Newswise — There’s nothing odd these days about U.S. audiences falling for U.K. pop stars and BBC television, but a University of Indianapolis history professor says that wasn’t the case 50 years ago, before a cheeky guitar combo from England saved rock ‘n’ roll, stoked a societal revolution and helped two nations heal the scars of war and assassination.
Feb. 9 marks the half-century anniversary of the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, the opening shot of the British Invasion and a key milestone in the development of an international youth culture that stretches from hairstyles and fashion to social and political attitudes.
“There’s always a tension between young people, who spontaneously generate their own culture from below, and the commercial interests who try to co-opt it for profit,” says UIndy Assistant Professor Chad Martin, a specialist in pop culture, modern British history and transatlantic youth culture. “The Beatles inspired young people to recapture their own culture from the marketers and the corporations.”
Unlike America in its triumphant boom years after World War II, 1950s Europe was not a land of hamburgers, skyscrapers and flashy cars, Martin says. In Britain, children played amid lingering bomb rubble as the government continued rationing consumer goods, and the pop culture was dominated by U.S. imports. The tables were turned in the early ‘60s, when the Fab Four defied entertainment industry naysayers to become the world’s biggest pop group.
“The Beatles in many ways represented the first time after World War II that the British were able to push back against the American cultural juggernaut,” he says.
Indeed, when Prime Minister Harold Wilson awarded his nation’s prestigious MBE designation to John, Paul, George and Ringo in 1964, he cited their help in easing Britain’s trade imbalance – though Martin says he was probably pandering to voters too.
Interestingly, however, the band’s huge commercial success came despite a series of bad business decisions, Martin says. Their initial merchandising deal lost the band millions, they lost control of their publishing company and their Apple Corps venture was a notorious failure.
“On the plus side, their 1967 contract changed the rules of record royalty rates in favor of artists,” Martin says. “But overall, I'd say they were a template of what not to do.”
INTERVIEWS: Chad Martin, who holds a Ph.D. in history from Stanford University, is available for interview on this and related topics. To schedule, contact UIndy media relations at (317) 371-5240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.