Segarini: When Radio and Records Ruled the World Part 8 – “Don’t you ever sleep?…and get a haircut!”
Part 7 can be found here
If you weren’t there, It is hard to imagine the upheaval caused by the emergence of The Beatles from Liverpudlian obscurity to the world stage in late 1963 to late 1964. For the first time since Elvis Presley, a musical force had come along that reverberated past the walls of record stores and the radio speakers it emanated from, and influenced fashion, style, and social behavior. The Beatles influence reached far beyond what Elvis’s music had wrought. Not only did it affect those things Elvis’s reinvention of Blues and Country had impacted on, they reinvented rock and roll itself, and their approach to music caused some musical historians to excitedly hypothesize that they had not only built on what had gone before, but actually created a new form of expression heretofore unheard…and here we just thought they wrote good songs and had cool hair.
When I Want To Hold Your Hand broke on the radio, I had already grown my hair long thanks to KYA, CBS News, and Jack Paar. I would run into my dad in the garage when he was leaving for work at 3am and I was coning in from either hanging out with like minded music fans or getting home from one of my frequent road trips to San Francisco to hear bands in the Teen Nightclubs that proliferated there. He would look at me in disgust and utter the immortal “Don’t you ever sleep?”…pause…then add, “and get a haircut!” It was all he ever said to me for years.
Now where were we? Oh yeah…I had already been clued into the Beatles and let my hair start growing in late 1963 because of the above mentioned media. KYA, because I had heard about the Beatles from them in the summer of ’63, CBS News, because of a puff piece at the end of one of their network newscasts that was picked up by the San Francisco affiliate, and Jack Paar (pictured here) because of a clip he showed on his prime time show sometime after the CBS news story was broadcast…January 3rd, 1964 to be exact. He had taken his family to London at the end of 1963 for the holidays and his 12 year old daughter had instantly become a fan of the Mop Tops, who were all over the British media by then. Frankly, you couldn’t have ignored The Beatles in England at that time even if you had tried. I couldn’t find the actual piece, which contained off stage as well as onstage footage, but here is a portion of the original broadcast and Paar reminiscing about it on a later program.
What really took them over the top in the U.S of course, were the appearances on Ed Sullivan’s Sunday night variety show. The following Mondays after school let out there was a run on record stores that reminded people of a run on the banks following the crash of the stock market in 1929. The Beatle albums (two at the time, VJ’s Introducing the Beatles and Capitol’s Meet the Beatles) were money. Even the hastily added LP’s, a single LP with Frank Ifield on one side and The Beatles on the other, and The Four Seasons vs The Beatles a twofer with 2 LP’s, flew off the shelves like 10 cent beer at a chili cook-off. Even the previously failed singles were re-ordered and sold out over and over again until Capitol pulled the plug on the old deals.
How big did they get in the U.S after Sullivan? From February 22, 1964 until April 25, 1964 the Beatles held the top two positions on the Billboard Magazine Hot 100 Singles Chart with various tracks. In some of the weeks, the band held the top three or top four slots, the only act in chart history to do so. On April 4, 1964, The Beatles occupied the entire top five. By April 11th, they had 14 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, 1. Can’t Buy Me Love 2. Twist & Shout 3. She Loves You 4. I Want To Hold Your Hand 5. Please Please Me 31. I Saw Her Standing There 41. From Me To You 46. Do You Want To Know A Secret 58. All My Loving 65. You Can’t Do That 68. Roll Over Beethoven, 79. Thank You Girl. 81. There’s A Place, and 83. Love Me Do. They also held down the top two album spots, an unimaginable, unthinkable achievement in this, or any other day and age.
By mid-February the record companies knew that something was going on that once again had caught them off guard (as always), so off they went, calling their British counterparts to see what was available, and hightailing it over to England on red-eye flights to sign anything in tight pants, long hair, and Cuban heeled boots. Those with less resources started releasing hastily thrown together albums featuring studio musicians and 3rd rate signings who were stripped of their real names and became part of groups called The Beetles, The Bugs, The Mosquitos, and the Bee-tels, thereby missing the entire Buddy Holly and the Crickets connection The Beatles had used to come up with their name, not to mention the Beat Music movement in England that figured prominently in their decision. They were a beat group, with a singularly simple and memorable name. The ‘insectual’ misunderstanding demonstrated by so many people probably bugged them no end…sorry.
Over in England, the American success of the Beatles added fuel to an already epic fire that was seeing bands from every small city in Great Britain being signed, suited up, recorded, and exploited at an accelerating speed. The publicists, managers, and labels were busy labeling everything and writing press releases as fast as their typewriters would allow. The recordings were sometimes pressed and released before the songs were even finished. The British record labels were giddy with delight. For the first time in recorded music history, there was a huge demand for British product in America, and they were more than happy to make deals, lease product, and reap the financial rewards afforded everyone thanks to the success of one four piece rock and roll band. British radio embraced their own home grown music, and in the U.S…well, even Hammond organ players from Des Moines Iowa were sprouting an approximation of an English accent and calling girls ‘birds’, getting beat up by the local high school football team for growing their hair long, wearing ‘dickies’, and wobbling around in mail order ‘Beatle Boots’. Everybody wanted more of this music…and that’s just what we got.
In North America, radio could not play enough Beatle songs to fill the demand, so when the flood of records from England began to be released here, radio jumped on the bandwagon immediately. Overnight, England, gray, dreary, boil-your-meat England, became the hippest place in the world, and the music (soon joined by the fashion, the style, and the slang) divided the populace into two camps, a North American equivalent of England’s Mods and Rockers, the borders of which wouldn’t become blurred until the ‘Rockers’ realized the ‘Mods’ were getting all the girls and started to grow their hair long too. To quote an old friend of mine, Lon Dudley, “I finally grew my hair long when I realized the ‘fags’ were getting all the tail.” Crass, to be sure…but a fairly accurate assessment of the situation. Lesson? Long hair may have made you look like a girl…but it also attracted girls, and if you were in one of the thousands of newly formed bands inspired by The Beatles music, if you were one of the boys who took it upon himself to learn how to play an instrument, or write a song because of four young men from half a world away…then you will remember the empowerment of those times and that music. Suddenly, it was worth the jeers and catcalls and random fists that greeted you from time to time. You had hope and goals and seemingly obtainable dreams, and most importantly you had a sense of belonging to something greater than yourself. A movement, almost a religion, and you were not alone. Every generation has a unifying/defining/divisive movement, something that encourages dreams and possibilities in the young and the disenfranchised, and frightens the status quo and to a great extent, The British Invasion was my generation’s locus.
Much to the record companies and radio’s credit, they acted in tandem to accommodate a ravenous public. They didn’t ignore the calls, the requests, or the fans. They stepped up and went looking for, and exposed, tons of new music and artists, to which the kids responded by making record companies and radio stations popular, powerful…and wealthy. Some Jocks, like Murray the K, (pictured here) became known outside their own markets, and some radio stations became iconic, even overseas, thanks to the way they treated the visiting musicians and their music. Some record companies, because of their respect for the music and artists, became much desired allies, and attracted great new talent because of their commitment to good music as well as commerce.
These labels and Jocks would lead to the advent of an even greater shift in the musical landscape that would grow naturally out of the British Invasion and the reaction to it both good, and bad.
The Beatles were soon joined on the radio by the Dave Clark Five, The Kinks, The Who, The Rolling Stones and the Animals, not to mention dozens of other artists, and one-hit-wonders like The Swingin’ Blue Jeans, whose music was resonating with the teen population. At some point the overwhelming takeover of the airwaves and the hearts and souls of North America’s teenagers was deemed The British Invasion. It was more than that. It was a rekindling of youth and spirit. It was a rallying point for the youthful masses who had been so devastated by the loss of their young president just months before, and a tonic for the melancholy of discovering that happy endings and justice are not necessarily forthcoming in every story. It was a return to the promise of hope and joy…and you could dance to it. It was perfect timing in a world of imperfection, and how dare anyone try and stop this wondrous thing from happening. Some, of course, would do their best to stop it from happening.
Schools instituted more dress codes and addressed hair length. Some Southern radio stations, with the help of local preachers, banned the music and the dancing to it just like they had a decade earlier with Elvis. Some music critics bemoaned the end of sanity in recorded music while others likened the movement to the Visigoths invading Rome. Still others dissected and analyzed the music so anally, that it sounded more like science than talent and creativity. Even recently this practice continues.
Some parents reacted by grounding their kids from participating in any “Beatle” related activity, and marched them off to the dreaded Barber Shop, and some otherwise intelligent artists spoke out against the music and the people who made it in radio interviews, on television shows, and in newspapers and magazines. I will never forget Len Barry, who had been a member of the Dovells (Bristol Stomp) on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show promoting his then current hit, 1 2 3 . It was 1966, but there he was, ragging on the Rolling Stones and calling them less than worthy of having hit records. Although he has had a good career since then, mostly as a writer, he never had another hit record teenagers bought in the U.S. 1 2 3 was a great record though, but I can’t understand why he didn’t get the Rolling Stones, who at the time were introducing great blues artists to an unsuspecting white middle class audience and bringing people like Muddy Waters (pictured here with Mick Jagger) and Howlin’ Wolf to England for live shows and recordings, and picking up the tab.
I have called the Rolling Stones The World’s Luckiest Bar Band on more than one occasion, and I still believe that to be true, but I have always loved and admired them for their steadfast belief in their roots and their unwavering attempts to bring great, forgotten blues artists to the attention of the general public. Some of their material, and their championing of blues made them the perfect ‘bad boy’ antithesis to The Beatles fresh faced persona, but in real life, Lennon made even Keith Richards look like a choir boy.
The British Invasion morphed into The British Occupation in late 1966. British music was so entrenched in the North American psyche that American and Canadian bands had emerged with all the accoutrements of the British bands, but with their own take on the re-invention of American rock and roll and rhythm and blues the British had brought to bear. By 1967, there was even a ‘retro’ movement that became known as ‘Bubblegum’ and had its share of followers and hits. Mostly manufactured by labels that had missed out on the British Invasion, it provided those who did not wish to move on with the artists that were quickly developing into formidable musicians and writers expanding the boundaries of contemporary music, an alternative. Bubblegum allowed them to continue to have the simple, hook laden music that personified the beginnings of the Invasion and maintained the innocence (albeit with none-too-subtly disguised sexual innuendo) that they were beginning to miss. Again, radio was the benefactor of the continuing interest in music, and rose to the occasion. If you wanted to hear anything, you could find it on your favourite radio stations.
On December 3rd, 1965, The Beatles released Rubber Soul, their 6th album in 2 years. It was a much more sophisticated and diverse collection of songs than they had previously released. In August of 1966, they followed it up with Revolver, an album that was even more adventurous and demanding of the listener. The Beatles were evolving, and other artists began to evolve as well. The Beatles made it possible for everyone to experiment and try new ideas and musical forms. It was the fulfillment of the promise laid out in rock and roll’s earliest recordings. This music is of worth. It has a future. It is timeless.
In August of 1966, as Revolver was being released, The Beatles played their last live concert in North America at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. They decided to quit touring because it was becoming increasingly difficult to reproduce live what they were accomplishing in the studio. At the same time, more and more bands were experimenting with sound in the studio as well, and the radio friendly 2 or 3 minute song was beginning to disappear and be replaced by longer, more complex compositions.
The record companies, now enjoying a full move to albums as well as their ‘hit single’ paradigm were encouraging their artists to stretch out and pursue new sounds and ideas. The major labels were continuing to seek out and sign new bands and solo artists and were adding tour support and development money into the mix.
By the summer of 1967, the record industry was awash in new, exciting product and the Monterey Pop Festival introduced some of the local Bay Area music scene to the press and public as well as bringing everyone from Otis Redding to the Mamas and Papas to the stage for what would be the first ever event of its kind. There were acts on the bill that defied description at the time and the music they were making was a far cry from the radio friendly ditties of the British Invasion years. A secondary band from the Invasion became stars overnight, as did a Seattle based guitarist who had come back from England with a new sound that would see guitar players everywhere looking at their instruments in a new light. Even the audience was looking different, Carnaby Street was being replaced by exotic clothes from India and Asia, and lyrics were addressing issues that only folk music had targeted earlier. Sloe Gin and Beer was shunted to the side, and the sweet, pungent odor of cannabis wafted across the an audience whose hair was much longer, clothes much more colorful, and taste in music was more eclectic. The most amazing aspect however, was that this new music, which would usher in the Rock era, leaving the ‘roll’ by the wayside, was eagerly championed by the record labels and promoted and supported as much as their most successful career artists. It was the summer of love, and San Francisco was the nexus. Mods and Rockers became Hippies and Straights, and there was plenty of music for all.
Where the record industry had rejected the status quo and sought to expose new and interesting forms of contemporary music, radio had a more difficult time. Having discovered and accepted a format that allowed them to play the most popular music more often while adding less new artists and forms of music to the mix, they were drifting away from the free-form spirit of the new rock era and leaning more towards keeping teenagers attention with the youthful sound that had been so successful in the past. When the more progressive DJ’s started to play the new music on their shows, some stations drew a line in the sand, and sided with the more familiar sounds and artists they had been playing. Still, the demand for the new music was quickly spreading and growing and needed an outlet where it could be heard. Since Sgt. Peppers, a faction of music fans were no longer satisfied with just a hit song on the radio, they wanted to hear more from their favourite artists and labels. The solution was one that would impact radio for all time. Radio was about to split into two unique animals. One continuing to play the hits on the familiar and raucous AM dial, and the other, subdued and serious about the music it played, treating it as more than just popular entertainment.
The man that initially made the move was one of the ‘progressive’ DJ’s from a powerhouse AM station (KYA) named Tom Donahue, the station he was about to launch was an FM outlet that served as a Chinese language station during the day, and the city that was about to give birth to this new, freeform style of radio was San Francisco, which was about to be shaken up far more than it was by the 1906 earthquake. Rock music was about to go underground…
Part 9 – The Rock Era…explaining Jimi Hendrix to your Grandmother.
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.