So a couple of days ago I’m sitting in my local corner cafe, eating my tuna wrap, reading my F. Scott Fitzgerald, and, suddenly, unbidden, the question crossed my mind.

What exactly did we need the Brits for?

I’m sure it had nothing to do with the speaker behind my head, which was emitting a string of programmed oldies in crystal clear sound, having just yielded these two back to back…

Among other things, It made me wish all over again that I could track down the quote from Marianne Faithfull where she recalled a conversation with Jack Nitzsche, where she had repeated the Approved Narrative that rock and roll was dead until the British Invasion saved it and he proceeded to play her a bunch of records like these until she realized the error of her ways. (One reasons I’d like to track it down is to prove I’m remembering correctly. Age gets to you that way.)

Now if he only could have gotten hold of the staff at Rolling Stone!

BTW: I’m still working on the answer to that question. F. Scott Fitzgerald isn’t helping a bit. Maybe looking long enough at this will…



  1. Fair points. It’s easy to say that rock was dead between Buddy Holly’s death and early 1964 when that was not the case. However, it seems like innumerable musicians (mostly garage band types) refer to the Beatles’ first appearance on Ed Sullivan as the moment they realized they wanted to play music – or something to that effect.

    • Good points all. I have to say that my somewhat complicated feelings about the British Invasion have less to do with the actual music (much of which was, of course, both great and revolutionary) as with the insistence of so many latter day crit-illuminati types who tend to dismiss everything that went before, as though their own awakening were tantamount to the world’s. Ties in with my ongoing theme that some people were REALLY relieved when the Beatles became the face of Rock and Roll not because they were geniuses (which they were) but because they weren’t blacks, hillbillies or urban immigrants.

      Really wish I could track down that exchange between Faithfull and Nitzsche though. Not in her autobiography, which I just purchased a couple of weeks ago in a used book stall in the antique mall that’s right across from my corner cafe, so I’ll have to keep on looking. I know I read it somewhere! I couldn’t POSSIBLY have dreamed it.

    • Of course it changed. But not because the Beatles made better records. (Different maybe, not better.) And not because they were electrifying TV performers (even compared to say, Jackie Wilson, let alone Elvis). So there had to be SOME reason. I’m just still trying to figure it out. Tweaking everybody along the way is just part of the tun!

  2. Rock and Roll was incredibly vibrant between 1959 and 1964. The standard narrative would, as you state so well, have us believe otherwise. Resistance to this is a good thing, as is spreading the word to those not in on the secret.

    • Thanks Kevin. The Beatles were fantastic and added a lot….but I’ve been fighting the idea that they invented literally everything since I was in high school in the 70s (when being a Beach Boys/Four Seasons fan was about as uncool as you could be). I ain’t gonna quit now!

  3. I’ve gone on about this before, but you can certainly count me as another Beatles fan who has nonetheless long found annoyingly fallacious the idea that creative, moving, exciting and / or highly influential rock ‘n’ roll didn’t truly begin until the British “invaded.”

    Whenever ’60s music is discussed, whether in books or documentaries, it’s always “Beatles, Beatles, Beatles.” I usually don’t like to be repetitive, but the gravity center of nearly every story told about the early days of rock ‘n’ roll is the melodramatically proclaimed “arrival of four lads from Liverpool.” It’s like the black hole into which the whole story is inevitably bound.

    They were indeed massively influential, of course; but some of the greatest music ever recorded already existed and was yet to come, and its birthplace was America. The lads themselves said as much, and pointed out that they were merely bringing it back to us, at least at first.

    British rock ‘n’ roll (and the Brits’ recycled American rhythm ‘n’ blues) were turned into fads by millions of kids in true impressionable-Western-World fashion, and the music itself hardly seemed to matter as compared with the novelty of it all.

    I’ve loved most of the Beatles’ music for years, but my general attitude toward “Beatles, Beatles, Beatles” is, “Some of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll pioneers and inventors were still writing and / or recording right here in the very birthplace of that music, thank you very much.”

    So what did we need the Brits for? To alert us that there had been over a decade of amazing R&R and R&B recorded in our own country, which many hadn’t even noticed thus far because of its black origins, and that it wasn’t going away after all — and to remind us that we hadn’t skipped directly from Glenn Miller to Elvis.

    The Narrative follows commerce more closely than anything else, of course. Beatles reissues sell in high numbers.

    • Yeah, it continually puts me (and probably you) in a bind. Of course I love the Beatles (and the Stones, Kinks, Who, etc….Heck I even love Herman’s Hermits). But the disdain for what went before (not shared by the Brits themselves) has always been puzzling. Resistance to the black/hillbilly/urban immigrant takeover of Popular Culture is the only rationale I’ve ever been able to come up with for why the Intelligentsia glommed onto the Beatles….and why they’ve held on to them ever since.

      Of course, I don’t discount the notion that i COULD just be a contrarian!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.