By Carl M. Cannon | It’s Wednesday, February 7, 2018. Fifty-four years ago today, a hot new British band with a peculiar name boarded a Pan Am jet at Heathrow Airport. Destination: New York City — and musical immortality.
Let me clarify: The Beatles weren’t really “new” on February 7, 1964. By the autumn of 1962, drummer Pete Best had been replaced by Ringo Starr, meaning that the “Fab Four” had been truly constituted, and the group had released its first records.
“I Want to Hold Your Hand” was released as a single in England seven days after President Kennedy’s assassination. It instantly topped the charts in Great Britain. (Side B was another Beatles song, “This Boy.”) Beatles manager Brian Epstein convinced Capitol Records to release it in the U.S., with “I Saw Her Standing There” on the flip side. It came out the week after Christmas. It topped the charts here, too, and on February 7, 1964, when the band emerged from their Pan Am plane, some 3,000 fans, mostly teenage girls, mobbed the old Idlewild Airport, recently renamed after John F. Kennedy.
Not able to actually hold the hands of any of the Beatles, the young audience contented itself with screaming hysterically. “Beatlemania” had announced itself.
The Beatles were the vanguard of the so-called “British Invasion,” but this phenomenon is more properly described as a re-importation than an invasion. The Beatles and other top musicians from the United Kingdom, including the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton, were always open about who their musical influences had been: Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins — along with a host of African-American jazz performers and rhythm and blues players ranging from Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn to Louis Armstrong, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and T-Bone Walker.
Stones guitarist Keith Richards has explained that when he first heard Muddy Waters, he discovered “the most powerful music … and the most expressive” he’d ever heard. The Stones took their name from the title of a Muddy Waters song.
So, what’s the underlying lesson of today’s history remembrance? Perhaps it’s this simple: Rock music’s evolution reminds us that the conformity demanded by today’s thought police — those supposedly “woke” cultural arbiters who seek to tell authors and artists what books they can write and paintings they can draw, or even how everyday Americans can wear their hair or clothes — because of their ethnicity or gender, well, they lack an understanding of how civilization develops.
I’ll make this plain: The phrase “cultural appropriation” is an oxymoron. Culture comes from borrowing the ideas and styles of other people in other places. This is true in commerce as well as art.
The Ford Motor Co., for instance, pioneered mass production of automobiles. Many years later, the Japanese perfected it — in part by incorporating the theories of an American management guru. His ideas, in time, were re-imported back to the United States, and re-learned in Detroit.
Today, excellent cars are built in factories all over the world, including Korea — and, yes, Michigan — and others places in the U.S., often by foreign-owned companies. As Eminem and Clint Eastwood reminded audiences in Super Bowl ads in the early part of this decade, Detroit is getting its act together again in other ways, too.
This can only be a good thing. Remember, Motown Records was formed when the Beatles were still teenagers playing Liverpool clubs as the Quarrymen. Motown, for you young readers, was Detroit’s nickname — shortened from “Motor Town” when the Big Three dominated auto manufacturing worldwide.
Here’s how Time magazine’s Gilbert Cruz described the soul music record label: “Founded on January 12, 1959, Motown quickly became another Detroit factory; where the Big Three produced automobiles, Motown assembled the soul and pop classics that changed America.”
“Arriving at the height of the civil rights movement,” Cruz continued, “Motown was a black-owned, black-centered business that gave white America something they just could not get enough of — joyous, sad, romantic, mad, groovin’, movin’ music.”
Thus does artistic cross-pollination, like global competition, entail worldwide sharing. Imagine.
This commentary was swiped from the daily email sent out by Carl M. Cannon to promote the day’s headlines posted on the RealClearPolitics website. Cannon is Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics.