The Pop Revolution
Even if the word “pop” disappears from the English vocabulary, the influence of pop will remain. Pop has become part of British—and American—history.
There has always been a close cultural link, or tie, between Britain and English—speaking America, not only in literature but also in the popular arts, especially music. Before the Second World War the Americans exported jazz and the blues. During the 1950s they exported rock ’n’ roll, and star singers like Elvis Presley were idolized by young Britons and Americans alike.
Then in the early 1960s a new sound was heard, very different from anything which had so far come from the American side of the Atlantic. This was the Liverpool, or Merseyside, “beat”. Situated on the River Mersey in the north—eastern corner of the industrial Black Country, Liverpool was not a place which anyone visited for fun. Until the 1960s it was known only as one of Britain’s largest ports. Then, almost overnight, it became world famous as the birthplace of the new pop culture which, in a few years, swept across Britain and America, and across most of the countries of the western world.
The people responsible for the pop revolution were four Liverpool boys who joined together in a group and called themselves The Beatles. They played in small clubs in the back streets of the city. Unlike the famous solo stars who had their songs written for them, the Beatles wrote their own words and music. They had a close personal relationship with their audience, and they expected them to join in and dance to the “beat” of the music. Audience participation is an essential characteristic of pop culture.
Some pop groups, in particular the Rolling Stones, did more than just entertain. They wrote words which were deliberately intended to shock. They represented the anger and bitterness of youth struggling for freedom against authority, and for this reason they were regarded by some people as the personification of the “permissive society”.
The Beatles, on the other hand, finally won the affection—and admiration—of people of all ages and social backgrounds. As they developed, their songs became more serious. They wrote not only of love, but of death and old age and poverty and daily life. They were respected by many intellectuals and by some serious musicians. Largely thanks to the Beatles, pop music has grown into an immense and profitable industry.
The influence of British pop in America was immense. American pop groups soon became as famous as British groups. Both British and Americans are experimenting with new ideas, and pop is developing and changing, and merging with modern folk music.