Scott Mervis: Reflections On Pittsburgh's First Rolling Stones Concert

Roundup: Talking About History

By the time the Beatles landed in Pittsburgh in September 1964, the Fab Four had already charted an amazing 15 hits that year, starting in January with "I Want to Hold Your Hand."

It's no wonder you couldn't hear them singing over the screams of young girls at the sold-out Civic Arena.

The Rolling Stones' first local appearance was a different story altogether. In fact, we could have fought off this British Invasion with a couple of guys from the Elks Club. And, if you were recording a live album on June 17, 1964, at West View Park's Danceland, you could have done it without mixing down the audience.

"The applause was very little," recalls Dave Goodrich, a local music historian.

That was a fairly typical reaction to the Stones on the band's nine-city, 15-day tour of the States that summer. Although they had just sparked a minor riot at the "Ready Steady Go! Mod Ball" back in England, over here they had only one hit, a sloppy cover of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away," that peaked at No. 48.

It was the lead track on the prophetically titled "England's Newest Hit Makers," a debut album that was released in the States in late April, a month and a half before the show here. The album had one original, the Jagger-Richards song "Tell Me" (a hit by August), along withcovers -- "Route 66," "I'm a King Bee," "Carol," "I Just Want to Make Love to You" -- that demonstrated their primal approach to American blues and R&B.

It was the summer of '64 and rock 'n' roll was just coming alive again, having lost its first wave of stars. Elvis had gone Hollywood. Chuck Berry had gone to jail. Little Richard had found the Lord. And Jerry Lee Lewis had found his young cousin. It moved Variety to declare in the early '60s that "rock 'n' roll is dead."

With the nation reeling from the assassination of JFK in November of '63, young people were in desperate need of distraction.

Along came the British.

The Beatles struck first, thrilling teens with their mod clothes and mop-tops on those ecstatic performances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in February of '64. The Dave Clark Five hit Sullivan a month later as a Beatles knockoff your mom might like.

The Stones, London bad boys with a blues bent, were stuck with "The Hollywood Palace" show in June during which guest host Dean Martin made fun of their scruffy hair, then, introducing a trampolinist, cracked, "That's the father of the Rolling Stones. He's been trying to kill himself ever since."

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