The following is solely the opinion of the author.
Let’s stop a moment and take a breath and look at what was happening in America in 1964. We were now about eight or nine years into the rock and roll era and for all intents and purposes, rock and roll was, if not dead, it was on a respirator and struggling to stay alive.
Rock and roll had started out as a form of rebellion. This was not your parent’s music. This was music intended for the young, for the teenager, for the person who wanted to listen to something other than what their parents were listening to. We had artists like Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. Never before had we seen the likes of performers like that. Then along came the king, Elvis Presley. He was so controversial that Ed Sullivan would not photograph him from the waist down.
Let’s face it, the Fifties rocked. They were truly the start of rock and roll. Then the Sixties came along. What happened? The music started to slow down. It wasn’t sudden, but soon we were listening to music that our parents actually approved of. 1963 was the last straw. I would have said goodbye to rock and roll if 1963 was going to the style of music we would listen to from then on.
If you looked hard enough, you could see cracks that were beginning to form in the music business. Bob Dylan was recording songs like “The Times They Are a-Changin’” and “Blowin’ in the Wind,” but neither of those charted, although they would later become classics. But these songs, while they can be applied to music, were not really about music. They were about social problems in this country. Dylan was making a statement about what he saw happening in this country as the United States got deeper and deeper into the Vietnam War.
The number one song of 1963 was “Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs. The year started out with Steve Lawrence and ended with the Singing Nun. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love those songs. I enjoy them now and I enjoyed them in 1963. But, were they rock and roll? I don’t think so. Rock and roll is supposed to be a disruptive influence. We needed to get back to our parents hating the music we were listening to. What would have happened if the music had never changed from 1963? Luckily, it did change. In February of 1964, that change came from Liverpool, England.
From the beginning of the rock era, which I mark as “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets, there were only five number one songs by non-American artists. That was about to change in a big way. By the end of 1964, there were nine more number ones by non-American acts. And that trend would continue, well, right up until the present.
Four lads from England would invade America and perform on the biggest stage in this country, the Ed Sullivan Show. On February 9, 1964, The Beatles appeared on the Sullivan show and the world would never be the same. I believe it is not too strong to say that the Beatles saved rock and roll, as I mentioned it was on a respirator. The Beatles were the group who breathed life back into it.
What’s funny is that at the time, in 1964, I didn’t really recognize what was happening. I know some did, but I was just a person who listened to the radio and either liked or didn’t like what I heard. And the Beatles were different. I liked them. But I couldn’t have predicted the impact they would have on music and on America as a whole. The music world would never be the same. It was hard to predict that at the time, but now, it is very easy to look back on that year and see the change that was The Beatles. Stay tuned: We are about to experience the British Invasion.