Back in 1965, something unheard of happened in the United States. This is the Billboard chart from May 8th of that year:
1. Herman's Hermits: Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter
2. Gerry Lewis: Count Me In
3. Beatles: Ticket to Ride
4. Wayne Fontana: Game of Love
5. Petula Clarke: I Know a Place
6. Seekers: I'll Never Find Another You
7. Herman's Hermits: Silhouettes
8. Freddie and the Dreamers: I'm Telling You Now
9. Rolling Stones: The Last Time
10. Sounds Orchestral: Cast Your Fate to the Wind
If you pay attention you notice something. Nine of the ten records are from British bands, something that had never happened and has never happened since. How the hell "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter" ever became a hit, let alone a number one, I will never understand. Possibly the dumbest record ever made and that's saying a lot. That aside, some of us are too young to understand the British invasion but the above chart says it all.
What happened to American rock and roll that made for such circumstances? Simple answer? Dick Clark.
Rock and roll had been under assault since Bill Hailey and the Comets stuck gold with "Rock Around the Clock" in 1955. And the forces of evil, in this case churches, religious figures, schools, politicians, law enforcement, in other words all those with a stick in keeping kids in their chairs and obeying, had in short order kicked Alan Freed off the air, ran Little Richard out of the business, put Chuck Berry in jail, made a pariah out of Jerry Lee Lewis and shipped Elvis off to the army. They, the evil ones, got lucky with the crash that killed Buddy Holly and Richie Valens.
Enter Dick Clark. Known as the kindly grandpa today on New Year's Rockin 'Eve, Clark was then a well-known DJ in Philly with a local afternoon dance show and big ambition. He quickly turned American Bandstand into a nationally syndicated show, one where you rarely saw a black face and if you did it was in the "is not he a credit to his race …" kind of way. He was also a music publisher and ran a record label. He had his hands in so many pies that soon he was raking it in. At one point all of the performers appearing on his show had to pay to do so, even if they were on his label. Makin 'it comin' and goin '. In addition, he took all those great songs by black artists and had them recorded by white singers for white middle America. Pat Boone is the most shining example of this. (if you ever get the chance, look up his version of Tutti-Frutti and play it alongside Little Richards. Mind-blowing.) Boring nice songs that mom and dad will not object to. Singers who are pretty and decent folk, not like that crazy Jerry Lee jumpin 'all over the place, or Elvis shakin' his hips on the screen.
Pretty soon all the rebellion had gone out of rock as corporate interests merged with those of the establishment. Flares here and there, Del Shannon, Johnny and the Hurricanes, The Ronettes, but not enough to sustain the initial dangerous and powerful surge. Pablum and oatmeal replaced red meat.
Then came The Beatles. And the it really hit the fan. You know the rest.
So my question, rhetorically of course, is what would American music sound like if they had not come along? I, for one, am eternally grateful that these foreigners invaded, kicked music on its ass and taught us how to rock and roll again.