I see that theres a massive support for the beatles here... but nevermind I'm here to debate, and I don't mind being proved wrong.
My first question is, what did The Beatles influence?
Actually I was apologising for simply making a statement without giving any information to back up my claim, which I will try to do now. I sincerely hope I won't offend anyone too much - its a rather harsh critique of the band.
I'll start off with a basic chronology of the years 1962 through 1970. Comparing what was happening in the political world and the music world with what the beatles were doing.
1962: The year of Bob Dylan, of peace demonstrations, of songs of protest. The Beatles debut with a 45, Love Me Do.
1964: The first student protests take place in Berkeley, California. The Beatles, oblivious of this, record Can't Buy Me Love a record filled with catchy refrains and some feedback mostly copied from the work of guitarists in the 50's.
In the meantime on the otherside of the pond some pretty intense marketing encourages EMI to sell Beatles wigs, Beatles attire, Beatles dolls, cartoons inspired by the Beatles while, in the meatime, Vietnam, and the Assasination of JFK are taking place.
1965: The Year of LSD, psychedelic music and hippies. The Beatles recorded another melodic masterpiece, We Can Work It Out. A weak response to the hits Satisfaction by the Stones and You Really Got Me by the Kinks (both songs having been released a few months earlier).
1966: The Beatles finally stop copying others and release their first decent album by Pop standards - Revolver.
Dylan in the meantime, releases Blonde on Blonde (arguably his best work, and one of the best albums of all times) a double album with compositions almost 15 minutes long (Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands for instance), while Frank Zappa releases Freak Out, another double album. Rock music in the meantime begins to experiment with free form jams.
1967: The Beatles release Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields forever... quite the masterpiece i'll admit that unfortunately never reaches the top of the charts. Britain at the time was passing through the year of psychedelia. Pink Floyd were releasing psychedelic singles, and along with Red Crayola and other psychedelic bands were playing long free form psychedelic suites that often drifted into avant garde.
The Beatles record Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (another relatively good album by their standards) which the Beatles took 4 months to put together (unlike many other masterpieces of the day, recorded quickly and on often low budgets). One can only imagine what many other less fortunate bands could have accomplished with 4 months at their disposal. One problem was that the album sounded somewhat like the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" and can barely be considered psychedelic at all.
They later release Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine (in '69)... also rather experimental albums (a bit late in the day) yet at the same time Cream were pulling off some brilliant guitar solos, while Hendrix was weaving his magic. The Beatles, as far as I know, didn't have any guitar solos (except while my guitar gently weeps, with Eric Clapton)
1968: Beatles Release Hey Jude. (a long track by Beatles standards) while Cream's live jams reach a peak in popularity.
End of 1968: The Beatles finally release a double album - The Beatles... two years after everybody else.
1969: Britain at this time is affected by the concept album/rock opera bug, the Who release Tommy, The Kinks release The Village Green Preservation Society among others. The Beatles try their hand at it (a year late) and produce Abbey Road. The album is pretty good overall, however when compared to to the creative standards of the time it falls a little short.
During this album it becomes clear that the bandmembers had some substantial differences. The popularity of Cream begins to rival their own, while Led Zeppelin begins to change the importance of radio and charts.
1970 - the Beatles break up and the bandmembers begin a solo career.
Interestingly enough, the Beatles were very similar to a band from the 50's - Tin Pan Alley as well as the Beach Boys, whom The Beatles practically copied throughout a large chunk of their career.
My criticism is aimed at the world of rock music rather than the beatles themselves. Unfortunately rock critics are still blinded by commercial success: the Beatles sold more than anyone else (not true, by the way), therefore they must have been the greatest.
Rock critics grant too much attention to commercial phenomena of the day (beatlemania, grunge, alternative, you name it...) and too little on the real musicians.
The Beatles are probably the best example of this.
As Piero Scaruffi (a music critic I tend to agree with) puts it:
"George Harrison was a pathetic guitarist, compared with Townshend of the Who, Richards of the Rolling Stones, Davies of the Kinks, Clapton and Beck and Page of the Yardbirds, and many many others). Paul McCartney was a conventional singer who sounded a lot like the singers from the 50's. Although within the Merseybeat his style was indeed revolutionary, he wouldn't have lasted very long against the Rythmn and Blues bassists back then. Ringo Starr played drums the way any kid of that time played it in his garage - granted, he was probably the most technically accomplished of the lot, while Ray Davies of the Kinks and Lou Reed of Velvet Underground were far better songwriters than Lennon & McCartney (most of the time). The Stones were certainly much more skilled musicians and Pete Townshend was a far more accomplished composer, capable of "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia".
While the Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, the Doors, Pink Floyd and many others were composing long and daring suites worthy of avant garde music, thus elevating rock music to art, the Beatles continued to yield three minute songs built around a chorus. Beatlemania and its myth notwithstanding, Beatles fans went crazy for twenty seconds of trumpet, while the Velvet Underground were composing suites of chaos twenty minutes long. Actually, between noise and a trumpet, between twenty seconds and twenty minutes, there was an artistic difference of several degrees of magnitude. They were, musically, sociologically, politically, artistically, and ideologically, on different planets.
Their influence, for better or for worse, on the great phenomena of the 60s doesn't amount to much. Unlike Bob Dylan, they didn't stir social revolts; unlike the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead they didn't foster the hippie movement; unlike Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix they didn't further the myth of LSD; unlike Jagger and Zappa they had no impact on the sexual revolution. Indeed the Beatles were icons of the customs that embodied the opposite: the desire to contain all that was happening.
In their songs there is no Vietnam, there's barely any politics, there are no kids rioting in the streets, there is no sexual promiscuity, there are no drugs, there is no violence. The social order of the 40's and 50's remains."
Simple, The Velvet Underground were the first band to write poems about the cynical dark side of urban life playing pessimistic psychedelic rock while everyone else was dishing out optimistic, protest and macho-rebellious songs. Their huge influence, especially on the music of the 90's is easy to see. Granted, they usually used the same three chords for most of their songs but their songs are arranged in ways that had never been tried before, and sometimes are pure chaos. (Sister Ray comes to mind here - a 17 minute masterpiece)
Personally I consider them as the forerunner of at least the entire punk genre.
And didn't the Beatles have George Martin? We wouldn't be hearing of them today had it not been for his good marketing campaign and the creation of Beatlemania.
Well, to tell you the truth, I hadn't even heard of the Velvet Underground until a couple of years ago when I actually became interested in music. Back then I still believed that The Beatles were the most influential band of all times.
Personally, I believe that Dylan's lyric-writing prowess is a bit overrated (quite frankly his first 3 albums are sub-par). Its the image he created by stirring political revolt and his fusion of folk with rock (something which Johnny Cash managed before him) that allows him a claim in the rock n roll hall of fame.
Dylan started the fire. He's the first rock myth... he turned music into a form of mass communication, galvanized a generation through folk songs that became anthems. When he went electric, everybody did.