The Nation‘s critic fails to catch Beatlemania.
Popular music in America is better than ever. For the first time in the history of the Top-Forty-Juke-Box-Best-Sellers there is some correspondence between the singer and the song. The best of today’s vocalists—Diane Warwick, Martha and the Vandellas, Dusty Springfield, Patty Labelle and the Blue Belles—are young people singing from their own experience in a song that is a part of their particular heritage. They learned this music at home, at church and in the neighborhood— and after the recording session is over, it’s only natural that they should keep on singing in the same way about the same things.
In this sense, they are the real folk singers of our time, far more “authentic” than the city-billy’s academically perfect imitation of a sound created from an experience different from his own. As much as he sounds like Leadbelly or Big Bill Broonzy, Johnny Hammond did not grow up a black man in the South; nor did the New Lost City Ramblers learn their old-timey mountain music as poor Kentucky farmers. Their musical tradition goes back no farther than some very careful listening to old Library of Congress tapes and Folkways recordings.
Another group which must have spent a great deal of time lately paying close attention to old records and making faces in the mirror are the Beatles, four young men from the mainstream of working-class Liverpool, with skin-tight, blue gray suits (velvet lapels), mops of long brown hair, and an electrical system guaranteed to numb the senses of even the most reluctant attendant. Their recent invasion of the United States was the PR man’s finest hour (reportedly, thirteen publicity firms worked on the debut). For weeks the national press, radio and TV, and the slick magazines had instructed novitiates on what to expect and how to react. Beatle records blasted the air waves, promoted by disk jockeys eager to claim a “first discovery” (actually Beatle records were in this country ten months ago, but no one played them until the press agents got to work). Wigs, buttons, locks of hair, wallpaper, the hour of their arrival in New York, the exact location of their daily activities, all contributed to a triumphant exploitation of the affluent teen-ager. By the time the Beatles actually appeared on the stage at Carnegie Hall, there wasn’t a person in the house who didn’t know exactly what to do: flip, wig-out, flake, swan, fall, get zonked—or at least try.
The Beatles themselves were impressive in their detachment. They came to America “for the money.” They attribute their success “to our press agent.” They looked down at their screaming, undulating audience with what appeared to be considerable amusement, and no small understanding of what their slightest twitch or toss of head could produce. John Lennon, the leader of the group, seemed particularly contemptuous, mocking the audience several times during the evening, and openly ridiculing a young girl in the first row who tried to claw her way convulsively to the stage. Paul McCartney bobbed his head sweetly, his composure broken only when—horror of horrors—his guitar came unplugged. (There was a terrible moment of silence. One expected him to run down altogether, and dissolve into a pool of quivering static.) George Harrison tuned his guitar continually, and seemed preoccupied with someone or something at stage right. Ringo Starr, the drummer, seemed the only authentic wild man of the group, totally engrossed in his own private cacophony. For the rest, it was just another one-night