I have stated in other articles that I have been a fan of rock and roll almost from the beginning. I remember the early years and changes the rock and roll went through. Rock was started by the genius of some great African/American singers and song writers added to the progressive jazz and country talents. It began rebelliously; flying in the face of the older generation and delighting the younger generation. Elvis’ gyrating hips and the style of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis drove parents crazy. Songs with sexual overtones shocked the conservative nature. Leather jackets ruled as Hollywood got into the act with movies like “The Wild One.”
Then there was a change. It started on March 24, 1958 when Elvis Presley went into the Army in Memphis, Tennessee. The songs on the radio started to turn to artist like Pat Boone, and Johnny Horton. The edge was gone and the parents breathed a little easier.
The final blow to rock and roll’s edge came on February 3, 1959. This date became known as “The Day the Music Died” and the term would later be immortalized in Don McLean’s “American Pie”. It was on that day that a plane went down and we lost three of the early legends of rock and roll. Jile Perry Richardson (The Big Bopper), Ricardo Valenzuela (Ritchie Valens), and Buddy Holly were taken from us leaving a great gap in the genre.
The powers that be steered the music further to the more wholesome melodies and made the parents feel more at ease. Bobby Vinton, The Four Freshman, The Kingston Trio, and the girl groups like the Shangri-La’s and the Shirells kept the music easy to listen to and not challenging to the older generation.
There were rebels that would break through now and then. Beatniks, as they were called in those days, would sing about the woes of the world. Peter, Paul, and Mary brought up social issues with songs like “If I Had a Hammer”, but they were few and far between and easy to ignore. The dance crazes like The Twist and The Mash Potatoes were fun but not challenging. Even the surfing and racing songs didn’t rub the parents the wrong way.
I had mentioned many times that I wasn’t what you might call the perfect child when I was growing up. I was actually lucky that I didn’t end up a lot worse than I did. The first time I heard the Beatles I was thirteen years old. The boys and I had skipped church and we were spending our donation money shooting pool at a place called Jake’s. Jake was an old guy that had two pool tables set up behind his rundown candy store. It was there that I heard “I Want to Hold your Hand”.
The Beatles did not start out overly rebellious; their tunes did not have fiery lyrics, but there was something about them. The hair and their style was not blessed by our parents and John had a wise guy edge from the start. I remember when The Beatles returned to England after their first tour of America a reporter asked John, “How did you find America?” An American would have asked, “How did you like America.” It is just one of those differences in the languages. John answered as if the question came from an American reporter. His answer was, “We turned left at Greenland.” The love affair between our parents and rock and roll was ending and The Beatles were the catalyst.
When they screamed out their version of “Twist and Shout” we knew they were different. They brought a new sound and a new attitude. Of course it was the Rolling Stones that amplified that attitude bringing a more street level grittiness to the British Invasion. The tune “Satisfaction” told the world that the old rock and roll was back.
The Beatles changed rock and roll in so many ways. The music became more complex. Chuck Berry defined rock and roll as being easy to sing, easy to dance to, and easy to play. Many popular songs used basic three chord progressions that even I didn’t have trouble playing. The Beatles shattered that pattern forever.
Their use of diminished chords, seventh chords, and fifth chords gave their music a higher quality sound. There were many tunes that I had no hope of duplicating on my little six string. The Beatles also had a brilliant manager. Brian Epstein pulled off some clever moves to push the Beatles to the top. There are miles of footage showing young girls screaming and crying during a Beatles concert. It turns out that Mr. Epstein was smart enough to pay young ladies to yell and scream during the Beatles’ early gigs and that greatly pumped up the excitement around them.
The Beatles brought a new style, new music, and a new attitude to rock and roll. They existed as a major player on the music scene for no more that six years but they will always be identified as the greatest rock and roll band of all time.