‘Where you once belonged’

Class, race and the Liverpool roots of Lennon and McCartney’s songs


  • James McGrath Leeds Beckett University




avant-garde, The Beatles, left wing, Liverpool, race, working class


While Lennon and McCartney’s class affiliations are ambiguous to degrees that should remain debatable, the depth and the detail in which working-class life defines their work have been overlooked, thus misrepresenting The Beatles’ cultural significance. As Collins (2012) critiques, initial New Left criticisms of The Beatles – almost exclusively in response to one composition, ‘Revolution’ (1968) – have recently been adapted by commentators eager to portray The Beatles as a culturally and politically conservative force. I argue that early Left-wing and recent Right-wing criticisms of The Beatles’ legacy are misleading, because both overlook Lennon and McCartney’s different relationships to working-class culture. I also emphasize an importantly related, even more marginalized aspect of The Beatles’ history: the significance of black musical and cultural influences from Liverpool. The article seeks to offer new interpretations of songs including ‘Norwegian Wood’, ‘A Day in the Life’, ‘Revolution’, ‘Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da’ and ‘Working Class Hero’.

Author Biography

James McGrath, Leeds Beckett University

Dr James McGrath is a Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies at Leeds Beckett University. He has published widely on The Beatles and on Factory Records. His first book, The Naming of Adult Autism(forthcoming, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), is a study of autism representations in literature, culture, and scientific discourse.


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How to Cite

McGrath, J. (2015). ‘Where you once belonged’: Class, race and the Liverpool roots of Lennon and McCartney’s songs. Popular Music History, 9(1), 11–31. https://doi.org/10.1558/pomh.v9i1.27616