(From the soon-to-be published novel Copyright Donald Riggio 2010).
In the summer of 1962, The United States, Great Britain and France financed a multi-national project commissioning NASA to launch a satellite into permanent elliptical orbit around the earth. It was designed to transmit telephone calls and live television broadcasts around the world. It was called Telstar…
… Not long after Telstar became operational, an avid space buff and record producer in London, England named Joe Meeks came up with an infectious melody line and hard driving beat that he transformed into a song he called The Theme From Telstar.” He gave the song to an instrumental group he’d formed The Tornadoes. After the initial session, Meek shortened the name to “Telstar.” He also added several special effects to further fill out the sound. By overdubbing the melody track using a Clavioline, an electronic keyboard, the song took on an eerie, spaced out sound. The record zoomed to the top of the U.K. record charts. In December 1962, The Tornadoes became the first English Rock and Roll group to top the American charts. “Telstar” went to number one remaining there for three consecutive weeks.
A huge pop music market had emerged in Great Britain, greatly influenced by radio broadcasts, records and films imported from America. British teens became familiar with the work of Teddy Boyette, Elvis Presley, Bill Haley and Chuck Berry.
Unlike their more affluent American cousins, aspiring musicians couldn’t afford musical instruments so they formed “skiffle” bands. Skiffle was a term that dated back to the early 1900’s defined as “good time” music utilizing simple, homemade instruments like a washboard; whistle jug or kazoo to create its unique sound. If a guitar or banjo were added to the razzle-dazzle mixture, you had the makings of a real skiffle band. The most successful artist of the genre was a Scotsman named Lonnie Donegan who’d scored a huge skiffle hit with an old blues song, “Rock Island Line,” about an engineer on the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad who smuggles a load of pig iron ore passed a tollgate.
One such Liverpool skiffle band called themselves The Quarrymen. The group honed its craft playing long hours in raunchy strip clubs and beer halls of Hamburg, Germany. There they were signed as back up band for singer Tony Sheridan, using the name of The Beat Brothers. They performed behind Sheridan in many appearances and in the summer of 1961 they recorded a song called “My Bonnie,” released on the Polydor Record label in October attaining some moderate success both in Germany and back home in England.
The record came to the attention of Brian Epstein, the twenty- seven-year-old proprietor of the North East Music Store, a business venture his family owned. He discovered that the band no longer provided back up for Sheridan and had changed their name to The Beatles.
They played to packed houses of frantic fans at the Cavern Club, a dank subterranean Jazz Club that had become a haven for the local pop music scene. On seeing them there, Epstein recognized their raw talent gave them the potential to become something special. He signed them to a five-year contract as personal manager. Under Epstein, The Beatles were given a new and refined look and style, wearing matching suits and adopting uniform pageboy style haircuts.
After being rejected by several major record labels, Epstein had the group audition for George Martin, the head of EMI’s Polyphone Records. Martin signed them to a one-year contract with a royalty payment of one farthing per record, amounting to one quarter of a penny for each of them. Martin made some further refinements and a personnel change at drummer. He guided them as producer to three hit singles and an album, which hurled them to star status as they toured all over England.
Vee-Jay Records, a popular R&B label based in Chicago acquired the U.S. rights to early Beatles songs as part of a licensing agreement they had with several other EMI performers. They released the Beatle’s single, “Please, Please Me” and placed the record into the rotation at the City’s top radio station WLS in February 1963. It failed to impress anyone. When Dick Clark featured another of their singles, “She Loves You” on American Bandstand later that summer, the audience laughed and ridiculed the act because of their offbeat hairstyle. In New York City, popular radio deejay, Murray the K played the song on his 1010 WINS record revue in October. Once again it garnered little response.
It appeared American audience had little interest in these four “mop top,” “faggy looking” performers from Liverpool, England.
Rock and Roll Quote of the day: "Oh there you are, high above. Oh, God, send me a love. Oh there you are high above the sky. I need your love oh me oh me oh my." From Little Star by The Elegants.