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Posts Tagged ‘Paul McCartney’

BUY MY BOOKS, DAMN IT!

In literature, music on August 17, 2013 at 8:55 am

Once upon a time in London, centuries ago, before Fleet Street became a synonym for the journalism of daily reportage, there was Grub Street. This was a catch-all for the work place and social milieu of the hack writer, hundreds of whom hired themselves out to write bits and pieces great and small. The famous Dr Samuel Johnson started like this, lucky to be able to afford company at a coffee shoppe, compiling his dictionary in the 1750s with assistance from emmanuensises, sponsored by wealthy “patrons”. After the best part of a decade the dictionary was finished and when his patrons came a-calling he could afford to kick their asses. Don’t know exactly what I’m trying to say here, but if you buy my books as a patron of my work I promise I won’t kick your ass…

Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith (She Stoops to Conquer, The Vicar of Wakefield) was another habitue of Grub Street and friend of Johnson, who was finally acknowledged but was forced to sell his classics cheap to publishers, was continually hounded by creditors and died young of privations already sustained. Johnson himself didn’t escape multiple afflictions from his imposed lifestyle. And Richard Savage was another notable acquaintance, a talented poet who never made it and starved to death.

But I’m quite comfortably off, though it’s normally two months between moca bowls (at the NZ Herald Proofreaders Old Boys Gathering, Cafe Liaison, Pompallier Tce, Ponsonby) — So, sorry for laying the guilt trip on you. The thing is, I don’t care at all for the marketing that goes into being “an author” these days and being a shameless self-promoter rubbing shoulders with get-rich-quick grifters and self-improvement freaks. But if I’m doing this once I might as well try the hard sell.

The series "Sixties Whiteboy Rock" is based on my 2007 book "Beach Boys vs Beatlemania: Rediscovering Sixties Music" -- revised and expanded.

The series “Sixties Whiteboy Rock” is based on my 2007 book “Beach Boys vs Beatlemania: Rediscovering Sixties Music” — revised and expanded.

To buy ($9.99) or borrow (about $2.50) an ebook go to Amazon and look up “Sixties Whiteboy Rock”. There will be two available in the series to choose from, but since you’re there you might as well buy both — featuring everything you ever wanted to know about Sixties Music up to around mid 1965; though black music will be featured more fully in its own volume later. Each volume is about 65,000 words plus 60 photos. The next two volumes, due out in the next few months, will cover the second half of the Sixties. Even if you don’t like Sixties Music there are some good polemical chapters/passages arguing for authenticity in art. And if you don’t care for early rock music or argumentative criticism, I should have my first short novel up in the next half-year or so, of the gritty-street-life variety and set in Auckland.

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“ROCK MUSIC EBOOK 2013 — SIXTIES WHITEBOY ROCK (Part 2): Beach Boys, Jersey Boys & Beatledom” by G. A. De Forest

In art, celebrity, generational/fashion, music on July 30, 2013 at 8:44 pm

Buy this ebook from Amazon for $9.99 (or borrow it for two weeks for a lot less) — or face the consequences. These include staying ignorant of the real facts of the Sixties music scene, a subject, though a half-century out of date, remains dear to the hearts of all right-thinking people around the world. Rock stars to this day are strongly influenced, “sample” and downright copy sounds from this era. But they do this at their peril because no way can they recapture the excitement and spirit of that music and time — set in context as it is here in this book.

The direct link to the book is: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DQFWEJQ

It is about 60,000 words and has some 60 photos of top attractions of the day — so Bon voyage!

Don’t be the only loser on your block!

My New Book: “Black Rock via Beach Boys vs Beatlemania = Sixties Music”

In celebrity, history, music on October 21, 2011 at 10:11 pm

MichaelJasboy284My new book is due out before Christmas — this Xmas, 2011 [CORRECTION: Xmas 2013]. Entitled “Black Rock via Beach Boys vs Beatlemania = Sixties Music”, it is an ebook distributed by Booklocker.com — The price hasn’t been set yet, but should be way affordable for all you rockers interested in reading over 600 pages (over 250,000 words) touching on almost every aspect of the music business in the Sixties. Again, like the previous paperback “Beach Boys vs Beatlemania: Rediscovering Sixties Music” (booklocker.com, 448 pages, publ 2007), it is seen in the context of the Beach Boys vs Beatles debate. The bulk of the original book is still there, and refined. But I’ve added a LOT more (nearly 200 pages) especially on the highly influential and pivotal roles of your favorite neglected African American acts of the Sixties: James Brown, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Jackie Wilson, Hank Ballard & the Midniters, the Tokens, the Isley Bros, Chubby Checker, Ike & Tina Turner, Etta James, the Chantels, the Shirelles, the Chiffons, the Crystals, the Ronettes, the New Orleans and Chicago schools, Sly & the Family Stone — and all the VeeJay, Motown, Atlantic stars including Little Esther Phillips, Little Willie John, Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions, Bobby Blue Bland and Mercury stars Sarah Vaughan, Brook Benton,Dinah Washington, Timi Yuro.

Don’t miss out on what could be the ONE book on Sixties Music you’ve been wanting.

ROCK MUSIC: FAVORITE HITS OF 1967

In history, music on September 22, 2009 at 6:49 am

Lovely Tammi Terrell, soon deceased of a brain tumor, with Marvin Gaye

Lovely Tammi Terrell, soon deceased of a brain tumor, with Marvin Gaye

Pata Pata — Miriam Makeba
Purple Haze — Jimi Hendrix
Heroes & Villains — the Beach Boys
Happy Jack — the Who
Tin Soldier — the Small Faces
Mas Que Nada — Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66
So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star — the Byrds
The Letter — the Box Tops
Mellow Yellow — Donovan
Words — the Monkees
Chain of Fools — Aretha Franklin
Let the Heartaches Begin — Long John Baldry
Rain on the Roof — the Lovin’ Spoonful
Waterloo Sunset — the Kinks
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough — Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
How Can I Be Sure? — the Rascals
The Wind Cries Mary — Jimi Hendrix
Light My Fire — the Doors
Respect — Aretha franklin
I Feel Free — the Cream
Hello Goodbye — the Beatles
Dedicated to the One I Love — the Mamas & the Papas
There is a Mountain — Donovan
Ode to Billie Joe — Bobbie Gentry
Groovin’ — the Rascals
I’ll Never Fall in Love Again — Tom Jones
I Had to Much to Dream Last Night — the Electric Prunes
Natural Woman — Aretha Franklin
Eight Miles High — the Byrds
Wild Honey — the Beach Boys
Hole in My Shoe — Traffic
Strange Brew — the Cream
Strawberry Fields — the Beatles
A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You — the Monkees
When I Was Young — the Animals
Pictures of Lily — the Who
Hey Baby — the Buckinghams
The Day I Met Marie — Cliff Richard
I Was Made to Love Her — Stevie Wonder
Itchycoo Park — the Small Faces
Baby Now That I’ve Found You — the Foundations
Sweet Soul Music — Arthur Conley
Jimmy Mack — Martha & the Vandellas
Ruby Tuesday — the Rolling Stones
It Takes Two — Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston
Hey Joe — Jimi Hendrix
I’m a Man — the Spencer Davis Group
Randy Scouse Git (Alternate Title) — the Monkees
I Can See for Miles — the Who
Funny Familiar Forgotten Feelings — Tom Jones
Bernadette — the Four Tops
Show Me — Joe Tex
Homburg — Procol Harum
Magical Mystery Tour — the Beatles
She’s My Girl — the Turtles
I Feel Love Coming On — Felice Taylor
Love is All Around — the Troggs
Come to the Sunshine — Harper’s Bizarre
Get Me to the World On Time — the Electric Prunes
I Got Rhythm — the Happenings
Felice Taylor, au naturale

Felice Taylor, au naturale

BOOK REVIEW — BEATLES BOOK: Can’t Buy Me Love

In celebrity, literature, music on August 1, 2009 at 12:54 am

Can’t Buy Me Love by Jonathan Gould (Piatkus, 2007) is one of those religious books about the Beatles that starts from a standpoint of unquestioning admiration for the Liverpool pop group and ends in total devotion, as in devout worship of a single entity, monotheism. And they were a single entity, as proven by their desultory solo careers in the post-Beatle era, when none of them could foot it for creativity and cohesive output without Brian Epstein to push them along and producer/arranger George Martin to fill in the many gaps in their songs and make each one into a finished product.

In this 400-page love letter to an act, nay, an industry easy to endorse — Didn’t they sell the most records? — Gould doesn’t let tweaking of facts and half-truths stand in the way of a good myth that rates in commercial potency with Harrypottermania and Lord of the Rings, and matches them too in fictional blarney. My question is, Why even bother to write such a book when the Beatle legend has already been so insidiously planted and firmly cemented in people’s minds over the past forty years as the be-all-and-end-all of the Sixties?

The Beatles, mid 1964: The Beach Boys had already proven themselves far and away ahead of The Fab Four by self-producing the single 'I Get Around'/'Don't Worry Baby', released in May.

The Beatles, mid 1964: The Beach Boys had already proven themselves far and away ahead of The Fab Four by self-producing the single 'I Get Around'/'Don't Worry Baby', released in May.

Gould’s total lack of imagination or enterprise in even choosing a relevant title — after all, he doesn’t spend much time covering the Beatles’ Hamburg sojourn when the Beatles did buy themselves ‘love’ from the Reeperbahn prostitutes — reminds me of the pathetic titles chosen by Television New Zealand whenever it wanted to screen a retrospective on the Sixties in general: All You Need is Love, Hello — Goodbye … All done because everyone knows a Beatle title will sell more product.

Among the many fictitious assertions made by Gould in a superficial book are several I have selected in relation to the Beach Boys, the acknowledged Sixties mainstream rivals to the Beatles. I explore these since the American group is one I have studied in depth: see my book Beach Boys vs Beatlemania: Rediscovering Sixties Music.

Assertion 1) — “Brian Wilson accounted for nine tenths of the talent of the Beach Boys”–Gould contrasting them with the supposedly uniformly, mega-talented Beatles.

This is bizarre. Has Gould heard nothing of the immense composing, producing and blues-singing talent of Dennis Wilson? The singing, composing and producing of Carl Wilson? The culturally-relevant lyric-writing and universally-admired bass voice of Mike Love? Al Jardine had measurably more creative and performing talent than Ringo, whose ‘singing’ of lead vocals has been a politely overlooked though glaring debit in the Beatles column.

Assertion 2) — Brian Wilson’s voice wasn’t in the same class as Paul McCartney’s.

McCartney was adept at imitating a rock’n’roll screech — as taught to him by Little Richard. He had a sweet but bland voice on ballads. As for expressiveness and purity, and genuine versatility in turning his voice to any mood, Wilson takes the nod hands down.

Assertion 3) — Brian Wilson’s songs were characterised by “cloying sentimentality.”

Gould doesn’t know the difference between pure emotion expressed in music, in which Brian Wilson is surpassed by no one in mainstream music, and the Beatles’ cloyingly sentimental ‘luv’ cliches regurgitated from Music Hall. McCartney cites his father, a music hall musician, as his major formative influence.

and maybe the most ludicrous statement of all:

Assertion 4) — By 1966 the Beach Boys’ level of production, arrangements and group singing had almost caught up with “the innovations of the Beatles.”

This one sentence contains at least five blatant untruths that I can name and refute:

a) The Beach Boys produced their own recordings from early 1962 on — therefore were ahead of the Beatles in production from the start. This was readily apparent by the time of Surfin’ USA, Surfer Girl and Be True to Your School/In My Room in 1963 and became bleedin’ obvious the following year with I Get Around/Don’t Worry Baby and Little Honda/Wendy. According to the people who recorded the Beatles, including George Martin and Norman Smith, the Beatles continually clamored for the recording technicians to get more of an American sound, i.e. similar to the Beach Boys, Motown, etc–not the other way round. b) The Beatles didn’t produce their records — George Martin did. According to Parlophone/EMI recording engineer Norman “Hurricane” Smith the Beatles barely listened to their own recordings — didn’t even wear earphones in the recording booth. c) The Beatles didn’t arrange their songs — George Martin did, and according to Martin they knew almost nothing about non-rock’n’roll instruments. d) This is laughable. When did the Beatles ever dare to expose their ‘group singing’ via a-cappella? — as the Beach Boys did on occasions from the start. e) What innovations did the Beatles themselves introduce, except watering down rock’n’roll, country music, Eurocafe ballads, etc, etc, and turning around the rock direction of Motown, Atlantic, Vee-Jay, Philles, the Beach Boys, to bring back songs from musicals like ‘Til There Was You’, ‘A Taste of Honey’.? By the end of 1966 their music was more and more electronic, deserted by George Martin to leave a novice electronics wiz in charge of their recording.

ROCK MUSIC — TWIST’N’SURF! FOLK’N’SOUL! (Part 1)

In music on June 5, 2009 at 11:29 pm

— another excerpt from a chapter of G. A. De Forest’s book ‘Beach Boys vs Beatlemania: Rediscovering Sixties Music’, published November 2007 by Booklocker.com and available from Amazon.com, where it listed #23 on its sales list of Music: History & Criticism books, April 26th 2008.

Chubby Checker demonstrating The Twist, late summer 1960

Chubby Checker demonstrating The Twist, late summer 1960

As the world bleached itself blonde, daydreamed of waxing ironing-boards or bikini lines to go surfin’, hitched up its collective swimsuit and pondered on converting the family runabout into a woody or hotrod, the Beach Boys hung ten over a cauldron of pop sounds. The vocal surf sound they invented superseded both Elvis Presley and “The Twist” that had ruled under the perpetual-motion hips of Chubby Checker.

By the time the sizzling Twist tempo simmered down to a ‘Mambo Twist’ and ‘Twistin’ USA’ those with an ear knew it was time to move on; just as Capitol wouldn’t know when surf music passed its prime. By summer ’63 when the Beach Boys had left the field Chubby had moved on too—but to ‘Surf Party’; and the Isley Bros from ‘Twist and Shout’ to ‘Surf and Shout’. Rock iconoclast Frank Zappa conquered and held the Mexican charts most of that year with ‘Tijuana Surf’. For the next four years, as he sustained his creative momentum, the world would not catch up to—but for an idealistic minority, did not want to catch up to—Beach Boy leader Brian Wilson. It had new champions in the Beatles, much better at keeping pace with even the slow, retro-inclined audience.

FATS DOMINO WAS SOLE ORIGINAL ROCK’N’ROLLER to make it with a hit catalogue to the end of 1963. Then he faded, ironically to forge a comeback in the late Sixties showing up the Beatles with raunched-up takes on ‘Lovely Rita’ and ‘Lady Madonna’. Chuck Berry and Little Richard both revived in 1964 after five years of relative obscurity—still with old-style rock’n’roll, as a direct result of imitations by the Beatles.

Dion DiMucci: the first Bandstand teen idol to be more than a sweater-wearer

Dion DiMucci: the first Bandstand teen idol to be more than a sweater-wearer

Del Shannon: American rock is reborn in 1961, cloaked in a sweater. The Beach Boys could have taken the rocker image further.

Del Shannon: American rock is reborn in 1961, cloaked in a sweater. The Beach Boys could have taken the rocker image further.

Shunning the sappy teen idolatry of the Frankies and Fabians, white rock’n’rollers Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, were too rebellious to be tolerated by the Establishment though continuing popular in the UK, and especially France, just catching up with the play. Here they were treated as current, even after Cochran was deceased, shown by their huge chart success into the mid-sixties. Closest in toughness—but judged marshmallow enough for vulnerable American teens—were Del Shannon and Dion (DiMucci). Del was far less consistent in the States but, unlike Dion, hugely appreciated in Britain, where he passed as an almost-leather-clad rocker touring there over the Beatles in 1963. His lukewarm cover of ‘From Me to You’ that introduced Beatle music to America was a comedown after ‘Runaway’, a couple of soundalikes and his latest, ‘Little Town Flirt’. Reduced to remakes, ‘Keep Searchin’’ kept him alive a year into Beatletime.

Coming from Italian-American Doo-Wop humming on Bronx street corners, Dion by ’63 was the most respected of all teen idols in Elvis’s trail. ‘Runaround Sue’—like Bobby Darin on speed— and even better his convincing r&b growling on ‘The Wanderer’ and ‘Ruby Baby’, set new marks for white singers. The complex cyclical harmony-and-percussion of ‘Donna the Prima Donna’ was an exciting arrangement the Beach Boys would later use. He then attempted Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B Goode’—in too-direct competition with British groups, who had (apart from the Beach Boys) cornered the market on Berry refrains.

While English groups from London, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle—and West Coast US groups from Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and LA—merely extrapolated on old forms of r&b and blues, black artists were developing a new form, “Soul”, often as African as the original Blues and Gospel. Black singers and musicians in distinctive African form were rarely given the limelight, James Brown & the Famous Flames being the shining exception—in America, not Britain, which has forever cherished its tuneful pop, Beatle music coming to serve as its epitome. A new strength was showing in black music in 1963, building on a base created by Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions, their former lead singer Jerry Butler (often coupled with Betty Everett) and Gene Chandler at Vee Jay and the Isley Bros. All of these were habitually successful on the r&b charts but only fitfully on the pop charts. A whole array of talent at Atlantic/Stax so far undiscovered by the white audience but for instrumental group Booker T & the MGs, and a new direction in girl groups and male vocalists (notably Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson) headed by Motown, would change all that. Brown and 13-year-old Stevie Wonder were even now rising to the very top of mainstream pop with hard-out r&b—an initiative effectively stifled and set back years by the Brit conquest of America.

Barred from contributing to black music for obvious reasons, the Beach Boys took r&b rock in a divergent direction over several years, from garage-band rock to psychedelia. The white world of 1963 in which they infused their music was an ill-fitting one dominated by tv’s Bandstand, the first teen-oriented pop show. Given the setting of their songs’ images their music was inevitably dubbed white and therefore middle-class, avoiding any deeper thought on the subject.

Dick Clark pretending to take a call.

Dick Clark pretending to take a call.

Chubby Checker, a protégé of Dick Clark (and named by Mrs Clark), the most popular performer in rhythm & blues— was the first ‘colored’ rock’n’roller to come anywhere near Elvis Presley, dominating the Twist as Elvis had original rock’n’roll. He was made all the more important by Elvis deserting rock for balladeering. Grooving on a rhythm similar to the dormant Little Richard, Chubby was arguably the biggest contemporary influence on the Beach Boys in their formative stage.

‘The Twist’ was huge in America and after ‘Let’s Twist Again’ it came back even bigger. In Britain the four big twist tunes (including the watered-down ‘Twisting the Night Away’ and ‘Peppermint Twist’) hit in a bunch early ’62, leaving Frankie Vaughan and Petula Clark to carry on with minor entries. Afterward Chubby was hardly heard from there, bowing to Pat Boone’s milksop twister ‘Speedy Gonzales’. In fact, Chubby’s genuine ‘Twist’ had been considered far too raucous for English ears on first release and missed top ten on re-release. No wonder English reviewers had no taste for ‘Surfin’ Safari’—they couldn’t recognise r&b authenticity when they heard it. The Brits preferred their own diluted covers of Twist songs, and their r&b groups were still infatuated with long-gone Lonnie Donegan and rockabillies Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. It was fitting as per the cyclical nature of pop culture that, after Cash Box named his ‘Limbo Rock’ top hit of ’63 and then years in rock’n’roll revival shows, Chubby returned with a version of ‘Back in the USSR’, written by Paul McCartney for the Beatles, but sounding like the Beach Boys.

The American group’s special aspirations were later summed up by Chapple & Garofalo in Rock’n’Roll is Here to Pay (1977): “The surfing music that appeared in the early sixties should not be seen as just another fad that softened rock’n’roll. Rather it was a precursor to the psychedelic and underground progressive rock of the sixties. Several of the important people involved in surfing music—especially the Beach Boys (‘Surfin’ Safari’, ‘Surfin’ USA’, ‘Surfer Girl’) and Lou Adler, one of the first producers of Jan & Dean, became central figures in sixties rock. Surfing music represented an authentic West Coast rock’n’roll culture that differed in one important way from earlier rock’n’roll produced by urban blacks and Southern rockabillies: it was made by middle-class whites.” The Beatles and other British groups of the mid-Sixties attempted to reproduce the earlier rock’n’roll.

The Four Seasons in 1962, of 'Sherry', 'Big Girls Don't Cry' and 'Walk Like a Man' vintage. From left: lead singer/falsetto Frankie Valli, Tommy De Vito (guitar), Bob Gaudio (songwriter/keyboards), Nick Massi (bass vocals, bass guitar)

The Four Seasons in 1962, of 'Sherry', 'Big Girls Don't Cry' and 'Walk Like a Man' vintage. From left: lead singer/falsetto Frankie Valli, Tommy De Vito (guitar), Bob Gaudio (songwriter/keyboards), Nick Massi (bass vocals, bass guitar)

Bandstand‘s update of teen idols—in light of the turn away from solo vocalists to groups wielding their own instruments, a develop-ment toward independence diametrically opposed to what the industry wanted—was the Four Seasons, Dick Clark’s new favorites from just down the New Jersey turnpike. Modelled on doo-wop vocal quartets and stopping short of adding a drummer meant they didn’t qualify as a rock’n’roll band and so appealed to the conservative music industry bosses of 1962-63 as a halfway stop; still desperately seeking an alternative to rock’n’roll, for a while they thought they’d found it in folk music.

Self-determining like the Beach Boys, the Seasons recorded in their choice of studio, or rather producer Bob Crewe’s—in New York—and did a pressing, distribution and promotion deal with Chicago’s Vee-Jay for 16 cents per single—about 21%, around sixty times what the Beatles were now getting from their songs licensed to the same label. One estimate of Four Seasons career sales is 175 million worldwide.

Under Crewe they showed just the right combination of toughness and sophistication in the studio, described as “technically brilliant” by an English reviewer who visited them, though in person up against laddish English boys came across as overly mature squares though hardly older than the Beatles or, especially, Stones. It was an image that would hamper them all too soon, considering the assets they drew together to offer Pop, combining modern r&b—hear departing member Nick Massi’s vocal arrangement of ‘Ain’t That a Shame’—with Tin Pan Alley, often employing composers Denny Randell & Sandy Linzer (‘Let’s Hang On’, ‘Working My Way Back to You’, ‘Opus 17’). Their arranger, Charles Calello, incorporated classical touches on piano and harpsichord to add Noo Yawk class. Keyboard player Bob Gaudio was sole or main writer of breakthrough no.1 ‘Sherry’, ‘Marlena’, ‘Dawn (Go Away)’, ‘Big Man in Town’ and ‘Beggin’’, and created with Crewe ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ and ‘Walk Like a Man’, ‘Save It for Me’, ‘Ronnie’, ‘Rag Doll’ (their biggest gobally) and ‘Bye Bye Baby’, later blanded out by the Bay City Rollers.

FEW SOLO STARS—THOUGH THE SEASONS’ FRANKIE Valli was distinctive and well enough known to be a teen idol, and did issue solo discs—continued strong into 1963. Bobby Vee, come from an association with Buddy Holly, from whom he continued the trend of orchestrated pop, was little seen after ‘The Night Has a Thousand Eyes’ early in the year. Brian Hyland (‘Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’, ‘Sealed With a Kiss’) returned at four-year intervals: ‘The Joker Went Wild’ and remaking the Impressions’ ‘Gypsy Woman’; Lou Christie, emulating Frankie Valli’s shrill falsetto and now in the last intake of idols with ‘The Gypsy Cried’ and ‘Two Faces Have I’, every three years—‘Lightnin’ Strikes’, ‘Rhapsody in the Rain’— then ‘I’m Gonna Make You Mine’. Bobby Rydell (‘Wild One’), counting as almost a major star for four years, pegged out with ‘Forget Him’ late ’63, as did Johnny Tillotson (‘Poetry in Motion’, ‘Judy, Judy, Judy’), a prolific but minor ‘idol’, with ‘Talk Back Trembling Lips’. Rick Nelson, a rock’n’roll stylist cum teen idol who featured top-notch backing musicians, bowed with a bossa nova treatment of ‘Fools Rush In’.

Connie Francis, sultry in stills, goofy in films.

Connie Francis, sultry in stills, goofy in films.

Brenda Lee: "Little Miss Dynamite"Urban-Italian-sweet Connie Francis (‘Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool’, ‘My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own’, ‘Where the Boys Are’, etc) and country-Georgia-sassy Brenda Lee (‘Sweet Nothin’s’, ‘I’m Sorry’, ‘Dum Dum’) remained top teen princesses, each mounting nearly twenty top 20 US hits—and then their head-to-head contest came to a dead halt. While ’63 was a great year for Brenda—two international multimillion-sellers in ‘All Alone Am I’ and ‘Losing You’, the belter ‘My Whole World Is Falling Down’—her last real big one, ‘As Usual’, was leaving the charts as the Beatles landed. That was really the end. Connie treaded water in beach movies (Follow the Boys), and Brenda—succeeding Connie—retained her Cash Box world’s top female vocalist crown for two more awards, but it was only the wan impact of their British equivalents that enabled the two to stay recognised names, just submerged under the new group scene.

Connie Stevens and Annette Funicello, recording actresses, were their runners-up in popularity polls. Precocious acting talent Patty Duke, with her own teen sitcom, would succeed them in the pop market and last four hits. Big for a while in ’63 were Marcie Blane’s ‘Bobby’s Girl’, Skeeter Davis’s ‘End of the World’ and melodramatic ‘I Will Follow Him’ (“wherever he may go”) emoted by Little Peggy March, all following up award-winning ‘Johnny Get Angry’ from Joanie Sommers the year before. All were one-shots until Lesley Gore (‘It’s My Party’, ‘Judy’s Turn to Cry’, ‘You Don’t Own Me’) made the teen girl vein her own.

Virtually all teen idols, female and male, were gone before the arrival of the Beatles—thanks to the dominating presence of the Beach Boys and Four Seasons driving the pop industry away from sometimes puerile, often sentimental, mush into a much tougher group-oriented scene. In the new world of male groups, alternately male rights were demanded and male longing for “the right girl” was openly expressed. All had melted away, that is, but for the resistant strain of Bobby Vinton, in America; and Gene Pitney, more popular ex-USA.

Gene Pitney: a Euro-ising influence on American pop, with Burt Bacharach

Gene Pitney: a Euro-ising influence on American pop, with Burt Bacharach

Pitney hit through movie themes Town Without Pity and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, ending ’62 in ‘Only Love Can Break a Heart’, a no.2, backed by jukebox favorite ‘If I Didn’t Have a Dime’—as big as he ever got in America though through ’63 he continued to define Sixties pop: ‘True Love Never Runs Smooth’, ‘Half Heaven, Half Heartache’, upbeat ‘Mecca’ and signature tune ‘Twenty-four Hours From Tulsa’. All fell short of top ten but by now a superstar in Britain he switched to suit the market from the Bacharach-David writing team to big ballads ‘I’m Gonna Be Strong’ and ‘Looking Through the Eyes of Love’ from Spector favorites Mann-Weil. His pseudo-operatic pleading style hit a chord world-wide. Spending a deal of time in the UK with publicist Andrew Loog Oldham and thus the Stones and other new figures at the centre of the industry, he came to adopt, and was adopted by, the British Invasion with trans-Atlantic sounds ‘It Hurts to Be in Love’ and ‘Last Chance to Turn Around’. But while staying a fixture there—‘Princess in Rags’, ‘Backstage’, etc—he also sank with the Brits.

The new Bobby had only been around a year (‘Roses Are Red’) but dominated second-half-of-’63 charts: ‘Blue on Blue’, ‘Blue Velvet’, ‘There! I’ve Said it Again’ all reaching top and spanning into Beatletime. Sticking to slow, melodious Easy Listening as a sort of white Johnny Mathis, he went all the way again with ‘Mr Lonely’ (hear the dire rehash c. 2005) but stuck fast in glutinous remakes thereafter. Like Mathis, he defied the trends— and uniquely for a teen idol scored better in sales than in airplay. But the fact that the Brits ignored him made him an anachronism, never figuring in the development of Sixties Music.

Bobby Vinton: sweetly retro, pointing the way 'forward' to Beatle ballads.

Bobby Vinton: sweetly retro, pointing the way 'forward' to Beatle ballads.

Vinton’s sentimental sweetness and total lack of rock impetus—a male Patti Page—kept sleepy Middle America in the Fifties, though strangely well in tune with the sentimental Beatle ballads everpresent through the Sixties. Of Middle European extraction, nicknamed the Polish Prince, his Polka-paced melodies brought out the Old World tradition the Beatles were so fond of. Vinton’s album Tell Me Why revealed his affinity with many Lennon-McCartney tunes. He carried the stream of comfortable-sweater Bobbys to Bobby Goldsboro mid-decade, on to Shindig resident Bobby Sherman—Las Vegas style, not hinting even at the cleaned-up version of “rock and roll” but successfully passed off as such.

ROCK MUSIC — ENGLAND SWINGS?

In anthropology, celebrity, generational/fashion, history, music on June 4, 2009 at 10:15 pm

— 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 in '65: John and Paul styling their hair, Ringo and George still generic moptops

The Beatles in '65: John and Paul styling their hair, Ringo and George still generic moptops

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.

P. J. Proby: introduced to the UK by the Beatles and had talent overflowing enough to go worldwide and then some.

P. J. Proby: introduced to the UK by the Beatles and had talent overflowing enough to go worldwide and then some.

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.

Cliff, c.1964, now with pompadour and sideburns trimmed like the tamed-down Elvis

Cliff, c.1964, now with pompadour and sideburns trimmed like the tamed-down Elvis

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.

Dusty, late '63, with the thick mascara and beginnings of a La Ronette hairdo, but still in the gingham a la the country-styled Springfields

Dusty, late '63, with the thick mascara and beginnings of a La Ronette hairdo, but still in the gingham a la the country-styled Springfields

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.

Euro-chanteuse Petula Clark as 'Downtown' broke, aged 32 -- an age before which Pete Townshend hoped to die.

Euro-chanteuse Petula Clark as 'Downtown' broke, aged 32 -- an age before which Pete Townshend hoped to die.

‘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.

lulu 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.

Cilla Black

Cilla Black

Sandie Shaw

Sandie Shaw

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.

The Rolling Stones in 1964. From left, Bill Wyman, Mick Jagger,  a stoned Brian Jones, Charlie Watts; a young, relatively humanoid Keith Richards.

The Rolling Stones in 1964. From left, Bill Wyman, Mick Jagger, a stoned Brian Jones, Charlie Watts, a young, relatively humanoid Keith Richard

The Animals in 1964: better musicians and singers than the Stones. Eric Burdon is up front, Alan Price on keyboards and bassist Chas Chandler partly obscured

The Animals in 1964: better musicians and singers than the Stones. Eric Burdon is up front, Alan Price on keyboards and bassist Chas Chandler partly obscured

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.

ROCK MUSIC — CATCHING A WAVE

In history, music on June 4, 2009 at 10:26 am

— one further excerpt from ‘Beach Boys vs Beatlemania: Rediscovering Sixties Music’ by G. A. De Forest, published by Booklocker.com in November 2007 and available for around $17.95. Top position in Amazon’s sales list in the Music: History & Criticism category is #23 on April 26th 2008

The mercurial launch of the Beach Boys to hit-making in four months contrasts with other hopefuls’ gritty struggles. The Beatles, Four Seasons and Supremes—their rivals—all paid dues through a five-year lead time. The Four Tops took ten years—from generations of pop prior at the dawn of the Doo-Wop Era, when the influential Drifters were stars.
The "Coasters": early California Music; lead singers Carl Gardiner and Billy Guy fooling around center.

Dennis recalled fifteen years later to the UK’s Disc trade paper it was 1955 that his father drove the Wilson kids home from his work in the pickup as they sang ‘Smokey Joe’s Café’, r&b from Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller who also created ‘Riot in Cell Block No.9’, a Beach Boy concert favorite. More street-wise, sexually-charged narratives came from the same five voices, piano, drums, bass and guitar— the Robins morphing into the West Coast’s top black group, the Coasters. In summer 1959 the big r&b hit from Leiber-Stoller was ‘There Goes My Baby’ performed by Ben E King & the Drifters.

And in that last Fifties summer Denny, not yet 15, sized up the waves at his local haunt, Manhattan Beach, dogged by cousin Mike hassling him to get musically grounded brother Brian to form a band. It wasn’t until two springs later that things began coalescing, Brian coaching them in precise Four Freshmen harmonies, favorite among favorites. In the Wilson home, going-on-19-year-olds Brian and Al Jardine, his alarmingly little (5ft-5) grid-iron buddy from the Hawthorne High Cougars, recruited youngster Carl, who gave saxophone over to Mike for Chuck Berry guitar riffs. Mike’s predominantly black former school, Dorsey High, gave him a headstart in close-up interpretation of rhythm & blues singing, and the Wilson-Love clan were imbued with r&b broadcast incessantly by LA stations. It was Dennis, dropout from high school drumming lessons, who inspired Brian and Mike to write about surfin’; in another two months, again finessed by Dennis, they had that recording contract.

The California they would come to represent around the world —then with only a fraction of its 40 million population—was emerging as the Golden Age of Hollywood movie studios passed and television invaded every living room. The USA’s West Coast seemed ripe for revolution. Those who held the purse strings over movies, TV and the big radio networks were still in New York, the center of American entertainment for two centuries. A geographical rebalancing was overdue. Pop music needed a local guiding genius to buck the powers.

As if sprinkled from a cloud of pixie dust, it would be Brian, the teenage but already eccentric creative leader of the Beach Boys, who created California Music; not Phil Spector, the savvy New Yorker transplanted to LA who at 17 had played at being a native Californian by forming the gently cooing teen trio the Teddy Bears (‘To Know Him Is to Love Him’); nor Lou Adler, Liberty Records producer soon to marry tv starlet Shelley Fabares; nor producer-trumpeter Herb Alpert, boss of brand new A&M Records and wedding Lani Hall, Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66’s vocalist.

Settlers were attracted to this land famous for its resources—the native population early dispossessed—plundered by Spanish conquistadors and Gold Rush ’49-ers. Few stars originated here. The movies came to Los Angeles, not sophisticated San Francisco, for its equable weather offering filming year-round. The Arizona wilds of Flagstaff and Tucson had been tried—a little closer to Civilization, that is, the founding colonies Back East. By the Twenties the Hollywood Hills were circled by the screen industry. As the prosperous, ultra-conformist Fifties passed, Hollywood liberals blacklisted in the McCarthy Era were allowed back, secretly. Kansas president “I like Ike” Eisenhower was better known as a war hero and golfer; his vice-president, LA’s Richard Nixon, a commie-hunter. When handsome intellectual cum touch-footballer JFK was chosen in LA at 1960’s Democratic Party convention to run as the first-ever president born in the 20th Century the time was ripe for a new breed of local go-getters—young and competitive, confident, even cultured, energized by an invigorating outdoors spirit. The Beach Boys saw LA grow into a metropolis, then exiled themselves as the inevitable decay set in.

World events seemed to barely touch the lives of the Disney-raised kids. April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was first in space, and Kennedy flunked his first real test when he allowed a CIA plan to go ahead for an invasion of Cuba from the US by expatriates; face was saved two months later by ballet master Rudolf Nureyev defecting to The West. In the tit-for-tat propaganda war, on August 13th East German border guards strung barbed wire along Berlin’s East-West boundary, now a menacing frontier. September 18th Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjold, secretary-general of the UN, was assassinated—his plane shot down en route to peace talks with a Congo dictator. That month London’s Ban the Bomb protest march ends in a thousand arrests.

LABOR DAY WEEKEND, SEPTEMBER 2-3 1961, SEVEN months into the Kennedy Era: Brian, Dennis & Carl Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine, now at community college with Brian, rehearse their first hit-to-be at the Wilson home in blue-collar subdivision LA—the corner of grandly named Hawthorne Boulevard & 119th Street, five miles from the Pacific Ocean. They attract neighborhood throngs and a squad of police, but it’s a party atmosphere, just a bunch of South Bay kids whipping up a rock’n’roll storm. Within two years there would be two hundred garage bands around LA playing gigs. Arrest and trial comes with the Wilson parents’ return from a business trip to Mexico City, astonished that the emergency money they left their sons, along with additional finance from Al’s mother, is swallowed up to rent instruments. After bristling father Murry—a physical disciplinarian when frustrated—pushes ringleader Brian up against the wall and threatens the others, and gentling mother Audree calms everyone, the group performs a nerve-racking audition.

Murry and Audree—and her brother, Mike’s father—were brought as children post-World War I to the Promised Land, as it was called in the parched and rugged Midwest according to all expectations, to end up settling among other economic refugees on Huntington Beach, a locale that would only take on a romantic aura in song a generation later:

“At Huntington and Malibu they’re shootin’ the pier—at Rincon they’re walkin’ the nose. We’re goin’ on safari to the Islands this year so if you’re comin’ get ready to go.” (‘Surfin’ Safari’ by Brian Wilson & Mike Love, copyright February 1962)

They were used to hard times—and hard, make-or-break saving, young Murry coming from rural Kansas preempting the Dust Bowl exodus of the Thirties Depression, and Audree of Swedish stock from Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Loves were evidently as tough. The Wilsons and Loves stayed close, bolstered by musical get-togethers when Murry on piano and Audree on organ were augmented by the kids’ voices—until well into their teens, to the point when one of the Love girls was almost a Beach Boy. Like Ike Eisenhower, Murry nourished a Kansas conservatism destined to clash constantly with Hollywood-liberal sons. On the other side of the family coin, the rugged commonsense and integrity shown by their elders would often prove the firm base the boys could turn to.

Murry, sucking sagely on his pipe, that end-of-summer day for once forcing himself to listen to rock’n’roll, grudgingly accepts that here is something special: “I never did like that song [‘Surfin’’]… it’s so rude and crude, you know?” But on songs Murry liked, “They sang like the Four Freshmen, but with a younger, sweeter sound.” Having struggled to get a few of his own songs published, he’s struck gold and takes his boys under a smothering wing. Ambivalence about Brian’s success, and a proprietorial attitude to the group, would make inevitable the implosion of a time bomb planted with the domineering upbringing of his sons.

Though his songs tended to sub-Stephen Foster—American Hymn in style—Murry was an avid Cool Jazz follower who exposed Brian early on to jazz piano ‘feels’. He would later make his musical presence tangible in The Many Moods of Murry Wilson, recorded by Capitol to placate the Beach Boys’ ubiquitous stage father: one of those Easy Listening sixties albums that was anything but easy listening, especially in what he did to his son’s ‘Warmth of the Sun’. Life with father was hardly harmonious. At one point in his boyhood, rebelling against Murry’s physical regimen directed at Dennis, especially, and himself (young Carl retired quickly from the battlefield), Brian is said to have “dumped” on a plate and served it up for dad’s dinner, compliments to the chef not recorded.

Alan, leader of a semipro folk group at Hawthorne High but en-ticed by Brian & Carl singing “kind of sophisticated” duets at a talent show, had played stand-up bass at that first command performance and now advanced the group through his contacts song-publishers Hite & Dorinda Morgan. ‘Surfin’’ was conceived by surf-crazed Denny, backing Brian and Mike into a corner by bluffing the Morgans that the song already existed, ready to record. Reluctant surfers taught the lingo by Dennis, they took a melody written by Brian for a 12th grade ‘F’ (his teacher wanted a sonata). An October 3rd recording session led to release late in November through the Morgans’ tiny X label and then on Candix organized for mass pressing and distribution.

If it wasn’t recorded in a garage, with Brian beating on a garbage can lid for a snare drum—as once reputed—the debut hit sounded like it: raw r&b. The lineup, as reported by Carl in 1965: Mike singing lead (and wanting to play saxophone for a Coasters sound but the rest of the group forbidding it); Al on (still-rented) standup bass; Carl, basic chords on guitar; and Brian—who took off his shirt to lay it over and beat on an actual snare drum. Lack of a recording studio was a minor inconvenience—a movie-dubbing studio doing just as well for their purposes, to get a record out. They sang all the vocals together through one microphone.

October: The nucleus of English group the Beatles— John Lennon & Paul McCartney—are in Paris celebrating John’s 21st birthday. Together four years with a good lead guitarist and now a steady drummer their group has in the past year or so tripped twice to Hamburg—the Reeperbahn district, a hotspot of sleazy showbiz where many Liverpool acts find better paid work. Paul, especially, is into fashion—and he and John get their hair styled anew by friend Jurgen Vollmer, now a French resident, in the mode of Parisian art students, ungreased and combed forward. Astrid Kirscherr had already done this in Hamburg for boyfriend Stu Sutcliffe, in the group only on the strength of being John’s friend. On the way home they stop in London’s fashion district in Chelsea, and buy pointy-toed slip-on shoes. Posterity will hail ‘Le Beatle’ hairstyle and Beatle boots.

The Beatles, late 1961: all tidied up in suits by manager Brian Epstein

The Beatles, 1962: all tidied up in suits by manager Brian Epstein


Peter Eckhorn, manager of the Top Ten Club, Hamburg, where the Beatles had played for four months up to July: “The interesting thing about the Beatles was that people liked them more for their engaging personalities, their onstage antics, and smart remarks than for their music. Their music sounded very much like all the other English groups, but as performers they were unique” (Pritchard & Lysaght, 1998).

While there the band was signed for Polydor as Liverpool teen idol Tony Sheridan’s backing group—by bandleader/A&R man Bert Kaempfert of huge American success ‘Wonderland By Night’, and recorded in a school hall by him. A Merseybeat version of the old standard ‘My Bonnie (Lies Over the Ocean)’ by Sheridan & the Beat Brothers emerges. The Beatles receive session fees. John’s art school friend Stu Sutcliffe, who has grappled with bass guitar without ever coming close to taming it, leaves the group just before recording to take up a scholarship. Those who have seen them play say the Beatles have lost their most charismatic member: apart from Paul, good playing was somehow irrelevant to this act. The best looking one—most popular with girl fans—remains for now, but Pete Best refuses the Beatle haircut: one more factor separating him from the others.

Back in Liverpool the Beatles have resumed a casual residency doing lunchtime shows at the Cavern Club. Unlike other groups— immaculately turned out in florid dinner suits modelled on the Shad-ows, the no.1 UK group—the Beatles sustain their round-the-clock Hamburg timetable and at first turn up in the attire they woke up in. It is a bohemian image cultivated by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and soon capitalised on by the Rolling Stones, much to the fury of John Lennon, who gives in to the Establishment.

Local editor Bill Harry starts ‘Mersey Beat’ with a John Lennon article on the Beatles. Week by week he favors the engaging characters so much other groups complain. “Beatlemania” won’t be coined by the British press for another two years but in Liverpool it has been part of the scene since returning from their first Hamburg trip, Xmas 1960—but shared with mob scenes for the Flamingos, Searchers and others. Eventually overtaking Rory Storm & the Hurricanes, the Big Three, Gerry & the Pacemakers and the Fourmost, the Beatles will become most popular of 350 working bands —more than there are in London.

By November 1961, after more than four years playing and com-posing together, Lennon & McCartney finally believe enough in two of their songs to introduce them to their setlist, ‘P.S. I Love You’ and ‘Love Me Do’. Orders for ‘My Bonnie’ catch the eye of records divi-sion manager and heir of NEMS stores, Brian Epstein, and assistant Alistair Taylor, who persuade Polydor to press it in the UK; it will only puncture the bottom of the chart at #48 on the momentum of growing Beatlemania a year and a half later. Epstein, a frustrated actor and dropout from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, follows his bent as theatrical entrepreneur. Visiting a show at the Cavern, his reaction is typically couched in English diplomatic-speak: “They had a very honest and unrehearsed sound. I thought that if I liked it and all those teenagers liked it, then there was something worth explor-ing.” Alistair Taylor: “There was this very scruffy band on stage in black leather and black T-shirts. They were fooling about and they weren’t very good musicians. But it was the most phenomenal experi-ence I’ve ever gone through… They had Ingredient X… So we signed the boys and nobody wanted to know about them”(Pritchard & Lysaght, 1998).

But after cleaning up—nice suits, no smoking or drinking on-stage—they are on their way to the big time. John got moody, but there was no real rebellion from the rock’n’rolling Teddy Boy. Soon Epstein’s proudest boast was that he had got the Beatles a gig for 15 pounds ($36 then)—unheard-of heights for a Liverpool group. Lon-don might as well be on another planet. Like the Beach Boys they will be hindered by recording brains who say guitar-and-drum vocal groups are on the way out.


Events are shaping the modern world—the first US military ob-servers are posted to Vietnam in December; King of Rock’n’Roll Elvis Presley has not made a personal appearance for nine months (and won’t until the end of the decade)—but the Beach Boys’ immediate concern is their new record, revelling in its primitive origins. It is none the less picked up as phone-vote favorite on the platter-rack at popular KFWB the week after Xmas, its first airing causing the Wil-sons uncontrollable excitement. Denny: “Brian ran down the street screaming ‘We’re on the radio!’ Carl threw up.” Constantly distracted, Dennis is only now let into the group at Audree’s insistence. It means a step up from his dollar-a-day chore sweeping out Murry’s workshop and free-flowing girls on stream— though all the boys (but late de-veloper Brian, at 22) would be married by 21, Mike by ‘shotgun’.

KFWB, their favorite station for its r&b, took minor vocal groups the Olympics (‘Hully Gully’), Passions, Skyliners and Fireflies to the top of the LA charts regardless of national trends, plus instrumental groups Johnny & the Hurricanes, the Fireballs and the Spacemen, and paid ongoing respect to rock’n’rollers Bo Diddly, Fats Domino, Johnny Burnette and the Bill Black Combo past their commercial prime. Black vocalists Richard Berry, Etta James, Della Reese and Sarah Vaughan got a look in here better than other mainstream outlets across the country. Ray Charles, the Jive Five, Ike & Tina Turner, Lee Dorsey, the Drifters, Chantels, Jackie Wilson, Jimmy Reed (‘Bright Lights, Big City’), Van McCoy and Mary Wells were others punching above their weight. Local youths the Jaguars, among others, featured on playlists—encouraging the new boys. Now there was one more reason to like the Warner Bros station, for breaking their group into local fame.

The Wilson brothers' and Al Jardine's high school celebrates the Beach Boys' first hit, New Year 1962

The Wilson brothers' and Al jardine's high school celebrates the Beach Boys' first hit, NewYear 1962

‘Luau’, written by the Morgans’ son, best described as rhythmic in a simple hip-hop way, was put on the B-side. ‘Barbie (Barbie, Queen of the Prom)’/‘What is a Young Girl Made Of?’, a falsetto dirge backed with a bouncy ditty—provided by Hite Morgan— were released too, luckily invisibly by tiny local label Randy under Kenny & the Cadets, said to be Brian, Audree and Al. Reflecting on these, recorded under obligation—duds at the time, and all happily lost to history—must have taught Brian a valuable lesson not to rely on the creative ability nor the business judgment of others.

Candix, making up for the Z-material the group was lumbered with, chose a new name for their green clients. On the new 45 under ‘Surfin’’ they print “The Beach Boys”—maybe inspired by ‘Beach Boy Blues’ on Elvis’s new Blue Hawaii album. There had briefly been a Beach Boys two years before on Kapp, and a Beachcombers singing sedate pop in the Fifties would soon convert to surf rock on Dot. There would turn up, too, a Beach Girls recording act. Posing a potent image of smooth confidence, decadent rebellion, danger to unwary beach girls, the name wiped memories of doo-wop style Carl & the Passions (used by Brian to lure Carl into the group) and Pendletones, Mike’s play on Washington State’s Pendleton lumberjack plaid shirts popular for winter surfing.

ROCK MUSIC — Beach Boys vs Beatlemania: PET SOUNDS rebounds from RUBBER SOUL—gunned down by REVOLVER

In generational/fashion, history, music on February 20, 2008 at 10:28 pm

Excerpt #4 from BEACH BOYS vs BEATLEMANIA: Rediscovering Sixties Music by G. A. De Forest, published by Booklocker.com and available for around $19.95 from Amazon, Borders, Books-a-Million, Barnes & Noble or any other of your favorite Internet stops

Sales peak thus far: #23 on Amazon.com’s hot 100 Music History & Criticism books, April 26th 2008

On hearing the Beatles’ Rubber Soul Brian Wilson was spurred to create an album of songs that “sound like they belong together, like a collection of folk songs”. The Beach Boys had done that with their first album, and each song distinctive. What the Beatles had really done was create an album of mood-related songs with an unvaryingly sombre tone. Wilson’s group would try it, but he was temperamentally incapable of being monotonous.

pet-sounds By the US media and as the legend has gone ever since, Pet Sounds was a flop album. The greatest masterwork of the Beach Boys, America’s greatest-ever band, was said to have failed precisely in the terms that America appreciates best: dollars. Until the year 2000 it had never been awarded an RIAA Gold Disc to confirm a mere 500,000 sale. Then a three-month audit by Capitol, not counting “missing paperwork”, tallied 670,000 copies over the previous 15 years and estimated a lifelong US tally of two million-plus—ranking it well up among their studio albums, all assuming naïvely they didn’t have paperwork problems too. Lyricist Tony Asher’s earnings from it were $60,000 by 1990—his cut of royalties at one quarter of 1%, implying world revenues by then of $24 million just for known sales of the eight songs he contributed lyrics for; therefore $39 million had been earned from the 13-song album. Given that its price ranged around $4 in its heyday this would extrapolate to anything up to ten million units (worldwide) had they sold all at once. With steadily rising prices over succeeding decades, and adding in a couple million sales since 1990, a total of well over six million units by now might be guessed at. Even the boring 4-CD ‘documentary’ Pet Sounds Sessions (1996) quickly went gold in the US.

It took the rock world by storm—the Beach Boy image unrecognisable under a sophisticated veneer—and softened the ground for Revolver three months later. In this new millennium the album that has been most frequently voted the greatest of all, ever, is one that, according to the angle perpetuated by the press, came out of the blue, a fluke—the one (grudgingly) acknowledged work of genius supposedly by an idiot-savant cum schizophrenic. The same consensus of rock critics who hold his band up as America’s most important ever belittles their other work in relation to the Beatles’.

But Brian Wilson had been in direct competition with the cleverly crafted songs of Lennon-McCartney-Martin for more than two years. His highly developed sense of rivalry had finely wrought a style more distinctive and more celebrated than any other in modern pop, apparently without any reference to the Beatles or other contemporaries. Was it enough?

RUBBER SOUL, THAT ‘PROVED’ BEATLE PRIMACY, began recording on October 12th 1965, five days after The Moors Murders were reported to the police by a witness—a graphic shock to Britain with its unfathomably (to Americans) low murder rate: a series of sado-sexual snuffings-out of children on the bleak moorland above Manchester, committed (and recorded for their own enjoyment) by an ordinary young couple.

The day after the Beatles got underway the Beach Boys started work on ‘The Little Girl I Once Knew’, unattached to an album, and Brian was working solo on the first vocals for ‘Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)’—for Pet Sounds, postponed by Capitol’s insistence on new l.p. product by Xmas: hence the stop-gap Party released November 8th.

Brian Wilson in the studio for the Pet Sounds sessions

Brian Wilson in the studio for the Pet Sounds sessions

For two days Brian holds court over a 40-piece orchestra led by Four Freshmen veteran Dick Reynolds. He goes home filled with ideas about how to apply orchestration to modern rock and starts sketching them out.

Rubber Soul accompanied ‘We Can Work It Out’/‘Day Tripper’ in release the first week of December and set a US record of a million sold in a week. In Britain the 45 was their most popular post-1964, but album sales didn’t approach their usual flood. The double and upcoming single ‘Nowhere Man’ were by far the most commercial songs on the (UK) album but with all that—under the direct influence of Bob Dylan—the basis of the group’s critical cred had shifted from their hit-making ability to a consistent general standard. So while ‘If I Needed Someone’ (by George), ‘In My Life’ and ‘Norwegian Wood’ were poignant and ‘Drive My Car’ and ‘Run For Your Life’ deserving as well, non-entities such as ‘I’m Looking Through You’ and ‘What Goes On?’ were deemed quality because, given Beatle magnitude and their songs’ huge exposure, every one found followers. Still, there are three tracks I can’t recall hearing.

A vaunted innovation was the sitar on ‘Norwegian Wood’—remembering that Shel Talmy had applied a sitar sound on Kinks single ‘See My Friend’. What the Beatles did had to be successful—so the Stones used one on ‘Paint It Black’. Used out of context of Indian music—also on Petula Clark’s ‘Color My World’—it lends a quirky trendiness rather than integrated musicality.

Since ‘Yesterday’ on Help! statisticians had been totting up cover versions of Beatle songs. That one reaped nearly 1,200 and now ‘Michelle’ from Rubber Soul scored half that—still a large tally. The similar ‘Girl’, this time from John, probably did well in the cover department too. They were all that kind of song—simple and memorable, of the kind that café and cabaret singers could take endless stabs at in the pre-karaoke era. Paul McCartney: “‘Michelle’ was a joke really. A French tune that you may hear at a party and you’d parody it to death” (Pritchard & Lysaght).

October 26th the Beatles, minus George Martin, had received their MBE medals from the Queen, recognizing their export value—the next bonanza, Rubber Soul, due for the Xmas market around the world. Interviews of George Martin in Pritchard & Lysaght’s The Beatles: an Oral History show how integral he still was—three years on—to the whole process of creating Beatle music. “If there was a keyboard used it was generally me who played it… I was responsible, generally, for the solos. I don’t mean that I would write George’s solo necessarily, although sometimes that did happen, but I would say, “Right, we need a solo here.” Or “We need a line here. How about this?” For example, in the song ‘In My Life’ I played the harpsichord solo. There was a gap in the song… They went away and had their tea… I wrote something like a Bach invention, and played it, then recorded it… They said, “That’s fantastic. We don’t need more. That’s it.” Later on, when we came to do the middle of ‘Michelle’, I actually wrote that.”

In the works was a Beach Boy album to top the Beatles. Like other rare works of art that also qualify as creations of the soul, the impression looking in at Brian Wilson’s soul is deep and enduring, a claim never really made for Beatle music—as admitted by John Lennon. The Beatles’ recorded music was often exciting and sometimes even brightly toned, but always seemed infused, at its core, with the inhibitions of Englishmen.

ANYONE WITH A REASONABLE KNOWLEDGE OF Beach Boys music sees Pet Sounds, far from a one-off, as a natural development of a thematic tone obvious from the time of Beach Boys Today and apparent in Brian Wilson’s work from starting recording four years before in ‘Surfer Girl’, ‘Lonely Sea’, ‘In My Room’… Now in Pet Sounds he gave his music an orchestral setting—beautiful and moreover lending it a certain snob appeal that impressed culture vultures who wouldn’t have bothered otherwise with such an obviously suburban figure.

In what the world construed as a sudden shift, Brian, left alone in the studio for once, was creating a personal masterpiece, honed to perfection without the pressure of others looking over his shoulder. But the legend that Pet Sounds is the one album on which the Beach Boys played not a single note is not quite right. After the band returned from their Japanese tour they got together on ‘That’s Not Me’ with Carl, Dennis and Brian (organ) all playing. Brian as ever played bandleader and choir master on all tracks. Since summer 1963 he had employed the best musicians available, whether in the group or not. His second group still featured Hal Blaine on drums, Glen Campbell (guitar/banjo), Carol Kaye (bass) and other regulars from LA’s “Wrecking Crew” as well as legendary black saxophonist Plas Johnson. Now symphonic players too were collected for their technical expertise and compliance to Brian’s instructions, not for creativity. He cajoled all into a cohesive ensemble interpreting his most subtle nuances of tone, as the Beach Boys themselves had become used to.

No wonder the touring band was nonplussed. Said UK bible Melody Maker, “It was immediately obvious that Brian had travelled further than anyone in popular music, extended its scope beyond a fantasist’s wildest dreams. Pet Sounds was a massive elaboration on the more interesting aspects of his earlier work; the harmonies were denser, structured in myriad layers, achingly lush, yet pure… It was the arrangements that blew minds. Brian had used a bewildering array of resources, more than Spector and the equally iconoclastic Burt Bacharach combined.” To celebrate it, unselfishly, Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham took out a full-page ad urging people to buy it.

Its perfection is not the studio sanitisation of recent decades, interpreted as ‘technical perfection’ by today’s critics: Brian’s commands to instrumentalists (“Drums!”) are audible in places. While the composition phase has an inevitability about its sequence of notes, as has been said about Beethoven—unlike the Beatles, renowned for their quirky twists—it still fills repeat listeners with surprise and delight. One gets a similar sense about The Who’s sixties hits—maybe related to Pete Townshend’s early affinity with recording technology. It has become a truism about Beach Boys music (and for different reasons the electronic tracks of the Beatles), that much of it is difficult if not impossible for other musicians, no matter how skilled, to reproduce never mind interpret.

The piece de resistance is that exactly the right instruments are chosen for each passage no matter how unconventional, e.g. the Japanese koto. What is played and how it is played is so right. As has been told so often, one can picture Brian going to each musician and showing him or her how to play to elicit just the right strain of emotion; and his vocalists—the Beach Boys—the same. Still, from the bewildering jumble that is the Pet Sounds Sessions it is impossible to see how a coherent work is finally delivered, never mind the unquestioned masterpiece it is. We can only stand back and marvel at the creative process of mind and heart that results in the finished work.

The supreme test of Wilson’s achievement as a pure composer is that the two instrumentals, originally intended to have lyrics, stand as wholly finished works and lack for nothing—a testament to wordless poetry, pure music unadulterated by any other consideration like ‘profundity’ of lyrics. In Q magazine’s September 2004 roundup ‘Pet Sounds’ was judged among the fifty greatest instrumentals of all (‘God Only Knows’ ditto in the ballad section).

From left: Bruce Johnston, Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, Dennis Wilson

From left: Bruce Johnston, Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, Dennis Wilson

As has been remarked on by many critics, perhaps coming new to Beach Boys music, the harmonies move in striking counterpoint as on the a capella break in the middle of ‘Sloop John B’, throughout ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice?’ and in the cyclical end of ‘God Only Knows’. But what most appreciators of the new music have found most impressive had always been there—Brian’s own transcendently expressive vocals for ‘Caroline No’, ‘I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times’, ‘You Still Believe in Me’…. In Europe it was fully appreciated for its startling emotional/artistic impact as an integrated whole which springs from every track.

RECORDING CONTINUED AT A SANITY-SAPPING PACE that had delivered five album-length projects in a 14-month span. Party was according to some sources their fastest-selling yet but was never awarded Gold. Over that winter the young advertising agency jingle-meister Tony Asher had observed Brian at home every day—the better to devise figure-fitting lyrics for his songs. Not least of Brian’s abilities was in choosing a lyricist to work most perfectly toward his current aim: Gary Usher or Roger Christian for technical-teen appeal; Mike Love for the telling cultural image; on occasions his brothers, frequently himself.

The ‘adult’ lyrics Brian chose from Asher—which superficial observers have hailed as the big advance over Brian’s previous songs—can be put down to the advertising profession wordsmith. Hardly passionate, they are more adult in a certain sense, meaning more of the ‘grown-up’, corporate world, but (mostly) they are non-intimate, even impersonal: They are not the kind of sentences a man would actually say to a lover, at least not one he is close to; rather the politically corrected, gender-sanitised kind from a counselling session or Oprah/Dr Phil tv show:

“I know perfectly well I’m not where I should be/ I’ve been very aware you’ve been patient with me/ Every time we break up you bring back your love to me/ And after all I’ve done to you—how can it be?—You still believe in me…”

Since when has passionless prose been a criterion to judge a work of art? Compare it with Brian’s usual confessional, conversational style, say in ‘Let Him Run Wild’:

Brian’s falsetto:

“When I watched you walk with him tears filled my eyes/
And when I heard you talk with him I couldn’t stand his lies/
And now, before he tries it, I hope you realise it [girl!] /
Let him run wild—he don’t care, Let him run wild—he’ll find out, Let him run wild—he don’t care. Guess you know I…

Mike’s bass voice insert: … waited for you, girl.

Brian’s falsetto resumes:

All the dreams you shared with him you might as well forget/
I know you need a truer love and that’s what you’ll get/
And now that you don’t need him, well he can have his freedom [girl!] Let him run wild…”

Statements on the world in general or personal expression? In this way he did emulate Bob Dylan, and the Beatles, who had recently switched from personal-pronouned—if not exactly personal—to pontificating lyrics (‘We Can Work It Out’, ‘Nowhere Man’). It might be politics but is it art?

For four years so far the street-savvy influence of Mike Love’s lyrics in the Beach Boys’ rock’n’roll had brought out the group’s broad commercial appeal, while the emotional B-sides had come direct from Brian’s soul.

Mike Love, early '66

Mike Love, early '66

Mike drove the group’s hit status; Brian’s overall creative command dictated that he push boundaries, whether the results were saleable to a mass public or not.

Capitol saw it differently. Having just had huge world hits with upbeat treatments of ‘Barbara Ann’ and ‘Sloop John B’—still approaching its sales peak in Europe as Pet Sounds went to the presses—it wasn’t about to go with a downer: an entire album exploring Brian Wilson’s fragile soul, no matter how deep. Here was a man more capable than anyone else in pop music of expressing his emotions directly through music—and “They just didn’t get it” (Bruce Johnston). Even many admirers including this writer had to take a couple of steps back on first hearing the album, such was its advance over everything else in pop. From the Beatles, Capitol had received a nonstop string of tunes everyone could sing along to, and now they were deemed to be important too. Why couldn’t this boy genius produce the same? His avowed philosophy, “I’ve never written one note or one word of music simply because I think it will make money” was hardly in accord with the label’s fiscal ambitions. Repeatedly summoned to Capitol Tower in Hollywood to please explain, at the last meeting Brian attended he refused to utter a word and instead played to the executives prepared tape loops of “Yes”, “No”, “No comment”, “Can you repeat that?” and other potted answers.

They initially flatly refused to release the album, and only relented when Brian threatened never to make another record for them. A compromise was reached—inclusion of the out-of-place ‘Sloop John B’, though its adventurous arrangement and sound meshes in with the original material. Obviously, having zero confidence in the album—an attitude borne out by the execs’ fatally compromised ‘promotion’ of it—Capitol sought to salvage a few sales through the hit at no extra expense. The label committed money to the first of the Best of the Beach Boys series. Capitol’s denial of the new music—misleading the public by highlighting the hit—was a crisis for the group. The Beach Boys’ business partner was effectively sidelining them by refusing to build a wider audience, so favoring the Beatles in their ongoing contest.

Brian acceded against his better judgment, only to be double-crossed by Capitol, pushing heavily the compilation mostly made up of songs from 1963—a planet light-years away from where the group was now. Five weeks after making Billboard, July 2nd, Pet Sounds hit #10. The label issued Best of the Beach Boys three days later and the masterpiece went no further, clinging on two more months top twenty. Five days after the compilation, in accord with its back-to-the-future mentality, Capitol reissued an anachronistic ‘Help Me Rhonda’/‘Do You Wanna Dance?’ double one week ahead of the should-have-been showcased ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’/ ‘God Only Knows’ from the new album. Having put off the real double for so long, this left a yawning gap of two months with no Beach Boy single on the charts, and the favored Best of… inevitably overshadowing the new material left without a single to promote it (and vice versa).

In what would be a coincidence only to a blind optimist, Brian’s third major nervous breakdown struck him soon after release of Pet Sounds, sensing what was in store. The question has to be asked, What was in their corporate mind, if anything? If the label was compos mentis the stakes must have been high to warrant pulling the rug out from such an important act—at potentially a substantial loss of profit. Was it a business write-off as far as Capitol was concerned? Better to stick to promoting the mod quirkiness of the Beatles, reissues of classic fifties Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and early-sixties Beach Boys, with their assured, predictable markets?

Mike Love, in retrospect (1975): “Pet Sounds in 1966 was the climax of our new group awareness of more positive and emotional issues. Capitol wanted Shut Down Vol. 5. They released Pet Sounds but they didn’t promote it very strongly…”. “Mr Positive Thinker” as he called himself had put a ‘positive’ spin on the album.

THE TOURING GROUP BACK IN FEBRUARY, BRIAN placed their vocals: He had done demos of the lead and harmony parts himself, to such an extent that it was looking like a solo album. The completed ‘Caroline No’ track was released as a solo early March. In the circumstances it probably shocked Capitol as a nice little earner, keeping pace in many markets, flopping nationally once caught up by ‘Sloop’, issued two weeks later. One of the album’s key tracks but lacking a recognisable “Beach Boy” sound or label, it deserved better according to record-buyers in Canada, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Central Valley, upper New York, Salt Lake City, Milwaukee and Billings, Montana—all places where it entered top 20; the ten in San Jose, Orlando, Boston-New England, the Ohio River Valley in Cleveland and Louisville, and in Wisconsin, where it was broadcast hundreds of miles from clear channel station WSPT, Stevens Pt. Again New York City—where the song was listed at #57 by WMCA—had the casting vote over what America liked and didn’t like.

Brian’s voice came through too on ‘Sloop’ (reproduced by Al or Carl in concerts); Carl handled ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice?’, Mike subsidiary verses or the bridge on each. Brian’s original vocal of ‘God Only Knows’ was excellent but Carl made a classic of it. Of the rest, ‘Here Today’ (a UK cover hit, and in San Bernardino), ‘You Still Believe in Me’, and ‘I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times’ appeared on compilations, growing familiar to a broader public. The instrumentals and four other tracks by no means suffer for their lack of fame: ‘Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)’, Brian emoting in similar fashion to ‘You Still Believe in Me’ and perhaps not often reissued for that sole reason; his ‘Hang On to Your Ego’ substituted by Al to better effect as ‘I Know There’s an Answer’; dynamic ‘I’m Waiting for the Day’ (Brian again), alternately gentle and commanding with its kettle drums; and ‘That’s Not Me’ (Mike), probably the least commercial song—but with Brian, Carl and Dennis accompanying making it special.

Listened to today the most spectacular rock treatments on the album, ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice?’ and ‘Sloop John B’, sound every bit as overtly exciting as Rolling Stones rockers. In fact there is an unmistakable kinship arising from this album. Disregarding the Beach Boys’ harmonies, which anyway sound nothing like their usual Four Freshmen-influenced style (on ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice?’ Brian took six months to get the harmonies to his liking, so exacting had become his aural vision), they and the Stones almost meet in their sheer force of vocal and instrumental drive. Given juxtaposed listening the resemblances seem obvious, posing the likelihood of influence of passages from ‘Here Today’ on ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, or ‘Pet Sounds’ on ‘Honky Tonk Women’. Certainly, the chording and pacing similarity between the later ‘Wild Honey’ and ‘Street Fighting Man’ are striking.

While the Beatles fought it out with the Stones in whipping up fans’ adrenaline they looked elsewhere for their music model—continually. In the early days it had been Lonnie Donegan, Elvis Presley, the Everly Bros; by 1963 Carole King, Motown and unnamed “current Americans” obviously including the Beach Boys and probably (judging from results) Burt Bacharach; the following year Bob Dylan. From spring 1966, when John Lennon and Paul McCartney, at Andrew Oldham’s residence, listened and relistened to the acetate recording of Pet Sounds brought from America by Lou Adler, the most apparent direct influence on them—apart from the ever-present Music Hall tradition—is the Beach Boys. From testimony by Paul McCartney and others who knew the Beatles well, and from internal evidence, they drew on Beach Boy material from 1965, from Pet Sounds and from Wild Honey. In McCartney (1998) Paul’s mid-Sixties associate Barry Miles, confirmed by Beatle producer George Martin, says they saw the Beach Boys as their creative rivals: “The real contender was always Brian Wilson… He had managed to reach the top several times in charts dominated by British Invasion groups but commercial success was not his main interest, though it was for the other Beach Boys.” Miles does not draw the conclusion nearly far enough. McCartney has for forty years called ‘God Only Knows’ the greatest song ever written, and he spent four of those years trying to emulate it.

Brian’s bass guitar roots specifically brought effusive compliments from Pete Townshend and McCartney: “Pet Sounds blew me away. It’s still one of my favorite albums. When I first heard it, I thought, ‘Wow, this is the greatest record of all time!’ Brian took the bass into very unusual places. The band would play in C, and Brian would stay in G. That kind of thing. It gave me great ideas. That musical invention of Brian Wilson was eye-opening, I mean, ear-opening” (from Pritchard & Lysaght, 1998). In Miles’ biography, McCartney expresses a kinship with Wilson as a fellow writer of melodic bass lines, and waxes mystical citing him, himself and James Jamerson of Motown as the apex points of a geographical triangle (LA-London-Detroit) of influential bass-players. Father Murry, too, praised his son’s bass lines and betrayed fatherly pride in speaking of Brian’s “beautiful approach to rock’n’roll”, impressed that he had come some way from rock’n’roll to his own preference for “good music”—orchestrated.

McCartney credited Pet Sounds as the inspiration for his Sgt Peppers—by which time the Beach Boys, or at least Brian Wilson, had pulled further ahead. Others who are said to have called it the best album ever range from Elton John to Tom Petty; and citing it as a major influence: New York City’s pioneer of proto-Punk Lou Reed, Sonic Youth, and English favorites Oasis—often called the Nineties’ echo of the Beatles.

Britain was in spring 1966 just catching up on the Beach Boy catalog. Party, with a timely release for once, exited top ten in April as Today (a year late) entered. It is no surprise that, asked a week after Pet Sounds‘ US release in May, British EMI said it had “no plans” for it. It was sheer public pressure that brought the far-advanced, much-feared album into EMI’s plans. On grudging release in early July Pet Sounds, followed into top ten a week later by Summer Days, did all but reach the very top to the company’s shock. It seems the UK headquarters had no more insight into (or interest in) great, truly innovative music than its American subsidiary. Three decades later it was voted by a panel of international critics assembled by The Times of London as the best album of the rock era, heading off Sgt Peppers. Another belated British accolade was an assessment by New Musical Express (October 2nd 1993) as “Greatest Album of All Time”. As a satisfying double, upcoming ‘Good Vibrations’ would be dubbed by Mojo magazine (1997) “Greatest Single of All Time” heading a list of a hundred. But in May ’66 when it counted, British EMI’s belief in the Beach Boys’ new music, if not a negative entity, was close to zero.

The touring group at a Capitol reception, early '66: From left, Carl Wilson, Bruce Johnston, Al Jardine, Mike Love, Dennis Wilson

The touring group at a Capitol reception, early '66: From left, Carl Wilson, Bruce Johnston, Al Jardine, Mike Love, Dennis Wilson

In the States it was a steady mover, taking a year to sell Gold. Number one featured album at WLS, Chicago’s premier top 40 station, nationally it peaked on average only one or two chart places short of the Beach Boy albums immediately before and after; in Japan, the next biggest market, it did better than them. It was easily their most successful studio album ever in the UK: six months top ten. At the end of the year all the anti propaganda should have been put to bed by Cash Box’s roundup of 1966’s Top 100 Albums: 13th best-selling pop/rock album behind “Best of” compilations from Herman’s Hermits, the Animals and Stones, the Mamas & the Papas, Rubber Soul (5th), the Stones’ Aftermath, Out of Our Heads, December’s Children; four places ahead of Revolver, six ahead of Beach Boys Party and further back to Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence, The Young Rascals, the Byrds’ Turn! Turn! Turn! and Lovin’ Spoonful’s Daydream. The leading albums of the Supremes, Four Seasons and Sonny & Cher were nowhere. But the story put about of the failure of new Beach Boy music—almost willed by British EMI and Capitol—simplified the choice between them and the two-forked Brit attack.

Capitol would continue to divert attention from the group’s groundbreaking, Beatle-influencing music. In spite of all, ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice?’/‘God Only Knows’ turned out one of the summer’s two premier double-sided hits, outdone commercially by the Beatles’ ‘Yellow Submarine’/‘Eleanor Rigby’. Both peaked in late August, the Fabs keeping the Beach Boys’ ‘God Only Knows’ out of the number one spot in the UK sales chart. The same happened between the two groups’ current albums.

ON APRIL 6TH AS ‘CAROLINE’ AND ‘SLOOP’ MADE strides up local charts the Beatles had begun work on Revolver, the album that continued the public eclipsing of the Beach Boys. The Fabs had unstoppable career momentum and it made sense when George Martin assigned novice engineer Geoff Emerick to take charge of sound. In the direction Beatles Inc was going it took an inexperienced whizzkid coming in fresh who could devise evermore contrived sounds to include on some of their upcoming albums.

George Martin: “With the new sounds on Revolver it was basically an attempt to get more colour into our records. I mean, The Beatles were always looking for new sounds… They didn’t know much about instruments, though, which put pressure on me. They needed someone to translate for them. I was there…”

Donovan Leitch: “That was the breakup really with The Beatles, I think. Because Paul is so creative… Paul needed, at that time, somebody like me, who could sit around and jam with him. The Beatles didn’t jam at that time. They made records” (both quotes from Pritchard & Lysaght).

It was at the end of summer 1966, three weeks after Revolver appeared—with their last concert at Candlestick Park, San Francisco—that the Beatles decided they had just done their last tour. Fourteen dates in eighteen days hardly added up to a demanding schedule, especially given their rather perfunctory 30-minute concerts—the idea was just to see the Beatles and scream your hardest—but they were exhausted and highly stressed by events unrelated to entertainment. The target of death threats from Japanese traditionalists, hounded out of the Philippines for offending ruling family the Marcoses, in America made to publicly answer for John Lennon’s remark that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus: these were among the personal depths they had plumbed in the previous weeks that decided them.

Paradoxically, given the bad press later directed at McCartney for breaking up the Beatles, it was George Harrison who, in his first relaxed moment after the Candlestick concert, declared: “I’m not a Beatle anymore!” According to Beatle publicist Tony Barrow it was Harrison and Lennon who were most vehement against them ever becoming a genuine, performing band again. Brian Epstein, who had made looking after the Beatles his life—and would die within a year of dejection and neglect—knew better than to ever suggest it to them. Such was his state through drugs that he was no longer handling their affairs with his customary aplomb. It was not long, in November, that John and Paul on Mick Jagger’s recommendation were seeking out accountant-to-the-rock-stars Allen Klein, wanting him to renegotiate the measly returns on their EMI contract.

Paul embarked on the first Beatle solo project, writing the soundtrack for a Hayley Mills film, The Family Way; and by the end of 1966 George had made a spiritual pilgrimage to India to meet the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi of TM fame and learn sitar from Ravi Shankar; and Lennon met self-described avant garde Paris-based Japanese artist Yoko Ono. It was the beginning of a great deal of free time — extending through the remains of their career — with little of genuinely outstanding quality turning up on vinyl. One well-coordinated group project was to grow Zapata moustaches, seen in recent ‘spaghetti’ Westerns.

ROCK MUSIC — Beach Boys vs Beatlemania: “WE LOVE YOU BEATLES, OH YES WE DO!”

In celebrity, generational/fashion, history, music on February 9, 2008 at 6:16 am

Excerpt #1 from BEACH BOYS vs BEATLEMANIA: Rediscovering Sixties Music by G. A. De Forest, published by Booklocker.com and available for around $19.95 from Amazon, Borders, Books-a-Million, Barnes & Noble or any other of your favorite Internet stops

Sales peak thus far: #23 on Amazon.com’s hot 100 Music History & Criticism books (April 26th 2008)


The Fab Four, mops flourishing by mid 1964

The Fab Four, mops flourishing by mid 1964

To be caught up in Beatlemania ’64 was something as exciting as it was indescribable. Imagine Irish music, Riverdance and leprechaun outfits taking over the world—held aloft for everyone else to aspire to: a crude but apt comparison. The Beatle phenomenon has been uncritically celebrated long past the point of drop-dead kicking-the-corpse boredom, so to this day no one has been able to say convincingly what their music had to do with it. But you had to be there—the pop culture ‘happening’ of the mid-Sixties. It was experienced so deeply by many youths it seemed all that was needed to fix the world was immersion in Beatledom so everything would turn “fab”. Harrypottermania is the only phenomenon to compare with it today.

Tony Barrow, rock journalist and Beatle publicist: “The whole thing changed. The balance of power fell from an average age of 40 to 25 overnight.”

Derek Taylor, Beatle and later Beach Boy publicist: “We saw them in that sense [of being saviors]. People saw them as being some sort of answer to the miseries of the world or in our own little lives. They were the four-headed Santa Claus.”

Astrid Kirchherr, designer of the Beatlehair: “My heart just opens up with pride and joy to know I was so lucky to get to know these wonderful people who deserved all this fame and fortune.”

Astrid Kirchherr: “You could tell Paul really hated [Stuart]” (Salewicz).

Murray Kaufman (Murray the ‘K’), star DJ and self-proclaimed Fifth Beatle: “To this day when you hear [other superstars] you know it. With every album The Beatles gave us a 180-degree change. A completely different change, a different sound, a different attitude. They kept changing with us. The Beatles inspired a lot of the political and social revolution that took place, because from a subliminal standpoint The Beatles represented change. We saw the Beatles change right in front of our eyes.”

This habit of the Beatles being diverted every six months sounds alarmingly like a description of one of the Sixties’ most charming and persuasive fakers, Andrew Loog Oldham, by his friend John Douglas: “… a dilettante: though he’d got natural ability, he didn’t stick long with things, because there was always something new to have a crack at.”

George Martin, who produced all the Beatle records: “In my book The Beatles were the greatest performers and writers ever… They were never satisfied with sticking to one style, one format, one sound… I think I was part of a five-piece group… My particular specialty in the beginning was introductions, endings and solos. The rest of the song was theirs. Later on it [was] the addition of things they hadn’t thought of—all the backward guitar stuff and that kind of thing.”—Excerpts from Pritchard & Lysaght’s The Beatles: an Oral History (1998).

Note that Martin’s “specialty” was composing beginnings, endings and middles of Beatle songs?! “The rest of the song was theirs”, he adds amusingly. For Martin it all came down to how well crafted the song and the variety of ways they were presented. For Murray the K, how mutable the sound and attitude. Changeability was the common theme. So they might rate above Gilbert & Sullivan in adventurousness but below genuine artists in not having a recognisable style. Picasso changing his Blue Period and succeeding phases every four to six months?—the interval between Beatle albums. Novelty, and reading constantly changing trends— Murray the K: “They kept changing with us””—was their real stock in trade.

These four Liverpool lads of Irish descent had no small touch of the blarney in their blood: the pixieish wit; the crude, crying-into-your-beer sentiment and, encouraged by Dylan, self-pitying bitterness in layers; and Celtic “animal magnetism”—as ascribed by Brian Wilson to the Britons in general. If the Irish kissed the Blarney Stone for luck the Beatles and their minders must have ravished it full-frontal. Ritualistic mystique was all there staged in the Beatles—the Parisian styled hair, the Gallic cut suits, the Beatle bow in unison from the waist. Even Paul’s intriguing German-made ‘violin’ bass guitar, like no other. Was he dead?—Only true initiates could read the signs. It all assumed titanic significance, like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter overlapping into real life.

Clean-cut American Beach Boys as they looked on the arrival of the Beatles, February 1964: didn't stand a chance

Clean-cut American Beach Boys as they looked on the arrival of the Beatles, February 1964: didn't stand a chance

They had charm by the bucketful; presence—not the smarm or vacuous additood that passes for it today and is glibly called charisma. To immune observers they were interchangeable mop-tops, but fans knew better: John, the defiant leader with a loose chip on his shoulder, standing at the mike bowlegged gunslinger style; Paul, the smooth, fun-loving pretty boy and the most versatile musically, popping out melodies literally in his sleep—but called “the shrewdest and the toughest” by a teacher who knew them both; George, “the Dark Horse”—only fragments showing above surface, the most “vociferous” at the first meeting with George Martin and the most business minded, but passive-aggressive because dominated by his senior partners, overlooked until his death prompted a gushing media, when his palatial estate showed he had just as massive an ego; Ringo, contributing his personality on drums and off, the best actor in films—seemingly earthbound, living off a suitcase of baked beans on a spiritual exploration of India (the others ate theirs in the studio, scooped from silver service). Starting with no higher ambition than to open a hairdressing salon once the Beatles had struck modest success, ironically he was probably the most spiritual one through his childhood illnesses. But he was painted goofy. Girls liked to mother him for his melancholy. Later, with his head shorn, on his unshaven days he bore an unfortunate resemblance to Yasser Arafat.

At the start they were so… fluffy—and so saleable. While little girls wanted them as cuddly toys who walked, talked, peed and sang, mature females too fantasized about cuddling up to one or other of them. It wasn’t that the marketing strategy was inspired— just that everyone jumped on the bandwagon at once creating an unstoppable momentum, the more venal devotees grabbing fortunes hand over fist. The worldwide money-go-round was carved up continent by continent by seriously monied men, who made Elvis’s Colonel Tom Parker look like a nickel-and-dime grifter. There were Beatle suits and ties, Beatle shoes, Beatle wigs, even Beatle guitars and drum kits. On their first trip to the US, from their tiny cut of the money generated by their own image the group made more from Beatle bubblegum than from performances.

Despite their “Luv, Luv, Luv” mantra, nasty personal politics emerged in breakup as all burst into song unflattering to all—tit for tat attacks in unbounded superstar self-indulgence, abusing their exalted position to demean their art form. Yet because the group died violently in its prime (and resisted all pleas for a rebirth) the Princess Diana Effect mummifies a far-fetched pristine image. There is no question of speaking ill of their legacy, and an objective reappraisal of their value will wait till all media contemporaries in their thrall have retired from the airwaves.

While the Beatles weren’t responsible for every loopy gesture of fandom a finger points at them for hyping it: shaking their hair got their biggest audience reaction, not playing a favorite song—all of their songs were favored. The fans were screaming too loud to care how the music sounded, or if it sounded at all, so that the group at times stopped singing (or substituted bawdy rhymes) unnoticed. Their unbounded, unconditional success has a lot to answer for in foisting a travesty on the musical world, preventing a genuinely new course for modern popular music. They could be accused of corrupting rock in their own way as much as the tame Elvis-lookalikes they allegedly saved rock’n’roll from.

AS AMERICAN POPSTERS PROTESTED AT THE TIME, the Beatles—first called “the English Everly Bros” though Phil & Don weren't thrilled about it—were offering little that Stateside acts hadn't, musically; they had once even called themselves the Four Everlys. Their records were unsophisticated, producer George Martin having no experience in rock, coming from the show tradition of the Goons (Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan & Harry Secombe), forerunners of Monty Python. Sound engineer “Hurricane” Smith had to work with primitive UK studio equipment. So it is no wonder to the ears of American industry professionals ‘Please Please Me’ sounded like the Country Pop of the real Everlys. In fact it is very much like ‘That's Old Fashioned’ (1962)—so, an attractive recording but obviously nothing new.

English record producer and former rock journo Charlie Gillett: “For a while in the mid-Sixties, to be an American producer in Britain was to be in a distinct category, as Americans were recognized to have more adventurous production styles [and] played an important part in educating our engineers in American production techniques.” Yanks in the UK included Jimmy Miller helming the Rolling Stones and Spencer Davis Group, Shel Talmy the Kinks and The Who, Bert Berns (a.k.a. Russell) of Don Kirshner/Brill Building pop producing recordings for Them and Lulu, Felix Pappalardi for Cream, and Phil Spector, eventually, for the Beatles themselves. Yet Gillett claims Beach Boy music, from the same mainsprings of rock, was outdated on the arrival of the Beatles— without offering any illustration of his point—and presumably came right on first hearing the Beatles in 1964 (?)! Maybe it is to fit this outlandish statement that Gillett post-dates the commencement of Brian Wilson productions three years to ’65.

While well-bred manager Brian Epstein put his twopenn’th in about what the Beatles should record, the group obviously knew better and were happy leaving to chance Capitol’s doctoring of the master tapes in America—recognising virtually any Americans (and Capitol ‘experts’ fell into that category for rock’n’roll) would improve on Parlophone’s work done with the Beatles’ own input. No surprise that many Beatle records, especially releases outside the US, have a quirky feel of Tin Pan Alley uncomfortably mixed with rockabilly, or an English attempt at it.

Yes, they were different, in their Old World charm that urban Americans had long forgotten. If their charm and humor was Irish via Liverpool, the down-to-earth opportunism—and an awe of all that was flashy in American culture—was pure working-class England. An American equivalent might be experientially deprived hillbilly Jethro Beaudine coming to the big city and aping all he saw—in his fashion. Their presentation, via influences from Bert Kaempfert, Klaus & Astrid & Jurgen, Brian Epstein, came from Continental Europe. Not only appearance: Close your eyes and listen to early Beatle music, and picture everyman’s Liverpool-via-Hamburg group putting out the same: an act that Rory Storm & the Hurricanes could call their equal. People who knew them and their music intimately at the time said it. It was on top of hundreds of years of European traditional music that they attempted to overlay rock’n’roll. Question: Was this rock’n’roll, an advance on rock’n’roll, or a diluted alternative more related to other Euro acts: Edith Piaf, Johnny Halliday, James Last, Kraftwerk?

Lennon & McCartney came up with a perfect combination of show tunes and ersatz rock’n’roll—not a blending of the two but a craft division as in two assembly streams in a song factory. Their rock’n’roll was as straight as they could make it, improving in the late Sixties with ‘Revolution’ and ‘Back in the USSR’; and their Music Hall songs, which by Sgt Peppers they learned to give a rock veneer, were pure sentiment. Everyone could take something from it, and this catchall ‘something for everyone’ approach— that Elvis had turned to in 1960—brought unparalleled success.

It was all over after the music critic of The Times anointed Lennon & McCartney “the greatest composers since Beethoven”— not even Gilbert & Sullivan. Their habit of descending a third from minor to major, then another third back to major (as in ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’—personal communication from Celia Wood-Calvert)—brought comparisons with Schubert but was the sort of thing untutored musicians not hidebound by academic orthodoxies were likely to stumble upon in the normal course of exploring possibilities. It was their good fortune to be hailed for it.

Alan Livingston, Capitol president and inventor of Bozo the Clown, presents the Beach Boys with what be their first RIAA Gold Discs in 1965: they were always albums, and awarded so late because audited belatedly.

Alan Livingston, Capitol president and inventor of Bozo the Clown, presents the Beach Boys with what must be their first RIAA Gold Discs in 1965: they were always albums, never singles, and awarded so late because audited belatedly.

A passage in Gerry Bloustein’s Musical Visions: Selected Conference Proceedings from 6th National Australian/New Zealand IASPM compares Lennon-McCartney songwriting with Brian Wilson’s. “The songwriters who most often utilised blues-based songforms were Brian Wilson and John Lennon-Paul McCartney. Wilson’s surf and hot rod songs… often involve original and creative adaptations of the standard blues form, and in this sense Wilson should be accorded more credit as the songwriter who was best able to create a logical development of 1950s rock, and surf groups should be considered to be updated rock and roll bands.

“Wilson’s use of the blues-based form is deserving of some detailed attention. He rarely used the form for a complete song… Most of Wilson’s songs are verse-chorus forms, while in some songs (such as ‘Little Deuce Coupe’, ‘Little Honda’) the blues form is employed in the verse but not the chorus. In others (like ‘Dance Dance Dance’, ‘Drag City’ and ‘Surf City’) the reverse applies. The other technique employed by Wilson was to vary the standard chord progression over the last four bars of the form, thereby creating a striking hook effect, usually in combination with prominent multi-part vocals and a strong lyric hook. This technique is evident on ‘Shut Down’, ‘Drag City’, ‘Surf City’ and ‘Three Window Coupe’.

“Lennon-McCartney also used (copied?) [Bloustein’s term] this latter technique, most notably in ‘Day Tripper’ and they too created some idiosyncratic adaptations of the form… Like Wilson, Lennon-McCartney rarely employed the form for a complete song. Their nor-mal procedure was to use the blues scheme for the A section of the typical AABA form and to create a strongly contrasting B section by using a progression totally unconnected with the blues idiom, as in songs such as ‘I Feel Fine’, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ and ‘She’s a Woman’.”

Bloustein goes on to point out that during 1963-66 no other successful writers but the Motown ones make significant use of the blues-based form. But Beatle use of it was strongly tempered by their AABA scheme, which “had been commonly used by popular songwriters for ‘thousands of Tin Pan Alley tunes… a form totally predictable to mid-century listeners’.”

The AABA songform is four 8-bar sections. Many Beatle songs were dependent on a quirky, not to say cute ‘middle eight’ (B) section that caused traditionalists to prick up their ears in gladness.

The myth of Beatle omnipotence—almost a religious belief in which faith triumphs over facts—was reinforced by the likes of Gillett when he misinformed his readers (1975) that “the Beatles brought the idea of the organic songwriting, singing and instrument-playing unit to the American record business”—a myth perpetuated by Murray Kaufman as late as 1998. It was there in germ form in Johnny Cash & the Tennessee Three; even, mostly, Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore, Bill Black & D J Fontana; and Buddy Holly & the Crickets. The Beach Boys took it to the ultimate before the Beatles, as such, were ever recorded.

ACCORDING TO THE ROCK HISTORIAN’S BOOK OF Genesis one summer 15-year-old Paul McCartney saw John Lennon, twenty months older, singing with his band for the local Woolton village fete in their home city of Liverpool, the chief north-of-England port that serviced Lancashire’s coal mines and had cargoed cotton from the Confederacy during the American Civil War in defiance of Abraham Lincoln. Equivalent to New York City’s East River dockland but without the prosperity—Great Britain had won the war but “lost the peace”—Liverpool working people were clannish and proud of their scrappy cum entrepreneurial Irish roots. For the Dead End Kids, in the Hollywood B-movies that had informed so many British Empire kids, read John, Paul, George & Ringo. Who can imagine latter-day serene guru George Harrison as the head-butting kid he was, as described by Paul, when he joined the Quarry Men? Lennon, better at lyrics, and McCartney took quirky Scouse humor and added clever wordplay for their songs. Once they started mixing with the fashionable-arty London crowd in 1963 literary pretentions crept in.

It was early 1958 that the three-man core of the Beatles consolidated. This was three years after Lonnie Donegan hit with skiffle, and Bill Haley & His Comets impacted rock’n’roll on Britain with deva-stating results via ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ and ‘Rock Around the Clock’, the theme from gang/rebellion movie Blackboard Jungle. English youths—egged on by violent Teddy Boy subculture—reacted accordingly when Haley & the Comets toured just a few months before, rioting and tearing up seats with flick knives. More than the Teddy Boy image and attire rubbed off on the Quarry Men. Reportedly, the lads themselves were not above a bit of opportunistic rough-housing to get what they wanted from the mean streets of Liverpool or Hamburg.

And it was two years after Elvis Presley. The younger and better looking Elvis had burst from the Tupelo, Mississippi backwoods into throbbing blues center Memphis, Tennessee to mix r&b and country music and take over Teen America. His scintillating, melodramatised performances of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and ‘Hound Dog’ were frenetic and frailly breathless, and held to be extraordinary, coming as they did from a white man’s vocal cords. His ‘Jailhouse Rock’ broke a year later at the time Lennon and McCartney were meeting, with Buddy Holly’s ‘That’ll Be the Day’ and ‘Peggy Sue’, and Jerry Lee Lewis’s ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ and ‘Great Balls of Fire’ just as popular.

Though less authentic than Elvis’s earlier Sun recordings of ‘That’s Alright Mama’, ‘Mystery Train’, ‘Baby Let’s Play House’ and ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’, white rock’n’roll was, after a breach birth, coming out of incubation. Always just a heartbeat and last gasp away from crib death by misadventure, it would soon be rolled on in its slumber by hefty corporate America, rock’n’roll’s domineering stepmother.

Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Fats Domino had already scored their first hits on the (white) pop charts—‘Tutti Frutti’, ‘Maybelline’, ‘Bo Diddley’/‘I’m a Man’, ‘Ain’t That a Shame’. All were remorseless rock’n’rollers, until Richard repented, and were black—so couldn’t be teen icons in the eyes of the music industry of the time. The substitutes who were allowed to make white girls go all gooey were pale-complected, fussily groomed Italo-American boys—Bobby Darin, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Freddy Cannon, Bobby Rydell, James Darren, Lou Christie. Ethnics like Tony Orlando, Teddy Randazzo and Steve Alaimo who didn’t ‘regularize’ their names had viable recording careers but were obviously less stellar. The teen idols were promoted by Bandstand and Pat Boone’s series from the 1957-58 tv season, Billboard magazine and its new Hot 100, and a host of other mass media outlets.

The absence of Elvis Presley in the army for two years cleared the way for these ballroom imitations to replace real rock’n’roll.

BEATLES MERCHANDISED: THE MOPTOPS

In celebrity, generational/fashion, history, music on November 30, 2007 at 6:25 am

Talk of the Moptops, vintage 1963-4 — John, Paul, George & Ringo — reminds me of that individual lost to history who refused to become one, a Moptop that is: Pete Best, the Beatles’ original drummer for two years. Because he wanted to keep his James Dean/Elvis style pompadour and was no druggie or boozer like his three ‘mates’ gigging Hamburg, Germany, and the North of England, he was dumped, but only at the Moptops’ first recording session — so that it could be said his drumming wasn’t up to par. George Martin, Parlophone’s chief producer and creative head, was hardly enthralled with the musicianship of the others and he and group manager Brian Epstein seriously discussed whether it would be best to substitute their playing with session musicians for recording. That included new drummer Ringo, brought in from Rory Storm & the Hurricanes by Beatle George and Paul. Paul was so impatient to move on he phoned Epstein in the middle of Best’s dumping to check if the dirty work had been done. And then Martin substituted session drummer Andy White anyway for Ringo for that first recording session, August 1962, on ‘Love Me Do’.

Before they met Epstein, John, Paul and eventually George had changed their hair to shortish Julius Caesar-style cuts combed forward, emulating French students of the day.

Beatles 1964: fluffier and cuddlier than ever

Beatles 1964: fluffier and cuddlier than ever

But through 1963 their locks grew longer and were styled fluffy, so that with the prime directive from Epstein to burn their ‘rebel’ leathers and dungarees and don natty suits and ties they resembled more a group of walking, talking, singing cuddly toys — and therefore one of the greatest merchandising products, if not the greatest of all, ever conceived by an upwardly mobile entrepreneur.

Brian Epstein taking them on as clients, George Martin taking them on as recording artists, Sir Joseph Lockwood (head of EMI) hoisting them as an export industry, and America raising them to all-conquering superstars had almost nothing to do with their music and everything to do with their winning personalities. It’s all there in the history books. But it turned out one more hoodwinking triumph for the mass media and big business, and one more scam written off to the power of celebrity.

See my book published November 2007, ‘Beach Boys vs Beatlemania: Rediscovering Sixties Music’, available from Booklocker.com (offices and printers in London and Bangor, Maine) and Amazon outlets everywhere including the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France and Japan.

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