This Day In History: On Feburary 9, 1964, The Beatles Invaded America

This evening, after spending enough time indoors [1] over the course of my weekend, I decided to brave the elements and get some much-needed groceries and some shaving cream, and while I went, I got to listen to some lesser-known Beetles tracks from a station that devoted the entire afternoon and evening to playing songs from the Beetles in honor of the 50th anniversary of their arrival in the United States to play the Ed Sullivan show, which inaugurated Beetlemania in the United States. It should be noted, in questions of fairness, that the British Beetlemania started a year earlier, when the Beetles’ first two albums became successful over the course of 1963. Since the Beetles were from Liverpool, and made no attempts to hide it (as was common in those days, as most people wanted to be confused for being from the London area because of its greater cultural cachet), it is to be expected that the British would get to hear them first before the United States, even if they honed their craft in Hamburg before being successful in Great Britain.

It is difficult to overestimate the cultural significance of the Beetles, although it is important to note that the Beetles themselves were successful in the United States in large part because they were not so dissimilar from what had long been popular in the United States, albeit with a British accent. In much the same way as the current One Direction single “Midnight Memories” itself owes a great deal to the chord structure of “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” a previous hit, thus allowing it to seem familiar while being a “new” song, the Beetles themselves were apt students of girl groups, Tin Pan Alley pop, and guitar-driven rock, and being craftsmen who absorbed diverse influences while honing their own songcraft, they were able to develop new songs with a Liverpool edge that were nevertheless strongly influenced by American pop-rock. So, when their material reached the United States, it was not too surprising that it should achieve popularity because it was fresh but also familiar in its structure. As human beings are creatures of habit, it is good to be familiar to one’s audience if one wants to be accepted as a newcomer.

Although I have had little cause in this blog entry to comment often on the Beetles themselves, given that their career as a group ended in 1970, their success drastically changed the way that the British looked at their own pop music and it also helped to lead to the contemporary respect that British musicians have received in the United States. By providing an indigenous distillation of American pop and rock with a British edge, the Beetles helped give the United Kingdom confidence in the continued worth of their own native and home-grown musical traditions (including Skiffle). Given the sort of insecurity that Great Britain faced in the face of its imperial retreat and the growing power of the United States, this feeling of continued cultural power and influence was undoubtedly a salve in what was a rather unpleasant time for a nation in the aftermath of its imperial heyday and in a long recovery from the horrors of the Second World War.

Just as the Beetles themselves were influenced by American music, especially at the beginning of their career, before providing a more distinctive sort of music later in their career, the Beetles in turn provided both British and American (to say nothing of the people of other countries) with a distinctive sort of template for music as well. Their music strongly influenced power pop [2] as well as orchestral pop [3] and psychodelic pop [4], and also helped to contrast a pop-rock music that was muscular and punchy and also well-crafted with the overproduced pop music that was then popular in the United States at the time, thus providing the United States with the impetus to return to a more solid rock & roll basis that proved to be enormously culturally significant in the 1970’s and beyond (and not always in good ways). They helped put music on a track that it has yet to depart from through their conscious blend of rhythm elements with well-crafted pop. While certain musicians have emphasized the more rhythm or traditionalist elements of their early music and others the pop songcrafting or experimental tinge or progressive conceptual elements of their later material, they have had a huge impact on anyone whose tastes in music tend towards rock & roll and pop at all [5], even if there was much that one can be critical about their careers (including their role in helping to make New Age practices and drug use mainstream, their political worldview, and their immorality). We must not celebrate all of the repercussions of their popularity, but if we are fair-minded, we must recognize it and seek to understand it.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/snow-on-the-sahara/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/damage-from-a-distance/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/cabin-fever/

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/why-arent-they-in-the-rock-roll-hall-of-fame-badfinger/

[3] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/why-arent-they-in-the-rock-roll-hall-of-fame-elo-jeff-lynne-traveling-wilburys/

[4] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/why-arent-they-in-the-rock-roll-hall-of-fame-the-moody-blues/

[5] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/09/12/gimme-sympathy/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/the-devils-music-christian-contemporary-music-and-its-critics/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/13/power-pop-tragedies-and-the-search-for-obscure-music-history/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/book-review-stumbling-on-open-ground/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Music History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to This Day In History: On Feburary 9, 1964, The Beatles Invaded America

  1. It was very refreshing to see the name of the band spelled as though it were the name of a bug instead of the pun it was intended to be! 🙂 Actually, There was another very popular British group, “The Crickets” that jump-started the spelling of their name–“Beatles”–since “cricket” was both a bug that made noise as well as a well-loved sport. They originally thought of the Beat Boys, but Beatles won out, being a bug as well as showcasing their rhythm.

    I can still remember my dad’s reaction to seeing their appearance on the “Ed Sullivan Show”–all suited up, mop-headed and the girls screaming in the audience. He was really upset with the long hair–it was the ruination of the country, these beatniks, etc… I thought he was going to blow a gasket. What takes me somewhat by surprise is that it happened 50 years ago. We lived in Groton, CT at the time and always, without fail, tuned in to watch the “realllly good shew” (this is how Ed Sullivan said it). Every girl had a favorite. Most chose between John and Paul with a few hanging in there for Ringo, but mine was George. He seemed to be the one that wasted the fewest words and was the most introspective (that from a six-and-a-half year old!)

    Well, those are my recollections from a snapshot in time.

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The Beatles: Day By Day | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years, Vol. 1 | Edge Induced Cohesion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s