The second cycle began with the appearance of the Beatles. Even though they were originally rejected by Decca Records (“Guitar bands are on their way out! They have no future in show business!”) the Beatles eventually landed with EMI and — well, you know the rest.
They arrived just as the earliest of the Baby Boomers began entering their teens. These kids had their portable turntables and transistor radios, devices that allowed them to take their music away from the prying ears of parents. And psychologically, rock provided an escape from the funk that had fallen across the West following the JFK assassination in November 1963.
The Beatles had a fresh sound, were quick with a quip and were made up of four distinct characters with whom fans could identify. (Interestingly, you can make the case that the Beatles were the first boy band. What’s the difference between the reaction of Bieberites and what we saw with Beatlemania?)
Cycle 2 really kicked into gear with that Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9, 1964, about three weeks shy of the 13th anniversary of the release of “Rocket 88.”
To say that the Beatles rescued rock is an understatement. The years that followed their landing on American shores was one of the most vibrant times in music, a veritable gusher of guitar-based creativity that lasted for the rest of the decade. If you have to pick a moment when it peaked, I’d go with the Woodstock Festival in August 1969. But then came Altamont later that year with its bad vibes, corruption, and death. Almost overnight, the life drained away from the rock scene.
Creatively spent and disillusioned by the failure of the peace’n’love movement — not to mention America’s ass-kicking in Vietnam, Watergate, the oil crisis, the Cold War and a brutal recession — the mainstream turned away from rock toward pop music.
The Baby Boomers, who had driven rock through the 1960s, grew up and moved on. Instead of driving rock further forward, they settled into a period of nostalgia for the good ol’ days of the 1950s and the early 1960s. This was manifested in the rise of bands like Sha Na Na, movies like American Graffitiand TV shows like Happy Days. Even Elton John, a star in his prime, couldn’t help but get all misty-eyed for the old days.
Meanwhile, the aging hippy generation had a very hard time believing that the generation following them could be sucked in by simplistic pop made by the Bay City Rollers, Bobby Sherman and the Partridge Family. Of course, the Stones and Zeppelin were at their peak, but they were the exception. And we need to remember that critics absolutely loathed Zeppelin back then.
AM radio was at its absolute worst. Can you believe a song like this could be a #1 hit?
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