Before Sergeant Pepper, before Woodstock, and before the 60's really started to swing, there was a brief period when innocent pop ruled the charts and the airwaves in Britain. It was a kinder, gentler musical era, and it's one that I wish I could have been part of. (I love both the music and fashions of this era, one of the reasons that Mad Men is such a treat.)
But there's a movie that's a little gem of a time capsule, preserving many of these somewhat obscure acts for posterity. Pop Gear came out in 1965, when the British Invasion was really picking up steam, and on the heels of A Hard Day's Night. In fact, the producers, obviously wanting to cash in on the phenomenal popularity of The Beatles, somehow managed to obtain the rights to two pieces of concert footage ("She Loves You" and "Twist and Shout"), and tacked them on to the beginning and end of the film. All of the other performances were filmed in a studio and lip-synched by the artists.
The film's MC was Jimmy Savile, a well-known DJ and television personality in England, who claims in his autobiography that he was the first DJ to use two turntables and a microphone, a set-up that paved the way for the discos of the 70's and even early hip hop. You will see him briefly in the second clip below. (Warning! Staring directly at his hair for too long may cause blindness.)
Along with The Beatles, Pop Gear featured some well-known British Invasion artists, such as The Animals, Herman's Hermits, Peter and Gordon, and The Spencer Davis Group (with a very young Steve Winwood), along with some lesser-known (in the U.S anyway) acts like The Nashville Teens, The Rockin' Berries, Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, and Sounds Incorporated.
I am struck by the fact that the kids in these bands were probably all born either during World War II or shortly after. Growing up in the aftermath of that war can't have been easy -- food rationing and bombed out cities probably make for a less than ideal childhood. But then, I suppose that that early deprivation almost made it inevitable that a very vibrant youth and music scene would flourish once things started looking up in England.
Here's one of my favorite clips, by The Honeycombs. Aside from having a rhythm guitar player who looks exactly like Ernie from My Three Sons, The Honeycombs were probably the only band from that era (and it's still a rarity even today) to have a female drummer, the righteous Honey Lantree!
The Honeycombs - Have I the Right?