— an excerpt from another chapter of G. A. De Forest’s book ‘Beach Boys vs Beatlemania: Rediscovering Sixties Music’, published by Booklocker.com in November 2007 and available for around $17.95. Highest position thus far on Amazon’s sales list in the Music: History & Criticism category is #23 on April 26th 2008.
“Eng-a-land swings like a pendulum do/ bobbies on bicycles two by two/ Westminster Abbey, the Tower, Big Ben/ the rosy red cheeks of the little chil-dren.”—Country Music’s Oklahoma stump philosopher of the mid-Sixties, Roger Miller, observing the myth of Merry England. By the time of Miller’s paean—what, in any other era, would have been a giant pain—England had ruled pop music for two years and was conquering the rest of pop culture. The miniskirt, fashion designer Mary Quant, supermodel Jean Shrimpton (Twiggy to come), and Carnaby Street were all household names around the world. In London they took their fashion so seriously that anyone walking down Carnaby Street or Chelsea’s King’s Road out of fashion might have been ritually stoned, in both senses of the word.
The coolest tv program was The Avengers—karate-kicking Emma Peel and immaculately Savile Row-attired John Steed. The chic actresses were Julie Christie on the big screen, by acclaim, and by definition Paul McCartney’s girlfriend Jane Asher, and Mick Jagger’s, Marianne Faithfull—by her own account blessed by an accident of birth with “The Look” and so doubling effortlessly as a chic rock star.
The Beatles came in 12th at American box-offices for 1965, 6th UK. America’s two no.1 movie stars through 1965-66 were Brits Sean Connery (James Bond) and saccharine songstress Julie Andrews, dis-placing all-American team Doris Day and Rock Hudson —suddenly hopelessly outdated 40-year-old born-again virgins, plopped down from Planet Quaint into The Swinging Sixties. The British had cornered the movie market (apart from westerns, fading fast): Bond and Michael Caine the nattiest dressed screen spies; Peter Sellers superseded Jerry Lewis as America’s most popular comic; Hayley Mills still the world’s no.1 child star, turning 20; Margaret Rutherford was the screen’s adored septuagenarian. An entire generation of British actors—Peter O’Toole, Albert Finney, Alan Bates, Tom Courtenay, Julie Christie, Terence Stamp, Glenda Jackson, Oliver Reed, Susannah York, Sarah Miles—were said to be the most interesting on screen. The swingingest middle-aged affair involved fifth-time-around Liz Taylor/Cleopatra and her consort Richard Burton/Marc Antony. And more UK actors—Richard Harris (‘MacArthur Park’), Noel Harrison (‘Windmills of Your Mind’)—were held to be the most expressive vocalists in recording.
For the first time in centuries England defined cool. Three months after the Beatles arrived in America, Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan were trying their luck with extended tours in England, previously a whistle-stop. Those who could fake being English to Stateside audiences were flavor of the month, often literally. New LA groups the Byrds—first goofily calling themselves the Beefeaters—and the Turtles, false-advertising themselves as from England, strained mightily for Beatle accents in the frenzied quest for fame before stumbling on to Dylan and folk rock. Others hoping to fool the public were the Buckinghams and Golliwogs (later Creedence Clearwater Revival). For more than two years Americans were mindlessly Anglophile, and it took an English songwriter, Ray Davies of the Kinks, to debunk it all in the spring of 1966 with the flaying derision of ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’. Still, only slowly was the spell broken: Britons had nine number ones in America that year.
While it lasted the edict—more powerful than if a law had been passed—shut out the all-too-American Beach Boys for their obvious aural and visible handicaps: being so un-English as to commit a heresy against revealed wisdom. The Four Seasons, older and more brittle, broke—no longer superstars in ’65 due to media neglect. Wide-ranging surveys in the mid-Seventies by WNBC-New York, WFIL-Philadelphia and WRKO-Boston to discover the most popular hits long term showed that the Seasons were done in by someone: ‘Dawn’, ‘Ronnie’, ‘Rag Doll’, ‘Bye Bye Baby’, ‘Let’s Hang On’, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’, ‘Opus 17’, ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, ‘C’mon Marianne’, mostly greeted without fanfare on release, ended up like most Beach Boys hits among the top dozen or so Eastern Seaboard sellers from their respective years— rated higher than Beatle number ones ‘Ticket to Ride’, ‘Day Tripper’, ‘Yellow Submarine’.
Frankie Valli: “A lot of American groups got lost… Everybody has to have their own identity—it’s very important. That’s what we did. We said, ‘Sink or swim, but we’re going to stay with what we do’ and it’s the only chance that anyone could have.”
The towering, enduring irony was that the best to come out of Britain in the Sixties by its best—The Who, the Kinks, the Stones, Cream—was created on vinyl by American record producers, resettling in Britain because anxious to get in on the scene. Foremost among an array of dominating American producers was Shel Talmy, who described Dick Rowe, “the man who turned down the Beatles”, as “one of the few people in England who was pro-American”. The anti-Americanism was a pathetically hypocritical defensive screen erected by a domestic industry built on a framework of American music as its direct inspiration, and now heavily reliant on imported American talent to make it work.
The Beach Boys would have to overcome the dictates of fashion—a feat unheard of in the pop scene—generated in London and pervading America via New York, always susceptible to trends crossing the Atlantic. In choosing artistic integrity they chose values that held no currency in the prevailing showbiz climate. And if they won they presented a danger that show business might never recover from, a threat to the whole basis of marketing: “Go with the bestselling commodity of the moment. Undersell, then dump, yesterday’s goods.”
For Capitol/EMI, the Beach Boys’ primary business connection —the multinational that manufactured and distributed their recordings but was now dependent on the quick-sale Beatles—the course was clear.
WHEN SIXTIES HISTORIES RECORD THE BEATLES saved pop music from dreary, saccharine crooners of no originality it is partly true—in the UK, not the multifaceted, ever-changing American scene. The Cliff Richards, Shadows and Joe Meek acts including the Tornadoes had already made strides in Britain. For all their individual qualities their passing would not be mourned by the Beatles who, pre-fame, derided them as smoothies in suits. While rock’n’roll had cooled from its original white heat, the American mainstream had the vital three-pronged thrust of the Beach Boys, Motown and Atlantic primed to explode, a mainspring integrating black and white performers now put on hold by the Beatle-led aberration.
The year the Beatles had their first hit—1962—the UK top 20 was full of inferior covers of American records, as bemoaned by Britain’s own industry spokespersons: ‘Moon River’, ‘Tower of Strength’, ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, ‘When My Little Girl is Smiling’, ‘Roses Are Red’, ‘Spanish Harlem’, ‘Bobby’s Girl’, ‘Up On the Roof’…. These remakes and their performers—Danny Williams, Frankie Vaughan, Karl Denver, Johnny Spence, Craig Douglas, Jimmy Justice, Shane Fenton, Ronnie Carroll, Mark Wynter, Susan Maughan, Maureen Evans, Kenny Lynch—weren’t heard overseas except in dutiful British Commonwealth markets loyal to the mother country. Orchestra leaders left over from the big band era purveyed restful ballroom numbers: Acker Bilk, Joe Loss, John Barry. If Kenny Ball—popular in America with ‘Midnight in Moscow’—hadn’t introduced post-War-styled ‘Sukiyaki’ it is unlikely Americans would ever have let the original out of the bottle to contribute to the apparent malaise of 1963.
While rare knowledgeable British fans have been praised by American rock’n’rollers for recognising quality, the UK had an all-powerful clobbering machine keeping rock’n’roll down—“Auntie BBC”, which in its duty to young and old ears alike efficiently suppressed black music under the guise of preserving the country’s cultural heritage: akin to the White Australia Policy elsewhere in the Empire. It was the brief liberalisation of the airwaves, 1964-67, when they finally got some exposure as private ‘pirate’ radio stations flourished around the British Isles, that the rock’n’rollers were thankful for.
So it was that the run of new UK groups formed by 1963 left much to be desired in originality and style, but what did America’s fashion-conscious youths, white middle-class teenyboppers who hadn’t heard real rock’n’roll, care? Most British rock’n’roll in the invasion was about as convincing as Italian westerns or Japanese Elvises. The Beatles and other UK r&b groups always preferred the original US recordings, if they could get them—then spoilt the effect by performing inferior covers themselves, true to the English spirit of anyone-can-put-their-hand-to-it-rock’n’roll, one level removed from the makeshift skiffle groups. Obviously, like the Rolling Stones, the more up-close exposure the Beatles had to American practitioners the better they got, though Paul, George & John’s dumping of virile drummer Pete Best (with his bass-drum and tom-tom driven sound a spotlighted feature of the band) had defeated creating a distinct English rock style for themselves in favor of Ringo’s ballroom versatility.
Still, Music Hall style and sensibility were deeply ingrained in the Brit psyche. David Jones, a struggling singer with several bands, as late as 1967 put out novelty parodies of rock’n’roll: ‘Love You Till Tuesday’ and ‘The Laughing Gnome’ in the style of early-sixties comics Mike Sarne (‘Come Outside’), Bernard Cribbins (‘A Bird Up On My Bike’), Tommy Steele (‘Little White Bull’) and Anthony Newley (‘That Noise’). It was a breakthrough tactic that caused im-mense embarrassment later. With a leap towards cool and a hefty push by Yank producer Shel Talmy he released ‘Space Oddity’ to be one of the great English figures of the early Seventies. By that time he had changed his name to David Bowie.
A persuasive view contra to Beatle omniscience comes from the British documentary tv series Dancing in the Street: American music was progressing very well, thank you, on diverse fronts most broadly represented by an r&b/soul barrage, only to be stifled by a cheapened homogenised product from UK groups with fashionable hair as their claim to popularity, a qualification unmatchable by the black originators of the music.
The coup was resented in some circles to the lengths that a “Stamp Out the Beatles” campaign was organised by Detroit student activists, fans of Motown and devotees of the grassroots r&b and blues of their city. When Paul McCartney heard of it he sensitively riposted that the Beatles would stamp out Detroit. British musicians were by and large clueless to the nuances of Blues, Gospel, Soul and any number of other American idioms of expression. And entrepreneurs of Epstein’s ilk would never have understood the dedication to quality and authenticity of Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, Phil Spector, Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman, Jerry Wexler of Atlantic, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil of Brill Building ‘pop’ and many others in the American recording industry of that time: Jewish aficionados of black music.
Fans of Motown invaded the broadcast of the Beatles’ second Sullivan show in Miami, in vain. By the end of that year, 1964, a Leiber-Stoller produced, blues-tinged ‘Go Now’ was commandeered by new English group the Moody Blues for their US debut; and the Shirelles’ ‘Sha La La’ overwhelmed by a Manfred Mann cover following up ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’, yet another song (by Mann-Weil) with girl group written all over it. As Dancing in the Street concluded, if the English acts had saved American music, what had they “saved” it from?
THE BEATLES WERE WORKING-CLASS LADS RAISED as pets of the English business aristocracy (and fast favorites of royalty for that) and a year later were enthroned by America, having freed itself from the British Empire two centuries before only to now don the chains wholeheartedly. Homebred musicians withered from unrequited wooing, shunned by their own media. Who would challenge the invaders?
Not a few bluecoats turned redcoat, going mod in a half-assed process totally out of cultural context. Peroxide-blond ‘surfers’ had carried surfboards through fashion-governed Chelsea in 1963, just for the look, and now the tables were turned with a vengeance. To make the switch was to be “fab”, “smashing”, “gear”. But instead of carrying it off with aplomb as the Beatles and Kinks did, Yanks started looking and acting like Austin Powers: aping foreign fashions, and parroting music alien to them. Just as the English did, to American music. In some twisted sense of karma the Byrds and Righteous Bros latched on to British wartime heroine Vera Lynn, suspecting that her flagwavers of a generation before might be just the ticket, and produced hideous remakes of ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’. The Beau Brummels (‘Laugh Laugh’, see John Candy comedy Uncle Buck) posed English enough to appear on The Munsters as Beatle standins. Their Revolutionary War period costumes were outdone by the bluecoat uniforms of Paul Revere & the Raiders, cashing in on lace and frills but sticking for a while to a tough LA r&b produced by surf music alumnus Terry Melcher.
Ponytailed and knee-breached on the same theme, P J Proby from Texas was befriended by the Beatles, annointed by them on UK tv and had his career made—in England, joined by Righteous Bros-soundalikes the Walker Brothers. The highly talented Proby blew his chance of continuing superstardom (or more important, widening it to his homeland) when in early ’65 he was banned by UK theatre chains and BBC-TV for deliberately splitting his tight britches to get a reaction. Tom Jones, on the same tour, took over as the star. Jones and Dusty Springfield squeaked in by the back door—welcomed by American audiences who thought they were black. The favored groups in both Britain and America now typically offered a maximum of volume and minimum of finesse, or hummable singalong melodies set amid this mishmash of so-called “rock and roll”.
Precipitating all this, the shock of the Beatles hitting America was all the more so when it was realised they were only the tip of an ever-broadening iceberg. England was soon so central to the pop culture of the Western World that within two months of the Beatles landing her two feeblest rock and roll pretenders, Brian Poole & the Tremeloes and Freddie & the Dreamers, were greeted with screaming fits in Australia on a package tour with Gerry & the Pacemakers, Dusty Springfield and adopted Yank Gene Pitney. That May the Dave Clark Five were mobbed by 5,000 fans in Washington DC, helped by well-placed pre-publicity; Fred Vail recalls being told that only two of their tour dates made money. In June the Stones dropped in to Chicago’s Chess studio to jam as equals (in fame) with their teachers Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon; but in Sacramento the Stones managed an audience of only a thousand, not helped by the exorbitant $6 price (personal communication, Fred Vail). Yet by the end of the year top US acts Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, the Supremes and almost the entire Motown star roster on a package tour—aside from the Shangri-Las and many less stellar—were obliged to pay return visits to England for sheer commercial reasons, if not to bow to the new Mecca of reconstituted rock and roll.
English teen idols with swished-back hair—but otherwise hardly differing from the Beatles—were not welcome in the US and chief among them, Cliff Richard, had suffered more initial rebuffs than the Beatles. ‘Livin’ Doll’ had made top thirty, prompting an invite from The Pat Boone Show New Year 1960. But his only apparent advance was to lead Elvis Presley’s move from rock’n’roll. A huge seller in Europe, especially Germany where Elvis was still stationed in the army, it is hard to believe the song’s sedate shuffle beat didn’t lead directly to ‘Stuck On You’, ‘Good Luck Charm’ and more sounding a lot like Cliff’s pace.
Three years later ‘Lucky Lips’, another massive world seller on the same lines, made a reentry and then late 1963 Cliff’s remake of ‘It’s All in the Game’, his biggest in the US yet, though short of top 20. Unfortunately the Beatles arrived in America just as Cliff was “peaking” and his pompadour went stone-cold-dead out of fashion. Songs like ‘Don’t Talk to Him’ and others written by a combination of Shadows/Cliff were better than Beatle music of the time though maybe it was matched by ‘Please Please Me’ (after being immensely improved by song surgeon George Martin’s revamp). But he was disqualified from serious consideration Stateside for another twelve years, continuing a household name almost everywhere else. His biggest English teen rivals, Adam Faith and Billy Fury, each had a dozen (shrinking) hits into Beatletime at home. Though Faith was pushed by all-powerful Englishman Jack Good, producer of American tv’s Hullabaloo and Shindig, this resulted in a solitary US top forty hit backed by the Roulettes, the rollicking-good ‘It’s Alright’ early in ’65. Fury too had contacts, but neither got within a bargepole of American acceptance.
The Shadows too—backing Cliff but having a spectacular career of their own ex-USA—were surplus to requirements. They’d been blocked in 1960 by one-hit-wonder Danish guitarist Jorgen Ingmann’s cover of their world multi-million seller ‘Apache’; after that, well America already had the Ventures, thanks for askin’.
For UK audiences local teen raves Helen Shapiro, hitting at 14, and Kathy Kirby, specialising in speeded-up Doris Day retreads, vied with Brenda Lee and Connie Francis. Shapiro even went to Nashville to record in 1963 but remained unknown to the rest of the States but for minor Easy Listening hit ‘Tell Me What He Said’. Anyway, Lesley Gore already had the teen girl franchise in America, Connie Stevens runner-up, and sultry Connie Francis and wholesome Annette Funicello between them cornering beach movies. In January of that year the Beatles, with just ‘Love Me Do’ under their belts, were ranked fifth on the Helen Shapiro show touring the UK, behind secondary American teen idols Tommy Roe (‘Sheila’) and Chris Montez (‘Let’s Dance’). By the end of the year they were at the top and she was nowhere, her demise highlighting the useless waste and anti-female bias at the onset of the Beatle era. The Beach Boys would choose her as the main support act on their spring 1967 UK tour and she later made a go of a jazz career.
There were legitimate, barely decipherable routes to American hearts other than on the lacy cuffs and billowing shirttails of the Brit Invasion.The husky ‘black’ voices of Dusty Springfield (‘Wishin’ and Hopin’’, ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’) and Tom Jones (‘It’s Not Unusual’, ‘What’s New Pussycat?’) saw them embraced as Blue-Eyed Soul, as coined by the Righteous Bros. Neither was quite as successful in the blue-eyed genre as Bill Medley & Bobby Hatfield under Phil Spector, though they lasted longer. And each was courteously credited by black artists with opening ears to black tones, though Britain remained immune to any “black” sounds but the poppiest of Motown pop for some years yet. In reality, Dusty was an acceptable torch singer, her forté the intimate whisper that Cilla Black did badly. There was a whole vocal ladder between her and Nancy Wilson or Dinah Washington, and a good few rungs up to Betty Everett or compatriot Shirley Bassey. In the UK real soul singers of the day like P P Arnold, Madeleine Bell and the Flirtations were hardly appreciated compared with the acclaim showered (mainly justly) on Macy Gray, Joss Stone and Amy Whitehouse two generations later.
Touring America early on with the Springfields, Dusty settled as a solo in New York City and remolded herself from a wholesome Irish-styled colleen belting out country-folk to the first Brit girl replicating Soul. To highlight the new image she took up a bleached-blonde variation of the big backcombed beehive hairdo and black eye makeup of the Ronettes. She cited the Exciters’ ‘Tell Him’ as her style model, and her backing vocalists the Breakaways had done a UK cover of ‘He’s a Rebel’ though Phil Spector and the Crystals’ original became the hit. Thank goodness for small mercies because the Brits had accepted everyone from Tommy Steele to Max Bygraves as stand-ins for the real thing—and continued to, as the French did their own in a rock toujour spirit.
Dusty rivalled Dionne Warwick as top songstress in the States through ’64, but then with the second big wave of invasion a songbird reminiscent of a French-styled Vera Lynn won over sentimental (white) hearts.‘Pet’ Clark was over thirty and well established in middle-aged French cabaret when she introduced ‘Downtown’. A parallel movie career and accomplished stagecraft assured her place as long as the Invasion lasted and an American career as long as there were musicals on Broadway. In 1967, when Aretha Franklin discovered Soul, Pet’s days on Top 40 radio were numbered though two of her biggest hits came the first half of that year: movie director Charlie Chaplin’s ‘This is My Song’ and ‘Don’t Sleep in the Subway’ by her writer/producer Tony Hatch, by his account modeling it after the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.
It wasn’t until this point, when the thrust of the Invasion was blunted, that Lulu made her biggest impact in the US, ‘To Sir With Love’, helped by the movie starring Sidney Poitier, America’s new no.1 box-office star. Resembling a Scottish Brenda Lee, Lulu went on from her ersatz stab at the Isley Bros’ r&b classic ‘Shout’— faked well enough for the British Commonwealth—to develop an individual delivery on her classics including ‘Oh Me, Oh My’. Some years later the Brits would again show their weakness for little girls in their early teens with big, put-on gravel voices by making Lena Zavaroni a star for her talent-quest renditions on tv of ‘Ma, He’s Making Eyes at Me’ and ‘Personality’.
But at the height of the Invasion America was impervious to Britain’s two best-liked girl vocalists, Cilla Black and Sandie Shaw, both tressed in Brit bobs, enjoying one Top 40 hit each, ‘You’re My World’ and ‘Girl Don’t Come’. Cilla, a Liverpool/Cavern mate of the Beatles, was the US flop for manager Brian Epstein—but a British institution, moving effortlessly to television hosting. Model-like Sandie, discovered by Adam Faith, scored a small consolation in ‘(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me’ outselling Dionne Warwick’s version. But she reached her peak in Eurovision Song Quest winner ‘Puppet on a String’—not the Elvis ballad but a horrendous Bavarian-style oompah song beloved of Brits and other Euros that sold four million-plus.
Gawky Cilla, overflowing with English working-class “If she can make it I can make it” appeal, made pseudo-operatic versions of Bacharach-Warwick’s ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ and ‘Alfie’. English aping led to such disasters as a cover of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’, just pipped to UK no.1 by the original. Cilla, with Manfred Mann, the Hollies, Tremeloes and Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch, participated in the decline of British pop in the late Sixties, now reliant on homegrown writers and producers, laid to rest by styleless Marmalades and Love Affairs. The much better Foundations, Amen Corner, The Move and others were unfortunately short-lived.
But with all this—1964 being above all a novelty year—the biggest American impact by UK-based females was made by one-off novelty takes. Overshadowing Dusty and Dionne for three months, “Millie”, Small by name and frame, promoted her native Jamaican ska beat with ‘My Boy Lollipop’ performed at the World Fair in New York with a bevy of dancers sponsored by the newly independent Jamaica’s tourist board. It was a bouncy ditty that went to #2 in Billboard, attracting as much airplay but not sales as the Beach Boys and Four Seasons through early July. The same beat, same everything, was trotted out for lesser hits. Julie Rodgers in early fall trod her footnote in history with ‘The Wedding’, moving seven million in the next eight years—seemingly played at every second wedding in the Western World in that time. The key line “You by my side—that’s how I see us” rang out the death knell of a romantic era.
IN AMERICA PRODUCERS AND SIMPATICO ENGINEERS had wholly realized advances in the studio. Hailed above them all was Phil Spector as creator extraordinaire—now coming to be rivalled by George“Shadow” Morton and Motown’s team Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. All were widely acknowledged for weaving spells at the control panel—a bewildering press-button device looming large in the lives of girl artists as a metaphor for a loss of control over self-expression and their own careers. Spector in particular was widely modelled by aspiring Svengalis around the world but living up to the substance was something else. In Britain the dark shades and bodyguard-henchman clearing the rabble for the royal procession were embellishments adopted by Andrew Loog Oldham, the echo chamber effects overdone by independent producer Joe Meek.
Along with the scene came girl group songwriters admired by the Beatles, Rolling Stones and others. Goffin & King, writing for Little Eva, the Chiffons and Cookies (‘Chains’), wrote ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ for the Animals and later Aretha Franklin’s breakthrough ‘Natural Woman’. Other major New York spousal teams were Mann & Weil—now with ‘Walking in the Rain’ (Ronettes), ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’ (Animals), ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’ and ‘Soul and Inspiration’ (Righteous Bros); and Barry & Greenwich—an array including ‘Leader of the Pack’ and ‘River Deep, Mountain High’.
Spector, the model of the go-getter entrepreneur, reveled in the chutzpah it took to make a hit out of nothing in a make-or-break showbiz world as the rock’n’roll era wound down in 1959 and businessmen who made their livings from teen music looked for certainty in trends—a predictability that the best, most vibrant rock’n’roll abhorred, by definition. Three of the Beatles turned to Spector above anyone to produce their starting projects and reignite their solo careers. But as rock moved on, the spontaneity of the original rock’n’roll would only be recaptured in moments, and by the most talented artists.