‘Sitting in an English Garden’: Comparing Representations of ‘Britishness’ in the Songs of the Beatles and 1990s Britpop Groups

  • Andy Bennett


A characteristic aspect of many of the songs of the Beatles, especially from 1966 onwards, is the way in which they portray particular notions of British cultural life. Tracks such as ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘Penny Lane’, the collection of songs on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the ‘medley’ on the second side of Abbey Road are linked by the distinctive representations of British cultural life which they contain. Such representations were by no means restricted to later Beatles material, but were a centrally defining aspect of songs by other 1960s British groups, particularly the Kinks and the Small Faces. During the 1990s there has been a resurgence of such musical and lyrical treatments of British life in the songs of Britpop bands such as Blur, Pulp and Ocean Colour Scene. In this chapter I want to consider and compare the images of British life which are presented in the songs of the Beatles and those of contemporary Britpop bands. Without a doubt, the depictions of ‘Britishness’ portrayed in Beatles’ songs — and in the work of the Kinks and the Small Faces — has been a primary source of inspiration for the Britpop phenomenon. It may well be, however, that the meanings and intentions behind the use of such representations in 1990s Britpop are very different from those which underlay their use in the songs of the Beatles and fellow 1960s British groups.


National Identity Common People White Youth Popular Music Small Face 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Back, Les (1993) ‘Race, Identity and Nation within an Adolescent Community in South London’, New Community, 19(2): 217–33.Google Scholar
  2. Back, Les (1996) New Ethnicities: Racisms and Multiculture in Young Lives. London: UCL Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bennett, Andy (1996) Popular Styles, Local Interpretations: Rethinking the Sociology of Youth Culture and Popular Music. Unpublished PhD thesis. University of Durham.Google Scholar
  4. Bennett, Andy (forthcoming) ‘“Hip Hop Am Main”: the Localisation of Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture’, Media, Culture and Society.Google Scholar
  5. Berland, Jody (1993) ‘Sound, Image and Social Space: Music Video and Media Reconstruction’, in Simon Frith, Andrew Goodwin and Lawrence Grossberg (eds), Sound and Vision: the Music Video Reader. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Brown, Peter and Steven Gaines (1983) The Love You Make: an Insider’s Story of the Beatles. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  7. Chambers, Iain (1985) Urban Rhythms: Pop Music and Popular Culture. London: Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chambers, Iain (1993) ‘Narratives of Nationalism: Being “British”’, in Erica Carter, James Donald and Judith Squires (eds), Space and Place: Theories of Identity and Location. London: Lawrence & Wishart.Google Scholar
  9. Chaney, David (1994) The Cultural Turn: Scene Setting Essays on Contemporary Cultural Theory. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Cloonan, Martin (1995) ‘What Do They Know of England? Englishness and Popular Music in the Mid-1990s’. Unpublished paper, International Association for the Study of Popular Music International Conference, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, July.Google Scholar
  11. Cohen, Phil (1972) ‘Subcultural Conflict in a Working Class Community’. Working Papers in Cultural Studies 2. University of Birmingham.Google Scholar
  12. Fiske, John (1989) Reading the Popular. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  13. Foster, Andy and Steve Furst (1996) Radio Comedy 1938–1968. London: Virgin.Google Scholar
  14. Frith, Simon (1987) ‘Towards an Aesthetic of Popular Music’ in Richard Leppert and Susan McLary (eds), Music and Society: The Politics of Composition, Performance and Reception. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Frith, Simon and Howard Horne (1987) Art into Pop. London: Methuen.Google Scholar
  16. Frith, Simon, Andrew Goodwin and Lawrence Grossberg (eds) (1993) Sound and Vision: the Music Video Reader. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  17. Gillett, Charlie (1983) The Sound of the City (2nd edn). London: Souvenir.Google Scholar
  18. Gilroy, Paul (1986) ‘There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack’: the Cultural Politics of Race and Nation. London: Hutchinson.Google Scholar
  19. Hebdige, Dick (1976) ‘Reggae, Rastas and Rudies’, in Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson (eds), Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain. London: Hutchinson.Google Scholar
  20. Hebdige, Dick (1979) Subculture: the Meaning of Style. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Hill, John (1986) Sex, Class and Realism: British Cinema 1956–1963. London: British Film Institute.Google Scholar
  22. Jones, Cliff (1994) ‘Looking for a New England’, The Face, 68: 40–6.Google Scholar
  23. Jones, Simon (1988) Black Culture, White Youth: the Reggae Tradition from JA to UK. London: Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kaplan, E. Ann (1987) Rocking Around the Clock. New York: MethuenGoogle Scholar
  25. Kaur, Raminder and Virinder S. Kalra (1996) ‘New Paths for South Asian Identity and Creativity’, in S. Sharma, J. Hutnyk and A. Sharma (eds), Dis-Orienting Rhythms: the Politics of the New Asian Dance Music. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  26. Mach, Zdislaw (1994) ‘National Anthems: the Case of Chopin as a National Composer’, in Martin Stokes (ed.), Ethnicity, Identity and Music: the Musical Construction of Place. Oxford: Berg.Google Scholar
  27. Maconie, Stuart (1994) Three Minutes’, Mojo, 7: 70–4.Google Scholar
  28. Martin, George (1979) All You Need is Ears. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  29. Mellers, Wilfrid (1973) Twilight of the Gods: the Beatles in Retrospect. London: Faber.Google Scholar
  30. Mitchell, Tony (1996) Popular Music and Local Identity: Rock, Pop and Rap in Europe and Oceania. London: Leicester University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Morley, David and Kevin Robins (1989) ‘Spaces of Identity’, Screen, 30(4): 10–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pearson, Geoffrey (1983) Hooligan: a History of Respectable Fears. London: Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Samuel, Raphael (1988) ‘Little Englandism Today’, New Statesman and Society, 1(20): 27–30.Google Scholar
  34. Shields, Rob (1991) Places on the Margin: Alternative Geographies of Modernity. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  35. Stead, P. (1989) Film and the Working Class: the Feature Film in British and American Society. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  36. Stokes, Martin (1994) ‘Introduction: Ethnicity, Identity and Music’, in Martin Stokes (ed.), Ethnicity, Identity and Music: the Musical Construction of Place. Oxford: Berg.Google Scholar
  37. Storry, Mike and Peter Childs (eds) (1997) British Cultural Identities. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  38. Sutherland, Steve and Angus Batey (1997) ‘Discredit to the Nation?’, Vox, 80:60–1.Google Scholar
  39. Swenson, John (1981) The John Lennon Story. New York: Leisure Books.Google Scholar
  40. Warren, Roland L. (1972) The Nazi Use of Music as an Instrument of Social Control’, in R. Serge Denisoff and Richard A Peterson (eds), The Sounds of Social Change. Chicago: Rand McNally.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Andy Bennett 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andy Bennett

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations