Friday, 5 October 2012
The Beatles & James Bond: 5 October 1962
That what we know as the Sixties really did not begin until the arrival of The Beatles can be attested by what came out of their phenomenal success. From about 1956 to 1958 the United Kingdom saw a skiffle craze, skiffle being a genre of American folk music made with improvised instruments (washboards, jugs, tea chest basses, et. al.). As the skiffle fad came to an end, many of the British skiffle bands would turn to rock 'n' roll. Among these skiffle bands were The Quarrymen, the band who would evolve into The Beatles. In the end rock 'n' roll bands began to emerge in such cities as Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham, as well as London. Liverpool and the surrounding Mersey area proved especially fertile ground for bands performing what was then called "beat music." Concurrent with the emergence of beat music was the emergence of a number of rhythm and blues bands, such as The Spencer Davis Group, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, and so on.
Of course, The Beatles would not simply revolutionise the British music industry. They would revolutionise the American music industry as well. Contrary to popular belief there were British artists who had found some success in the United States prior to The Beatles. Lonnie Donegan, The Tornadoes, and The Springfields, among others, had all had hits in the Untied States prior to The Beatles. That having been said, it would be The Beatles would have the most success of any British band in the United States. Indeed, as in their native Britain, The Beatles became a veritable phenomenon in the United States (on 4 April 1964 Beatles songs would occupy the top five places of Billboard's Hot 100, a feat which has never been duplicated since). The Beatles' incredible success would begin what has become known as the British Invasion, that period from 1964 to 1966 when British artists would dominate the American charts. The British Invasion would have a lasting impact on the American music scene. Whereas at one time it was rare for British artists to hit the American charts, after 1964 it became a common, everyday occurrence. Music artists as diverse as Led Zeppelin, The Electric Light Orchestra, Duran Duran, Oasis, Coldplay, Amy Winehouse, and Adele then owe a debt of gratitude to The Beatles.
Of course, The Beatles became not only the most successful band in the United Kingdom and the United States, but in the world. As such they would have a lasting impact on rock music, in at least one instance creating a whole new subgenre of rock and having a huge influence on other subgenres. While the term "power pop" would not be coined by Pete Townshend until 1967 in a New Music Express article (nearly four years after The Beatles' first single), there can be no doubt that The Beatles invented the subgenre. Perhaps best described as a blend of Everly Brothers harmonies with an emphasis on electric guitar, the first power pop songs are also some of The Beatles' earliest songs: "She Loves You," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "Please Please Me," and so on. While The Beatles invented power pop, they would be an important influence on other rock subgenres. They would prove influential in the developing subgenre of psychedelia, with the songs "Tomorrow Never Knows" from the album Revolver and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" from the album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. With songs such as "Eleanor Rigby," "Yesterday," and "I Am the Walrus," among others, The Beatles would have lasting influence on symphonic rock and such bands as The Electric Light Orchestra and The Nice. The Beatles would also have an influence on the related subgenre of progressive rock through various tracks on the album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the songs "I Am the Walrus," "Strawberry Fields Forever," and others. As strange as it may seem, The Beatles would also have an influence on heavy metal. The song "Helter Skelter (from the album The Beatles, better known as The White Album)" can be considered one of the earliest heavy metal songs written.
Ultimately the influence of The Beatles, not only on Anglophonic music and Anglophonic pop culture but on music and pop culture worldwide, cannot be measured. Along with Bob Dylan and a few others, The Beatles were among the first music artists to perform primarily songs that they had written themselves. Along with Frank Sinatra and a few other artists, The Beatles were among the first to place an emphasis on the record album, as opposed to singles. Before the Sixties ended this would become the norm for artists not only in the genre of rock music, but most other music genres as well. The Beatles would also be innovators in the recording studio. For example, automatic double tracking (ADT) was invented by EMI engineer Ken Townsend for the album Revovler. While The Beatles were hardly the first artists to use music videos, they were largely responsible for popularising the form with their various promotional films for songs ranging from "Help!" to "Something." The Beatles' movie A Hard Day's Night would revolutionise the rock musical.
The James Bond film franchise that was inaugurated with Dr. No would not be as revolutionary as The Beatles were (I am not sure anything is), but it would prove to very influential. James Bond was hardly a new character when he made his feature film debut on 5 October 1962. He had first appeared in the novel Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, published on 13 April 1953. By the time the film version of Dr. No was released, James Bond had already appeared in nine novels. Indeed, James Bond had already appeared on television. In 1954 the novel Casino Royale was adapted as an episode of the CBS anthology series Climax. Barry Nelson played James Bond, who was portrayed as American rather than British. In the Fifties Ian Fleming made various attempts to bring James Bond to the big screen. He approached producer Sir Alexander Korda about making a Bond movie. Unfortunately, while Sir Alexander Korda was initially interested, he would eventually turn the project down. Ian Fleming and producer Kevin McClory would make an attempt at making a Bond film with a screenplay written by Ian Fleming, Kevin McClory, and Jack Whittingham in 1958, but the project never got off the ground. Ian Fleming would later turn the screenplay into the novel Thunderball.
Dr. No premiered 5 October 1962 at the London Pavilion, Piccadilly Circus. Its general release throughout the Untied Kingdom was the next day. The film proved to a smash hit in Britain, grossing £840,000 in its first two weeks of release. Dr. No would be released over the early month of 1962 in the various countries of Europe, where it would also do well. Finally, about seven months after its release in the United Kingdom, Dr. No was released in the United States on 8 May 1963. In the United States it repeated the success it had elsewhere, grossing $2 million in its initial release. In the end Dr. No would gross $59.6 million worldwide.
The most immediate impact of the success of Dr. No was that it launched the James Bond film franchise. While other movie series have many more entries, at 50 years in age the James Bond film series is the by far the longest running series in movie history. With the release of Skyfall next month, there will be 22 Bond movies produced by Eon Productions. In total the James Bond movies have grossed $5 billion in total, making it the highest grossing film series when adjusted for inflation.
Of course, here it must be pointed out that, contrary to popular belief, Dr. No did not start the spy craze that swept the United Kingdom and the United States in the Sixties. At the time of the release of Dr. No the United Kingdom was already in the midst of a spy craze that had begun with the TV programmes The Avengers and Danger Man in 1961. In fact, much of the success of Dr. No in the United Kingdom was perhaps due to the ongoing spy craze in Britain. With regards to the United States, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the initial series in the American broadcast networks' cycle towards spy show, was initially conceived in late 1962, before the release of Dr. No in the United States. While Dr. No would in a large part be responsible for bringing the British spy craze to the Untied States, then, the first American show to capitalise on that craze was already in the works before the film had even been released in the Untied States.
While Dr. No did not start the spy craze of the Sixties, it did play a large role in intensifying it and probably gave the spy craze a longer lifespan than it might have had otherwise. In the wake of the success of Dr. No several other spy films (some wholly different from the James Bond films, others outright imitators, and yet others spy spoofs) would follow throughout nearly the rest of the Sixties. Some of these films would be successful enough to create short lived movie series in their own right. This was the era of Matt Helm (The Silencers, Murderers' Row, The Ambushers, The Wrecking Crew), Harry Palmer (The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin, Billion Dollar Brain), and Derek Flint (Our Man Flint, In Like Flint). The next several years would see the release of such films as Hot Enough for June (1964), Modesty Blaise (1966), Fathom (1967), and The President's Analyst (1967). From 1964 to 1968 it would be difficult to avoid spy movies at one's local theatres.
In the United Kingdom television was already in a cycle towards spy shows started by The Avengers and Danger Man in 1961 when Dr. No debuted, while The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was already in its planning stages even before the film made its way to the United States. This is not to say that Dr. No did not have an impact on television. In the United Kingdom the film perhaps injected even more life into the spy craze. In fact, the success of Dr. No and the continuing success of The Avengers may have played a role in the revival of Danger Man in an hour long format in 1964. As to the Untied States, it was perhaps the success of Dr. No that led to a spate of spy shows that debuted in the autumn of 1965. It and its follow up, From Russia With Love, may have also been responsible for the late blooming success of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which began the 1964-1965 season at the bottom of the ratings, but had become an outright fad in the spring of 1965. While the success of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came too late for it to inspire any of the new spy shows in the 1965-1966 season (which were most likely the progeny of Bond), it success may have been responsible for the new series that debuted in the 1966-1967 season, as well as the importation of such British spy series as The Avengers and Danger Man.
While Dr. No played a pivotal role in the continuation of the spy craze of the Sixties, it would also be rather subversive with regards to film. Though it seems tame today, in 1962 Dr. No was considered to be blatantly sexual. Indeed, James Bond has a sexual encounter within minutes of the beginning of the film. It would not be his last. The sexual content of Dr. No, tame by today's standards, would lead the Vatican to condemn the film. In the United States the Legion of Decency gave Dr. No a rating of "B: Morally Objectionable In Part For All." While Dr. No was blatantly sexual for the era, at the same time the women of the film were hardly mere sex objects. Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson) and Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) were both sexually liberated, independent, self sufficient women. And while Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) may not have been sexually liberated, she was certainly intelligent, capable, and could get along quite well without having to depend upon a man. While the early Bond Girls may not have been as cutting edge as Mrs. Cathy Gale on The Avengers before them or Mrs. Emma Peel on The Avengers only a little later, they were certainly a sharp contrast to many women in film before them. In fact, among their few precedents may have been Hitchcock's heroines. Dr. No then occupies a special place in film history, a film made at the start of the sexual revolution and one that took full advantage of that fact.
Dr. No would also set the pace for many spy adventures to come. While many of Hitchcock's spy thrillers (The 39 Steps and North by Northwest) and the TV series The Avengers were done with tongue firmly in cheek before Dr. No, it is arguably because of Dr. No that so many of the spy thrillers of the Sixties and later would be tongue in cheek. This would become even more pronounced as the Sixties progressed, with many spy films and eventually the later Bond entries becoming tongue in cheek to the point of self parody. Regardless, it would be Dr. No that would provide the template not only for all Bond films to come, but several other spy films to come as well.
Together The Beatles and Dr. No would largely shape what we know as the Sixties. The success of The Beatles would lead to success for other British music artists and largely provide the soundtrack to the decade. Dr. No would launch the James Bond movie franchise and add fuel to a spy craze that was already under way in the United Kingdom. Both The Beatles and the James Bond movies would create rampant Anglophilia in the United States that would dominate the nation for much of the Sixties and never has quite died out. The Beatles' success in the United States would launch the British Invasion, which would see such bands as The Dave Clark Five, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Hollies, and The Who successively conquer America. Dr. No would help bring the spy craze to the United States and would inspire other spy films and television series to the point that the majority of the decade was dominated not by cowboys, detectives, or doctors, but by spies. Together The Beatles and James Bond not only shaped the Sixties, but they changed the world. While the United States had dominated entertainment and pop culture for much of the 20th Century, in the Sixties the United Kingdom could lay claim to the most successful band of all time and the most successful superspy as well.