Study: The Beatles Did Not Set off a Music Revolution in America
Do we actually live in a world where Hip Hop has had more than an influence on American music than The Beatles and the 'British Invasion"? That's the theory being put forth by researchers in the UK, who say Hip Hop marked the single most radical change in the history of U.S. music charts.
In an article in the Daily Telegraph, those same researchers are also disputing the popularly held belief that The Beatles' 1964 performance on The Ed Sullivan Show kicked off a sort of music revolution in the United States:
Researchers at Queen Mary University of London and Imperial College London have been studying the evolution of music between 1960 and 2010, and found that the changes sparked by the band were already developing long before they set foot on American soil.
The conclusion of the music scholars? The Beatles didn't start the movement, they simply joined it. They point to the early 1960's when American music started to move away from pop ballads to more up tempo styles like doo wop. Those researchers claim to have compared all tracks that appeared on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 between 1960 and 2010 and found that similar sounds were present before The Beatles arrived.
I have some problems with their findings.
In February 1964, when The Beatles made their U.S. television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, they were watched by 73 million viewers, roughly two fifths of the total American population. To claim that an event of that magnitude wasn't the beginning of something special is laughable. Certainly groups like The Beach Boys and others were around then, but The Beatles showed American teenagers just how popular rock and roll could be.
I would also argue that the impact of The Beatles coming to America was two-fold: instantly changing attitudes and tastes, but also inspiring the next generation of hit makers.
- Bruce Springsteen (at a 1980 concert in Philadelphia, shortly after John Lennon was killed):
The first record that I ever learned was a record called "Twist and Shout". It was a Beatles record. If it wasn’t for John Lennon, we’d all be some place very different tonight. It’s an unreasonable world and you get asked to live with a lot of things that are just unlivable. It’s a hard night to come out and play but there’s just nothing else you can do.
- Gene Simmons - KISS (in an Interview with the Liverpool Echo):
There is no way I’d be doing what I do now if it wasn’t for the Beatles. I was watching The Ed Sullivan Show and I saw them. Those skinny little boys, kind of androgynous, with long hair like girls. It blew me away that these four boys in the middle of nowhere could make that music. Then they spoke and I thought, ‘What are they talking like?’ We had never heard the Liverpool accent before. I thought that all British people spoke like the Queen. The only time you heard a British accent was when they played the Nazi in war films.
- Billy Joel (in an interview with The Republican):
The single biggest moment that I can remember being galvanized into wanting to be a musician for life was seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show.
- Nancy Wilson - Heart (in an interview with Believer):
The lightning bolt came out of the heavens and struck Ann and me the first time we saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. There’d been so much anticipation and hype about the Beatles that it was a huge event, like the lunar landing: that was the moment Ann and I heard the call to become rock musicians. I was seven or eight at the time. They were really pushing hard against the morality of the times. That might seem funny to say now, since it was in their early days and they were still wearing suits. But the sexuality was bursting out of the seams. They had crazy long hair. They seemed to us then like the punks seemed to the next generation – way out of the box for the time… Right away we started doing air guitar shows in the living room, faking English accents, and studying all the fanzines… Luckily, our parents were both musical and supportive about us getting into music. So it didn’t take all the begging in the world to convince them we had to have guitars. We taught ourselves to play off the Beatles’ albums and the trusty old Mel Bay chord book. Pretty soon we knew every Brit pop song that was out.
- Brian Wilson - The Beach Boys (in an interview with The Times of London about the album Rubber Soul):
As soon as I started hearing it, I loved it. I mean, loved it! I still remember hearing Michelle for the first time, and Girl. What an incredible song! Everything about the way John Lennon sang, and the lyrics he was writing… It sounded amazing. Norwegian Wood is my favorite, too. The lyrics are so good, and so creative… I can’t forget the sitar, too, I’d never heard that before, that unbelievable sound. No one had heard that in rock ‘n’ roll back then, this amazing, exotic sound. It really did inspire the instrumentation I ended up using for Pet Sounds.
- Joe Walsh - James Gang, The Eagles (in an interview with Rolling Stone):
I took one look on The Ed Sullivan Show and it was, ‘F**k school! This makes it! I memorized every Beatles song and went to Shea Stadium and screamed right along with all those chicks. My parents still have a picture of me all slicked up, with a collarless Beatles jacket and Beatles boots, playing at the prom.
- Dave Grohl - Nirvana & the Foo Fighters (in an interview with Access Hollywood):
When I was young, that’s how I learned how to play music – I had a guitar and a Beatles songbook. I would listen to the records and play along. Of course, it didn’t sound like the Beatles, but it got me to understand song structure and melody and harmony and arrangement. So, I never had a teacher – I just had these Beatles records.
There is no disputing the impact The Beatles coming to America had on these legends. Sometimes words speak louder than numbers. Take that music scholars!