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Stylistic origins British rock and roll, Celtic music (merseybeat), Doo wop, Rhythm and blues, Rock and roll, Skiffle, Soul
Cultural origins late 1950s to early 1960s in Britain
Typical instruments Guitar, Bass guitar, Drums, Vocals, Keyboards, Harmonica
Mainstream popularity Mainstream popularity in early 1960s
Derivative forms Garage rock, Power pop, Pop punk, Mod revival, Britpop, Progressive rock, Proto-punk, Pub rock, Yé-yé, Psychedelic rock, group sounds, Wong shadow, string (Thai pop)
Regional scenes
Merseybeat (Merseyside)
Brumbeat (Birmingham)
Nederbeat (Netherlands)
Tottenham Sound (London)
Other topics
British Invasion, Carnaby Street, Mod (subculture), Swinging London

Beat music, British beat, or Merseybeat (for bands from Liverpool beside the River Mersey), is a pop music genre that developed in the United Kingdom in the early 1960s. Beat music is a fusion of rock and roll, doo wop, skiffle, R&B and soul. The beat movement provided most of the bands responsible for the British invasion of the American pop charts in the period after 1964, and provided the model for many important developments in pop and rock music.

Beat groups characteristically had simple guitar-dominated line-ups, with vocal harmonies and catchy tunes.[1] The most common instrumentation of beat groups featured lead, rhythm and bass guitars plus drums, as popularized by The Beatles, The Searchers, Gerry & The Pacemakers and others.[2] Beat groups - even those with a separate lead singer - often sang both verses and choruses in close harmony, resembling doo wop, with nonsense syllables in the backing vocals.[3] The most distinctive characteristic of the music was the strong beat, using the backbeat common to rock and roll and rhythm and blues, but often with a driving emphasis on all the beats of 4/4 bar.[4]


Use of the term

The exact origins of the terms Beat music and Merseybeat are uncertain. Beat music seems to have had little to do with the Beat Generation literary movement of the 1950s, and more to do with driving rhythms, which the bands had adopted from their rock and roll, rhythm and blues and soul music influences. As rock and roll declined in the later 1950s "big beat" music, later shortened to "beat", became a live dance alternative to the balladeers like Tommy Steele, Marty Wilde and Cliff Richard who were dominating the charts.[2] The term Mersey Beat was used for a Liverpool magazine of that name found in 1961 by Bill Harry. Harry claims to have coined the term "based on a policeman's beat and not that of the music".[5] The band The Pacifics were re-named The Mersey Beats in February 1962 by Bob Wooler, MC at the Cavern Club and in April that year they became The Merseybeats.[6] The equivalent scenes in Birmingham and London would be described as Brum beat and the Tottenham Sound respectively.[7]


In the late 1950s, a flourishing culture of groups began to emerge, often out of the declining skiffle scene, in major urban centres in the UK like Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and London. This was particularly true in Liverpool, where it has been estimated that there were around 350 different bands active, often playing ballrooms, concert halls and clubs.[5] Liverpool was perhaps uniquely placed within Britain to be the point of origin of a new form of music. Commentators have pointed to a combination of local solidarity, industrial decline, social deprivation, and the existence of a large population of Irish origin, the influence of which has been detected in Beat music.[8] It was also a major port with links to America, which made for much greater access to American records and instruments like guitars, which could not easily be imported due to trade restrictions.[8] As a result Beat bands were heavily influenced by American groups of the era, such as Buddy Holly and the Crickets (from which group The Beatles gained the model for their name, combining it with a pun on the beat in their music), and to a lesser extent by British rock and roll groups such as The Shadows.[9]

After the national success of the Beatles in Britain from 1962, a number of Liverpool performers were able to follow them into the charts, including Gerry & The Pacemakers, The Searchers, and Cilla Black. The first act who were not from Liverpool or managed by Brian Epstein to break through in the UK were Freddie and the Dreamers, who were based in Manchester,[10] as were Herman's Hermits and The Hollies.[11]

Outside of Liverpool many local scenes were less influenced by rock and roll and more by the Blues. These included bands from Birmingham who were often grouped with the beat movement, the most successful being The Spencer Davis Group and the The Moody Blues. Similar blues influenced bands who broke out from local scenes to national prominence were The Animals from Newcastle and Them from Belfast.[12] From London, the term Tottenham Sound was largely based around The Dave Clark Five, but other London bands more based in the blues, but who benefited from the beat boom of this era, included the Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds.[13]

By 1966 beat music was beginning to sound out of date, particularly compared with "harder edged" blues rock and was beginning to emerge. Most of the groups that had not already disbanded moved, like the Beatles, into different forms of rock music and pop music, including psychedelic rock and eventually progressive rock.[14]

British Invasion

The term British Invasion was coined by T.V. reporter Walter Cronkite to describe The Beatles' arrival in the United States and the outbreak of Beatlemania in 1964. Their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show soon after led to chart success. During the next two years, Peter and Gordon, The Animals, Manfred Mann, Petula Clark, Freddie and the Dreamers, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Herman’s Hermits, The Rolling Stones, The Troggs, and Donovan would have one or more number one singles in America.[15] The emergence of relatively homogenous worldwide rock music styles around 1967 marked the end of the British Invasion.[15] However, the British Invasion bands had a big influence on subsequent American folk rock, garage rock and punk rock bands.[16]

Notable acts


  1. ^ J. Shepherd, Continuum encyclopedia of popular music of the world: Volume II: Performance and production (Continuum, 2003), p. 78.
  2. ^ a b B. Longhurst, Popular Music and Society (Polity, 2nd edn., 2007), p. 98.
  3. ^ Nell Irvin Painter, Creating Black Americans: African-American history and its meanings, 1619 to the present (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 261.
  4. ^ P. Hurry, M. Phillips and M. Richards, Heinemann Advanced Music (Heinemann, 2001), pp. 158-8.
  5. ^ a b Mersey Beat - the founders' story.
  6. ^ Allmusic guides,, retrieved 16/06/09.
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b R. Stakes, "Those boys: the rise of Mersey beat", in S. Wade, ed., Gladsongs and Gatherings: Poetry and its Social Context in Liverpool Since the 1960s (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2001), pp. 157-66.
  9. ^ W. Everett, The Beatles as musicians: the Quarry Men through Rubber Soul (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 37-8.
  10. ^ Daily Telegraph "'Dreamers' star Freddie Garrity dies", 20/05/2006, accessed August 2007.
  11. ^ V. Bogdanov, C. Woodstra, and S. T. Erlewine, All music guide to rock: the definitive guide to rock, pop, and soul (Backbeat Books, 2002), p. 532.
  12. ^ I. Chambers, Urban rhythms: pop music and popular culture (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1985), p. 75.
  13. ^ J. R. Covach and G. MacDonald Boone. Understanding Rock: Essays in Musical Analysis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 60.
  14. ^ E. Macan, Rocking the classics: English progressive rock and the counterculture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 11.
  15. ^ a b Encyclopedia Britannica Article
  16. ^ Allmusic review: Gloria

See also


  • Leigh, S., (2004) '"Twist and Shout! - Merseybeat, The Cavern, The Star-Club and The Beatles (Nirvana Books) ISBN 0950620157 (updated version of Let's Go Down to the Cavern)

External links



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