On September 16, 1963 The Beatles released “She Loves You” in the US. Though it didn’t become a hit until four months later (along with “I Want to Hold Your Hand”), we could legitimately celebrate this week as the semicentennial of the rock revolt!
Sure, rock & roll first caught fire in the mid-50s, but the flame was quickly doused when Elvis, Chuck, Buddy, Jerry Lee, and Little Richard departed the scene a few years later. Rock 2.0, however, would change the face of music forever.
I recently read that 75% of us are not old enough to have witnessed this period. That probably means that most of us don’t appreciate the creative destruction that The Beatles wreaked on pop music at the time—beginning with the Hit Parade!
When the public at large first heard the music of The Beatles in December 1963, the #1 record on the Billboard Hot 100 was “Dominique” by the Singing Nun (sung in French about St. Dominic!). Other #1's of that year included rip-roaring scorchers by Nino Tempo and April Stevens, Bobby Vinton, Kyu Sakamoto, Little Peggy March, and Steve Lawrence. Not! These performers were pleasant-sounding balladeers—and lovely folks, no doubt—but they didn’t rock, swing, or shake your money-maker.
Now contrast that with 1964, when The Beatles owned the #1 spot with “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “She Loves You,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Love Me Do,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” and “I Feel Fine.” Other #1's that year included tunes by The Animals, Roy Orbison, The Supremes, and Manfred Mann. 1965 would bring more Beatles songs to the top of the charts—including “Eight Days a Week,” “Ticket to Ride,” and “Help!”—as well as those of the Temptations, Four Tops, Byrds, and the Rolling Stones. A different kind of pop music had taken over, paving the way for harder (and funkier) music to come—but also music that was more diversified and inventive, if not wildly experimental.
More and more, singers and groups began to perform their own songs. Pop lyrics became more meaningful and imaginative. (Bob Dylan gets some props for that.) Record production became more innovative. Albums became as important as singles. Album jackets became art objects. Bands began to make movies. This was all the legacy of The Beatles. The Fabs even revolutionized hairstyling, clothing, recreational habits, and, yes, spiritual practices.
When their Sgt. Pepper album ushered in “the summer of love” in 1967, the transformation of pop music—and pop culture—was fully underway.
But a few years later, while still at the top of their game, this small business team called it quits. The ultimate act of creative destruction! They had achieved what they had set out to do. They had gone to the “toppermost of the poppermost" (their playfully articulated goal from the beginning). They had become “bigger than Elvis.” And, more importantly, they had raised the creativity bar sky-high for pop music and art. It was time to move on. (It might not have been a conscious decision to go out on top, but when the cracks and fissures opened up in their business—the disagreements about artistic direction and managerial control—none of them tried very hard to keep the group going.)
How many businesses quit while they’re ahead? How many companies, once they’ve achieved what they’ve set out to do, voluntarily wind themselves down or spin themselves off? How many organizations realize that self-perpetuation is not their purpose? How many enterprises are "built to make a difference" (or "built to rock") instead of "built to last"? Useful questions for the Creative Economy.
Something to think about this week, a half-century after The Beatles began to blow up pop music.
For more on creative destruction, check here.
[Editor's note: we did an re-evaluation of The Singing Nun's contribution a few weeks later. Check here.]