-book”).  And just like a book, there are photos and illustrations to embellish the lecture. At the end of each of the two DVDs (each with six lectures) you will see the sources of all of these – mostly from the Getty Images Archive; so many that the credits roll over nearly two minutes .So, now that I’ve explained the “lack” of music in the presentation, let me move on to the course. Professor Shelden is obviously a fan of the Beatles and (though probably younger than me) he remembers seeing them on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964, when they “invaded America”. The early chapters introduce us to the first two members of the band – John and Paul” and Shelden explains how they met and where in Liverpool they lived and eventually played before adding new members, losing some and eventually forming the final Fab Four”. He then follows that group to the US and their TV appearances and stadium concerts. Six hours (12 lessons) later we are at 1969 – a brief six years – when the last group album “Let it Be” was released. There is no discussion of the careers of the members after that. There are specific lessons devoted to their manager – Brian Epstein – and their producer, George Martin. Professor Shelden does add some info behind such songs as “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” that, as a casual fan of the quartet’s music, was new to me. No, if you are a diehard “Beatlemaniac” who has read the many books about them, this course may be too basic for you. But if you only know the songs and some of their history or are too young to have “been there”, and want to understand how American pop culture changed forever in that decade, I think you’ll find this course rewarding. Professor Shelden did keep my attention, though it took a few minutes when starting to get with his rhythm. Unlike some of the earlier TGC course, he looks directly at the camera and shifts his stance so as not to be like a statue. The set is simple and never changes. Another thing that you lean, if you’ve taken other TGCs is that the speakers are “directed”. What I mean by that is that the lecturer is nearly always moving their arms around and clasping or unclasping their hands. It sometimes seems artificial – I don’t remember my college professors doing at as they stood near their lectern. But you get used to it. One tip I’d like to add. Before you watch this course, use your smartphone or tablet to queue up the spotify list and when a song is discussed you can pause the lecture to listen to it. (they are in order). Or play the playlist for that lecture after watching it. My favorite course is still Professor Tony Seeger’s “America’s Music Heritage” course (with live guest musicians) and I see that TGC is offering a special “Combo deal” for that course plus this one. And I’d recommend that package if your interest in music is that of the 20th century. I can’t wait to see what the next pop cultural course will be. I’ve sent in the suggestion that “Silent Movie Comedies” would be a good one, as there are plenty of “public domain” films and new music could be added. I guess we’ll see. I hope this review is helpful for those considering this course.
Date published: 2020-11-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I lived it and still learned. In late 1960 I turned 13. I loved the late '50s and early '60s American music of Dion, U.S.Bonds, Ben E King. I lived in Britain which was still recovering from WW2. Then along came the Beatles - I saw them at a small cinema in 1963 - I say 'saw' because all I could hear was a demonic scream coming from the young girl behind me, and all the other females at the concert as well. I followed the social trends and music of the 60's, and I buy many Great Courses but this one intrigued me. Looking at the lectures, I thought "what can I learn from this?" I bought it anyway. Well I can say that it contributed a great deal to my knowledge! Dr.Shelden's analysis of the Beatles and the social history of the times was intriguing and I greatly enjoyed it. It is primarily about the Beatles but his examination of their development is a history of them and their generation. It shows that context determines what happens in life. This is so well presented, I watched it over two evenings from beginning to end. This is specifically about the Beatles so if you are interested in this group and the context in which they developed then this is for you. They were a phenomenon so if you are interested in the 1960s you need to know about this group and their impact. Watch it and listen to the music as well. this course was a really good experience.
Date published: 2020-11-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fab Definitely five star. Wonderful nostalgic delivery from what could be a cavern. Amazing insights for a fresh look at the greatest band ever. If I were to complain, I would say the course should have been 24 episodes. Each lecture was very stimulating. As might be said of a book, I couldn't put it down.
Date published: 2020-11-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic This is a five star course if there ever was one. Professor Sheldon summarized and highlighted The Beatles origins, their rise to fame, and their eventual breakup with a smooth delivery and interesting anecdotes some known to me but others unknown.  I am seventy-one years old now and I thought I had read most everything there was to read about The Beatles and listened to every recording they had made. So, I consider myself "advanced" on this subject. And so even from that perspective, I can easily say that there is still much to be learned here to satisfy all levels of interest and to learn even more about the complexity of life. This course will make you think, don't miss it. 
Date published: 2020-11-05
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