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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Mass Media and the Rock'n'Roll Phenomenum - The Beatles


In order to understand the Beatles phenomenon, we must go back in time and analyze the historical environment in which they are inserted. Let us consider WWII as a starting point. In their essence we may refer to the Beatles as baby-boomers, though they were born shortly before the baby boom period. As far as the Baby Boom is concerned it is a known fact, that due to the post-war demographic expansion, many countries in the Western world had problems with juvenile delinquency. But also, a younger consuming market was created. A generation coming of age that would later come to question the "establishment", mistrust politician's promises and anybody over the age of 30.

In this scenery, other icons were to flourish.

The Environment

The post-war environment in Europe was one of reconstruction and low morale, due to the loss of references brought about by the worldwide conflict. Main cities in Europe had been utterly destroyed, bringing up psychological and behavioral changes in the European population as a whole. Famous artists and public personalities, who used to be idols in pre-war Europe, were buried in oblivion along with the chaos. That is the landscape in which the Beatles for example, were brought up.

Europe was looking for new ideas, for the old was gone and shattered. America in turn was a source of inspiration to war torn Europe. This made room for some cultural movements in Europe, as opposed to the beautiful landscape in America.

Some of these movements include the Mods who expressed themselves by worshipping a way of life that was based on black suits and black music, specially the rhythm and blues, shades and scooters. There were also the “Exies”, the Existentialists, inspired by Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre born in Paris, France; died there on April 15, 1980 - novelist, playwright, existentialist philosopher; received a doctorate in philosophy at the Sorbonne that tended to see the bleak side of human nature.

America on the other hand had not been a battle ground scene as it happened across the Atlantic. So in this sense the US tended to be increasingly conservative, to show the world that social institutions worked alright in America at least. Nonetheless, rebel types of hero, like James Dean, Elvis Presley and Marlon Brandon were on demand by the youth, contrasting to the conservative, family-oriented outlook of the Western world in the 50´s. The youth was eager for new cultural icons. As a result, the sixties became the age of youth, as 70 million children from the post-war baby boom had been born.

At the same time, conservative values would in contrast include prejudice, racism and segregation as well. Such values were to be reinforced in the aftermath of WWII. America was more likely to be a family-centered culture, which did not completely allow letting out all the power of the youth, despite upcoming North-American icons. One might say youngsters up to that moment simply did not have the tools to pull the trigger to a more defying behavior. The stage was set for Rock and Roll and its cultural consequences. The world would never be the same after rock and roll came into the scene for a dissension against the conservative fifties that eventually resulted in revolutionary ways of thinking and real change in the cultural fabric of American life. No longer content to be images of the generation ahead of them, young people wanted change. Such changes would affect education, values, lifestyles, laws, and entertainment further on.

In the meantime, Rock and Roll emerged as a genre in the American South in the 50´s. First starting as African-American Rhythm and Blues music (called Race Music); it became popular among the white audience thanks to DJ Alan Freed from Cleveland, Ohio, coining the term Rock and Roll. Rock and Roll comes as a natural evolution of Rhythm’n’Blues and the Blues brought by Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, Roy Gaines and other African American names.

Not only they did plant the seeds of rock and roll as we know it, but they also gave birth to a new beat, which would later be adopted by youngsters in the UK. However, this type of music was not consumed by the white population, due to prejudice.

Rock and roll was to become more popular as white musicians such as Elvis Presley, and Pat Boone among others started to record African American musician hits, with a white accent. Yet Black rock'n'roll artists such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard – probably the “real fathers of rock'n'roll were not even given credits. Just to illustrate what is being explained, Little Richard stated once about Tutti-Frutti: “They put Pat Boone's record on top of the dresser, and they put mine in the drawer under the socks - but I was in the same house.”

The Alan Freed’s factor

Alan Freed, the disc jockey credited with naming rock & roll, was born Albert James Freed on December 15, 1921, near Johnstown, PA. In high school Freed formed a band known as the Sultans of Swing, in which he played trombone.

In 1942 Freed landed his first broadcasting job, at WKST (New Castle, PA). He took a sportscasting position at WKBN (Youngstown, OH) the following year. In 1945 he moved to WAKR (Akron, OH) and became a local favorite, playing hot jazz and pop recordings.

In 1949 Freed moved to WXEL-TV in Cleveland. Record store owner Leo Mintz convinced him to emcee a program of rhythm & blues records over WJW radio, and on July 11, 1951, calling himself "Moondog," Freed went on the air. At his "Moondog Coronation Ball" at the 10,000-capacity Cleveland Arena in March 1952, upwards of 20,000 fans (almost all black) crashed the gates, causing the dance to be cancelled. This is considered to be the first "rock" concert. It also marked the point at which Freed's audience began to include an increasing number of whites — who subsequently heard Freed refer to rhythm & blues as "rock & roll."

In September 1954 Freed was hired by WINS radio in New York. The following January he held a landmark dance there, promoting black performers as rock & roll artists. Within a month, the music industry was advertising "rock & roll" records in the trade papers.

Radio Luxembourg

Due to the tremendous power that the signal of Radio Luxembourg enjoyed throughout much of Western Europe, his choice of music encouraged imitation by many domestic groups. The record companies also bought time on Luxembourg to further promote the music of Little Richard, Chuck Berry and other African American artists. Who were the kids in England listening to these sounds at that time? We might say the ones that were growing up along with the reconstruction of a torn apart Europe.

Eager for new trends which would enable them to express their wilderness and rebellion, rock and roll was adopted by the European youth, mostly the British baby-boomers.

The sounds of Radio Luxembourg were heard in places such as Liverpool, England where youngsters who later became famous as The Beatles were also listening and attempting to copy the music they heard. Freed had featured in the famous Rock’n’Roll movie called Rock Around the Clock in that year, which “wrecked the movie theater in Liverpool” according to Ringo Starr who was among the youngsters that attended the opening of the movie in his hometown. Freed’s radio show was then booked onto Radio Luxembourg a pirate radio, thus making “Black Rock’n’Roll” popular in The UK.

The Paradox

American Bandstand TV Show starts being aired in the US at a time when British Youth was already in touch with Rock’n’Roll

It is worth mentioning Dick Clark’s TV show in the late 50’s called American Bandstand (first aired on the ABC network on Monday, 5 August 1957 – coincidently enough is the fact that, Paul McCartney met John Lennon when Lennon's group the Quarrymen played at the Garden Fete, St. Peter's Church, in Woolton, Liverpool on June 7th, 1957, that is, two months before the Dick Clark’s show was first aired in The US! A historical paradox - American Bandstand was one of the few television shows where one would get to see Black people. Dick Clark was remarkable in that he had all of best of the Black rock 'n' roll artists on his show. Dick Clark revealed to the public where the originality of this music was coming from. Over the years Clark gave young Black entertainers a stage to perform on, nationally.

Who were the kids in England listening to Rock and Roll at that time? We might say the ones that were growing up along with the reconstruction of a torn apart Europe.

The Beatlemania and the Subsequent British Invasion

Rock bands started to pop-up everywhere in The UK, heavily influenced by US African American artists that were not given credit at home. British youngsters would listen to the Blues singers as well. Fair to mention that the Rolling Stones themselves were big fans of blues artists, such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker and so forth. What followed was that huge numbers of youngsters started to be self-taught guitar players - among which we might quote George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and others - by listening to African American Rock and Roll artists, thus creating the basis for the “so called” British Rock. Rock and Roll under this format was packed and sold back to the US white audience.

The door to the US was opened by the Beatles performing on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964. The term “Beatlemania” was used during the 1960s to describe fan frenzy (particularly by young teenaged girls) towards The Beatles. The movie * A Hard Day’s Night is a perfect chronicle of Beatlemania and in a deeper analysis; one might understand that not only does it depict the Beatlemania, but it may also suggest the need for old traditional and conservative values to be replaced. The youth taking power, unwillingly to accept pre-war concepts and behaviors. This can be seen in scenes that involve two old men on a train where the Beatles are traveling. The first old man to be shown in the movie plays the role of a troublemaker and the second one claims he should be respect due to having thought the war for them by saying: “I thought the war for your sort”. Many fans across the world were known to have Beatlemania, which hit the United States hard after The Beatles performed at the Ed Sullivan Show. Such appearance is a landmark as to what was later referred to as the British Invasion (1963-1967). This historic performance became a major "port of entry" for the many bands that followed such as The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Herman's Hermits, The Searchers and others, many of them delivering definitive performances of now classic songs that continue to resonate to this day. As a result, an uncountable number of British bands started to score in US hit charts.

The Beatles and The Ed Sullivan Show

On February 9, 1964 The Beatles takes "The Ed Sullivan Show" stage and sends waves of teen-agers into screaming convulsions across America, bewildering millions of parents. A new top 100 list from VH1 and Entertainment Weekly magazine says that was rock 'n' roll's biggest TV moment - the day Beatlemania hit the states and stayed. An estimated 73 million people were watching that night in '64. John Lennon was so nervous he taped song lyrics to the back of his guitar. As Ringo Starr explained, the band didn't realize until it arrived in America how important Sullivan's Sunday night showcase was.

In order to understand the way the North-American youngsters embraced the Beatles in 1964 on The Ed Sullivan Show, it would be noteworthy not to lose sight of the fact that the North-American society was still living under the JFK trauma, for the North-American president, John F. Kennedy, had been shot to death on November 22nd, 1963 while parading in an open car along the streets of Dallas, Texas. America was mourning the death of President John F. Kennedy and The Beatles appeared on the scene to bring them fun and excitement and end their mourning. They also brought back rock 'n' roll to America in a different package.
The British Invasion had been embodied and later defined as a Rock and Roll genre!

The Beatles and the Mass Culture

The Beatles start starring in an age of mass culture, which was later addressed as the “Global Village” with reference to the electronic communications revolution and the importance of mass communication by Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian educator, philosopher, and scholar, professor of English literature, literary critic, and communications theorist, one of the founders of the study of media ecology – in his 1962 The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man book.

Brief and to the Point:

In order to understand the whole Beatlemania, we choose to study what the factors which led to it were. Whether we are right or wrong, it is us up to our readers decide! We only try to present the facts!


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