British Beat Before the Beatles 1955-1962

"Love Me Do," the Beatles' first single, entered the British charts on October 11, 1962, more than seven years after the onset of the Rock Era in 1955 heralded by the American success of Bill Haley & the Comets' "Rock Around the Clock." This three-CD set chronicles U.K. attempts (as culled from the vaults of EMI Records) to make English rock before the Beatles. Haley's hit, for example, is rendered here early on by Deep River Boys, and that cover serves as an example of how clueless the Brits were at first; it sounds more like watered-down jump blues than rock & roll, and even has a Dixieland flavor. Whether copies of American hits or attempts to create homegrown rock, these recordings only gradually suggest an appreciation of the feel of the music. As late as Larry Page's version of Buddy Holly's "That'll Be the Day," which comes toward the end of the first disc, the music still sounds anemic. An important change comes near the start of the second disc, however, with Cliff Richard's "Move It." Especially in this context, surrounded by so many lesser lights, Richard stands out as a rocker who knows what he's doing. And from there, things improve. Adam Faith (due to judicious choices from his many recordings) comes off well, and then, of course, Johnny Kidd & the Pirates sound like the real thing, even before "Shakin' All Over" ends disc two. Just as was the case in the U.S., the music begins to soften toward the end of the 1950s and the start of the ‘60s, but the percentage of winners picks up. (It should be noted that this compilation is not a collection of hits exclusively; many of these recordings probably are seeing the light of day for the first time since their single releases crashed and burned at the time.) By the end of the third disc, particularly with such artists as Shane Fenton, a sound not unlike the early Beatles is beginning to emerge, demonstrating that they were influenced not just by American music but also by what was being recorded by other British artists in the early ‘60s. The box set tends to confirm much of what has been said about early British rock, but there is still entertainment to be had in listening to the hapless copycats, along with excitement as the true talents emerge. ~ William Ruhlmann

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