How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music

By Elijah Wald | Go to book overview

17
SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION…

[The Beatles] are leading an evolution in which the best of current post-rock sounds are
becoming something that pop music has never been before: an art form.

TIME MAGAZINE, 1967

I’m sick and tired of British-accented youths ripping off black American artists and, because
they’re white, being accepted by the American audience.

MITCH MILLER

All of this happened a long time ago. A half century has passed since a group of young Liverpudlians got together and named themselves the Beatles, and their triumphant arrival in New York is now as distant from us as the arrival of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band was then. Those of us who grew up on their music may take pleasure in the fact that it is still widely heard, but we need to remember that our parents’ and grandparents’ music also held on through their lifetimes: In the first months of 1964, the record that pushed the Beatles off the top of the singles charts was Louis Armstrong’s “Hello, Dolly!” and the album right below them on the LP charts was by the Dixieland revivalist Al Hirt. Armstrong was sixty-two years old— younger than Bob Dylan or Paul McCartney is now. And the youth of the 1960s was as familiar with older stars as kids are today. Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra were television and radio regulars, and although McCartney was joking when he referred to Sophie Tucker, whose career reached back to 1911, as “our favorite American group” at the 1963 Royal Variety Performance, he wasn’t pulling her name from the distant past; she had been the highest-billed singer on the previous year’s show.1

For the youth of the 1960s, the “generation gap” between our elders and us was an article of faith, and rock music was its most potent symbol. Even ten years seemed to us a cultural eternity, and it was typical that when John Lennon, in 1968, named Little Richard and Elvis Presley as influences, the interviewer responded by asking, “Anyone contemporary?”

Lennon, well aware of the difficulties of maintaining a place in the pop pantheon, coyly replied, “Are they dead?”2

The Beatles, along with Bob Dylan and a long list of other names, were hailed as spokesmen for a generation that was rebelling against the past, and that made it

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How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Amateurs and Executants 13
  • 2 - The Ragtime Life 25
  • 3 - Everybody’s Doin’ It 36
  • 4 - Alexander’s Got a Jazz Band Now 49
  • 5 - Cake Eaters and Hooch Drinkers 60
  • 6 - The King of Jazz 71
  • 7 - The Record, the Song, and the Radio 84
  • 8 - Sons of Whiteman 97
  • 9 - Swing That Music 111
  • 10 - Technology and Its DisContents 126
  • 11 - Walking Floors and Jumpin’ Jive 138
  • 12 - Selling the American Ballad 150
  • 13 - Rock the Joint 166
  • 14 - Big Records for Adults 184
  • 15 - Teen Idyll 199
  • 16 - Twisting Girls Change the World 213
  • 17 - Say You Want a Revolution… 230
  • Epilogue - The Rock Blot and the Disco Diagram 248
  • Notes 255
  • Bibliography 281
  • Index 291
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