Monday 31 January 2011

News, Views and Music Issue 89 (Top Five): The most influential non-musicians onthe 1960s

This week, another of our mad little existential debates for you. Anyone who has done even a little amount of research into the 1960s will know that the sudden impact of the Beatles was bound to happen sometime, some place, in some format to somebody. It just seems like something had to give – the more you read about the years up to 1963 and the outpouring of Beatlemania more or less around the world in that year the more you realise that the world was just waiting for something to happen. The Beatles were just lucky enough (or unlucky enough, given George Harrison’s later comments about ‘giving up his nervous system’ to be in the band) to be there (and The Beatles were hardly the only band connecting to rock and roll and looking for something new either – almost every artist on our list from the 1960s was gigging before the band had even met Brian Epstein). Of course it goes without saying that the biggest influences on the bands were other bands, mainly American musicians like Elvis, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly or unsung heroes like The Everly Brothers, Arthur Alexander and The Kingsmen. But that would be boring and far too straightforward for our top five (we also covered something similar with our five greatest pre-Beatles/Beach Boys songs on ‘News, Views and Music’ no 27 if that’s the sort of thing you want to read). So here are the top five non-musical influences on the 1960s era in general that broke the mould and allowed the unstoppable force of Beatlemania to take hold.

5) The Marx Brothers: What do a bunch of comedians who were arguably at their peak some 30 years before ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ have to do with the 1960s spirit of freedom and equality? Well, that question can only be asked by anybody who hasn’t actually seen the films (and I recommend every Beatles and Monkees fan does, simply to see where their filmic influences came from) because The Marx Brothers are pure 1960s nihilism in every way but the dress sense. Every time Groucho Marx insults a celebrity, every time Harpo insults social class by running off with a young rich girl, every time Chico wreaks havoc with a piano in stark contrast to how you were told top behave in your prim and proper music lessons, you can just see the children of the 1930s and 40s going ‘wow, I so wish I could do that’, even if they don’t always get the jokes the brothers put in simply to keep the mums and dads amused. Anyone whose ever seen Groucho Marx stand up to authority, actively insult it and get away with it without question and laughed their socks off as the fuming aristocrats is surely a child of the 60s, whatever their generation, and the comedy partnership’s influence on the whole anti-establishment flower power era, via the jokes in ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and The Monkees’ TV show, is incalculable. Surprisingly though the only Marx Brothers reference I can find in song is a throwaway line on Cat Stevens’ ‘Ghost Town’, where Chico and Harpo are throwing custard pies at their ‘brother’ Karl Marx! Another leading influence is of course The Goon Show – and particularly chief writers Spike Milligan and Michael Bentine – who were even more directly responsible for inspiring John Lennon in particular, but that’s something that’s been better written about by other writers elsewhere. Suffice to say the word-punning of Beatles press conferences, their Christmas fanclub records and Lennon’s three books of prose would never have been the same without Eccles, Bluebottle and Neddy Seagoon.

4) Tony Hancock, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson: While The Marx Brothers and their many gag writers specialised in situations you wanted to be in but could never possibly be brave enough to do, the other side of the coin is comedians who specialised in making real life funny. Writers Galton and Simpson were masters of the art, the first real writers to make working class situations palatable and hilarious to middle class audiences and Tony Hancock was the world’s greatest comedic interpreter then and now, delivering more with a raised eyebrow and an obstinate silence than a modern comedians’ hours worth of dialogue. The team’s influence on the 1960s is huge, pointing out a world that isn’t as good as it should have been despite the promises of 1950s reform back in a time when any criticism of the period immediately after World War Two was frowned upon and effectively turning chuckling at your problems into a mainstream art. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that without Hancock and the few who came after him to pave the way the social protest of the 1960s, starting with folk and moving through to psychedelia, would have been enjoyed by the fringes only rather than the average man in the street. Hancock even gets a mention on the Dave Davies song ‘Fortis Green’ from his ‘Bug’ album, with a young Dave settling back in his chair to listen to ‘Ancock’s ‘Alf ‘Our’) and Roger Waters surely had Hancock in mind for his snappy, disillusioned child-hating teacher delivering a ‘requiem for the post-war dream’ (as on Pink Floyd’s ‘The Final Cut’ LP).

3) James Dean: I must admit I’ve never cared much for James Dean films, which are often poorly acted and, by comparison to what came later, badly thought out. But the difference between the ‘look’ before and the ‘look’ after Jimmy Dean’s portrayal of troubled teenagers is quite extraordinary, giving some sort of a voice to teenagers of the 1950s who felt abandoned by WW2 and the lack of opportunities in post-war Britain. The look also chimed well with the music coming out of America at the time – the sort of music outlined above that became anglicised and grew into the 1960s, even if there’s little or no music in his films for real, so simply had to be mentioned here as perhaps the biggest example of pre-Beatles rebellion in the 20th century. The one musical reference we can point you to is Brian Wilson’s moving a capella Beach Boys song ‘A Young Man Is Gone’, from the ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ album. 

2) JFK: Nowadays you look at JFK’s three-year legacy and think ‘what was the man doing?!’ Despite the promise of radical reform and change, most of Kennedy’s time in office was marked by avoidable accidents like the Cuban Missile Crisis and it was only in his last year that Kennedy was anything like as good as his reputation supposes, when he at last stuck his neck on the line concerning civil rights. But of course history didn’t record it that way at the time and the fact that a ‘young’ man (at 40!), quite distinct from the old and weary world war generation was having a go at running the country with a promise of ‘change’ meant that when he died in office a wave of grief swept the Western world. (Obama is to JFK what 9/11 is to WW2, but that’s another essay for another time). I’m not the first fan to point out that the three months between Kennedy’s assassination in Novemeber 1963 and the first, hysterically-greeted Beatles performance on the Ed Sullivan show in February 1964 is perfect timing, giving America long enough to grieve their fallen hero and a certain amount of hope and escapism thereafter. But I will go even further and say that, in America at least,The Beatles and all who came after them are Kennedy’s successors much more than they are Elvis’ or (shudder) Cliff Richard’s, offering a new alternative way of life based on greater freedom for all that represented the changing of the guard via youth and vigourthat goes far beyond just their music. Dare I say it, JFK was too unpopular at the time he died to make a second term of office (unless things had radically changed of course and to be fair he was changing in 1963, so I’ll guess we’’ll never know) and dare I say it The Beatles would never have been quite the phenomenon they were in America had he lost that election of 1964. Musical AAA references for JFK abound, albeit mainly in later recordings about his assassination (The Beach Boys’ ‘The Warmth Of The Sun’ is the best, a moving eulogy written the night after his death should be your first port of call, while The Kinks’ ‘Give The People What They Want’ and The Monkees’ ‘Mommy and Daddy’ are the best examples of songs looking at the JFK assassination conspiracy).

1) Hitler: Undoubtedly the biggest single influence on the 1960s happened over a decade before, when Hitler pushed his luck too far and by invading Poland started a World War (that, erm, only happened in Europe, America, Japan and Russia but we’ll forget about that for now). I cannot stress how important WW2 is for the 1960s philosophy: childhoods spent on bombsites or having been evacuated with or without parents dead from bombings or on the frontline haunt many an AAA song (Roger Waters is again the biggest example, with the death of his dad in the war, despite being a conscientious objector, a key influence on most of the mid-to-late period Pink Floyd albums). Furthermore, having lived through or in most cases been born into a terrifying World War not of their making turned more and more AAA members into musicians, making them determined to create a new society based more on peace and not at all like the austere, frightening world they were brought up in (at least they will once things get moving on a bit – oh and Pete Townshend is still the only AAA artists to come right out and say all this, mind, but you can’t write a site like this without a little bit of conjecture). So why this world war and not, say the first World War? Well, nobody ever really talked about that war once they got home by and large – it’s only since the 1970s when our vertans started dying of old age that we’ve heard endless documentaries and interviews recorded for posterity before it’s all forgotten. But when the soldiers first got home in 1919 they simply didn’t talk about such things, they brought back too many unhappy memories and distressed the wives and children they’d left behind. The same would undoubtedly have happened in WW2 had it not been for the bombing raids that involved civilians not just soldiers on both sides of the war for the first time and rationing, which meant it was a subject that stared everyone in the face for six years and couldn’t be avoided (unless you’re American of course, in which case make that two). In short, something akin to the 1960s was inevitable in some form after the events of 1939-45 and as luck would have it the best practitioners for this brave new world turned out to be four musicians from Liverpool, not a group of artists, writers or politicians. To end this little speech, I have to add how fantastic its always seemed to me that the real start of the 1960s and the promise of a new era happens when The Beatles, who grew up in bomb-shelters and the devastation of Liverpool, end up playing in a German club surrounded by the bomb-shelters and devastation of Hamburg. In 1960, less than 15 years after the end of the Second World War, a whole new way of life is growing up for people everywhere – and its happening to five people who were physically born into the devastation of WW2 (Lennon was, famously, born during a Liverpool air raid in October 1940) . The road to peace still starts here and the fact that it couldn’t last is no shame on those early pioneers who started it.

And that’s it, another end of another issue. See you next time!

A NOW COMPLETE List Of Top Five/Top Ten/TOP TWENTY  Entries 2008-2019
1) Chronic Fatigue songs

2) Songs For The Face Of Bo

3) Credit Crunch Songs

4) Songs For The Autumn

5) National Wombat Week

6) AAA Box Sets

7) Virus Songs

8) Worst AAA-Related DVDs

9) Self-Punctuating Superstar Classics

10) Ways To Know You Have Turned Into A Collector

11) Political Songs

12) Totally Bonkers Concept Albums

13) Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

14) Still Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

15) AAA Existential Questions

16) Releases Of The Year 2008

17) Top AAA Xmas Songs

18) Notable AAA Gigs

19) All things '20' related for our 20th issue

20) Romantic odes for Valentine's Day

21) Hollies B sides

22) 'Other' BBC Session Albums

23) Beach Boys Rarities Still Not Available On CD

24) Songs John, Paul and George wrote for Ringo's solo albums

25) 5 of the Best Rock 'n' Roll Tracks From The Pre-Beatles Era

26) AAA Autobiographies

27) Rolling Stones B-sides

28) Beatles B-Sides

29) The lllloooonnngggeesssttt AAA songs of all time

30) Kinks B-Sides

31) Abandoned CSNY projects 'wasted on the way'

32) Best AAA Rarities and Outtakes Sets

33) News We've Missed While We've Been Away

34) Birthday Songs for our 1st Anniversary

35) Brightest Album Covers

36) Biggest Recorded Arguments

37) Songs About Superheroes

38) AAA TV Networks That Should Exist

39) AAA Woodtsock Moments

40) Top Moments Of The Past Year As Voted For By Readers

41) Music Segues

42) AAA Foreign Language Songs

43) 'Other' Groups In Need Of Re-Mastering

44) The Kinks Preservation Rock Opera - Was It Really About The Forthcoming UK General Election?

45) Mono and Stereo Mixes - Biggest Differences

46) Weirdest Things To Do When A Band Member Leaves

47) Video Clips Exclusive To Youtube (#1)

48) Top AAA Releases Of 2009

49) Songs About Trains

50) Songs about Winter

51) Songs about astrology plus horoscopes for selected AAA members

52) The Worst Five Groups Ever!

53) The Most Over-Rated AAA Albums

54) Top AAA Rarities Exclusive To EPs

55) Random Recent Purchases (#1)

56) AAA Party Political Slogans

57) Songs To Celebrate 'Rock Sunday'

58) Strange But True (?) AAA Ghost Stories

59) AAA Artists In Song

60) Songs About Dogs

61) Sunshiney Songs

62) The AAA Staff Play Their Own Version Of Monoploy/Mornington Crescent!

63) What 'Other' British Invasion DVDs We'd Like To See

64) What We Want To Place In Our AAA Time Capsule

65) AAA Conspiracy Theroies

66) Weirdest Things To Do Before - And After - Becoming A Star

67) Songs To Tweet To

68) Greatest Ever AAA Solos

69) John Lennon Musical Tributes

70) Songs For Halloween

71) Earliest Examples Of Psychedelia

72) Purely Instrumental Albums

73) AAA Utopias

74) AAA Imaginary Bands

75) Unexpected AAA Cover Versions

76) Top Releases of 2010

77) Songs About Snow

78) Predictions For 2011

79) AAA Fugitives

80) AAA Home Towns

81) The Biggest Non-Musical Influences On The 1960s

82) AAA Groups Covering Other AAA Groups

83) Strange Censorship Decisions

84) AAA Albums Still Unreleased on CD

85) Random Recent Purchases (#2)

86) Top AAA Music Videos

87) 30 Day Facebook Music Challenge

88) AAA Documentaries

89) Unfinished and 'Lost' AAA Albums

90) Strangest AAA Album Covers

91) AAA Performers Live From Mars (!)

92) Songs Including The Number '100' for our 100th Issue

93) Most Songs Recorded In A Single Day

94) Most Revealing AAA Interviews

95) Top 10 Pre-Fame Recordings

96) The Shortest And Longest AAA Albums

97) The AAA Allstars Ultimate Band Line-Up

98) Top Songs About Sports

99) AAA Conversations With God

100) AAA Managers: The Good, The Bad and the Financially Ugly

101) Unexpected AAA Cameos

102) AAA Words You can Type Into A Caluclator

103) AAA Court Cases

104) Postmodern Songs About Songwriting

105) Biggest Stylistic Leaps Between Albums

106) 20 Reasons Why Cameron Should Go!

107) The AAA Pun-Filled Cookbook

108) Classic Debut Releases

109) Five Uses Of Bird Sound Effects

110) AAA Classic Youtube Clips Part #1

111) Part #2

112) Part #3

113) AAA Facts You Might Not Know

114) The 20 Rarest AAA Records

115) AAA Instrumental Songs

116) Musical Tarot

117) Christmas Carols

118) Top AAA Releases Of 2011

119) AAA Bands In The Beano/The Dandy

120) Top 20 Guitarists #1

121) #2

122) 'Shorty' Nomination Award Questionairre

123) Top Best-Selling AAA Albums

124) AAA Songs Featuring Bagpipes

125) A (Hopefully) Complete List Of AAA Musicians On Twitter

126) Beatles Albums That Might Have Been 1970-74 and 1980

127) DVD/Computer Games We've Just Invented

128) The AAA Albums With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

129) The AAA Singles With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

130) Lyric Competition (Questions)

131) Top Crooning Classics

132) Funeral Songs

133) AAA Songs For When Your Phone Is On Hold

134) Random Recent Purchases (#3)

135) Lyric Competition (Answers)

136) Bee Gees Songs/AAA Goes Disco!

137) The Best AAA Sleevenotes (And Worst)

138) A Short Precise Of The Years 1962-70

139) More Wacky AAA-Related Films And Their Soundtracks

140) AAA Appearances On Desert Island Discs

141) Songs Exclusive To Live Albums

142) More AAA Songs About Armageddon

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159) A (Not That) Short Guide To The 15 Best Non-AAA Bands

160) The Greatest AAA Drum Solos (Or Near Solos!)

161) AAA Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame Acceptance Speeches

162) AAA Re-Recordings Of Past Songs

163) A Coalition Christmas (A Fairy Tale)

164) AAA Songs About Islands

165) The AAA Review Of The Year 2012

166) The Best AAA Concerts I Attended

167) Tributes To The 10 AAA Stars Who Died The Youngest

168) The First 10 AAA Songs Listed Alphabetically

171) The 10 Best Songs From The Psychedelia Box-Sets ‘Nuggets’ and ‘Nuggets Two’

172) The 20 Most Common Girl’s Names In AAA Song Titles (With Definitions) 

180) First Recordings By Future AAA Stars

185) A Tribute To Storm Thorgerson Via The Five AAA Bands He Worked With

188) Surprise! Celebrating 300 Album Reviews With The Biggest 'Surprises' Of The Past Five Years Of Alan's Album Archives!

190) Comparatively Obscure First Compositions By AAA Stars

193) Evolution Of A Band: Comparing First Lyric With Last Lyric:

200) The Monkees In Relation To Postmodernism (University Dissertation)

202) Carly Simon's 'You're So Vain': Was It About One Of The AAA Crew?

217) AAA 'Christmas Presents' we'd most like to have next year

221) Dr Who and the AAA (Five Musical Links)

222) Five Random Recent Purchases

223) AAA Grammy Nominees

224) Ten AAA songs that are better heard unedited and in full

225) The shortest gaps between AAA albums

226) The longest gaps between AAA albums

227) Top ten AAA drummers

228) Top Ten AAA Singles (In Terms of 'A' and 'B' Sides)

229) The Stories Behind Six AAA Logos

230) AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!! The Best Ten AAA Screams

231) An AAA Pack Of Horses

232) AAA Granamas - Sorry, Anagrams!

233) AAA Surnames and Their Meanings

234) 20 Erroneous AAA Album Titles

235) The Best AAA Orchestral Arrangements

236) Top 30 Hilariously Misheard Album Titles/Lyrics

237) Ten controversial AAA sackings - and whether they were right

238) A Critique On Critiquing - In Response To Brian Wilson

239) The Ten MusicianS Who've Played On The Most AAA Albums

240) Thoughts on #CameronMustGo

241) Random Recent Purchases (Kinks/Grateful Dead/Nils Lofgren/Rolling Stones/Hollies) 

242) AAA Christmas Number Ones 

243) AAA Review Of The Year 2014 (Top Releases/Re-issues/Documentaries/DVDs/Books/Songs/ Articles  plus worst releases of the year)

244) Me/CFS Awareness Week 2015

245) Why The Tory 2015 Victory Seems A Little...Suspicious

246) A Plea For Peace and Tolerance After The Attacks on Paris - and Syria

247) AAA Review Of The Year 2015

248) The Fifty Most Read AAA Articles (as of December 31st 2015)

249) The Revised AAA Crossword!

251) Half-A-Dozen Berries Plus One (An AAA Tribute To Chuck Berry)

252) Guest Post: ‘The Skids – Joy’ (1981) by Kenny Brown

254) Guest Post: ‘Supertramp – Some Things Never Change’ by Kenny Brown

255) AAA Review Of The Year 2018

256) AAA Review Of The Year 2019 plus Review Of The Decade 2010-2019

257) Tiermaker

258) #Coronastock

259) #Coronadocstock

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