Learning American Music from the British Invasion

by Rhetta Akamatsu
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Everybody who was listening to music in the early '60's remembers what a totally different sound the "Merseybeat" or "British Invasion" was.

As a lifelong Beatle fan, I remember well the total shock of "I Want to Hold Your Hand, " the first time I heard it on the radio.

But there was something else the British groups of the sixties did. It doesn't get as much attention, but I think it's equally as important in cultural history.

The British groups introduced thousands of American teens to a whole genre of American music many of us had never heard.

I'm talking about R&B and Blues, the black music that was referred to as "race music," in the waning years of segregation.

The first time I heard The Beatles' version of "Please Mr. Postman," "You've Really Got a Hold on Me," and "She's Got the Devil in Her Heart," those songs blew me away.

I could not believe the energy and excitement they conveyed. And I had no idea they had been done by anyone before.

When I found out they were by American groups that The Beatles admired, The Marvelettes and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, I was amazed, and fascinated. I wanted to hear the originals.

In the South, where I am from, white teenagers never heard black artists on the radio in the early sixties. We heard covers of Little Richard songs by Pat Boone, smoothed out and made safe for our innocent ears in the eyes of our elders.

When I heard real Little Richard songs (because Paul said he admired him,) I could not believe what had been kept from me.

It didn't stop with the Beatles. The Rolling Stones were the first group to introduce me to the blues. The earliest Stones albums were full of blues songs, and in interviews they were quick to give credit to their own idols.

I started to seek the records out, although it was the late sixties before I had much luck finding many. Later, The Animals, Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin continued my education.

(Although, with Led Zeppelin it was the scandal surrounding their failure to credit the original writers and performers that made me aware of them.) Today, Blues is still the great love of my eclectic musical taste.

In my opinion, without The Beatles, The Stones, and the other early British groups, Motown would not have become the phenomena it did.

Mainstream radio would have been much slower to begin playing black and white American music on the same stations.

It is not hard to realize that the breakdown of the barriers in music let to the weakening of many other barriers between people of different colors.

So, hats off to the British, and the lesson they gave white America in a rich and purely American form of music that went ignored by too many people for too many years

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