Unit 5: The British Invasion
- A decade that saw tremendous turbulence and war. The spirit of the time was reflected in the
rise and fall of President John F. Kennedy (assassination in 1963). Two themes were present in
these chaotic years: youth culture presented itself more forcefully than ever and social
movements became more critical and violent.
- Vietnam War and civil rights movement divided Americans. In 1963, 250 000 Americans took
part in the “March on Washington” where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream”
speech. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Assassination of King in 1968.
- Other movements: antiwar movement, feminist movement by Betty Friedan’s book in 1963,
environmentalism (1962), consumer protection movement (1965)
- By the beginning of the decade, network programming had almost entirely migrated from radio
to television. The 1960s drew to a close the same way it began, with a mixture of hope and fear
The Beatles and the British Invasion
- On February 9 1964, the Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan’s Sunday evening variety show –
record-breaking views. The British invasion, the Beatles in particular, affected both musical style
and music-business practice. The story of the British invasion is two interdependent stories: the
first is a chronicle of British pop before 1964 and British musicians’ fascination with American
pop, country, jazz, and rhythm and blues; the second is an account of how British music strongly
affected American pop after the arrival of the Beatles
British Pop in the Late 1950s and Early 1960s
The Music Business in the UK
- Prior to 1964 American listeners viewed Britain as a secondary force in popular music. Many of
the same records were popular in both American and Britain (performed mostly by white
American artists – ex. Orchestra leader Mantovani). This American dominance in popular music
was largely a product of the differences between British and American society – many Britons
looked to America as a country full of hope and confidence.
- The idea of the “teenager” was seen as an American innovation (rock music – teenage
- Britain had 4 major record labels: EMI, Decca, Pye, Philips and 2 radio stations: the BBC and
Radio Luxembourg. Unlike the U.S., Britain had no independent radio stations before 1964.
- The British had a long-standing infatuation with American folk and jazz dating back before WWII.
Traditional jazz (“trad”) was championed by bandleader Ken Colyer and was later broadened to
include other jazz styles. “Skiffle”- most important figure in the late-1950s by Loonie and his
band who blended folk music with an up-tempo rhythmic feel (traditional jazz beat) and
American textual themes. - The most pressing challenge in facing the UK music business in the late 50s and early 60s was
how to place more domestic records on the British charts which were still dominated by
Americans. The most successful British rocker was EMI’s Cliff Richard (1958-1963) who scored
27 UK hit singles. His backup band was the Shadows (series of instrumental hits). However, only
one of their records crossed the Atlantic before 1964: “Living Doll” – number 30 on the U.S.
charts in 1959
- Despite the increased success of British artists, in 1962 the UK charts were still full of Americans.
The turnaround for British performers would occur in 1963 with the emergence of the “beat
boom”, a style led by a group from Liverpool
The Beatles as Students of American Pop, 1960-1963
Formation and First Gigs
- The Beatles formed in Liverpool in 1957, playing as a skiffle band and calling themselves the
Quarry Men, then moving on to rock and roll. John Lennon was born in 1940 and Paul
McCartney in 1942– among the first generation of musicians for whom rock was the music of
- The first recording of the Beatles from 1958 (as the Quarry Men) features Buddy Holly’s “That’ll
Be the Day”. They also recorded an original song that emulated Holly’s style – “In Spite of All the
Dangers”. They won a talent contest under the name Johnny and the Moondogs in 1960 when
Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison auditioned for manager Larry Parnes.
Hamburg and Liverpool (1960-1962)
- The group traveled to Hamburg for three extended stays and returned for two shorter periods
in late 1962. They had been booked through agent Allan Williams. Long nights in German bars
refined the Beatles’ performance skills and became regulars at Liverpool’s Cavern Club – the
band played almost 300 shows at the Cavern through early 1962
- There were advantages and disadvantages of being a Liverpool group. Advantage: the city was a
seaport and seamen regularly brought back American records (greater exposure to American
pop). Disadvantage: the entire British music business was centered in London – difficult for
groups outside the capitol to gain acceptance
- In November 1961, Brian Epstein (ran a family-owned record store) first saw the Beatles play at
the Cavern and soon became their manager. He immediately set to work on cleaning up the
band’s stage appearance (haircuts and matching tailored suits). He then set his sights on a
recording contract- George Martin for an EMI label called Parlophone. The group’s first release
for Parlophone was Lennon and McCartney’s “Love Me Do”. The Hurricanes’ Ringo Starr had
joined the band to replace Best but Martin was wary of his amateurish playing style and hired a
session drummer for the recording date. “Love Me Do” rose to number 17 on the UK charts by
late 1962. However, in 1963, “How Do You Do It?” hit number 1 when it was released by
another Epstein-managed Liverpool group, Gerry and the Pacemakers. - By the end of 1962, the Beatles had done what no Liverpool band had: gone to London, signed a
recording contract, and placed a single on the UK charts. Success of the “Mersey Beat” – pop
music originating in the mid-1960s around Liverpool and northwest England.
- Young songwriters often learn their craft by modeling new songs on ones they know. The richest
source of a repertoire are tapes the band made for a variety of BBC radio broadcasts – reveals
band’s fascination with American Rock and Roll. The tapes feature 4 Elvis covers and 9 Chuck
Berry covers. Little Richard and Carl Perkins are also represented multiple times.
- Based on early recordings, it is clear that Lennon and McCartney were experienced students of
American pop by the time they entered the EMI Abbey Road studios with Martin to make their
first hit record in fall 1962
Success in England
- Success of “Love Me Do” = sign of things to come. Began 1963 by recording and touring in
support of their first album, Please Please Me. By August they had 3 more hit singles as well as a
chart-topping album. The group’s breakthrough in Britain occurred in mid-October when they
performed on Sunday Night at the London Palladium, a national television broadcast as well as
on the Royal Variety Performance.
- By late November, the group’s second album, With the Beatles, entered the UK charts at
number 2 on its way to the top spot. In December, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” hit number 1 on
the UK charts where it replaced “She Loves You” and became the bands 4 consecutive hit. In
late December The Times’ music critic William Mann named Lennon and McCartney the
“outstanding English composers of 1963”. None of this success made an impact across the
- Capitol Records, EMI’s American subsidiary, declined the right to issue the first Beatles hits in
the US. George Martin was forced to license these singles to American indies and none of the
top 3 records had much chart impact – even Cliff Richard had been unable to establish
themselves as consistent hit-makers in America which is why Capitol was reluctant.
- In November 1963, Epstein visited New York and worked out a deal for 3 appearances on Ed
Sullivan’s variety show in 1964 and they were able to convince Capitol to release “I Want to Hold
Your Hand” in late 1963 – single hit number 1 in the U.S. by February 1964 just in time for the 1
The American Experience
- Breakthrough success on the first Sullivan appearance. They followed the success of “I Want to
Hold Your Hand” with more than 30 top 40 U.S. hits through 1966 with 12 going to number 1
- In 1964, the band was featured in their first movie, A Hard Day’s Night, and followed up with
Help! In 1965. - Things turned out sour for the band in 1966 when controversy erupted in the U.S. over remarks
that Lennon had made in a UK interview after Lennon replied to what role religion played in the
lives of British youth with “Christianity will grow” and that in British society the Beatles were
more popular than Jesus Christ – taken out of context. As a result of this controversy and the toll
taken by constant work, the Beatles played their last public concert at San Francisco’s
Candlestick Park in August 1966.
The Beatles’ Music Develops: From Craftsmen to Artists
- Clear development of their music from 1964-66. Early on the band seemed to imitate U.S.
models, combining diverse but nonetheless identifiable elements from earlier American music.
Much of the Beatles’ music recorded in 1963-4 relies heavily on reworking a limited number of
musical elements, most which can be traced back to the band’s earlier music. The practice of
producing songs according to a “formula” is an aspect of the craft of songwriting (ex. Brill
Building songwriters and Tin Pan Alley)
- Another approached employed by the Beatles is usually associated with classical-music
composers from the 19 and 20 century – Beethoven, Brahms, Schoenberg- rather than finding
a formula, these composers sought novel solutions for each piece of music. From 1964-1966,
the Beatles increasingly moved away from the formulaic approach to songwriting and toward
the artistic one – novel timbral and structural elements to create Revolver.
- “Tomorrow Never Knows” is a good example of how far the Beatles had come – the song is in
simple verse form, built on a single 8-measure structure played 9 times with no chorus. The tape
loops were manipulated to suggest an otherworldly sonic landscape and mixed into the final
recording in real time. Because of the randomness of this procedure, the same result cannot
have been easily duplicated either in the studio or in live performance more an art than craft.
The Growing Importance of Lyrics
- Tendencies toward more artistic approaches were also evident in their song lyrics. Help! For
example was far more unconventional. Most of the more ambitious lyrics came from Lennon,
though McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby” paints a dark picture of alienation. The Beatles fascination