Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Young Girl Shall Lead Them: Millie Small: "My Boy Lollipop"

Where there is a will (and some willing backers) there is a way; and so it was that pirate radio began, Radio Caroline the rebellious daughter playing her records just loud enough off the southern English coast to get the attention of not just the aforementioned bored teenagers but their moms as well. It all started when one man couldn't get his artist (Georgie Fame) on to the playlist at Radio Luxembourg; he got an old passenger ferry and rigged it up to be a floating station, complete with places for the DJs and staff to eat, hang out, and sleep (as best they could).

The monotony of British state radio was broken up, as suddenly pop was available not just for an hour but all day, and into the night. The effect on the charts was not immediately apparent; but here we are in May of '64 and all of a sudden there is a veritable English civil war going on between the government's idea of proper music (Vera Lynn, Mr. Acker Bilk) and what the public wanted to hear. (This is also when the old-school Rockers and the hip young Mods had a huge and in some ways parallel fight, the Mods being the pirate stations, of course.)

The old order was indeed being challenged and millions listened to Caroline and others as they sprang up around the coast; and this song was the first proof of their power. It is a song as sweet and swinging as the object of Millie's affections - and importantly for this blog, it's not from the US or UK but Jamaica. The wave of late 50s immigrants brought their music with them - bluebeat, ska - and with this massive hit pop music in the UK essentially changed overnight, even if the musicians themselves didn't always prosper. Was the UK ready for a different beat*? OH yes it was, and Caroline was instrumental in getting this heard and thus giving the fledgling Island label its sea legs. The kids and moms (not to mention Mods) were most definitely alright. Would the government find a way to fight back? Soon, but not this year...

*Late in '64 The Beatles showed their effortless cool in picking up ska and doing it their way; it would take reggae to bring a lot of other UK musicians into the Jamaican groove.

1 comment:

Robin Carmody said...

This was the song that inspired a young David Rodigan - 13 years old, in the middle of Oxfordshire, his life until then very much Hitchens Minor's "very last years of an older Britain" now crashing into Charles Loft's "death of rural England" - to make the decisive *entry to a new world*. Half a century on, he is *finally* where he always should have been, on national public radio (small letters throughout) - it has taken this long for the concept of public service to be fully modernised.

I'm not the Stalinist I was on offshore radio; I've come to separate the message from the medium, and recognise that the old public culture had its own faults, a dangerous separation of responsibilities and duties. But the theme of this entry certainly sets the song up as the beginning of the faultline within the Left which would decisively break open four years later.