The voice of John Lennon drifted from the open windows of Oxford University’s Faculty of Music. Officers arriving at St Aldate’s police station next door may well have guessed that the sound of Come Together signalled an early weekend party for students, for on a sunny Friday afternoon you can’t do much better than reach for Abbey Road.

Inside the faculty’s front lecture room, however, the students were all seated, concentrating on Lennon’s stream of menacing semi-nonsense: “He wear no shoeshine he got toe-jam football. He got monkey finger, he shoot coca-cola....”

In front of them the visiting professor of music, Jeremy Yudkin, was also listening intently, perhaps reassessing which lines were borrowed from Chuck Berry or the quality of Paul McCartney’s bass playing.

When Jeffrey Archer brought the Fabs to Oxford at the height of Beatlemania to support an Oxfam campaign, they left him convinced that at least two of them would have been bright enough to win a place at the university.

Forty years after they split up, the Beatles have finally made it to Oxford University, or, to be more precise, their music has. For this term the university has at last got with it by launching its first course in Beatles music, overseen by a Chicago music professor best known for his definitive textbook Music in Medieval Europe.

Twenty-five years ago when Hunter Davies, author of the authorised Beatles biography, took a call from London University asking him to be an outside examiner for a student doing a PhD on the Beatles, he had thought it to be a wind-up.

But obscure campuses in the US had been offering Beatles modules long before then.

For more than three decades universities have been analysing and dissecting every aspect of the Beatles, with courses covering everything from their musical and sociological impact, to their taste in collarless jackets and psychedelic clothes. Only last month, Liverpool Hope University launched a masters degree on the Beatles, popular music and society.

But Oxford University had always resisted, not viewing the Fab Four and their music to be worthy of serious academic study, until now. For Prof Yudkin’s arrival appears to have signalled the removal of any barriers to Sgt Pepper, the Walrus, and Mean Mr Mustard.

The fact that Prof Yudkin is not a former guitarist with the Merseybeats or an ex-Beatles chauffeur has helped, of course. He has a PhD in historical musicology from Stanford University and his principal fields of research are Medieval polyphony and early Beethoven.

Jazz, his other great love, is what first brought him to Oxford in 2005, when he came here on a sabbatical to write a book and was invited to return to teach a course in jazz history as a visiting professor.

In Boston it had taken him four years to get his Beatles course up and running. “I had to fight with the people in the music school, where many of them were extremely old fashioned. It meant I had to slowly wear down their resistance, explaining it was possible to study both jazz and pop with seriousness and to a high standard.”

In Oxford he came across no such aversion to the idea of applying academic rigor to She Loves You and Yellow Submarine. A one-off workshop on the Beatles proved hugely popular, while the head of music, Professor Eric Clarke, was keen to broaden the scope of music taught in the faculty.

Prof Clarke said he encouraged Prof Yudkin to incorporate other sixties music into the month-long course. “There is a danger of the Beatles becoming the Beethoven of popular music, as if they are the only serious popular musicians,” said Prof Clarke.

He said music faculties around the world had come to view pop music as being just as worthy of study as any other kind of music. “The tools my be different but that’s no reason not to look at it. You would not try to lay a carpet with the same tools that you’d use for ceramic tiles.”

Prof Yudkin had grown up in London at the height of Beatlemania. “I was exactly the right age. In the sixties people defined themselves by the music they listened to. It was a matter of real consequence whether you listened to the Beatles or the Stones. I was more of a Dylan and Hendrix fan. The Beatles’ music seemed a little light-hearted to me. I was not aware at the time of just how interesting their music really is.

“When you teach a Beatles course you can’t help but talk about the social context. But ultimately what is most interesting about the Beatles is the music. That is the reason they became as famous as they did; it wasn’t the clothes, the haircuts, or the accents.

“The thing that distinguishes their music from that of other groups is the originality of their musical conceptions. The music is attractive and very catchy. But its simplicity disguises a great deal of sophistication. A lot more is going on in the music than appears on the surface. The melodies are expertly crafted, the harmonies colourful, the phrase lengths unusual — and the way they fill every measure with detail is of constant interest.”

If it is possible to imagine songs like Tomorrow Never Knows and A Day in the Life having sufficient depth and mystery to fascinate the classically-trained professor, what about the early hits?

“Well, I love the early songs. When you compare that music to what else was being recorded in those days, you can appreciate their originality. How a song like She Loves You moves to such an unexpected harmony, or Love Me Do is based on an unusual scale. There are many great songs. But, of course, they are not all great. You have to maintain a distinction in all critical endeavours between good and great.”

Later, when I sat at the back of one of his lectures, he was in full flow about McCartney’s I Will.

“It is a pretty tune unified by a single melodic motif, and broken up by the bridge,” he says before lavishing more praise on the hypnotic appeal of the chromatic descending bass in one of Harrison’s best songs, While My Guitar Gently Weeps. “There is a Baroque solidity to it, that holds the song together,” he said, before comparing it to a Bach aria. And I would wager that Bach was not working with a partner sometimes so stoned that he had to lie on the floor to sing .

An equally pained look shot across my face when one of his music degree student puts up a hand.

“Who is the guy singing lead vocals,” he asks. “It sounds like John.”

But, then, why on earth should this young man in his early twenties know every cough and strum from a Beatles album.

In any case, he was acquiring knowledge faster than the Beatles got through one-night stands in Hamburg, with Prof Yudkin urging them to examine how the double White Album might have been condensed into a classic single long-player. Sexy Sadie or Dear Prudence? Happy Birthday or Happiness is a Warm Gun? Oh, why was I never set homework like that.

Feeling a smugness I never expected to experience in an Oxford University lecture room, I chatted to a group of students afterwards. But any false sense of superiority vanished as these brightest of young musicians articulated what they liked about the new course ‘1966 and All That: The Beatles and Popular Music Culture’. Many spoke about the role of Sir George Martin, the Beatles producer and were astonished to learn Sir George lives hardly 15 miles from where they were sitting.

Twenty-two-year-old Laura Shearing, who is in the fourth year of her masters musicology degree, is working on a dissertation on the Beatles and Eastern mysticism.“I grew up with them,” she explained. “My parents were real sixties children.” Sure enough, her father had somehow got into the lecture.

Anupam Roy, 23, from India, said he had sung Beatles songs arranged for strings, while serving as concert master with L'Atelier de Musique, a string orchestra in Calcutta. He said: “In my opinion, the Beatles are more than worthy of study at an academic level. The impact they had on popular music culture, and their popularity — which, if anything, is on an upward slope today — and legacy, can hardly be ignored by music faculties around the world if they are to provide their students with an all-round understanding of music in the modern perspective.”

Minutes after leaving the lecture room, I found myself walking past the site of the Carfax Assembly Rooms, where, 46 years ago, the Beatles performed their only concert in Oxford in front of 300 dancing fans. No one can deny that Please Please Me and those early songs have travelled well.

We can only guess what John and George would have made of it, given how they had sniggered back in the sixties when the music critic of The Times compared aspects of Lennon and McCartney to Schubert.

As for Hunter Davies, he has his own take. “I often think, ‘hmm... it would look quite neat on my visiting card, if I had one to say professor of Beatles studies at the University of Cumbria’. Then I think, ‘nah. I’m going to hold out to be professor of football memorabilia at the University of Kentish Town’.”