Please Please Me: Change and Sixties British Pop

Please Please Me: Change and Sixties British Pop

Please Please Me: Change and Sixties British Pop

Please Please Me: Change and Sixties British Pop


The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Who, and numerous other groups put Britain at the center of the modern musical map. Please Please Me offers an insider's view of the British pop-music recording industry during the seminal period of 1956 to 1968, based on personal recollections, contemporary accounts, and all relevant data that situate this scene in the economic, political, and social context of postwar Britain. Author Gordon Thompson weaves issues of class, age, professional status, gender, and ethnicity into his narrative, beginning with the rise of British beat groups and the emergence of teenagers as consumers in postwar Britain, and moving into the competition between performers and the recording industry for control over the music. He interviews musicians, songwriters, music directors, and producers and engineers who worked with the best-known performers of the era. Drawing his interpretation of the processes at work during this musical revolution into a wider context, Thompson unravels the musical change and innovation of the time with an eye on understanding what traces individuals leave in the musical and recording process.


A common joke among adults of a certain age insists that if you remember the sixties, you weren’t there. Like many effective one-liners, this one plays on various kinds of truth. the primary premise of this gag references the substance abuse of the era, suggesting widespread brain damage and the inability to remember. However, the sixties transformed Western culture such that, in many ways, the people we are today weren’t there: we are different.

My first experiences of sixties British pop and rock arrived via the radio as my family sat in our kitchen and then, more vividly, via The Ed Sullivan Show one Sunday night as the family gathered around the flickering black-and-white televised images of the Beatles. I already held an intuitive knowledge of music and a rudimentary ability to read notation from singing in a church choir, but hearing the Beatles and then the Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Kinks, and others connected with me. I had to know more.

Now, in the present, I contemplate my compromised ethnomusicological role. Sixties British rock and pop shaped me as a musician and as an individual. Can chronological distance provide me with the cultural distance I need to deal with this milieu objectively? Is my study ethnography or history? Could it be both? Even the postmodernist stance that underlies my approach emerged in the sixties.

Before I undertook this work, my research background had taken me to Gujarat, India, but in 1996, the opportunity came to teach American students in London. I needed to find a topic that reflected the location of the class. With some trepidation, I volunteered to teach a course on sixties British rock and pop, reflecting both my own interests and those of my students. Building on what I thought I knew, I began the process of researching the music of this era by indulging in the kind of thing fans do: I became a gatherer of facts. At first, discographic trivia (release dates, chart action, labels, etc.) occupied my attention, then biographical details, and, soon, I wanted to know about instruments, amplification, microphones, and tape recorders. I had evolved into a data glut-

a chronology of essential data relating to British rock and pop in the sixties can be found at Thompson 1995.

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