Two of the Beatles are now dead, but the icon of "Beatles" remains, having moved from a Modernist, central position within world culture to a postmodernist, ironic placement as a mixture of nostalgia and commercialism.
When The Beatles first appeared on music scene in 1963, the idea of a musical band being anything more than simply a group of young men (and sometimes women) who played live and who would, if successful, release records, had yet to be invented. Pop groups, even those that became phenomenally successful in a manner never seen before, were clearly definable, and limited Modernist figures. A clear delineation could be made between the pop group and the musical culture/general world in which they performed and lived.
In a modernist and semiotic sense, the relationship between signifier ("The Beatles") and signified (the live performances and records) was fairly clear (Barthes, 1978). But as early as the late stages of Beatlemania in 1964, a postmodern uncertainty was coming into the sign "Beatles" as a slippery commutability between signifier and signified started to occur. Essentially "The Beatles" became a signifier for much more than the signified of their music. The hysterical "love" that surrounded the four young from Liverpool reached such extreme and massive proportions that some seriously suggested that the fans were suffering from some kind of mass hysteria. "The Beatles", to put them in a Freudian context, were bringing out an id within their fans that dominated their ego and superego.
While the raw sexuality of Beatles music was making the previous icon of rebellion, Elvis Presley, seem relatively tame by comparison, their success within Britain caused them to become icons of the mainstream establishment as well. In 1965 Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the MBE, a civil honor, on the band. Their dominance of the music industry - on April 4th 1964 they had all top five records on the Billboard Top 100 (Spitz, 2006) - had apparently led them to become icons of that most traditional of British institutions, the monarchy. When John Lennon told the Royal Command Audience that they should applaud, only the rich should jangle their jewelry the "servants" of the Queen who had been commanded to perform for her (and who bowed so low) were now ironically commenting upon the British class system.
The move to postmodern irony had already started before the famous mop-tops were grown long, the Beatles stopped performing live, and the concept studio album took over. The role of the Beatles as something more than merely a pop group began to take on far greater proportions as the Sixties rolled on. Thus they were seen as having snubbed the President of the Philippines' wife and barely escaped the country with their lives, and John Lennon caused a huge uproar by his less-than-diplomatic, but probably correct assertion that the Beatles were at the time more popular than Jesus (Spitz, 2006). Much of 1970's fashion can be traced to a single Beatles album cover: that of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Thus the sheer range of culture and society that the Beatles influenced eventually drowned out the importance of their music. An ideal symbol of this tendency was the perhaps apocryphal moment when the band stopped playing at a gig only for the audience not to notice because of the noise they were