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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

50 years ago this week the Fifties ended and the Sixties began

Fifty years ago this week, in the last week of August 1962, the last summer of the old world was drawing to a close. Nobody knew it at the time. Nobody knew that the following year, 1963, was going to see Beatlemania, Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and Bob Dylan singing “Blowing In The Wind”.

During the summer of 1962, in Liverpool, Chelsea, Jamaica, Los Angeles and New York, a handful of odd young people were plotting their careers, although they wouldn't have called them that. They didn’t dream that anyone would care the following year, let alone fifty years later.

On August 16th 1962 The Beatles sacked their drummer Pete Best. EMI said he wasn't good enough. Ringo Starr was in bed at home when his mother announced Brian Epstein was outside. In 1962 not everyone had a phone.

On July 12th 1962 the Rollin' Stones played their first show at the Marquee Club. Their eighteen-song set featured six tunes by Jimmy Reed. Ian Stewart said at the time Mick, Keith and Brian were literally the only people in the UK at all familiar with this music. It’s difficult to convey today just how far underground Chess rhythm and blues was in America at that time, let along in the UK.

Peter Stringfellow started the Black Cat Club in summer 1962, in St Aiden’s Church Hall in Sheffield. 15-year old David Jones was in a group called The Kon-Rads, who played a few shows around Bromley in Kent. They made a single at Decca's studios in West Hampstead on August 30th 1962. He left soon after because he wanted to play rhythm and blues and changed his name to David Bowie.

Mick Jagger moved into a flat in Chelsea where he was joined by Keith Richards and Brian Jones. Jagger was still a student at the LSE at the time, though he wouldn’t go back in September. He wasn't the only young person that summer trying to choose between higher education – just 4% of 18-year-olds went to university in 1962 – and a future for which there was no template. In California Al Jardine left the Beach Boys, who had already had a local hit with Surfin', to go to college and study dentistry. In New York Paul Simon was studying English Literature at Queens College while making demos for music publishers in his spare time.

In August 1962 Robert Zimmerman, who had already made a whole long player, changed his name legally to Bob Dylan. There was no way he was going home to Hibbing with that name.

In July 1962 Andy Warhol unveiled his first one-man exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. The exhibition consisted of thirty-two individual canvases of cans for different flavours of Campbell's soup. A young actor called Dennis Hopper bought one for $100.

In the summer of 1962 Joe Orton was serving his six-month sentence for defacing library books. Wilfred Brambell, star of the BBC’s comedy hit of the year Steptoe and Son, was arrested in a gentlemen’s lavatory on Shepherd’s Bush Green, not far from where his fictional character collected rags and bones.

In Jamaica, which became independent on August 6th 1962, the 16-year old Bob Marley released his first record, a cover of a US country and western hit called One Cup Of Coffee, under the name Bobby Martell.

The communications satellite Telstar was launched on July 10th 1962. Within days producer Joe Meek had his Holloway Road studio working on the instrumental of the same name, which came out on August 17th. This was just two weeks after Marilyn Monroe had been found dead at the age of thirty-six.

Edward and Florence, the honeymoon couple in Ian McEwan’s novel On Chesil Beach dined in their hotel room in July 1962, possibly even on the same night the Rollin’ Stones were playing Jimmy Reed at the Marquee, in “an era when to be young was a social encumbrance, a mark of irrelevance, a faintly embarrassing condition for which marriage was the beginning of a cure.”

In the summer of 1962 nobody guessed youth was something you could prolong. The events of the coming winter, a cold one, would change all that. Not all the people who shivered through that winter, hatching plans for their own little careers, became as famous as The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Andy Warhol, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan and Brian Wilson. Not all of them had a name which still resounds into the following century. Obviously there had to be a time when the rest of us hadn’t heard of them. What’s more amazing, given the way they and the sixties remain yoked together in the public imagination all these years later, is that there was ever a time when they hadn’t heard of each other.