The British Invasion…50 Years Later

I was about 11 and a half years old, living in the Long Island suburban paradise called Roslyn when four guys from someplace in England started both a musical and cultural revolution on a chilly night in February 1964.

In the days preceding this momentous event,  I remember the girls in school talking about “the Beetles are coming, the Beetles are coming” or some such insect sounding thing.  My father had spent the better part of the previous summer battling the japanese beetles that were eating his roses.  I thought to myself these can’t be the same beetles, can they?  When I saw pictures of girls wearing antennae in a teen magazine I was pretty confused…but then the girls were always quite a bit “hipper” than us “nature boy” kids when it came to the latest trends in clothes, music, and general “coolness”. I spent most of my time flipping baseball cards, catching carp in the local pond and practicing my clarinet. I guess when it came to the girls were into I tended to follow along or just get out of the way.  I was up in my sister’s room reading a book.  Why I was in her room,  and why I was reading a book at all are memories lost in the morass of hazy time and space.  Regardless that’s where I was, happily minding my own business. I clearly remember some commotion coming from the TV set in the downstairs den where the family would watch things like The Wonderful World of Disney…Circus Boy…Bonanza and Terry Tune Circus.  Another favoriate of the grownups was the Ed Sullivan show.  The kids watched it to but failed to get a lot of the jokes.  Anyway my father came bounding up the stairs to the room where I was and said I should come down and see these guys from England.  I never knew my father to be the edgy family member when it came to the latest trends but he was a guitarist and a musical fellow and he seemed pretty excited so I went down and watched.  The first thing that caught me was the screaming of the girls in the audience. Atthat young age the whole sexual thing had yet to be a factor in my conscious mind so I really didn’t get the girls reaction.  Basically I thought they were crazy.  Next I noticed the hair on these guys which my mother thought was pretty strange.  Then they started to sing and the vocal harmony reminded me quite a bit of my favorites at the time…The Everly Brothers.  All in all I thought it was interesting but I wasn’t overly enthralled with the whole thing.

A month later BEATLEMANIA had washed over my head like a monsterous tidal wave of musical and emotional awakening.  I needed to know everything about them.  I needed to hear everything they recorded.  I played their vinyl singles and albums till I wore them out.  Though Mom and Dad seemed to like the Beatles,  I’m sure the repetition of the music must have drove them a little crazy. Suddenly there was something in my life,  and the lives of my pack of street friends, that rivaled stick ball, touch football and even girls!  These guys from England were setting the course and steering the ship.  I remember being insanely smitten with the entire scene till midway 1966 when it began to coll off just a bit.  Then right on schedule they release Pepper summer of ’67 and the intense lunacy swept over all of us again.

By that time I had played in a few local groups…collections of kids with ragtag instruments and debatable talents banging and croaking our way through Beatle tunes.  But by then a new wave of music had crossed the Atlantic and filled our transistor radios with a new bright original soundtrack.  The Dave Clark Five…Chad and Jeremy…Herman’s Hermits…The Searchers…Gerry and the Pacemakers…Billy J. Kramer…Peter and Gordon…the sounds they were making seem to be saying “Anything is Possible!” Unusual chord changes…interesting lyrics…and the ringing sounds of guitars everywhere.  It was awesome!  If you could play the riff to Listen People…if you could rock out on I Feel Fine…Day Tripper or The Stones’ Satisfaction,  you were destined to play play play.
And I did.  I put the clarinet away and started banging on waste baskets until the folks got me a Gretsch drum set!  In ’68 I decided to fool around with Dad’s old Gibson guitar and the next thing I knew I was a bass player.  In ’69 I bought my first electric…a Gibson SG for $185 at the Sam Ash on Kings Highway in Brooklyn.  All the while music of these British invaders continued to soak into my impressionable brain.

It was a time of great hopes and greater dreams.  The music seemed to be telling me that I, we, could do anything, be anything, achieve anything. The world was brand new and I was part of this amazing energy sweeping the globe.

It’s been 50 years. Whoa.  Two of The Beatles are no longer with us. and many of the survivors of that era are old tired men.  But the changes that their music brought to the United States,  and the entire world continue to be felt in all walks of life, in all the strata of society.  The world surely turns but the feeling of joy and hope that that era brought still reverberates with new generations arriving on the scene.

When I hear that music…when I play that music…when I am reminded of that time long ago, a feeling of peace comes over me and I think to myself….maybe all is not lost…maybe we can achieve anything…maybe we can be anything…maybe we can make this world a much much better place. For a short time 50 years ago,  it felt like anything was possible.

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6 Responses to The British Invasion…50 Years Later

  1. Joanne F says:

    Wow. Wow. Wow. This is a fantastic recount of how The British Invasion affected you and your music. Thank you for sharing. When I see you and the guys in The Liverpool Shuffle play, I understand why all of you play them so well. How fortunate that you were influenced by them in your own music, as they were by The Everley Brothers, the blues, American jazz, people like Elvis and Jerry Lee and so many others. Wow!

    You know what’s cool? That your father played an integral part in your exposure to The Beatles and their music. Kudos to Papa Refano. How cool is/was he?

    I have to share this: Of all the influences my parents had on me, I have to say that music was one of the most important. I grew up listening to early American jazz, Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Eckstein, Louie Armstrong; Gene Krupa and Glenn Miller and the Big Bands; we also listened to contemporary Italian-American (Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Dean Martin, and guys like that), but my parents were pretty daring and awesome in the Music Dept. I am going to give them credit where credit is due: Musically, they rocked!

    (Even more cool? When Carlos Santana debuted in around 1970, the first of the crossover Latin-rock musicians, my parents couldn’t get enough of his music! I remember playing his records in our house in Brentwood, with all of us dancing in the living room!!! LOL These are wonderful images I keep in my mind.)

    Anyway, thanks for sharing this, Joe. Honestly, I think this is your best blog yet. I would only argue with one statement: “many of the survivors of the era are tired old men”. No, I don’t think so. I think this music keeps us young. It certainly makes me feel that way, and as I see the Shuffle play this music, it looks like it keeps all of you young, too.

    Yes, indeed, this music made us feel like Anything Was Possible. It still does. 🙂

  2. catresea says:

    Cool post Joe! I was 12 when they played the Sullivan show on the 9th and 13 by the 16th. Guess what I wanted for my birthday? Tickets to a Sullivan show, tickets to Carnegie Hall and the Meet The Beatles album. Guess which one I got? LOL! It’s all good. On the 9th, 16th and 23rd I screamed at the TV in our living room. See, Mom and Dad, you should have gotten me those tickets!
    I can’t explain Beatlemania any better than you did Joe but I will add that John, George, Paul & Ringo changed the way I looked at life, the universe and everything. Their music, humor, charisma, creativity and boundless energy were inspiring, Their optimism and playfully rebellious attitude were contagious. I became a Beatlemaniac during winter break, December 1963, still am and will always be. I can’t help but smile when I hear one of their songs, read an old interview or watch A Hard Day’s Night for the 100th time. And you’re right. Their music still makes me feel that anything is possible, and that all you need is love.

  3. Pasquale Alessi says:

    Thanks for sharing your memories with us Joe. How interesting that our Beatle memories are so very parallel. I too have a vivid account of that historical evening 50 years ago. I was 12 visiting my Aunt Jeanie in Dix Hills. (Sundays Italian families always got together at someones house after church) After our Sunday meal, parents played cards, we kids sat in the living room watching the same shows (Disney, Bonanza, and Ed Sullivan). I remember all the hoopla in school too. ALL the girls were talking about the Beatles and I was curious to find out what was getting them so excited.

    Back in elementary school I may have been a little more interested in girls than most boys my age. ( I actually asked a girl out on a date in 4th grade. My father drove us to the bowling alley). I also liked to dance. Whenever we had a class party I would volunteer to bring in the music. I’d drag in my record player and play my records. I had a record collection that included Chubby Checker’s Lets Twist again, The Fours Seasons Greatest Hits, Jan & Dean’s Surf City and the Beach Boys Surfing Safari. I’d be the only boy in class that would dance with the girls. WHY? .Parents influence played a role here too. Every Sunday “Uncle Joe Rotolo’s Italian hour” would be on the family stereo. After that Mom would play her records: Paul Anka, Bobby Vinton, Connie Frances, Dean Martin, Perry Como, Bobby Vee.among a big assorted of Italian music ( and she still has them now). But Mom used to watch American Bandstand too. So listening to the music of the late fifties and seeing teens dancing on TV seemed natural to me. I think a big influence was seeing Chubby Checker giving dance lessons on American bandstand, “How to Do the Twist.” SO next class party I was a dancing fool–, showing all the girls how to twist., do the mash potatoes, the pony, the jerk,etc. And a record collection in 4th grade? Of course. I could afford these childhood luxuries because I collected those deposit bottles at all the construction sites in my expanding Deer Park I could buy important stuff like baseball cards, comic books, Famous Monster mags, and records.

    So what happened that Sunday Feb 9, 1964? After watching the Beatles and the screaming girls I decided immediately I had to be a Beatle or at least a fan to be “cool” with the girls. The day after the TV show I actually combed my hair down to mimic the Beatles only to be scolded by my teacher and sent to the principal’s office for refusing to brush my hair back. (First and only time). I compromised and combed it slightly to the side so I could return to class. Since everyone called me “Patsy” in elementary school, many decided I should take the “P” and call myself “Paul” instead. I bought all the first released Capital albums, read all the teen mags about the Beatles, collected the Beatle trading cards, etc. I even learned to write their signatures so I could decorate girls book covers with their favorite Beatle autograph!!. But to be a Beatle I needed an instrument.

    Started with a junior 3/4 sized drum kit, I too graduated to a acoustic guitar until I was surprised with a guitar/amp combo for my 13th birthday. Self taught myself chords and learned to figure out chords to songs by ear. First band in 9th grade and never stopped playing in some form of music and/or dance since. Fifty years of being influenced by the Beatles I could never get enough. Although I did grow up, finished college, became a science teacher, got married, had two wonderful kids, and had a fairly normal adult life. The Beatles were and still are my “fountain of youth”.. And this is where I totally agree with Joanne.”Not tired old men(women), I also think this music keeps us young and. It certainly makes ME feel that way too. AND thanks to YOU and Liverpool Shuffle, from the strum of the first chord, I’m a 62 year old teenager all over again. Thanks Joe for sharing your memories and your talents with me and the rest of my “teenage” friends.

    ~~Pasquale (Pat, Patsy, Professor, Dad, Grandpa)

  4. joeref says:

    It was a special time in the lives of this generation. Hopefully it still inspires people to do great things in the world.

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