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In an oddball metaphor, John Lennon compared The Beatles to flags on top of a boat. However, he said that the Fab Four weren’t the ones getting the boat to move. In other words, he felt the band were products of their society as much as they were trendsetters. Paul McCartney made some similar remarks about his own musical legacy.

John Lennon said ‘Maybe The Beatles were in the crow’s nest shouting ‘Land Ho!”

The book All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono features an interview from 1980. In it, the “Imagine” singer was asked what “moved The Beatles.” “Whatever wind was blowing at the time moved The Beatles, too,” he replied. “I’m not saying we weren’t flags on the top of the ship. But the whole boat was moving.

“Maybe The Beatles were in the crow’s nest shouting ‘Land Ho!’ or something like that, but we were all in the same damn boat,” he said. “You can’t go through life looking at the crow’s nest. Somebody has to pull the sails up and down.” Throughout the interview, John was adamant that The Beatles drew from the work of other artists, including Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and Ludwig van Beethoven. While The Beatles were trendsetters in many regards, they didn’t invent the musical genres they innovated, unless you argue that they created heavy metal with “Helter Skelter” from The White Album.

John Lennon compared his band to some band leaders

Yoko chimed in, saying The Beatles gave the people a message like they were psychic mediums. “We tuned in to the message,” John added. “That’s all.

“I don’t mean to belittle The Beatles when I say they weren’t this, they weren’t that,” he continued. “I’m just trying not to overblow their importance as separate from society. And I don’t think they were more important than Glenn Miller or Woody Herman or Bessie Smith. It was our generation, that’s all. It was ’60s music.”

For context, Miller and Herman were big band leaders while Smith was a blues singer. Elsewhere in the interview, John said the Fab Four weren’t more important than Miller. They simply mattered to children of the 1960s the same way that Miller mattered to the children of the 1940s.


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Paul McCartney didn’t play up The Beatles’ importance either

Any Beatles fan will tell you that Paul’s musical sensibilities were very different from John’s. Despite this, he made some similar comments. During a 2020 interview with Uncut, Paul said he wished he knew he was Paul McCartney. At the end of the day, he saw himself as a regular guy.

John infamously said that The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.” However, he and Paul seem to underplay their own fame, importance, and influence. That’s not the typical rock star ethos, which involves lots of bragging. However, it’s probably for the best that both of them had a more measured understanding of The Beatles. After all, it’s up to the rest of the world to decide how much The Beatles mattered.

The Beatles remain one of the most popular rock ‘n’ roll bands of all time. However, John and Paul didn’t want to overstate their case.