The British Invasion
While the American baby boom generation was "turning on, tuning in, and dropping out" all over the land, a similar situation was taking place in Great Britain. The English baby boomers were called "The Bulge", and they, too, were crammed into schools short on facilities and trained teachers. Hundreds of thousands of youngsters left secondary school at age fifteen or sixteen, and roamed the streets looking for gainful employment. As often happens, these idle working-class youths began to form gangs, partly out of boredom, and partly out of a need to feel like they belonged to someone, if only to each other. The two main gangs were the rockers and the mods.
The rockers wore black leather jackets, tight-fitting pants, and pointed boots or blue suede shoes. They greased back their hair in pompadour style, put on beatnik sunglasses, and roared around the streets on motorcycles. They loved American white rockabilly and black R&B.
The Beatles were among the rockers. As a boy, John Lennon joined a rocker gang which "went in for things like shoplifting and pulling girls' knickers down." Paul McCartney spent hours styling his pompadour and choosing clothes that fit into rocker fashion. McCartney's father "over and over again said that he [Paul] wasn't going to have tight trousers, but he just wore me down." George Harrison would sneak upstairs to his mother's sewing machine to "tighten up his trousers." His dad found out and demanded that George "unpick them." "I can't, Dad," George said. "I've cut the pieces completely off" (Szatmary 1987, 87-88).
In their early days, the Beatles wore black-and-white cowboy shirts with tassels dangling from the pockets, leather jackets, and pointed cowboy boots. They wanted the rockabilly sound, and they tried to look the part. When Malcolm Evans, later their road manager, first heard them, he said they sounded a bit like Elvis, who was their inspiration – sound, image, and all.
In 1959, George Harrison changed his stage name, temporarily, to Carl Harrison, after one of his heroes, Carl Perkins. For a while, the Beatles called themselves the Foreverly Brothers, in honor of the Everly Brothers. Then a change came. As John Lennon told reporter Jim Steck, "I was looking for a name like the Crickets [Buddy Holly's band] that meant two things. I went to Beatles... When you said it, people thought of crawly things; when you read it, it was beat music." (Szatmary 1987, 88).
The modernists, called "mods" for short, favored Italian teenage styles. Pete Townshend (b. 1945) of the Who, himself a mod, said,
"You needed short hair, money enough to buy a real smart suit, good shoes, good shirts, and you had to able to dance like a madman… You had to have plenty of pills all the time, especially Drynamil [amphetamines known as purple hearts], and your scooter had to be covered with lamps… (Szatmary 1987, 83)
Not only were we young, but we were lower class young, no higher than garbage men, you know, but we had to find enough money to buy a Sunday best… And the outfit might change, so you had to change the whole lot next week. But it was an incredible feeling. It covered everybody. Everybody looked the same. Everybody acted the same. Everybody wanted to be the same. Any kid, no matter how ugly or screwed up, if he had the right haircut and the right clothes and the right motorbike, he was a mod. He was a mod!" (Szatmary 1987, 83).
When Peter Meadon was manager of the Who in 1963, he stressed their mod image. When Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp later assumed control of the group as co-managers, they sent the band to Carnaby Street for pants, bulls-eye T-shirts, and jackets cut from the British flag, and then booked them for sixteen consecutive Tuesdays at London's Marquee Club, a mod hangout owned by Ziggy Jackson. To complete the mod image, Townshend wrote "My Generation", one of his best, which became the battle cry of the mod gangs in England (Szatmary 1987, 85).
AMERICA IN THE EARLY 1960s
America's teen subculture in the early 1960s churned with conflicting passions and dreams. Some kids bathed in the innocent joys of rockabilly, the Twist, surfing music, and the doo-wop sounds of the street-corner groups. Others got angry along with the folk singers who cried out against U.S. involvement in Vietnam and against police brutality during the civil rights demonstrations.
In August of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., told 300,000 Americans that he had a dream, and the whole world knew that the handsome young president, John F. Kennedy, was going to be a big part of that dream. But three months later, that promising young president was gunned down in Dallas, Texas. The nation staggered in disbelief during the relentless television repeats of the gruesome final moments, the close-ups of Jackie's blood-splattered suit, and then the funeral proceedings in Washington, D.C. Then came a truly bizarre television event – Kennedy's alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was shot and killed right there on live daytime TV!
People looked at each other with tear-stained cheeks and asked, "What is wrong with America? How could this happen?" A huge blanket of self-doubt covered the nation, accompanied by a yearning for release, for something to believe in, for something gentle, non-threatening, and non-political. That something came in the form of four lovable musicians from Great Britain.
Shortly after she gave birth to John Winston Lennon (1941-1980), his mother, Julia, ran off with a man. Her sister and brother-in-law, Mimi and George Smith, raised the child as their own. George died suddenly when John was fourteen, and the boy immediately became a problem. His grades dropped, he turned into a rocker, formed the Black-Jacks skiffle band, and made his Aunt Mimi very unhappy with his new anti-establishment personality.
Skiffle bands were big at the time – comprised of a guitar or banjo (or both), a washboard played with thimble-capped fingers, and a broom handle washtub bass. The American version was called a jug band because it often contained an earthen jug player among the other instrumentalists. These bands go way back to the early 1900s.
Left-handed guitarist James Paul McCartney (b. 1942) joined up, and they changed their name to the Quarrymen (after John's Quarry Bank High School). For a year or so, with different youngsters in and out of the band, they played around Wooton under such names as Johnny and the Moondogs, the Rainbows, the Moonshiners, and the Nurk Twins.
Lennon dropped out of high school, and, at his aunt's insistence, enrolled in the Art Academy. Skiffle was losing fashion as another guitarist, Paul's friend George Harrison (1943-2001), joined the group. John's schoolmate at the Academy, Stu Sutcliffe, a rank beginner, bought a bass and joined up. The again renamed Long John and the Silver Beetles now had three guitarists and a bass. Finally they picked up a temporary drummer, Pete Best, and for the moment the group was complete.
Their first manager, Liverpool club owner Alan Williams, agreed with changing the "e" to an "a" in their name, and then got them a two-month engagement at a club called the Indra in Hamburg, Germany. It was their first test in the world of real entertainment. The Indra was located in the Reeperbahn, Hamburg's red-light district, a place where alcohol, drugs, and sex were readily available to those willing to pay. The Beatles not only survived the challenge, but eagerly joined in the colorful activities of the area during their off-duty hours.
Stu Sutcliffe left the group to study art, so Paul moved over to bass. When they returned to the Cavern Club in Liverpool in 1961, John, Paul, George, and Pete developed a loyal crowd of fans who came to hear them night after night. They worked some three hundred nights from 1960 to 1962.
In 1961, a wealthy young Jewish businessman, Brian Epstein (1934-1967), had several requests for Beatles recordings at his dad's record shop, North End Music Enterprises. He took pride in being able to find any recording for anybody, and was irritated when couldn't locate a single recording by the Beatles. Since the Cavern Club was only a few blocks from his record store, he went to hear the boys.
The Cavern Club was very low class, not exactly Epstein's kind of hangout, but he went back several times. After a few informal meetings, he became the band's manager. He was bored running the music store, and they were bored playing the same old stuff for the same old crowd in Liverpool.
Epstein moved quickly. He destroyed their rocker image by putting them in neat suits and ties, and made them shave regularly and cleanup for shows. They were a scruffy crowd and had some bad habits that needed to be broken. They smoked, ate, talked, belched, and pretended to hit each other as they played. Pete Best said, "He [Epstein] forced us to work out a proper program for the evening, playing our best numbers, not just the ones we felt like playing at the moment (Szatmary 1987, 89-90).
When Decca Records rejected the Beatles, Epstein went to George Martin, recording engineer with Electrical and Musical Industries, Ltd. (EMI) and landed a routine new act contract – one year and four songs, for one cent per single and six cents per album, should that unlikely development occur.
EMI was a huge conglomerate much like RCA in America and George Martin was buried at EMI's subsidiary label, Parlophone (which produced spoken comedy and light music recordings), very low on the totem pole of the EMI corporate empire. Martin, too, was bored with the current conditions in his life. He had been trained in classical music, and was eager to do something interesting.
In September of 1962, Epstein listened to the first joint effort between Martin and the Beatles, liked what he heard, and hired Tony Barrow, a veteran publicity man from Decca, to arrange for marketing and distributing the release. Epstein always got the best people in the industry to handle specific tasks.
That recording, "Love Me Do", and its B-side, "P.S., I Love You", modestly succeeded, reaching No. 17 on the British pop charts. Encouraged, Epstein and Martin set up another recording session for November. Martin had musical knowledge, a discerning ear, and burning ambition. He insisted that Pete Best, a poor drummer in Martin's eyes, be replaced by a studio drummer for the new recording dates. Already contemplating that issue, the Beatles gave Epstein permission to fire Best.
The Final Component
Richard Starkey (b. 1940), not flashy but a rock-solid drummer, was hired away from Rory Storm and the Hurricanes to join the Beatles after Best was fired. Starkey had been thrown out of school at age fifteen, grew a beard, started wearing many rings (thus, "Rings", which was later changed to "Ringo"), and used to run around with the Beatles during their off-duty escapades in Hamburg. Ringo was not a capricious choice for the Beatles. He had fundamental drumming competence, and they knew he would fit in socially with them. Ringo settled in as their permanent drummer. The six magic components of an unparalleled musical team were now in place – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Brian Epstein, and George Martin.
Before long, the Beatles skyrocketed to the top of British pop music. Back in 1961 when they were sitting around dreaming of fame and fortune, Lennon would yell out, "Where are we going, fellas?" They would shout back, "To the top, Johnny!" He would ask, "What top?" And they would return, "To the toppermost of the poppermost, Johnny!" (Szatmary 1987, 90).
George Martin wisely followed "Love Me Do" with Please Please Me, a full-length album of newly recorded songs from the Beatles' live performance repertoire. It was a mix of Lennon-McCartney songs (for example, "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Do You Want to Know a Secret") and cover versions of American tunes (most notably the Isley Brothers' "Twist and Shout").
Epstein busily arranged radio, television, and tour appearances, not only to publicize the group and its record releases, but to insure adequate revenue should the record successes prove to be of the flash-in-the-pan variety (Stuessy 1990, 112).
By late 1962, enormous crowds of screaming teenagers converged on their every performance. Five thousand caused a riot in Manchester. Four thousand lined up at three in the morning for a show seventeen hours later at eight in the evening. Dr. F. R. Casson, an English psychologist, likened the hysteria to voodoo worship, and said "beat music" had rhythmic stimulation on the brain, in a manner similar to a flickering light which can cause an epileptic fit (Szatmary 1987, 90).
In October 1963, the Beatles, now often called the Fab Four, performed at the London Palladium while fifteen million television viewers watched and thousands of fans struggle to get in. In November, at a command performance for the Queen, John Lennon issued his famous remark, "For our last number, I'd like to ask your help. Would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewelry."
For the Beatles' first visit to America, Epstein orchestrated an advance- publicity campaign that rivaled the Normandy Invasion in its careful planning, timing, and execution. Epstein had articles in Newsweek, Time, Life, and all the major newspapers. Capitol Records (EMI's American subsidiary) sent out a million copies of a seven-inch Beatles interview record that gave radio listeners the impression that the Beatles had personally talked with every disc jockey in the country (Szatmary 1987, 92).
All the East Coast disc jockeys were on a Beatles countdown, "It's nine o'clock, kids, seventeen hours and twelve minutes until the Beatles touch American soil." January and February sales of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You" were off the charts. When the Beatles finally arrived at Kennedy International Airport in New York on February 7, 1964, twenty-five thousand screaming teens were there. Fifty thousand fans competed for seven hundred twenty-eight tickets for the two appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, and seventy million viewers tuned in. Sixty percent of all the single records sold in American during the first three months of 1964 were Beatles recordings (Belz 1972, 145).
During this first American trip, the Beatles played only two live concerts, one at the Coliseum in Washington, D. C., and the other at Carnegie Hall, New York. They returned to America later the same year for a month-long tour, from August 19 to September 21. Soon, America was just another stop on their nearly continuous world touring schedule. They returned in 1965 for another late summer tour, and, finally, again in 1966 for a seventeen-day tour, their last.
Beatlemania swept through America during each tour. In Kansas City, the pillow slips and bed sheets on which the Beatles slept were cut into 160,000 one-inch squares and sold for a dollar each. Girls hid in air-conditioning ducts, kids fell from balcony rails and elevated walkways. The Wall Street Journal estimated that the sale of Beatles' memorabilia – combs, sweaters, sunglasses, pillows, earrings, etc. – came to fifty million dollars, enough to change the balance of trade between Great Britain and America for 1964.
In their early days, they were a refreshing contrast to the growing San Francisco hippie culture. Innocent and charming, but sometimes cheeky, they seemed to be able to keep everything in good balance. They especially loved to joke with the reporters who wanted their opinion on everything. In Australia, one journalist asked, "How did you find America?" McCartney answered, "Went to Greenland, and turned left." In their first movie, A Hard Day's Night, George was asked what he called his haircut. The questioner expected him to say "A mop top," or something similar. Harrison replied, "Arthur."
As their fame grew, live performances became more and more difficult. By 1966 things were so out of hand that they couldn't hear each other singing or playing, even with their amplifiers and monitors wide open. To escape bodily harm, they had to leave each concert in an armored truck. Live shows had become mindless orgies of hysterical, screaming, fainting adolescents. Finally, they stopped all public appearances, and for the rest of their career just made records. Their last live concert was at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 29, 1966.
Had their career ended on that evening in San Francisco, the Beatles would have been remembered as just another very interesting rock and roll band. Instead, they went on to become the most important rock band of all time.
The Father of the Modern Pop Record
John, Paul, George, and Ringo were gifted, intuitive musicians, to be sure, but the creative things that happened on their albums from 1965 on were the work of George Martin, their musical adviser, spiritual big brother, and studio producer supreme. On "In My Life" from Rubber Soul, for instance, the instrumental break in the middle is not a harpsichord, but a piano (played by George Martin, incidentally) at half-speed an octave lower, then mixed in at double-speed for the proper pitch. The resultant sound was thus absolutely unique, although it approximates the sound of a harpsichord (Steussy 1990, 121).
Martin coaxed them into stretching every musical component – melody, harmony, rhythm, instrumentation, form, texture – the works. Every new album had something substantially different from any previous pop group in history, while at the same time reaffirming something from the group's past achievements. And among all the inventive gestures are some classic pop tunes that hold their own with the great songs of Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Jerome Kern –"Yesterday", for example, with over twenty-five hundred cover versions (Bronson 1985, 185).
On "I'm Only Sleeping", from the album Yesterday and Today, the guitar sounds are mixed in backward. On "I am the Walrus", from Magical Mystery Tour, vocal distortions and "stream of consciousness" nonsense lyrics would later be called psychedelic rock.
By this time, Martin had moved from two-track to four-track procedures. There were two versions made of "Strawberry Fields Forever", each recorded in a different key at different speeds. Lennon could not decide on the heavy guitar version or the lighter cellos-and-brass version. He liked the beginning of one and the ending of the other (Stuessy 1994, 124-125).
A simple splice would not work because of the different tempos and keys. With considerable technical skill and almost unbelievable good luck, George Martin managed to modify the tape speeds enough to bring the two versions together. The result is an eerie sounding piece that, with John's stream-of-consciousness lyrics, creates a purely psychedelic impression. Further coloration was added by mixing in (backwards and at varying speeds) pieces of tape with the sounds of piano runs and arpeggios. John, who was using LSD more and more frequently, had created (with George Martin's help) a real musical [psychedelic] drug trip (Stuessy 1994, 125).
A whole book could be written about Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, with its meter shifts, "songs within a song" for "A Day in the Life", falsetto voices, different speeds, strings and harp tone colors, calliope music recordings cut into pieces and randomly spliced together for "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite", rooster crows, saxophone bass lines, a wall of sound created by forty musicians near the end, and, at last, the final 45-second reverberation delay at the conclusion of the album.
Now, is this the work of lower-class Liverpool adolescents, two of whom never finished high school? Boys from the streets who spent their time drinking, taking drugs, and chasing girls? Hardly. The topics of the tunes, yes. The continuous stream of double meanings and tongue-in-cheek witticisms, yes. The anti-establishment feeling to the album, yes.
But all the other dazzling innovations, all those stunning musical surprises – many of them from musique concrete, a form of music that features electronic sounds derived from natural sounds, vocalizations, and electronic instruments – feel like the work of a man who knew about Edgard Varese, Milton Babbitt, Pierre Boulez, John Cage, Lucas Foss, and other modern classical composers. That man was George Martin, and he often said that the Beatles were quick to learn, and always asking questions.
We used a string quartet, for example, very early in their recording lives. I would suggest using a trumpet or a cor anglais. They would say, "What's a cor anglais? Then I'd demonstrate how it sounded, and they'd say, "Great. Let's try that!"
I remember on one occasion using a saxophone section. I asked John what notes he wanted for the riff background. He played them on his guitar, and I transcribed the notes for the sax section. "But you're giving him the wrong note," John said. "I played A-flat, and you gave him an F.
So I explained that John's A-flat was F for the alto saxophone. John just shook his head and said, "That's bloody stupid!" He was quite right of course (Palmer 1976, 242, but modified because Palmer had the transposition reversed).
At every recording session from very earlier in their career, the Beatles' charming musical innocence and curiosity was given shape and substance by a very sophisticated musical intelligence – George Martin.
A Momentous Change in Pop Music History
The reason that the Beatles are given so much credit for the way they changed popular music really comes down to these two fundamental tenants: with the Beatles, 1) the act of recording became the act of composition, and 2) the primary aesthetic experience became the act of listening to a specific record, the sound of which would be almost impossible to recreate in a live setting.
Recording and composing became one. Even before they stopped performing in public, the Beatles would go into the recording studio (at ridiculously odd hours, incidentally, and often high on heaven knows what) with only a rough idea of what they might end up doing. The real inventive energies, the inspired moments of true creativity, came in the give-and-take of personalities and ideas during the dozens of play-backs, overdubs, mistakes, spontaneous experiments, and happy accidents. About that time John Lennon said, "We don't write songs anymore, we write recordings."
The Beatles and George Martin usually finished any given tune in a couple of intense studio sessions. Before long the industry modified and streamlined that general pattern. During the next thirty years, a predictable mode of operation took shape – a rhythm track laid down in Memphis, the voices added in Nashville, the horns dubbed in at Los Angeles, the strings put on by the London Symphony, the solo inserted in Chicago, and the final mix done in Arizona. Then, three different treatments of the final mix were released: one for radio stations, one for club disc jockeys, and one for high-powered auto stereo systems.
The record producer rose to power as he called the shots all along the way, even instructing the chief mixing engineer as to how the final product should sound.
(This still happens in many cases, of course, but the rap industry of the 1990s had its own method of creating a product: a rhythm track is sampled from an old James Brown release, and all other things are dubbed in or digitally created instantly new at the studio.)
In addition to the line between composing and recording being blurred beyond recognition in the 1960s, there developed another momentous change – the act of listening to that record became the primary aesthetic experience, the moment of artistic truth and pleasure. Concerts became less and less fulfilling because the band could not possibly create on stage what the kids had heard on the recordings and because the sound systems of the day weren't suitable for listening to music over the voices of thousands of screaming fans.
All of this was a change of great magnitude. The entire field of pop music was altered forever. In the old days, Glenn Miller's band played a tune to the delight of thousands of fans all across America. At the end of the tour, by which time the band had honed its performance to razor-sharp precision, they went into the studio and made a record. The record was purchased by the fans who would then re-visit that memorable moment when they heard the band live. The concert was the primary aesthetic experience. Listening to the record was a secondary experience. Owning the record gave them the chance to repeat the pleasure at will. But with the Beatles, and all pop music after them, the act of listening to the record was and is the moment of highest artistic satisfaction.
THE ROLLING STONES
From a street-level bar band, the Beatles seem to have stumbled into fame, wealth, and historical significance by the fortuitous mix of George Martin's musical insights and Brian Epstein's managerial gifts. The Rolling Stones, however, were a completely different story.
Their thirst for fame and wealth seems to have come from middle-class design. Mick Jagger's father, Joe, a physical education teacher, provided a comfortable home in Dartford and sent his son, Mick (b. 1943), to the prestigious London School of Economics. Keith Richards (b. 1943) was the son of an electrical engineer. Brian Jones' mother was a piano teacher, his father an aeronautical engineer, and Brian (1942-1969) worked as an architect's assistant for a while. Charlie Watts (b. 1941) was employed in an advertising agency before joining the Stones. Bill Wyman (b. 1936) was the only genuine working class kid. As Mick Jagger pointed out, "We weren't from poverty families. Our fans were people like us... more like a college crowd" (Szatmary 187, 101).
The Stones started out as nice guys. But it just didn't work for them as it did for the Beatles. Their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, was getting worried. Finally, during a dismal American tour in June of 1964 when they drew only 600 people in an auditorium with 15,000 seats in Omaha, Nebraska, Oldham decided to change their image – immediately – to the exact opposite of the clean cut Beatles. He succeeded.
In their very next press conference, the Stones came on with strong, vulgar, and insulting language. The newspapers reacted as Oldham hoped they would. They complained about the dirty language, and the long hair, and the sexist remarks. The journalists were shocked that the Stones' behavior contrasted so unfavorably with the lovable Beatles who were such decent chaps.
"It's working! It's working!" Oldham screamed out. "They're plastering your pictures and your terrible statements all over the papers. Those Rolling Stones!" A short time later, one publication called them "five indolent morons, who seem to really enjoy wallowing in the swill-tub of their own repulsiveness." Another called them "the ugliest pop group in Britain... a caveman-like quintet" (Szatmary 1987, 102-103).
With "I Can't Get No Satisfaction", the Stones had their first genuine hit. It was No. 1 on the pop charts for four weeks in July 1965. They had arrived. By 1967, they were nearly always in trouble with drugs, alcohol, and sex scandals. "Ruby Tuesday" and "Let's Spend the Night Together" still sold very well, though. In fact, the more scandalous their off-stage activities were, the more records they sold, and the more violent and destructive their fans became.
Although Brian Jones left the band in 1969 (about a month prior to his "death by misadventure"), Ronnie Woods (b. 1947) joined as a guitarist after Jones' replacement, Mick Taylor (b. 1949), left the band in 1975, and American Darryl Jones (b. 1961) took over for Bill Wyman when he retired in 1993, the Rolling Stones are still going strong, fifty years after their rise to fame.
THE OTHER BRITISH GROUPS
The Yardbirds, the Kinks, the Who, the Dave Clark Five, the Animals, the Moody Blues, and dozens more British rock bands blazed across the musical horizon in the 1960s and '70s. Nearly all toured America at one time or another, and a number of them began their careers as outright imitators of Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, B. B. King, Bo Diddley, and the other American R&B patriarchs.
These British groups copied and covered hundreds of American blues songs as best they could until they developed their own repertoire and style. Then, when the American bands began to imitate the British groups, the over-and-back cultural transfer was complete. It was a rare period in American pop music.