Music History

How the Beatles Changed EVERYTHING 50 Years Ago

Here’s an excerpt from a new ebook (via The Daily Beast) entitled Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Beatles and America, Then and Now by Michael Tomasky.

If there’s one idea on which humanity doesn’t need to be sold, it’s that The Beatles were good. But I say, as we approach the 50th anniversary of their arrival in America, we need to be reminded of what precisely it was that made them great. Because that gets lost as the years pass. The story gets reduced to its most threadbare clichés. Tributes on television are scrunched into ever-shorter segments. A clip of them performing in 1964 or ’65 appears on VH1 for about four seconds; to a young person watching today, they must look as quaint as an old ladies’ baking society. Without a proper discussion of the social and cultural contexts in which the group first appeared, it’s impossible to understand why they had the impact they did, and why, half a century later, they still hover over the culture the way they do.
The America that existed in early 1964 was a society that was changing, starting to boil, that was ready for… something; a volcano spitting out little bursts of lava, the townspeople watching nervously below, waiting for the event that would come along to trigger the big eruption. In demography and technology and publishing and film and science and politics, the things that became the enormous changes that we now call “The Sixties” were tentatively getting their new clothes on. But in pop music, not so much; after the raucous mid-’50s, the industry softened itself. Of course there was great and interesting music coming out in 1962 and 1963, out of Detroit and Memphis and Chicago; but for the most part, the music that dominated the charts was candied, bleached of anything that might produce in its pubescent listener an impertinent or certainly a sexual thought.And then, in February 1964, boom.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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