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British Invasion Music
Though often mistaken to be the first of the British bands to have a hit here in the states, the Beatles certainly have left an indelible mark on music history, society and pop culture and they are the group that is widely accepted to have stated the British Invasion.
Actually, this amazing era of music history began in the late 1950s with the ‘king of skiffle,” a Scotsman named Lonnie Donegan. His hit, 1956’s “Rock Island Line,” peaked at #8 and it is a song in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Additionally, in 1961, another British artist, Acker Bilk hit the top spot on the Billboard charts with his cut “Stranger on the Shore,” as did the Tornados in 1962 with “Telstar.” Together with American artists such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, singer/songwriter Buddy Holly, the girl groups of the early 60s, the Everly Brothers, Motown recording artists and of course Elvis Presley - they and others all laid the musical foundation for what was to come.
However, the Beatles are often credited with starting the British Invasion; ironically, they started out as a ‘skiffle’ group in the late 50’s. But much of their success can be attributed to the aforementioned artists and if one were to listen to their early work, it’s easy to conclude that they leave no doubt about their adulation of some of the early rock and roll icons. The Beatles took all these elements and went much further, writing most of their own material and devising melodies and harmonies that were more inventive than what was being done at the time.
Furthermore, America was susceptible; it could be taken and was ready for a new musical direction. The country was still mourning the loss of a revered patriot (John F. Kennedy), involved in a new war and all the while the four lads from Liverpool were quietly taking their own country and Europe by storm in 1963.
The historians often credit the first British Invasion single to be “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” by the Beatles, which made its debut on the Billboard charts on January 18, 1964. The cut became the biggest hit of the year and was the forth-biggest hit of the decade. If you want to get really technical, the Beatles had released another single called “From Me To You,” in August of 1963, but it was only when Capitol Records unleashed a massive publicity campaign in late December of 1963 did the British Invasion hit full-throttle. In fact, on February 7, 1964, CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite covered a story about the Beatles’ arrival in the US in which he stated, “The British Invasion this time goes by the code name Beatlemania.” The Beatles then appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964 and that started a massive wave of chart success by the group that has been well-documented and has had a profound effect upon pop and rock music to this day.
After their epic appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, the proverbial floodgates were opened. Groups and artists such as the Animals, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Peter and Gordon, Freddie and the Dreamers (who brought with a dance called 'Do The Freddy!"), Billy J Kramer, Hermans Hermits, the Searchers and the Hollies soon were climbing up the American music charts.
The greatest obstacle that the Beatles faced, besides Motown, actually came from their homeland in the form of the early British rock groups like the Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, the Kinks, the Pretty Things, the Who, among many others, whose repertoires came from obscure blues and rhythm and blues recordings, albeit with their own distinct elements and interpretations blended in.
In fact, the Rolling Stones, Freddie and the Dreamers, as well as the Beatles all covered some of the same songs, such as the Motown hit “Money.” The Rolling Stones first British hit was a cover of a Lennon-McCartney song, “I Wanna Be Your Man,” and the second was a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away (#48 in 1964) and their first top ten hit was “Time Is On My Side,” which was first recorded by Irma Thomas.
Soon there were many groups that created adventurous melodies without the R and B remakes, groups like the Zombies, The Dave Clark Five,Donovan and the early Moody Blues (among others), all played and sang pop rock tunes that were not only influenced by the Beatles but also rooted in the R and B and pop sounds that they grew up with and loved.
Back in 1964-1965, the influx of British bands making it big in the US almost seemed endless. But it soon became clear that only the groups who could write their own material and change with the ever evolving music scene would survive. Bands that could not adapt quickly fell out of favor in the rapidly changing music arena. Groups like the Dave Clark Five, the Searchers, Hermans Hermits, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and Manfred Mann (among others), fell off the musical map due to their inability to adapt and write top-notch material. But groups such as the Beatles, the Bee Gees, the Rolling Stones, the Hollies, the Moody Blues (among others) survived because they incorporated progressive elements to their pop-based sounds and changed with the times.
However, the British Invasion not only influenced music, but other parts of society as well. It had an impact on fashion, provided a boost for cultural exports such as films, art and television, had an impact on people’s mannerisms and even the length of hair was changing and a new counterculture was born.
Obviously, there has not been a definitive end to the British Invasion, nor should there be. This revolutionary era has helped to define modern music to this day and has helped make music an international phenomenon.
Popular British Invasion Artists