What if

With­out the Fab Four to stand up to the record in­dus­try bosses, the sound of the Swing­ing Six­ties would have been sani­tised

All About History - - CONTENTS -

The Bea­tles are a leg­endary pop group – but what if they’d never formed?

The run­away suc­cess of Amer­i­can stars like Frank Si­na­tra, John­nie Ray and Elvis Pres­ley en­sured that by 1957, Britain’s teenage mar­ket for short, catchy songs de­liv­ered by hand­some men was firmly es­tab­lished and clam­our­ing for home-grown tal­ent. But if a 16-year-old tear­away from Liver­pool called John Len­non had de­cided not to en­list the ser­vices of one James Paul Mccart­ney into his skif­fle group, The Quar­ry­men, they might never have be­come The Bea­tles. And what­ever hap­pened next, it al­most cer­tainly would not have pre­oc­cu­pied us for the next 60 years.

A self-con­fessed know-it-all, Len­non could eas­ily have dis­missed the younger Mccart­ney out of hand, no mat­ter how im­pressed he was that the kid could play Twenty Flight Rock and knew all the words. But early the fol­low­ing year, Ge­orge Har­ri­son joined at Mccart­ney’s sug­ges­tion and the die was cast. Fame and for­tune would soon fol­low.

Had Len­non ploughed on with­out them, it’s likely that The Quar­ry­men would have re­mained a mys­tery to the world, al­though af­ter en­rolling in Liver­pool Col­lege of Art in 1957, their leader could well have pur­sued a more soli­tary cre­ative path.

Mccart­ney had the chops and the charm to fol­low his own star and may have done well in show­biz – as a TV pre­sen­ter, per­haps. Har­ri­son, too, had the tal­ent, looks and am­bi­tion to make it – maybe as a gui­tar prodigy; an Eric Clap­ton of the North. At that time, Ringo Starr was mak­ing his Writ­ten by Nick Churchill

name as a drum­mer-for-hire, and would cer­tainly have done very nicely out of that be­fore a later ca­reer in act­ing beck­oned, or maybe as a book­ing agent, or even a life as a pro­moter.

By 1962, as The Bea­tles scored their first hit,

Love Me Do, Britain’s nascent pop mu­sic in­dus­try was hit­ting its stride. Tommy Steele, Adam Faith, He­len Shapiro and, most sig­nif­i­cantly, Cliff Richard – Britain’s an­swer to Elvis – were big stars, but they were safe, sani­tised and as likely to be pop­u­lar with par­ents as they were with the kids. They did as they were told, sang the songs they were given and toed the line.

That was never enough for The Bea­tles, who from the out­set chal­lenged the sta­tus quo by writ­ing their own ma­te­rial, then turned their backs on tour­ing and de­manded un­lim­ited stu­dio time with com­plete cre­ative free­dom. As long as they re­mained bank­able, the in­dus­try was in no po­si­tion to refuse them. But with­out them to lead the charge, what would have be­come of their im­me­di­ate mu­si­cal con­tem­po­raries?

The Rolling Stones would still have formed, but with­out Len­non and Mccart­ney to gift them their first Top 20 hit – I Wanna Be Your Man – they would ei­ther have con­tin­ued to ape Amer­i­can rhythm and blues, or given in to Mick Jag­ger’s at­trac­tion to fame and for­tune and churned out a se­ries of Tin Pan Alley hits.

Sim­i­larly, the mem­bers of The Kinks and The Who would have found one an­other through Lon­don’s R&B and jazz scenes, but if they’d never heard The Bea­tles’ early orig­i­nals, would Ray

Davies have co-opted mu­sic hall to cre­ate a new mu­si­cal ver­nac­u­lar, or Pete Town­shend have found the courage to cook up a rock opera?

In Amer­ica, Brian Wil­son herded The Beach Boys into a mael­strom of cre­ativ­ity as a di­rect re­sult of The Bea­tles’ Rub­ber Soul al­bum, but with­out that cat­a­lyst, per­haps his demons would have con­sumed his tal­ent even more com­pletely, mak­ing it eas­ier for the group to sim­ply fol­low the money.

Dy­lan would still have hap­pened, but The Byrds would never have mar­ried his vi­sion of folk mu­sic to a Bea­tles beat and sounded the West Coast psy­che­delic sirens, leav­ing only the dystopian dis­tor­tions of New York­ers like The Vel­vet Un­der­ground or Midwestern ag­it­prop­pers the MC5 to drive the cre­ative im­per­a­tive.

In a world with­out The Bea­tles, some­thing else would have filled the com­mer­cial vac­uum, as tech­nol­ogy drove a new kind of teen au­di­ence through tran­sis­tor ra­dios, por­ta­ble record play­ers and the telly, but it would have looked and sounded very dif­fer­ent in­deed.

“Mccart­ney may have done well as a TV pre­sen­ter”

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