You say goodby, I say Hello Dolly!

Beatles LoveI often like to point out that The Beatles bulldozed the pop charts in 1964—and mercilessly laid waste to the musical milquetoast of the era. The Fabs ruled the Top 40 early that year with their original brand of rock, even holding the top five spots on the Billboard charts that April—a feat unlikely to be repeated in the lifetime of anyone reading this.

It was 50 years ago this month that the the Beatles' grip on the #1 spot was finally broken by Louis Armstrong's “Hello, Dolly!”—a great reminder that most of the artists who had major chart success after the Beatles' arrival had more talent and substance than the ones before (at least since the demise of early rock & roll in 1959). Somehow Satchmo, Mary Wells, the Supremes, and Roy Orbison managed to survive the Beatles’ onslaught. Yes, many decent soul and pop acts were crowded out of the Hit Parade by the British Invasion—and probably had their careers shortened. But one could argue (and I do) that the fittest survived. In the years that followed, the fittest included Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Smoky Robinson and the Miracles. Credit The Beatles and the survivors.

Music critic Elijah Wald in his controversial book, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music, argues the case that a lot of good, solid, rootsy music was elbowed off the stage by the white rock & roll that followed in the wake of The Beatles. A fair point actually.

Yet many of those rock & roll acts are forgotten now. Only the most talented have endured (e.g., the Rolling Stones). And the Stevie Wonders of the world did just fine too. Something good always gets lost in a creative revolution. But what gets generated is usually worth it.


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3 Comments

  1. Anything those "shoved out" bands recorded is probably still available, so "lost" isn't the right word, unless it refers to any future efforts they didn't make because their publishers, agents, managers, didn't have (or take) the time and effort.

    Having just finished my second Jude Kessler book (her first in the series, my second to read) I'm struck by John Lennon's supernova level of energy and commitment. If Jude has her story right (as if she could be doubted!) he could have made the Beatles the biggest group in the world if he'd had nothing to work with but cherrystone clams. Three guys who knew what they were doing just made his manic obsession happen faster.

    Those bands who were "shoved aside" by the Beatles certainly saw their world turned upside down, but it was a time in history when everyone else in every aspect of life saw the same. Those who adapted, either by starting over or making what they already did relevant again are the ones we remember.

    I'm glad we live in a time when the biggest act in the world doesn't mean the demise of the smallest. Bob's Lawnmower Repair and Bluegrass Rap can still record and perform, even if the Beatles were to have a reunion tour.

    Roger Miller and Garth Brooks each destroyed country music in their own time and manner, but I can still listen to all the Hanks and Jimmies I want (along with more Roger Miller than most folks would consider healthy.)

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