Well Now - Dig This!

By Bob Wooler  

Mersey Beat: August 31 1961

Bob Wooler and Bill HarryWhy do you think the Beatles are so popular? Many people many times have asked me this question since that fantastic night (Tuesday, 27th December 1960) at Litherland Town Hall, when the impact of the act was first felt on this side of the River. I consider myself privileged to have been associated with the launching of the group on that exciting occasion, and grateful for the opportunities of presenting them to fever-pitch audiences at practically all of the group's subsequent appearances prior to their last Hamburg trip. 

Perhaps my close association with the group's activities, both earlier this year and since their recent re-appearance on the Merseyside scene, persuades people to think that I can produce a blueprint of The Beatles Success Story. It figures, I suppose, and if, in attempting to explain the popularity of their act, the following analysis is at variance with other peoples views, well that's just one of those things. The question is nevertheless thought-provoking.

Well, then how to answer it? First some obvious observations. The Beatles are the biggest thing to have hit the Liverpool rock 'n' roll set-up in years. They were, and still are, the hottest local property any Rock promoter is likely to encounter. To many of these gentlemen's ears, Beatle-brand noises are cacophonous on stage, but who can ignore the fact that the same sounds translate into the sweetest music this side of heaven at the box-office! I think the Beatles are No. 1 because they resurrected original style rock 'n' roll music, the origins of which are to be found in American Negro singers. They hit the scene when it had been emasculated by figures like Cliff Richard and sounds like those electronic wonders, the Shadows and their many imitators. Gone was the drive that inflamed the emotions. This was studio set jungle music purveyed skillfully in a chartwise direction by arrangement with the A&R men.

The Beatles, therefore, exploded on a jaded scene. And to those people on the verge of quitting teendom - those who had experienced during their most impressionable years the impact of rhythm 'n' blues music (raw rock 'n' roll) - this was an experience, a process of regaining and reliving a style of sounds and associated feelings identifiable with their era.

Here again, in the Beatles, was the stuff that screams are made of. Here was the excitement - both physical and aural - that symbolized the rebellion of youth in the ennuied mid-1950's. This was the real thing. Here they were, first five and then four human dynamos generating a beat which was irresistible. Turning back the Rock clock. Pounding out items from Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, the Coasters and the other great etceteras of the era. Here they were, unmindful of uniformity of dress. Unkempt like long hair. Rugged yet romantic, appealing to both sexes. With calculated naiveté and an ingenious, throw-away approach to their music. 

Effecting indifference to audience response and yet always saying 'Thank-you.' Reviving interest in, and commanding, enthusiasm for numbers which descended the Charts way back. Popularizing (more than any other group) flipside items - example, 'Boys.' Compelling attention and influencing, wittingly or unwittingly, other groups in the style, choice and presentation of songs.

Essentially a vocal act, hardly ever instrumental (at least not in this country), here they were independently minded, playing what they liked for kicks, kudos and cash. Privileged in having gained prestige and experience from a residency at the Hamburg Top Ten Club during the autumn and winter of last year. Musically authoritative and physically magnetic, example the mean, moody magnificence of drummer Pete Best - a sort of teenage Jeff Chandler. A remarkable variety of talented voices which song-wise sound distinctive, but when speaking, poses the same naiveté of tone. Rhythmic revolutionaries. An act which from beginning to end is a succession of climaxes. A personality cult. seemingly unambitious, yet fluctuating between the self-assured and the vulnerable. Truly a phenomenon - and also a predicament to promoters! Such as the fantastic Beatles. I don't think anything like them will happen again.

Editor's note: Cavern disc jockey Bob Wooler, a Mersey Beat columnist, penned this piece in the August 31 1961 issue of Mersey Beat. How prophetic his last sentence proved to be! In recent years I told Bob I intended to revive Mersey Beat and I wanted him back in the fold as a columnist. Sadly, he died early in 2002 while I was still panning the website.

There are one or two things I would like to point out. The main advertisement on this page was for NEMS record store. Apart from the fact that I regularly discussed the Beatles and the Mersey scene with Brian Epstein each time I dropped copies to him, in addition to the fact that he began to review records for me from Issue No. 3, it is obvious from the sort of coverage, such as this article, which the Beatles were receiving every issue, that Epstein was aware of the Beatles from Mersey Beat and not some youngsters asking for a record in his store some months later. Bob also mentions the impact the group made at Litherland Town Hall. It was Bob who persuaded promoter Brian Kelly to book them for their debut appearance there on that date. It's also interesting to note that the only member of the Beatles mentioned by name is drummer Pete Best. Bob nicked the 'mean, moody, magnificent' tag from Howard Hughes' description of Jane Russell in the movie 'The Outlaw.' As this article was published in 1961, Bob did get something wrong: he mentions a residency at the "Hamburg Top Ten Club during the autumn and winter of last year." They only had residencies at the Indra and Kaiserkeller in 1960, although they made a few appearances at the Top Ten (Their Top Ten residency didn't actually commence until 1961).

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