British Beat Conquers the World

British Beat Conquers the World

The Beatles-led British invasion of American airwaves and record stores in the 1960s influenced all aspects of the American popular music scene. In Britain and the United States, few towns were without their amateur groups, almost all of whom attempted to write some of their own material. Self-penned songs were unusual for the mainstream of popular music, but held no fears for folk revivalists; what struck them most forcibly was the immense, unsuspected capacity of this new form of rock’n’ roll for personal expression.

The greatest impact of British music may not have been on “creative artists”, however, but on the music industry. The industry had grown bored with the popular – music scene in the early 1960s. The Beatles in particular reawakened its interest. The reinvigoration of popular music recording brought with it a search for new ways of marketing, and a scramble for new performers to meet the demand.

The Beatles pioneered the idea that the long-playing record (LP) should be more than a discrete collection of unrelated songs. This encouraged the industry to move much of its popular music production into that area – a shift made permanent a little later in the decade by the arrival of the “concept album” (usually attributed to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – 1967). And the simple but effective notion of reducing the traditional number of tracks (and hence the royalties) meant that LP’s could be sold at the same price but bring in more revenue for the music industry.

To an audience that took its music with a growing seriousness, the LP was confirmation of the status of that music. It also proved particularly attractive to the ever-increasing number of FM (frequency modulation) radio stations in the United States. This system of broadcasting, conceived in 1933, was based on a fuller range of frequency than AM (amplitude modulation), and was characterized by its ability to filter out intruding noises.

Finally taking hold in the 1960s, FM statitons steadily grew in number, helped by several related factors such as the introduction of stereo sound in about 11960 (stereo systems soon came complete with FM); the consequent improvement in LP quality; and the adoption of the LP for rock records. Beginning in San Francisco, FM stations became closely associated with “progressive” rock.

Next Page: California Dreamin’

Popular Culture in Britain

Popular Culture in Britain - The Beatles

In the early 1960s British popular culture emerged from the long winter of postwar austerity, rejvenated by the assertive claims to attention of the young working class. Responding to prime minister Harold Macmillan’s 1958 election message, “You’ve never had it so good”, previously unregarded groups began to demand consumer cultural goods designed specifically for them.

Rock & Roll is often used as a generic term, but its sound is rarely predictable. From the outset, when the early rockers merged country and blues, rock has been defined by its energy, rebellion and catchy hooks, but as the genre aged, it began to shed those very characteristics, placing equal emphasis on craftmanship and pushing the boundaries of the music. Just as rock `n’ roll had provided a commodity around which the American teenage market could be defined in the 1950s, the Mersey Beat – a raucous and driving form of rock that emerged from Liverpool in 1962-63 – signaled the arrival of the young British consumer as a commercial cultural force.

But, as so often it Britain, their arrival was touched with class division. To be young, affluent and rebellious was not enough. As John Lennon later put it, “A working-class hero is something to be” Unexpectedly, this new kind of British cultural artefact proved highly exportable, and provided a major stimulus to popular culture all over the world. Superfically at least, the radicalizing effects of rock `n’ roll seemed to have worn thin by 1960. Bland American “high school” sounds predominated. Britain’s own Elvis clones, such as Cliff Richard, had turned into entertainers for all the family, while its imitation Sinatras continued to prosper both on records and on the airwaves.

‘The Rolling Stones are arguably the biggest rock’n’roll band in the world so to secure a performance from them is amazing. The Stones, who first formed in 1961, August 31, and played their first ever gig outside England in 1963 at the Royal Lido Ballroom in Prestatyn. And although the four remaining members – Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood – are now all around 60, they say they are still enjoying performing live.
‘We do enjoy ourselves doing it. Everyone has been saying how can they enjoy themselves, they should be bored to death doing this,’ Jagger said, in an interview from Dallas, Texas. ‘If we were bored to death, we would not be doing it.’

The advertisement for the August 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair promised the appearance of more than twenty performers, including Joan Baez, the Who, Arlo Guthrie, Canned Heat, Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Jimi Hendrix. As the personification of hippiedom, Woodstock–actually held at Bethel, New York–was the most successful counterculture event. In 1969, during the three-day rock festival at Woodstock, performers such as Arlo Guthrie pleaded with Customs agents not to confiscate his drugs, Jimi Hendrix rendered what the establishment probably regarded as a blasphemous interpretation of the “Star Spangled Banner” on his electric guitar, and Country Joe McDonald’s cynical claim that he didn’t give a damn about Vietnam, offended the patriotic silent majority.

Next Page: Here Comes Beatlemania!