Thursday, May 11, 2017

Sticks and Stones Is a Lie

In 2007, UCLA's Brain Research Institute demonstrated that despite human defense mechanisms for physical pain, we remember with angst and great regret the worst days of our lives, without alleviation; lost loves and toppling buildings don't go away. My brother remembers the Kennedys and King with crystal clarity; for me, for more than twenty years, it was Lennon. I was young; hadn't realized that people were cruel, and it hurt for a very long time. 9-11 changed that, frightened me, found me in bouts of clinical depression. My wife and I were in negotiation to move into Manhattan to write for a new A&E television series; we'd picked out our apartment on Pearl Street, downtown, six blocks from the WTC. These were exciting times for a young couple. If you stood on the toilet and craned your neck out the window, you could see the Statue of Liberty. What more could you ask?

And then the buildings fell down. It couldn't have been worse if they'd blown up the moon.

This is the end...
Still, the research shows that we recover, albeit slowly, the pain ebbs, sneaks up on us periodically, stays in the shadows (always there), but we deal. For young people, it's a different story. When Kennedy was shot in November '63, America changed. That "one brief shining moment" ended; America was conquered by a bullet and a collective sad. Young people, though, have greater propensity not to define themselves by a single moment. By early '64, the nation was still reeling, yet American youth was adamant about maintaining its status as American youth.

Beatles '65 Photo Session
The Beatles, under the skilled management of Brian Epstein, had attempted a number of times in 1963 to secure a hit on the American shores. Songs like "Love Me Do," "From Me to You," "Please Please Me," and "She Loves You"  all hits in the U.K., and Beatles staples – had gone nowhere when released by Vee-Jay or Tollie or any of the independent labels in the states. Yet while the nation was mired in that communal mourning, the teen set was antsy. The 50s promised rock 'n' roll – and The Beatles, with their cheeky wit and catchy, upbeat pop songs, proved the perfect antidote to America's collective depression. In addition, the mop-top hairdo garnered considerable attention. The Beatles look engendered controversy that assaulted the public consciousness, but provided instant credibility with teens. It was literally and figuratively America's youth letting down its hair.

Within a matter of weeks, catapulted by round-the-clock radio play and appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Beatles went from complete unknowns to household names. With "I Want to Hold Your Hand" perched in the number one position on the Billboard "Hot 100," record companies owning the distribution rights to earlier Beatles hits rushed them back into rotation. At one point in the spring, the band held the top five positions on the national singles chart.

British artists of every ilk – from skiffle bands to easy listening – were hurriedly signed up by American labels. In the weeks following the appearance of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, countless U.K. recording acts, some of whom had realized little success in their own country, enjoyed heavy radioplay stateside. The first onslaught of British performers to achieve success on the American charts included Dusty Springfield, the Dave Clark Five, the Searchers, Billy J. Kramer, Peter and Gordon and Herman's Hermits. Perhaps of even greater importance, countless other British youths were inspired to become musicians, resulting in a steady stream of talent which many would argue remains undiminished –from the Moody Blues and Elvis Costello to Radiohead and Muse.

By early summer, the floodgates had burst; there were more British artists than Americans on the local airwaves. Indeed, a considerable number of established U.S. acts virtually disappeared from the charts in 1964 (some never to return). Stars suddenly thrust into the periphery of the recording industry included Dion, Fats Domino, Rick Nelson, Neil Sedaka, Connie Francis, Brenda Lee, Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers and Chubby Checker. Even Elvis Presley's career went into a tailspin. After eight years of uninterrupted success, he enjoyed only one top ten hit, "Crying in the Chapel," charting in 1965. ("In the Ghetto" and "Suspicious Minds" wouldn't surface until '69). Suddenly, young American talent found it essential to incorporate in their style elements of Merseybeat, the trademark jangly guitars and seamless three-part vocal harmonies; indeed, the garage punk and folk rock movements, blatantly American ideologies, were particularly influenced by British rock bands of the mid-1960s. It was the whole Wilson/McCartney thing on a grand scale.

The first strike, a Blitzkrieg of familiar names, included supergroups like The Who and The Kinks (who wouldn't quite make the American cut), The Yardbirds, The Zombies, The Moody Blues and Herman's Hermits. But a 2nd wave would hit like rolling thunder by 1967: The BeeGees, Joe Cocker, Cream, Procol Harem, Van Morrison and Deep Purple. With the exception of The BeeGees, the 2nd wave wasn't about pop music, for them, rock 'n' roll had simply become rock, simultaneously gritty and sophisticated. We all know the rivalry of the bassists, McCartney vs. Wilson, but the American/British rivalry would spawn more than just Beatles and Beach Boys, fixtures of the 60s; this time the British Invasion would usher in the 70s.