Guide to British Music of the 1960s

May 2020

Book Review

Let's Stomp! by Peter Checksfield

Peter Checksfield's latest book is another meticulously-researched reference work that is full of interest. Let's Stomp! follows the development of music in the UK based on the songs that artists covered. As British music became more and more popular, especially in the 1960s, lots of songs and styles were new to listeners' ears. Many of these were not originals but cover versions of US tracks that may or may not have been released in the UK. In the early 1960s, in particular, songs came from three sources: sold by a music publisher (probably in Denmark Street), written by band members or covers of songs by US artists. In the latter case, the song may or may not have been a hit or even released in the UK. The 1960s top artists were heavily reliant on cover versions of American songs before their own songwriting talents came to the fore. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Small Faces, the Kinks and the Who made their influences very clear. The Beatles may have been prolific songwriters but even up to their fourth LP Beatles for Sale in 1964 they were including cover versions on the LPs - witness the likes of Twist & Shout, Roll Over Beethoven while even Beatles for Sale included incredible performances of Buddy Holly's Words of Love and Chuck Berry's Rock & Roll Music. Although not written by Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones version of Route 66 has become virtually the definitive version of the song even though it has been covered by many artists including Them on their debut LP. The Who's My Generation LP included the James Brown tracks Please Please Please and I Don't Mind while Shout & Shimmy was on the b-side of the My Generation single and the BBC Sessions album contained James Brown's Just You and Me, Darling. The Who were also covering the Everly Brothers, Eddie Holland and Martha & the Vandellas amongst others. The Small Faces debut kicks off with Ronnie Lane belting out Sam Cooke's Shake.

A lot of the American artists included were unknown in the UK. It is often stated that a reason for the explosion in groups in Liverpool in the early 1960s was because it was a port. Sailors would return on ships from the US bringing armfuls of records that could not be purchased in the UK. It then became a race amongst the groups to see who could transpose the chords and lyrics and get the song into their set first. Consequently, a lot of the Merseybeat bands had similar live sets.

Bo Diddley was a very popular source of material. I'm a Man was covered by the Yardbirds, the Creation and the Who amongst others. Mona made the first Rolling Stones album as well as the Troggs' Trogglodynamite. The Pretty Things even took a Bo Diddley song as their name and covered Pretty Thing on their debut!

By the end of the 1960s more artists were writing their own material or using material written in the UK so there was less reliance on imports from the US. Nevertheless, even the debut Deep Purple single Hush was a cover of a song by US country singer Billy Joe Royal.

It may be beyond the scope of this book but British artists also leaned heavily on their influences when writing their own tracks. Booker T & the MGs were a clear influence on the Small Faces and, aside from covering the instrumental Plum Nellie, the Hammond sound was present in the band's jams such as Come on Children and E too D. The Small Faces also took the Willie Dixon track You Need Love and wrote You Need Loving which Robert Plant and Jimmy Page later turned into Whole Lotta Love. Paul McCartney, in particular, was a massive Little Richard fan and Long Tall Sally was not only a staple of the Beatles set but the style was also clear in the Help b-side I'm Down. The Yardbirds had Train Kept a Rollin' as a staple part of their set throughout their career even into early Led Zeppelin days and transformed it into Stroll On for the film Blow Up.

This book is a fascinating read. It works better as a reference work, dipping in and out when desired, rather than a cover to cover read. It is very interesting seeing just how popular some songs were in the UK and in many cases, the UK artist was more successful than the original artist. This was a feature of the British music explosion. As a generalisation British artists took their influence from the US and, a few years later, took their sounds back to the US and made s.

Published: 31 March 2020

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