Unlike the American revolution, there seems to be some controversy as to when exactly did the British Invasion start. We all learned in grammar school that the first shots fired in the battle for American independence happened at Lexington and Concord. The scene of the “Paul Revere moment.” His bareback ride through the streets shouting “the British are coming,” has of course become grade school legend. We get instilled with it well before our teen years. There’s little debate to all of that. But when exactly did the musical version of the British Invasion begin?
For many the shot heard around the musical world was the Beatles’ Ed Sullivan appearance. February 7th, 1964 in front of 700 studio guests and a few million in their living rooms, the Fab Four sang ‘All My Loving,” and the world was changed. But was it really the first shot fired? Two years before, exports from the United Kingdom had already been arriving on the American shores. It was an obscure clarinetist from Pensford, England who was the first to pop the American cherry. He was Acker Bilk and his instrumental single, “Stranger On the Shore” became #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on May 26, 1962. The very first time in chart history that a British artist was at the top in the United States. Now few people remember Bilk, but he sounds pretty cool. I mean a clarinetist going to number one while wearing a bowler hat, a stripped waistcoat and sporting a goatee? Sounds pretty cool to me.
But was there also a previous spark to the Beatles’ popularity? How did people even know who they were in an era before social media? For that explanation we turn to a fateful TV broadcast by none other than Walter Cronkite. His December 10th airing of a story on the Beatlemania phenomenon in the UK sparked letter writing campaigns to disc jockeys across America. One in particular ended up in Washington DC, where the music maestro at WWDC decided to play “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” and the phones lit up. Radio stations across the country followed suit and in early December three months before the mop tops arrived at Kennedy airport, Capitol Records made the single available for sale- nearly a month before they had a originally planned to. And it was on the eve of the fateful year, 1963 when the Baltimore Sun newspaper reported, “America had better take thought as to how it will deal with the invasion. Indeed a restrained ‘Beatles go home’ might be just the thing.” Now that to me sounds an awful lot like a Paul Revere moment.
The reality is what does it matter? Music lovers from sea to shining sea, welcomed the Brits and their fine mixing of American blues with English jazz inspired skiffle. A mix that swept the country like wildfire and left a lasting impression on the aural landscape. One that will again get its celebration this late June weekend at Cover Rock- a recreation of the dynamic time that rocked the good old USA over 50 years ago. Artist from Dusty Springfield, The Troggs, Dave Clark Five and Manfred Mann will be heard alongside the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks and Eric Clapton just as they were on teenager’s radios all across America.
Cover Rock Festival brings us all a chance to relive the energy, excitement and thrills of a time and place that resonated then and still to this day reminds us of innocence and well peppermints. We will never have a chance to scream at the top of our lungs at the mere sighting of Paul, John, Ringo and George but for one weekend, we can remember how it felt. Hope to see you there.