Camelot and beyond<BR>

Camelot and beyond

Sender: news@math.ucla.edu

In article <2d1qet$4l5@menudo.uh.edu> edc@evolution.bchs.uh.edu (edward s. chen) writes:

>In article <CH1A4J.IqG@serveme.chi.il.us> boba@gagme.chi.il.us
(Bob Allison) writes:
>> Well, thirty years ago John Kennedy was killed and there were a few
>>dark months between his death and the coming of the Beatles.
>
>Perhaps a better question would be whether the Kennedy assassination had
>as much to do with the eventual success of the Fabs as many authors would
>have us believe....

It's an unfortunate circumstance that early analysts of the Beatles phenomenon (American analysts, need I mention) were of the opinion that the growth of Beatlemania in the U.S. was directly traceable to ennui, despair, and the relentless search for a happier message in the wake of national tragedy.

As Mr. Chen remarks, that's open to question. In fact, I don't think one can prove that it was ever true. Indeed, it appears that the *opposite* was true. Evidence suggests that the Beatles might actually have made their celebrated splash into American pop-music seas a good 4-6 weeks earlier than they had done, if the Kennedy assassination hadn't intervened.

This does *not* mean that national mourning wasn't real, or that it failed to affect all groups of society; I would hardly suggest such a thing, having been a first-hand observer myself. But the simplistic tie-in between Kennedy's death and the Beatles' gift of musical panacea isn't what it seems to be. I'd venture to suggest that it's an outmoded theory best left to the dust of primitive pop-culturists.

Actually, Mr. Allison is off by a few months. The Beatles had already *come* to America well before November 22, 1963 via (among other media inroads) regular shipments from EMI to Capitol of potential hits. Capitol passed on "Love Me Do", perhaps understandably, but having also heard and impatiently considered "Please Please Me", "From Me To You" and "She Loves You"---and passed on those as well--- Capitol lost out on the distinction of being the first to issue Beatles singles in the U.S. That honor belonged to Vee Jay and Swan, who released these three songs to U.S. markets in February, April, and September *1963*.

The Beatles had certainly arrived, and their sound was helplessly reverberating down the industry's prejudiced tin ear. Of course, if American teens and pop music fans en masse had actually *heard* those songs...but each tune enjoyed only a limited and localized success, due mostly to the stubbornness of marketing moguls, who refused to recognize hit-bound sounds, or who lacked PR breadth to effectively reach open-minded music fans. These were the very songs which had already swept British listeners off their feet and onward to audiophonic satori. But without decent distribution across the U.S., widely-available airplay, or substantive reviews, the Beatles' songs could only register the merest flicker of Yankee passion in localized American music markets.

Passion there was, nevertheless, against all expected odds. "From Me To You" reached #31 in Los Angeles in c. June 1963, while "She Loves You" was one of Murray-the-K's hot picks in September, while more widespread audiences remained untapped by revolution... thanks to Capitol, who knew our fine American tastes better than we did ourselves, so they thought. And besides, British music never sold in America, except as the odd novelty ("Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour..." et al). Naturally these minor marketing abberrations from Vee Jay and Swan were just flukes. American kids wanted American music. :-)

Well, maybe we'd had enough of it, and *just didn't know it yet*. Trends are stubborn things, once firmly entrenched. We consume what we're fed, manna from the gods of rock-and-roll's first perfect wave. But with Buddy gone, Elvis in Germany, Chuck in disgrace, and a passel of soft-boiled borrowers warbling over the airwaves...all those Bobbys or Brians! All the surfers, the harmonists who took their tones from the past, the one-or-twohit wonders (you could have two hits by turning your first hit inside-out, like the Essex did)...don't tell me we weren't tired of it. Sure, it *sounded* good, about as good as warm, inviting lullabies of pop, crooned familiarly as night falls. But how would we ever have known what was outside nighttime's windows, had someone not drawn back the curtains and shown us pulsing stars of a new musical world?

Actually, we can thank Brian Epstein, among others, for pushing the Fabs to the fore, not just in England but in the States. Okay, so American record execs were fools; but they couldn't be self-deluded forever. Once the Boys had recorded "I Want To Hold Your Hand", Epstein was absolutely convinced that this song was the key to those hard hearts at Capitol; and he was right. But the growing hysteria in Britain was a welcome adjunct in that battle.

Quite independent of Epstein's efforts to secure distribution for "IWTHYH" via Capitol, American entertainment was beginning to hear the roar from across the pond. Ed Sullivan had seen that phenomenological tempest when changing planes at Heathrow on 31 October 1963, when the Beatles just coincidentally were returning from their conquest of Scandinavia. And Jack Paar, an American talk-show host of considerable fame, witnessed the hoopla over the Royal Variety Performance on 4 November. In the minds of both men, something clicked. This was no ordinary fad. Paar was later less kind to the Fabs' talent than Sullivan, but both men resolved to Do Something About It when they got home.

So did their networks. CBS, NBC, and ABC sent camera crews over to film the Beatles in performance at the Winter Gardens Theatre, Bournemouth, on 16 November. CBS apparently aired the most elaborate piece...one not entirely laudatory, as you may tell from this transcript kindly provided by the highly esteemed Jay C. Smith. See whether you think CBS was being entirely fair...or whether John and Paul could have worked a tad more diligently to sound more "serious" :-) :


[Excerpt follows of CBS broadcast, 21 November 1963]:

THE BEATLES
Yeah, yeah, yeah, YEAH! [screams]

ALEXANDER KENDRICK
Yeah, yeah, yeah, those are the Beatles, those are, and this is Beatleland, formerly known as Britain, where an epidemic called Beatlemania has seized the teenage population, especially female. Some of the girls can write, and they belong to the Beatle Fan Club. [typewriter noise]

The Beatles sound like insect life, but it's spelled B E A T -- beat, and these four boys from Liverpool, with their dishmop hairstyles, are Britain's latest musical and, in fact, sociological phenomenon. They have introduced what their press agents call the Mersey Sound, after the River Mersey on which Liverpool stands. And though musicologists say it is no different than any other rock and roll, except maybe louder, it has carried the Beatles to the top of the heap. In fact, they have met royalty and royalty is appreciative and impressed.

Wherever the Beatles go they are pursued by hordes of screaming, swinging juveniles. They and their press agents have to think up all sorts of ways to evade their adoring fans.

The other night the Beatles played Bournemouth [screams], the south coast family resort, and Bournemouth will never be the same. [screams]

THE BEATLES
She loves you.... ["She Loves You" was sung live by the Boys in their Bournemouth performance, but CBS dubbed in the studio version]. [Screams]

ALEXANDER KENDRICK
Reporter Josh Darsa talked to the Beatles in their dressing room.

JOSH DARSA
What has occurred to you as to why you've succeeded?

PAUL
Uhhh. Uhuh, really--you know, as you say, the haircuts. We didn't think they were a gimmick, but everyone else said, [affected voice] "Haha, what a gimmick!"

JOSH DARSA
Do you have any fears that your public eventually will get tired of you and move on to a new favorite?

JOHN
[sigh] They probably will, but, you know,...

JOSH DARSA [interrupting]
Ever think about that?

JOHN
...depends on how long it takes 'em to get tired.

ALEXANDER KENDRICK
Besides being merely the latest objects of adolescent adulation and culturally the modern manifestation of compulsive tribal singing and dancing, the Beatles are said by sociologists to have a deeper meaning. Some say they are the authentic voice of the proletariat. Some say they are the authentic heart of Britain, in revolt against the American cult of pop singers represented by Elvis Presley and a long line of his British imitators. [screams] Beatles themselves seem to have no illusions. They symbolize the twentieth century non-hero as they make non-music, wear non-haircuts, give no "mersey".

Meanwhile, yeah, yeah, yeah, the fan mail keeps rolling in and so does the money. [typewriter noise] This is Alexander Kendrick in Beatleland....
---

Maybe not much, or so it seems today; just two or so minutes of national exposure. But it played to the whole country on primetime TV news (preceded by similar, if unpreserved, news stories also broadcast by other networks on 18 and 19 November). And major news magazines---Time and Newsweek---also featured print pieces on the Beatles that week. Was the U.S. media world onto something, perchance? Were music fans far behind?

Perhaps if the next day hadn't been November 22nd. Perhaps then the incipient acceleration of American Beatlemania would not have been halted so abruptly.

All media outlets reacted to the assassination as was inevitable, mirroring and generating sincere sorrow. During those following days, no news outlet had the temerity to break into lighter reportage. Solemnity was all.

The music charts didn't mourn. They continued to plot the ebb and flow of the status quo: Dale and Grace, April Stevens and Nino Tempo, drunken dirges ("Louie Louie") and languid lyrics ("Wonderful Summer", "Drip Drop", "Since I Fell For You"). Slow dances, old steps. Good enough for everyday listening pleasure... but not the stuff of revolt.

Maybe Brian Harvey is right. Rather than an antidote to too much despair, the onset of American Beatlemania happened when it did because the events of November 22nd shook our limited world picture like a sharp quake rather than a sultry temblor. But our minds had already been set aquiver by those brief foreshocks of mid-November. Somewhat recovered from official grief, CBS jolted us again with a re-edit of their original story on the Beatles, which aired on 10 December. This time the tsunami---the rolling tidal wave of musical inevitability--- found its way to our shores. A young lady in Washington DC saw that piece, wrote her favorite DJ Carroll James to complain that she wasn't hearing any such wonderful sounds on WWDC-AM! What was he going to do about it?

He moved fast. Capitol already planned a 26 December release for "IWTHYH", but James commissioned the assistance of BOAC, and a flight attendant brought over the Fabs' latest single from England. He played it. He played it again. Listeners called. Other stations phoned Capitol and complained that their listeners wanted to hear it too. Capitol was forced into shipping promotional copies of the single several weeks before they'd planned it. By that time it was almost too late. Stations were trading tapes of this strange, exotic, somehow familiar-sounding song. Listeners were screaming for vinyl. So much for Capitol's finely-honed publicity campaign! Who needed stickers, wigs, slogans, when the pop world was already turning and transforming under your feet?

The process of the Fabs' emergence in America is far more complex than it seems on the surface. Plain and simple, we almost missed the boat---or at least we missed a goodly portion of the voyage, on which the Brits had already been presciently sailing for the better part of a year. So much for pursuit of the space race, arms race, missile race, "peace" race--- hell, we lost the *pop* race. :-)

But it hardly seems to matter now, considering what we inevitably gained, once we learned how to pilot our own ship via those new musical heavens across the water.

--
"As music critic I have had to subject my eardrums to more than a little of the cacophony which dominates the hit parade but the stuff shouted by these Liverpudlian tonsorial horrors left me particularly unimpressed."-------------saki (dmac@math.ucla.edu) Click here to return to the rmb home page.

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