MONDAY, JANUARY 26, 2015
WEEK 4: BEFORE THE BEATLES
In the great, dusty, almanac of modern music culture, nineteen hundred and sixty is documented as one of the very worst years in rock and pop history. After the manic thrill of the fifties, everything had turned to shit. Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran were dead, Elvis returned from the army with his balls missing, Little Richard found God and Chuck Berry was serving a five stretch for sex with a 14 year old Apache. Naturally, new teen idols came up to replace these absent rockers, but they couldn’t hope to be in the same class. And they weren’t, not even close. More than anything, with rock’n’roll consigned to the dumper, they were a continuation of highschool.
In a pop culture where teen appeal vastly outweighed talent, Dion, Del Shannon and pasty pug Roy Orbison were the few exceptions to the rule. Unfairly dismissed as corny lightweights, they were genuine innovators who sang their own songs and played their own guitars. Pure pop maybe, but fantastic just the same. Incredibly, Britain had its fair share of teen idols too even if they were mostly crap. Billy Fury was top dog, cutting some cool self-penned rockabilly before going completely soppy, but the best British record by a mile was Johnny Kidd’s ‘Shakin’ All Over’.
The greatest thing about the post rock’n’roll, pre-Beatles years was the mish mash of new ideas hidden amongst the teen idols and fading stars that were sufficiently different to push pop forward. Southern California, with its never ending images of sun, sea and surf was a classic case, forging its own identity from the moment Dick Dale drenched his guitar in reverb. While it didn’t take too long for the novelty value of surf instrumentals to wear off, when they did, super talented vocal groups like the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean took the same theme somewhere completely different.
If the surf trend was a novelty, the dance craze phenomenon was even more so. Dance records had once been a staple of rhythm and blues, and the zombie, the mashed potato and various twists coined it in, record companies always keen to capitalise on a quick fad. These records were the gloopy epicentre of early sixties teen culture, a subject Phil Spector had been studying obsessively since the mid fifties. In two years he went from Bronx runt to paranoid, demonic tycoon, his Wall Of Sound creating vast, Wagnerian masterpieces behind The Crystals, The Ronettes and more. Girl groups may have been a phenomenon unto themselves, but Spector was more important than any of them.
In hindsight, I guess it’s easy to see why all of these styles were inevitable given how youth culture is ephemeral and must change to stay alive. Obviously they all had a huge influence on The Beatles, even if their cultural opposites The Stones were only touched by Chuck Berry and R&B. But when those two began to steamroller all before them, everyone else here became instantly obsolete and pop’s cultural axis shifted across the Atlantic to the old country.
01 HOLLYWOOD ARGYLES ‘Alley Oop’ (A Side May 1960)
02 BILLY FURY ‘Turn My Back On You’ (The Sound Of Fury LP May 1960)
03 JOHNNY KIDD & THE PIRATES ‘Shakin’ All Over’ (A Side June 1960)
04 ELVIS PRESLEY ‘A Mess Of Blues’ (A Side July 1960)
05 CHUCK BERRY ‘Jaguar And Thunderbird’ (A Side September 1960)
06 DUANE EDDY & THE REBELS ‘Girl On Death Row’ (A Side September 1960)
07 THE SHIRELLES ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ (A Side November 1960)
08 THE SHADOWS ‘Man Of Mystery’ (A Side November 1960)
09 GENE VINCENT ‘Mister Loneliness’ (B Side February 1961)
10 THE COASTERS ‘Little Egypt’ (A Side April 1961)
11 THE QUOTATIONS ‘Imagination’ (A Side May 1961)
12 THE CARNATIONS ‘Scorpion’ (A Side July 1961)
13 DICK DALE & HIS DEL-TONES ‘Let’s Go Trippin’ (A Side September 1961)
14 JOEY DEE & THE STARLIGHTERS ‘Peppermint Twist’ (A Side October 1961)
15 THE GEE-CEES ‘Buzzsaw Twist’ (A Side October 1961)
16 THE SYMBOLS ‘Do The Zombie’ (A Side November 1961)
17 THE RIVINGTONS ‘Papa Oom Mow Mow’ (A Side January 1962)
18 THE ORIGINAL STARFIRES ‘Fender Bender’ (A Side April 1962)
19 DEE DEE SHARP ‘Mashed Potato Time’ (A Side May 1962)
20 THE SPARK PLUGS ‘Chicken’ (A Side July 1962)
21 THE CRYSTALS ‘He’s A Rebel’ (A Side August 1962)
22 DEL SHANNON ‘The Swiss Maid’ (A Side September 1962)
23 THE CHIFFONS ‘He’s So Fine’ (A Side December 1962)
24 ROY ORBISON ‘In Dreams’ (A Side February 1963)
25 FRANKIE VALLI & THE FOUR SEASONS ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ (A Side March 1963)
26 THE BEATLES ‘Baby It’s You’ (Please Please Me LP March 1963)
27 VITO & THE SALUTATIONS ‘Unchained Melody’ (A Side April 1963)
28 RONNIE HAWKINS ‘Who Do You Love?’ (B Side April 1963)
29 RANDY & THE RAINBOWS ‘Denise’ (A Side May 1963)
30 JAN & DEAN ‘Surf City’ (A Side June 1963)
31 ROLLING STONES ‘Come On’ (A Side June 1963)
32 THE RONETTES ‘Be My Baby’ (A Side August 1963)
33 THE BEACH BOYS ‘In My Room’ (Surfer Girl LP September 1963)
34 DION DIMUCCI ‘Drip Drop’ (A Side November 1963)