Books

'Beatlemania', Although a Great Topic, Is Too General, Too Disorganized, and Too Timid

The Beatles entered the American consciousness at a moment when a generation of young Americans were not only strongest in number, but for the first time had real economic power via a growing disposable income.


Beatlemania: Technology, Business, and Teen Culture in Cold War America

Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Length: 240 pages
Author: André Millard
Price: $22.95
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2012-04
Amazon

André Millard has chosen a fantastic topic for his latest volume: the impact that The Beatles had on teen culture, business, and technology during the Fab Four’s tragically brief recording career (c.1963-1970). One might attribute the success of Liverpool quartet to a number of factors. The group entered the American consciousness at a moment when a generation of young Americans were not only strongest in number, but for the first time had real economic power via a growing disposable income.

Moreover, the intellectual climate was changing, as well. One generation had left the fields and farms for the greener pastures of the university and then the office building and now their children were afforded the opportunity to climb the social and economic ladders as well. (Some reluctant youths would find themselves more or less forced into university life as a way to avoid military service.)

That The Beatles’ music and the pop world in general swelled and exploded during these times is undeniable and has been written about ad infinitum but discussion of the causes and effects of this phenomenon are far from exhausted. The title of Millard’s book at least suggests that we will read something about this swelling and explosion somewhere in the 200 pages of his finished work. The trouble is, neither the author nor his work manages to hit the mark.

The book is too general, too disorganized, and too timid. Millard promises that he will not examine the Beatles as musicians, but instead focus on the relationship that the fans had on the products they consumed. But for all this talk of technology, business, and teen culture, there’s not much in the way of substance in any of those corners.

Millard undersells the cultural impact that The Beatles’ arrival in North America had. He acknowledges the sheer number of people who watched the group on Ed Sullivan’s variety show––73.9 million––but fails to explore the generation of musicians who were inspired by that very event, writing that “There must be a legion of rock stars and amateur strummers out there who wistfully look back to the Beatles on Ed Sullivan as their start”.

In truth there is a legion of rock stars and amateur strummers who consistently say as much––many of them went on to shape the rock and pop music heard by subsequent generations; others wrote books, made films, and authored essays buoyed by the energy of that historic night. That he doesn’t explore the effects further is especially worrying: We know what happened. Why doesn’t this author help us better understand what we already know?

He’s also quick to cast aside a fairly established notion, and one paramount in understanding Beatlemania–– that the Fab Four’s arrival served as a distraction for a nation in mourning. John F. Kennedy’s assassination remained fresh in the minds of the American public and its impact would have major repercussions on the generation that came to adore The Beatles. Kennedy was going to lead the nation out of Vietnam; his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson led the country deeper into Vietnam, in the very year that John, Paul, George, and Ringo arrived on these shores. By the time Paul McCartney announced he was walking away from the Beatle empire in 1970, many of those teenagers glued to the Ed Sullivan broadcast were either dead, returning from service, or had gone on to some other fate that was a result––either directly or indirectly––of the Kennedy assassination.

He writes that “it seems rather a stretch to assign the causes of Beatlemania to the aftermath of an assassination” and points to a single fan, author Bruce Spizer, who asserts that he was “over” the Kennedy assassination by “the holiday season of 1963”. It seems rather a stretch to assign Spizer’s reaction to that of an entire nation––let alone an entire generation. It also seems that Millard would appreciate the assigning of a pivotal moment, the shot heard ‘round the suburbs, if you will. How, then, do we account for the way in which the music industry and the larger culture changed after 1964? Millard isn’t saying much that’s more convincing than what’s already out there.

Beatle humor, Beatle fashion, and Beatle empathy were as unique to the Baby Boom generation as the Marx Brothers had been to the generation before and Eddie Murphy, Michael Jackson, and Justin Timberlake would be to generations after. That The Beatles were carefully packaged and sold by manager Brian Epstein is undeniable but equally undeniable is the charm and talent that the Liverpudlians possessed. The almost endless stream of imitators that sprang up after February 1964 speaks for itself, meaning that we cannot simply pin all this on sound business decisions. Yet, we also cannot overlook how this runaway success changed the entertainment industry at large, right down to how the music was packaged.

Millard could have easily spent more time discussing the format in which those early recordings were released––how the LP found purchase in the consumer market after The Beatles and why the EP never found its footing in the US the way it did in the UK and, what kinds of treasures the singles market offered for bands and consumers. The Beatles, let’s not forget, issued many important singles all the way to the end of the bands career––without “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane”, for instance, there would be no Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and without Sgt. Pepper, the album market might not have been as interesting (for consumers) or lucrative (for acts and labels) as it would become. Albums, let’s not forget, changed the way an entire generation moved from house to house––once you graduated from college, you spent several subsequent years figuring out where and how to store all those albums.

A great deal of ink gets spilled on the Beatles’ roots, especially the connections that Liverpool––a port city––had with the United States long before Ed Sullivan, John Lennon, or even TV. But the placement of that chapter, 40 pages into the book, is maddening. The organization of this volume is surprisingly haphazard, as though the chapters were written and placed together on a whim rather than through sound reasoning.

Too much of the book gets caught up in the British connection with American art and not enough of it is spent discussing the American fascination with British art. He misses some important elements that race played in the Beatles’ success. This was, after all, black music they were presenting to a white audience, and yet these lads were safe as they appeared far removed from sharecropper shacks and housing projects. He also misses an opportunity to discuss the way in which young people attached meaning to Beatle lyrics, searching for clues amongst the rubble of walruses and brilliantly colored submarines and, perhaps even more regrettably, sidesteps the connections that emerged between music, technology, and drugs.

Millard’s fond of repeating anecdotes that come straight from The Beatles Anthology DVDs but, when discussing how the group did home recordings and experimented in the studio, he refers to “minds numbed by drugs”, an assumption that Ringo Starr if not squashes, then certainly dispels in that same series, pointing out that to drug to excess in the studio or anywhere in the creative process carried negative consequences for the band and its craft. But he doesn’t explore the way in which the recordings were “used” by fans to explore the canyons of their minds while dosing on acid or relaxing with reefer.

Drugs such as marijuana and LSD permeated most areas of the ‘60s culture and if the music didn’t come directly from an artist’s experience with drugs it certainly held on to the possibility that the listening experience could be enhanced with chemical refreshment or that the music might accompany such sojourns. Even straight-laced film producer Roger Corman admitted to taking LSD in order to better understand the Jack Nicholson-produced film The Trip.

None of this is really revelation––music has been part of drinking culture since time immemorial and continues to be to this day but this is a missed connection that could have made for some stimulating content.

On the same front, Millard writes wincingly about advents in recording technology, once more failing to explore the possibilities in much depth or to acknowledge that The Beatles were not necessarily forerunners they’re often credited as being. Plenty of avant garde composers had experimented with tape manipulation long before this lot and in the world of rock ‘n’ roll Frank Zappa, The Beach Boys, and even the Grateful Dead were arguably more pioneering in terms of where they took technology inside the studio. That individual Fabs were not always aware of how to work the technology is of some amusement to Millard but really shouldn’t be. Those limitations are often the very things that make room for innovation––and not uncommon among musicians.

Perhaps some of this awkwardness stems from the fact that Millard is an historian but apparently not an artist––his writing often betrays a fans amusement with the anecdotal and superficial that prevents him from diving headlong into the real issues. Other issues, however, move by reader and author at rapid pace––it seems logical that groupie culture should be discussed, as it is an extension of the teenage mania written about elsewhere in these pages. And it seems odd that there’s little mention of how a band that was almost wholly apolitical became an integral part of a generation’s politics, or that, again, despite the book’s title, the author almost entirely dodges the Cold War and its presentation in Beatle music.

If the intended audience for this work is the Beatle novice, there are many other fine books about some of the very issues Millard’s title promises––Peter Doggett’s You Never Give Me Your Money is one––and readers of all levels Beatle fandom might be better suited to starting there. Others, who are curious about the topics mention in this book’s title, might even consider writing their own.

4

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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