Conventional wisdom says that when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964, they changed everything. Their first appearance on February 9 attracted 73 million viewers–three-quarters of all US households at the time–good for a 60 share. That very night, thousands upon thousands of kids made up their mind: “I’m gonna form a band.”
The Beatles provided a breath of fresh air to a nation laid low by the brutal assassination of their president. Rock exploded across the land. Music–and popular culture–was never the same. The echos of those TV appearances can still be felt today.
Or so the story goes.
The problem is that while we accept the Beatles-saved-rock theory as fact, there’s this nasty bit of contrary empirical evidence that suggests the Beatles didn’t start the rock revolution in America after all. The details lie some genetic data tools applied to popular music in America.
[A] question hotly debated by music commentators is how British bands such as the Beatles and The Rolling Stones influenced the American music scene in the early 1960s. Mauch [Matthias Mauch at Queen Mary University of London] and co are emphatic in their conclusion. “The British did not start the American revolution of 1964,” they say.
The team say the data clearly shows the revolution underway before The Beatles arrived in the States in 1964. However, British bands certainly rode the wave and played an important part in the way the revolution occurred.
That’s fascinating work. Because musicians copy, repeat and modify song styles they like, this leads to a clear pattern of evolution over time. So it should come as no surprise that techniques developed for the analysis of genetic data should work on music data as well. “The selective forces acting upon new songs are at least partly captured by their rise and fall through the ranks of the charts,” they say.
Their findings can be found at Medium.com. It’s a bit geeky and it helps if you have a handle on music theory, but it’s a fascinating premise.