Segarini: When Radio and Records Ruled the World Part 7 – The Invasion Begins…
Part 6 can be found here
Cruising the AM dial was extremely rewarding in the early ‘60’s, there was so much music to be had. Not only the songs you tuned in to hear, but radio stations added a dozen or so new tracks every week, and told you about them and the artists, plus most had a record race or voice your choice program that aired around 5 pm weekdays, after school was finished and American Bandstand was over. Just about everybody listened, discussing which new songs you liked, or what you voted for.
Stockton was in a perfect place for radio. We had 2 local stations that played a wide variety of contemporary music. KJOY, which was pretty mainstream, leaning toward the Bobby’s and Jimmy’s and ‘adult; fare like Sinatra and Dean Martin, with folk, country, and rock and roll stirred into the mix, while KSTN leaned more towards the R&B side, but played the others as well. Sacramento came in loud and clear with KROY and KXOA, and San Francisco got a lot of attention thanks to KYA and KFRC. The two Bay Area ‘soul’ stations, KSOL and KDIA, had big followings too, and at night, when the weather was right and you knew where to park, we all tried our best to tune in XERB, located in Chula Vista California, with it’s 5 Billion watt transmitter somewhere in Mexico, to hear Wolfman Jack. American Graffiti had it spot on thanks to George Lucas growing up at the same time in Modesto California, a mere 35 miles south of Stockton. Modesto also had a station we listened to on occasion called KFIV…K-5.
Everywhere you went in North America it was pretty much the same, kids brought together by music, well served by their local radio stations and record stores, and growing as a source of fashion, trends, and political power.
How, you ask, could it get any better than this? Well, it took a form of blue collar entertainment from mid 19th century England, an American hybrid of jazz and other musical genres from the 1920’s, a bunch of merchant marines, a dream, a scandal, and the assassination of a President to create a moment in time that will probably never be duplicated. All of that, plus an incredible, almost mystical confluence of talent, people, and timing, to bring about changes in everything from music, to fashion, to societal, and political activism everywhere, or…How a hairstyle from Hamburg, two guitars, a bass, and a set of drums changed the world.
Writing about The Beatles seems so redundant to me because so much has been written about them already. There is a library’s worth of books dealing with everything from their individual childhoods to what kind of picks and strings they used for every record they ever made. Most of my generation, especially the Musos, know most of this stuff by heart, so I’ll try to make this as succinct and informative as possible. The whole Stu Sutcliffe/Hamburg/Pete Best/Cavern/Ed Sullivan mythos is as well known as Superman’s origin, so let’s start elsewhere…say, 180 years ago.
Music Hall in London had its origins in entertainment provided in the new style saloon bars of public houses during the 1830s. These venues replaced earlier semi-rural amusements provided by traditional fairs and suburban pleasure gardens such as Vauxhall Gardens and the Cremorne Gardens. These latter became subject to urban development and became fewer and less popular.
The musical forms most associated with music hall evolved in part from traditional folk song and songs written for popular drama, becoming by the 1850s a distinct musical style. Subject matter became more contemporary and humorous, and accompaniment was provided by larger house-orchestras as increasing affluence gave the lower classes more access to commercial entertainment and to a wider range of musical instruments, including the piano. The consequent change in musical taste from traditional to more professional forms of entertainment arose in response to the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of previously rural populations during the industrial revolution. The newly created urban communities, cut off from their cultural roots, required new and readily accessible forms of entertainment. You can read the whole article HERE.
This popular form of entertainment lasted until 1960 in England and has been referenced several times in The Beatles’ music over the years, especially in the songs of Paul McCartney. The songs of one Music Hall performer in particular, George Formby Jr. (whose father, George Formby Senior was also a Music Hall performer) influences McCartney to this day , and you can also hear Formby’s influence in other Beatle songs like “Your Mother Should Know”, “Martha My Dear”, and “Ram On”, as well as the ukulele outro to “Free as a Bird”, where you can hear Lennon saying Formby’s catch phrase, “Turned out nice again, hasn’t it?” backwards. Here’s a little George Formby. You can really hear and see a lot of McCartney-isms in the man’s performance. Formby played an odd little Frankenstein of an instrument called a banjolele…half banjo, half ukulele…weird, even by British standards.
Skiffle is a type of popular music with jazz, blues, folk, roots, and country influences, usually using homemade or improvised instruments. Originating as a term in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century, it became popular again in the UK in the 1950s, where it was mainly associated with musician Lonnie Donegan and played a major part in beginning the careers of later eminent jazz, pop, blues, folk and rock musicians.
You can read the whole article here.
This style of music is what brought the Beatles together in the first place, and its main proponent, Lonnie Donegan was a huge influence in their first incarnation as The Quarrymen (before the Nurk Twins and the Silver Beatles) and his music had a lot to do with Lennon’s songs about the working class and the day to day life around him. One of Donegan’s songs, “Puttin on the Style” was one of the first songs George, John, and Paul ever played together as The Quarrymen at their first gig in 1957.
“Hey Sailor…got any 45’s?”
Rock and Roll entered the picture around the same time the Quarrymen played their gig in 1957. George’s ability to play Eddie Cochran’s “20 Flight Rock”, and McCartney’s voice, able to mimic Little Richard, led John to asking them to replace a couple of Quarrymen members he was none to pleased with. Most American rock and roll records got very little if any airplay on England’s (at the time) stodgy BBC, but Liverpool was a port city, and merchant marines made regular trips to the States. Being young, a lot of the sailors would buy records in the U.S and bring them back to Liverpool. If you had friends or family aboard those ships, you had access to the music. Local club DJs took to playing the records as well. British teenagers, just like North American’s, felt the beat and heard the words, and that was all it took. And so it was that the last piece of the musical jigsaw puzzle that eventually became the Beatles was put in place, and the Quarrymen went from skiffle to rock and roll overnight.
Growing up in a place like Liverpool in the ‘50’s could be a soul crushing experience in many ways. If you stayed and had a high school education, the best you could hope for was a low paying, dead end job and spending the rest of your days under the gray, damp, skies raising kids and just getting by. There are only a few ways to rise above that inevitability. A University education, or skills in either sports, or entertainment, an ongoing conundrum that hasn’t changed much over the years for young people in out-of-the-way places.
These boys had mad skills.
Even then, it was tough sledding. As the Beatles grew as a unit, they gained the confidence to dream of rising to “The Toppermost of the Poppermost” and even though they weren’t regarded as the best band in Liverpool (that accolade would belong to Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, pictured here when ‘you-know-who’ was still in the band) they did manage to break through in Hamburg Germany, coming back to England tight as a drum, sporting new hairstyles cadged from the art school scene in Germany, and bristling with unstopple energy and confidence. Soon, there wasn’t a band that could touch them. They started to play regularly in Liverpool and the surrounding area, and soon, all of Northern England were lining up to see them. Even a record, which managed number 17 on the British Chart, a new manager who ran the largest record store in Liverpool (and who bought enough of their first real release to insure a chart position) and a huge local following couldn’t get them arrested outside of Northern England.
It became known as the Profumo Affair and eventually brought an end to the Harold MacMillan government in England in 1963. John Profumo, the married War Secretary and Christine Keeler (pictured here) a “showgirl” (read hooker), and mistress to a Soviet Naval Attache, managed to do what the opposition couldn’t do, and bring down an entire government. When the story broke, in 1962, it was all over the British newspapers and radio. Almost every story on the front page was about the ongoing investigation and the principals involved.
Something was needed to get this embarrassment off the front page, or at least lighten the news. A stringer in Northern England snapped a photograph of a huge lineup of teenagers outside a hall, waiting to be let in to a Beatle concert. The papers, seeing an opportunity to take people’s minds off the scandal, printed the picture and a small story about this phenomenon taking place in the Hinterlands, and people suddenly became aware of this Merseyside band, and then the whole Mersey scene.
The Beatles didn’t save the government or keep peoples minds off the ongoing developments, but word spread. London was theirs for the taking.
The next record went to number 1 in England.
Great Britain had fallen. The Beatles were everywhere. Even the radio in England played every release, and their reputation began to grow in the rest of Europe. By mid 1963, even Canada had succumbed to the magic, but America, its teenagers wound up with all that radio had to offer, had yet to embrace the Fab Four. A lot of radio people were in the know and saw the writing on the wall, but the public just wasn’t ready. That the Beatles hadn’t impacted on American radio was not for lack of trying.
I remember the frustration of Tom Donahue and Bobby Mitchell at KYA in San Francisco. Every time a new Beatle single was released, From Me to You, Please Please Me, She Loves You, they would be featured on the Record Race Bobby Mitchell (who also spent time at KHJ) hosted on weekdays, where he would extol the greatness of the Beatles and their latest track.
They always lost.
Finally, Mitchell got so frustrated, he screamed at his audience for not hearing what he heard, not getting the importance…the magic, of these four young men from Liverpool. Such Passion…such was radio in 1963.
I remember taking my copy of “Introducing the Beatles” to a party in January of 1964. Every time I put it on the turntable, someone took it off. The girls thought they were cute, the boys thought they looked like girls, and nobody liked the music.
The music heard that winter in Stockton California was Dylan and Peter Paul and Mary, the R&B records of the day, and oldies from Elvis, Buddy, Chuck, and Little Richard, but most of the talk was about our President, John F. Kennedy.
He was all about us, the youth of the day. He was young, and good looking, and his wife was hot. After the steady parade of geezers and their henchmen, the guy was actually paying attention to what we thought was important. It was the first time in memory that people my age gave a shit about politics, Pete Seeger notwithstanding. The folk music had given rise to political awareness in us, the R&B music had addressed the racial issue by getting us to dance with each other and respect the talent and presence of the rich and deserving culture who had suffered so long at the hands of the uneducated and fearful, and radio had bonded all of us to each other, our communities, and the issues of the day. I wasn’t a big fan of Kennedy as a person or a President later in life, but in 1963, he was a breath of fresh air. When he was assassinated in November of that year, the entire country took the bullet with him. For months we mourned, reflected, and mulled over the end of the innocence…and our youth. It wasn’t long before American media looked around to find something to take our minds off our problems, to lighten the news, to get us interested in something that held promise and was as fresh a blast of air as Kennedy had been to the youth culture. And then, in one 2 and a half minute onslaught, the Invasion began….
Next: Part 8 – “Don’t you ever sleep?…and get a haircut!”
Segarini’s regular column appears every Monday
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Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, The Segarini Band, and Cats and Dogs, andnominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late GreatMovies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now sadly gone), and now provides content for radiothatdoesntsuck.com with RadioZombie, The Iceage, and PsychShack. Along with the love of his life, Jade (Pie) Dunlop, (who hosts and writes “I’ve Heard That Song Before” on RTDS), continues to write, make music, and record.