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Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2009

‘Mods, Rockers, and the Music of the British Invasion’

Author James E. Perone misses the mark

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Purporting to be an analysis that places the British Invasion within musical as well as cultural contexts, with a special emphasis on exactly why certain British bands dominated the charts and how these artists influenced American music of the era, Mods, Rockers, andthe Music of the British Invasion (Praeger) is often a blatantly misguided effort. Author James E. Perone, a professor of music, obviously has no concept of counterculture or American music. He does craft quality moments of music analysis, but often within incorrect contexts.

In a mounting pile of recent books, musical roots are sought everywhere, sometimes in the wrong places. With Mods, Rockers, it might be a case of the wrong writer looking in the right place.

Perone makes important distinctions between the aesthetics of Britain’s major early ’60s subcultures, the rockers and the mods, relative to their mutually exclusive musical preferences. However, once this has been established, it’s as though the author forgets that the significant artists in both areas were usually as ignorant as can be relative to musical structures. Especially with the Beatles, who move from rocker to mod and American imitators to British originals, the book gets lost in musical terminology that the Beatles would never command. And there is scant mention of the actual studio itself as a method of composition. You cannot approach the later, important music of the Beatles without taking into consideration the tape machines, board and other artifacts that they deployed with radical imagination. The resultant chords in any given song are less important than the process used to achieve them.

On the subject of Lennon/McCartney’s lyrics, Perone writes: “The impact of this paradigm [i.e. writing original lyrics] was felt in the United States…so that newly emerging bands such as the Byrds…that wrote at least some of their own material became the norm… Reliance on professional songwriters increasingly was viewed with skepticism.” Perone is a poor student of music literature and history. Bob Dylan is noted in his book only once in passing and with stupefying ignorance. While there is no doubt that composers performing their own music in England was a Beatles’ feat, it’s not enough to let it go at that, because without the literary influence of the Dylan canon shot across the ocean into “yeah, yeah, yeah” land, there would not have been, well, the Byrds and other emerging bands writing original material on either side of the ocean.

There is another serious lapse in Perone’s research. Referring to the ability to play blues music, he states: “The British rock bands tried to put the kind of intangible soul into their performances of this material that one might expect from the real deal… In 1964, though, this was not necessarily commonplace in American bands.” Yes, it was. In 1964, we had The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, John Paul Hammond’s groups, The Blues Project and, the year before, Koerner, Ray & Glover. Again, Perone has not adequately researched American music. This use of “1964” as the single, original moment for U.K. artists in this regard reveals an unforgivable lapse in research skills.

The “Merseybeat” sound, echoed in the music of many significant British Invasion artists, receives much overdue attention from Perone in terms of its unique tonal and rhythmic characteristics, but on a lyrical level, and regarding one of music idiom history, this book stalls in midair over the Atlantic.

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