The Beatles, Times Gave
Rock & Roll Respectability
50 Years Ago
Souvenier T-SHIRTS, BUTTONS and more
We celebrate if not the greatest, then the most popular rock and roll group in history on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles crossing the Atlantic to perform for US fans on the Ed Sullivan show this week in 1964. But , at that time, one wasn’t so sure that the Beatles would fully catch on -or that rock and roll would survive. Afterall, rock and roll had softened it’s tune; Elvis was making movies, Buddy Holly had passed in the air crash along with budding star Richie Valens, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis had some women problems and the other stars of the day like Roy Orbison, Bobby Darin, Neil Sedaka, Gene Pitney and Del Shannon were considered more pop than hard driving rock and roll – and even they were still playing to small venues,; it took caravan-style tours with other artists, fronted by empresarios like Alan Freed and Dick Clark to achieve larger crowds (of largely teenagers). Even with older guys like Clark and Freed leading the way, there wasn’t a lot of rock & roll respect to be had then.
The Beatles, Times Gave Rock & Roll Respectability 50 Years Ago
When the Beatles came along rock and roll still was considered, perhaps, a passing fad. Still in it’s infancy – having begun around 1955 – top artists of the day were performing in high school gymnasiums or small theaters, NOT stadiums and arenas as they do today. Just as societal values and mores began changing following the assassination of President Kennedy and the social upheaval that followed, so did rock and roll take on respectability in its now appealing rebelling nature – and the Beatles led the way, feasting off , yes, their own talents, but the correct times that would come to approve of their long hair and experimentalism (remember Maharishi?)
But, in the early days of the Beatles, circa 1964 , it was still the ‘dark ages’ of rock and roll some might say. Looking at the reviews of that first show, February 9, 1964 , we have this from the mainstream magazines NEWSWEEK:
‘”Visually, they are a nightmare; tight, dandified, Edwardian/Beatnik suits and great pudding bowls of hair. Their lyrics (punctuated by nutty shouts of ‘yeah, yeah, yeah!) are a catastrophe, a preposterous farrago of Valentine-card romantic sentiments.”
But for thirteen year-olds and their increasing ‘power’ derived in part via new, Dr. Spockian parenting and the growingly lax social times, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the Beatles. So much so, that the Beatles would soon sell out large stadiums like Candlestick Park in San Francisco -on the few tours they made during their short four year career in the States.
Finally, parents couldn’t help but hear the music – and they realized those ‘yeah, yeah, yeahs’ weren’t all that bad. Even some of the tunes like ‘Yesterday’ were even listenable. And the Beatles now were appealing to multi-genereations, despite some of their later, drug-influenced lyrics and ‘psychedlic sounds. By the time 1967 and ‘flower power’ arrived their was no turning back. And, the Beatles had spawned a lot of wannabes beginning with the ‘tougher’ Rolling Stones. By now, the old MOR (middle of the road) artists like Sinatra , Bennett, Dean Martin and the like had been knocked out of the charts. ‘Rock,’ as it was now called, even got its own mainstream magazine backing – and eventually that which spawned the Rock Hall of Fame – and rock and roll became a big money business and has never stopped.
But the Beatles had the music world to themselves – if they wanted in , but, suddenly, they called it quits in 1968 with a final concert in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park before 50,000 fans. And the rest is history – and rock and roll (in its latest incarnation , whatever that might be) lives on to this day.
Looking back as one who lived throughout the history of rock and roll, it seems somewhat unfair that artists and groups prior to the Beatles and rock’s new found respectability, never got the attention – or money – they probably deserved. It seems that most artists in the 50s and early 60s were exploited by their record companies; to be fair, rock and roll was still not ‘mainstream’ and many of the artists would not have made it without the ‘Phil Spectors’ of the day (in contrast to today, where artists can achieve success on their own, recording in their own home digital studios, and then marketing via social sites and blogs. Recent grammy winner , Lourdes, is an example of this. But, in the early days, artists needed all the help they could get. To add insult to injury, when the Beatles came along with their ‘gimmick’ hair and new , ‘rebel’ sounds, most of the pre-Beatles acts saw a significant downturn to their careers; with rare exception , they would never see the large crowds and big money that become the standard of top groups from the mid-60s and on.