The Beatles — post Ed Sullivan appearance critical reviews, a Charles Mingus rant, and perspective

February 11th, 2014

 

With the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ appearance on Ed Sullivan prominently in the news this past week, it is interesting (and entertaining) to revisit some of the critical perspectives of their music following the performance.

On February 10, 1964, Theodore Strongin, music critic for the New York Times (who Wikipedia describes as having been a “champion of new music”) wrote that “The Beatles’ vocal quality can be described as hoarsely incoherent, with the minimal enunciation necessary to communicate the schematic texts.”   Three days later, acknowledging the phenomenon that hit our shores, George Dixon of the Washington Post wrote, “Just thinking about the Beatles seems to induce mental disturbance. They have a commonplace, rather dull act that hardly seems to merit mentioning, yet people hereabouts have mentioned scarcely anything else for a couple of days.”

Months later, William F. Buckley, the era’s chief conservative voice and founder of the National Review got into the act, writing “An estimable critic writing for National Review, after seeing [Elvis] Presley writhe his way through one of Ed Sullivan’s shows … suggested that future entertainers would have to wrestle with live octopuses in order to entertain a mass American audience. The Beatles don’t in fact do this, but how one wishes they did! And how this one wishes the octopus would win…”
What were the jazz critics writing? According to John Gennari, author of Blowin’ Hot and Cool: Jazz and its Critics, the noted jazz critic Martin Williams praised the Beatles’ songwriting but denigrated their “somewhat effeminate hairdos” and criticized their performance style as a “strident imitation of American Negro blues singing.” “Williams’s attitude toward the rock audience and 1960’s youth culture ranged from archly condescending to openly contemptuous,” Gennari writes. “It also manifested a certain unmistakable gendering pattern that coded authentic jazz and blues as serious and masculine, rock as hysterical and feminine. Baffled by the spectacle of young girls screaming at Beatles concerts, Williams claimed to have consulted a Jungian analyst on the matter (were the Beatles a ‘collective archetype’ that triggered the girls’ ‘hypnotic bacchanal,’ he asked?), only to find the specialist as perplexed as himself. In the imperious tone that often characterized his Down Beat column ‘The Bystander,’ Williams proclaimed it a matter of serious intellectual business to discover ‘what is going on in the soul of a generation that must scream constantly through a performance, blocking out any possibility of even hearing what they are presumably there to hear.'”

And what did musicians think about the Beatles?  An example of resentment felt is this rant from Charles Mingus, which took place during this early 1970’s conversation with the journalist John Goodman, author of one of the best books of 2013, Mingus Speaks:

I think that America, for as much as they think they’re free, for the Beatles to be able to come here and take all the millions of dollars away from this country by copying our own music and composers, selling it back to ’em and nobody even suing ’em yet! Plus other groups, the Animals, from England. They came and took our own music and sold it to this country and took the money out and laughed. And retired — and retired, man! No musician — Peggy Lee ain’t retired yet. The Beatles made millions.

So somebody with a great mind, or who understood the Andys of America, made this [Beatles] machine and said, “They think like this, so every now and then we back up our trucks and take some gold out.” These people said, “Look here, man, we’ll take four bars of ‘Stardust,’ turn the first two bars around backwards.”

I got proof, man. Hoagy Carmichael’d be rich if he sued the Beatles. George Gershwin’s dead but his brother and family wrote some of those tunes. Vernon Duke’d be rich, and the “Nature Boy” guy [Eden Ahbez]. [Sings that phrase then a phrase from “Eleanor Rigby,” very close.]

All tunes they stole from here, ’cause English music was completely different, man. I know the forms; you know ’em too. But it was not what they were doing. They stole what we call rock, studied it — not the Beatles did it but some great classical minds from England. “Americans come and take money from France with their jazz stuff. Let’s take some money from them for a change.”

They sit down and analyze. “How do you take money from these stupid people? With their music or something they’ll like or hit on.” And they built the Beatles and the Beatles were a machine, and they promised these kids so much money, and they trained them. They were not musicians when they came. They even became musicians in four-five years, they learned.

And they weren’t money lovers, like Americans are. They made enough and said, “We quit.” You dig? And Peggy Lee and Sinatra, all them cats, work right to the end. They don’t take no vacation. Sinatra has retired, but I say that’s what they did, man. Working to the grave. And they don’t make no room for no young kids. Now some of the young ones like them have run the old ones out. Everybody wants the young faces all the time.

 

*

 

 

While it is common to look at how the emergence of the Beatles positively altered the creative lives of those of us in the Baby Boomer generation, our parents and grandparents paid a big price for this. Lost in our vocal enthusiasm for the Beatles was a youthful inability to understand that while the Sullivan appearance marked the day our generation moved joyfully to the world of FM radio, our parents and the artists they loved — who once dominated the airwaves and the conversations in record company board rooms — remained stuck on the end of the AM dial.   (Mingus was right — “Now some of the young ones like them have run the old ones out. Everybody wants the young faces all the time).”

So, yes, with the benefit of 50 years in our rear view mirror, this criticism is entertaining, and it is interesting to read the resentful rant of a seminal artist like Charles Mingus, but the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show caused the parents of Boomers to ask themselves essential questions regarding their own relevance and creative mortality.   The generations of Armstrong and Sinatra lost their grip on the culture and their kids that night, and thanks to ensuing political events, never really got either back.

 

__________

Read our interview with Mingus Speaks author John Goodman

 

Share this:

3 comments on “The Beatles — post Ed Sullivan appearance critical reviews, a Charles Mingus rant, and perspective”

  1. I just discovered your website and this article alone inclines me to bookmark it and return regularly. What a find! I am a lifelong fan of The Beatles but it is fascinating to read Mingus’s thoughtful (albeit forceful) takedown. My love for The Beatles remains, but Mingus brought a new twist on the phenomenon and clearly knew what he was talking about in terms of the long history of popular music. Great contribution to the history of jazz and popular music.

  2. I was 14 years old. The Aliens had finally landed, much to our delight a great deliverance from the storm and a fresh breeze with clearing skies. Hail, hail rock and roll.

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

painting of Clifford Brown by Paul Lovering
A Collection of Jazz Poetry — Spring/Summer, 2024 Edition...In this, the 17th major collection of jazz poetry published on Jerry Jazz Musician, 50 poets from all over the world again demonstrate the ongoing influence the music and its associated culture has on their creative lives.

(featuring the art of Paul Lovering)

Publisher’s Notes

photo by Rhonda Dorsett
On turning 70, and contemplating the future of Jerry Jazz Musician...

The Sunday Poem

photo via pexels.com
“Wrong Address” – by DB Jonas...

Click here to read previous editions of The Sunday Poem

Poetry

Proceeding From Behind: A collection of poems grounded in the rhythmic, relating to the remarkable, by Terrance Underwood...A relaxed, familiar comfort emerges from the poet Terrance Underwood’s language of intellectual acuity, wit, and space – a feeling similar to one gets while listening to Monk, or Jamal, or Miles. I have long wanted to share his gifts as a poet on an expanded platform, and this 33-poem collection – woven among his audio readings, music he considers significant to his story, and brief personal comments – fulfills my desire to do so.

Interview

The Marvelettes/via Wikimedia Commons
Interview with Laura Flam and Emily Sieu Liebowitz, authors of But Will You Love Me Tomorrow?: An Oral History of the 60’s Girl Groups...Little is known of the lives and challenges many of the young Black women who made up the Girl Groups of the ‘60’s faced while performing during an era rife with racism, sexism, and music industry corruption. The authors discuss their book’s mission to provide the artists an opportunity to voice their experiences so crucial to the evolution of popular music.

Book Excerpt

An excerpt from Emily Jon Tobias’ MONARCH: Stories, and a reflection on our friendship

In Memoriam

photo via Wikimedia Commons
A few words about Willie Mays...Thoughts about the impact Willie Mays had on baseball, and on my life.

Art

photo of Archie Shepp by Giovanni Piesco
The Photographs of Giovanni Piesco: Archie Shepp...photos of the legendary saxophonist (and his rhythm section for the evening), taken at Amsterdam's Bimhuis on May 13, 2001.

Poetry

The cover to Joni Mitchell's 1976 album Hejira [Asylum]; photo by Norman Seeff
“Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada” – a poem (for Joni Mitchell) by Juan Mobili

Click here to read more poetry published in Jerry Jazz Musician

Calling All Poets!

News about a Jerry Jazz Musician printed jazz poetry anthology, and information about submitting your poetry for consideration

Short Fiction

pickpik.com
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #65 — “Ballad” by Lúcia Leão...The author’s award-winning story is about the power of connections – between father and child, music and art, and the past, present and future.

Click here to read more short fiction published on Jerry Jazz Musician

Interview

photo of Louis Jordan by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Interview with Tad Richards, author of Jazz With a Beat: Small Group Swing, 1940 – 1960...Richards makes the case that small group swing players like Illinois Jacquet, Louis Jordan (pictured) and Big Jay McNeely played a legitimate jazz that was a more pleasing listening experience to the Black community than the bebop of Parker, Dizzy, and Monk. It is a fascinating era, filled with major figures and events, and centered on a rigorous debate that continues to this day – is small group swing “real jazz?”

Playlist

Sonny Rollins' 1957 pianoless trio recording "Way Out West"
“The Pianoless Tradition in Modern Jazz” – a playlist by Bob Hecht...an extensive playlist built around examples of prominent pianoless modern jazz.

Feature

Excerpts from David Rife’s Jazz Fiction: Take Two – Vol. 2: “Fathers in Jazz Fiction”...A substantial number of novels and stories with jazz music as a component of the story have been published over the years, and the scholar David J. Rife has written short essay/reviews of them.  In this second edition featuring excerpts from his book, Rife writes about four novels/short stories that include stories involving relationships between fathers and children.

Trading Fours with Douglas Cole

The cover of Wayne Shorter's 2018 Blue Note album "Emanon"
Trading Fours, with Douglas Cole, No. 20: “Notes on Genius...This edition of the writer’s poetic interpretations of jazz recordings and film is written in response to the music of Wayne Shorter.

Click here to read previous editions of Trading Fours with Douglas Cole

In Memoriam

Hans Bernhard (Schnobby), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
“Remembering Joe Pass: Versatile Jazz Guitar Virtuoso” – by Kenneth Parsons...On the 30th anniversary of the guitarist Joe Pass’ death, Kenneth Parsons reminds readers of his brilliant career

Book Excerpt

Book excerpt from Jazz with a Beat: Small Group Swing 1940 – 1960, by Tad Richards

Click here to read more book excerpts published on Jerry Jazz Musician

Poetry

painting by Vaino Kunnas
Jazz…in eight poems...A myriad of styles and experiences displayed in eight thoughtful, provocative poems…

Jazz History Quiz #172

photo of Teddy Wilson by William Gottlieb
Teddy Wilson once said this about a fellow jazz pianist:

“That man had the most phenomenal musical gifts I’ve ever heard. He was miraculous. It’s like someone hitting a home run every time he picks up a bat. We became such fast friends that I was allowed to interrupt him anytime he was playing at the house parties in Toledo we used to make every night. When I asked him, he would stop and replay a passage very slowly, showing me the fingering on some of those runs of his. You just couldn’t figure them out by ear at the tempo he played them.”

Who is the pianist he is describing?

Community

photo via Picryl.com
.“Community Bookshelf, #2"...a twice-yearly space where writers who have been published on Jerry Jazz Musician can share news about their recently authored books. This edition includes information about books published within the last six months or so…

Contributing Writers

Click the image to view the writers, poets and artists whose work has been published on Jerry Jazz Musician, and find links to their work

Coming Soon

A new collection of jazz poetry; a collection of jazz haiku; a new Jazz History Quiz; short fiction; poetry; photography; interviews; playlists; and lots more in the works...

Interview Archive

Eubie Blake
Click to view the complete 22 year archive of Jerry Jazz Musician interviews, including those recently published with Richard Carlin and Ken Bloom on Eubie Blake (pictured); Richard Brent Turner on jazz and Islam; Alyn Shipton on the art of jazz; Shawn Levy on the original queens of standup comedy; Travis Atria on the expatriate trumpeter Arthur Briggs; Kitt Shapiro on her life with her mother, Eartha Kitt; Will Friedwald on Nat King Cole; Wayne Enstice on the drummer Dottie Dodgion; the drummer Joe La Barbera on Bill Evans; Philip Clark on Dave Brubeck; Nicholas Buccola on James Baldwin and William F. Buckley; Ricky Riccardi on Louis Armstrong; Dan Morgenstern and Christian Sands on Erroll Garner; Maria Golia on Ornette Coleman.

Site Archive