5 Things We’ve Learned About British Culture From British Bands

You can learn a lot about a culture from what it exports to the rest of the world. For the British in the ’60s and ’70s, bands were their hottest global commodity. Song lyrics are a form of poetry, and therefore, we can view such lyrics as historical documents to define a people. Stage clothes are artifacts, revealing the trends and social mores of the day. Album covers are their masterpieces. Basically, rock bands were the ambassadors of their country and represented everything their culture was truly about.

By carefully, painstakingly considering British bands for a few fleeting moments, I have come up with some inarguable facts* that definitely, 100% must have applied to every British citizen of that era. Feel free to give me degrees in sociology and anthropology now.

*Arguable

1) They only drank tea and alcohol

Seriously, have you ever heard any British band ever mention freshly squeezed orange juice or a nice, refreshing glass of cold milk in their songs? Even plain water is right out. I mean, I know the Thames hasn’t had the greatest reputation as a clean river, but there has to be some drinkable water somewhere. But no; it’s all booze this and tea that for the British. I’m honestly surprised that they don’t just combine the two, it would probably save them some time. Although, to be completely fair, we can probably blame Bob Dylan for the tea addiction.

2) All of the men dressed in drag

More like The Man Who Looked Fabulous In That Dress.
More like The Man Who Looked Fabulous In That Dress.

Everything seemed to start out normal enough when the British Invasion occurred, but it didn’t take long for us to realize that there was a particular pastime for British men that was quite popular: dressing as women. It started innocently enough with a wig or two, such as in the Kinks’ “Dead End Street” video. But then we remembered that the Rolling Stones promoted “Have you Seen Your Mother, Baby?” with the whole band in (rather unfashionable) women’s garments in addition to the hairpieces. Maybe it would stop there, right?

That’s where Mr. Keith Moon came in, constantly showing up at events in some lovely, glittery getup. All of a sudden glam rock hits, and stars like David Bowie and Marc Bolan are sporting heels higher than anything I’ve ever been willing to wear and sporting makeup better than I ever have. (I’m not bitter, you’re bitter!) There’s only one conclusion that can be made. Every British man dresses in drag. All of them. (Just ask Monty Python.)

 3) They had an intense fear of scissors

I’m not sure what caused this nationwide phobia, but during the ’60s and ’70s, a panic spread like wildfire among Great Britain and many a youth feared scissors. The evidence: have you seen their hair? The Beatles were the first to baffle international audiences with their apparent disregard for previous short-hair standards, and we noticed as the British Invasion grew stronger that this hair trend marked every British group of the era.

A revolutionary fad to mark a new generation of freedom? An “up yours” to their elders? Perhaps, but I think the more obvious answer is that the thought of a haircut struck fear in the hearts of the Britons. There might have been some terrible coiffure-accident that sent struck fear in the hearts of the younger generation, causing them to stave off a trim for well over a decade. It was a true epidemic. Thankfully, by the end of the ’70s, the punks came along and managed to convince everyone that their fear of scissors was unfounded. Did they have Snopes back then?

Joe Strummer, haircut savior.
Joe Strummer, haircut savior.

 4) They might all have been vampires

For a people who wrote enough songs about the sun and sunshine, you’d think they would have actually spent some time getting their daily dose of Vitamin D. But every British rocker always seems to look like they spent the majority of their free time hiding in the darkest basements they could find. A rather unfortunate pallor was common, which leads me to think that their the songs about that big yellow orb in the sky were really wishful thinking. There has been a long standing joke that the British don’t know what the sun actually looks like. But, having been to London and experienced a copious amount of UV rays there, and I can tell you that such silly ideas are completely unfounded.

They’re were clearly just vampires.

Songs about the sun were just a rouse to distract us from the truth. Now, you may be thinking, “But they went outside and in the daytime, no less! Surely that means they weren’t vampires!” Listen, I don’t know all the science behind vampires, but I’m pretty sure a strong sunscreen probably stopped them from turning to ash. Who’s the one writing this highly academic blog article, you or me? They were vampires.

Plus, it would explain a lot where Keith Richards is concerned.

5) They had a strange fascination with bodies of water

Have you ever noticed how so many of their songs mention rivers and the sea? Quadrophenia, set largely in the seaside resort-town of Brighton, was practically nothing but one grandiose ocean metaphor. Queen also had a song about Brighton, not to mention their fantasy-esque “Seven Seas of Rhye.” Yes, they named one of their songs “Close to the Edge” with the the line, “down by the river.” The Kinks wrote about the Thames in “Waterloo Sunset” and the Small Faces penned a tune about “a docker’s delight” with “Rene.” The Beatles’ hometown of Liverpool is famously associated with being a port city and onetime home of the infamous Titanic. (Good job riding on the coattails of that one, boys.)

My best guess is that being an island nation has caused them to worship water. Anything to do with water, whether it’s swimming in, staring at, boating on, and so on, has been paid tribute to in song. I think it might be a even religious thing, quite possibly associated with the creation of the Church of England. Thanks, Henry VIII.

Bonus fact: Peter Noone isn’t really Henry the VIII.

What have you learned about the British via their truth ambassadors (aka rock bands of the 1960s and ’70s)? Let us know in the comments!

About Jen Cunningham 46 Articles
Jen Cunningham is an editor in the puzzle-publishing industry, an amateur artist, and Anglophile hailing from New York. She was raised on good ol' British rock and the smell of vinyl records. When she's not working, she enjoys going to concerts, playing tabletop games, and making unfortunate puns.