2 weeks ago
1960s: A record 73 million Americans (roughly two-fifths of the population) watched as The Beatles took the stage for their Ed Sullivan Show debut.
The Ed Sullivan Show would feature The Beatles two more times in the next two weeks. By the time of the band’s fourth and final in-person performance, the “British Invasion,” as it was called, was well underway. Following The Beatles’ lead, countless British rock bands — The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, and Cream, to name a few — would go on to achieve commercial success in the US. Some of these bands would look to black American musical genres, such as the blues and R&B, for inspiration; on the other side of the coin, American artists like The Byrds and Jimi Hendrix tried to emulate a British rock sound. (Hendrix’s career, it’s worth noting, didn’t take off until he moved to London.) The Beatles’ first Ed Sullivan Show performance didn’t just alter the band’s trajectory, but that of rock music as a whole. It built a bridge between the two realms of rock music, giving British artists a new audience and American artists new sonic influences. Without it, you still have Highway 61 Revisited, The Velvet Underground & Nico, and The Doors, but there is no Rubber Soul, Pet Sounds, or Are You Experienced — or any of the countless records that owe their existence to the syncretism of American and British music. Writ large, rock history is full of what-ifs and unhappy endings: plane crashes, substance abuse, breakups (between musical partners or romantic partners — and sometimes, both). For once, it’s nice to look back on a moment when everything went right.
For my illustration on the 1960s, see the link in my bio.