For a country that broke free from British rule less than 200 years prior, America couldn’t get enough of England in the 1960s. Since then, of course, there’s been a fairly constant flow of English music and media to the US, but in the ’60s, it was pretty much unprecedented.
As part of our celebration of the 50th Anniversary British Invasion Tour, please allow me to introduce to you this curated JUKEBOX of songs by some of the most well-known-to-Americans English acts of 1964-1967. Beginning with, of course, the kings of the British Invasion: the Beatles.
Theories abound as to why the Invasion hit us so hard in the ’60s. Some reason that it was a distraction from US politics and assassination of JFK. In fact, Walter Cronkite aired a fluff piece about the Beatles as something positive to report in light of the national tragedy. But it’s also important to note that, just as the internet has opened up possibilities for musical artists over the past 10 years or so, television was a hot new trend in the early ’60s, and musical artists were beginning to take more and more advantage of the “new medium.”
The Invasion was long-lasting and widespread in the US, coming and going in waves throughout the ’60s with a steady stream of new talent. My mom, as a rebellious youth, decidedly refused to like anything British, and was rewarded with “The English Tea Torture,” in which her older sister pinned her to the ground and poured hot water on her chest. It must have worked, too — considering she married a Yorkshireman.
Along with obvious artists like the Beatles, the Invasion offered up acts like the Yardbirds, an early outlet for Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck.
A band that could have “been” the Beatles (had they been just a little bit more attractive to American teens), Gerry and the Pacemakers followed a similar early path to their Liverpudlian cousins — playing Hamburg, managed by Brian Epstein, produced by George Martin, and even being kind of quirky and funny. With Gerry Marsden’s satiny voice, it’s a shame they didn’t reach a higher level of US success.
Another band, the Hollies, was one of the last groups of the bunch to get a US hit, but also grew and evolved throughout the decade and into the 1970s. Later, their sound influenced Radiohead to pretty much copy half of “Creep” from “The Air That I Breathe.” (Don’t worry — the Hollies got a credit on it.)
Meanwhile, powerhouse band the Who landed their producer by trying to make a sound like another group Shel Talmy produced that they greatly respected: the Kinks.
The Dave Clark Five, who came to the US just two weeks after the Beatles’ Ed Sullivan Show performance, were actually slightly more successful in America than in the UK. They disbanded at the end of the decade along with the many ’60s acts, but left us with some great tracks, like “Glad All Over.”
Another vivid ’60s memory my mom recalls is how, while all of these male-dominated bands captured the hearts and minds of teen girls, Tom Jones captured the hearts and lurid imaginations of teen girls… Moms. Sigh.
There’s got to be a joke here about “Catch the Wind” being my favorite Bob Dylan song. The Scottish troubadour Donovan, who later moved towards more psychedelic tracks like “Mellow Yellow” started out sounding pretty similar to Mr. Zimmerman.
And who could forget the Rolling Stones? If for no other reason than their refusal to go away, they still remain fresh in our minds. Long ago, they offered a gruffer, grittier image for rebellious teens to rock out to, especially compared to the Beatles and frou-frou groups like Herman’s Hermits.
And, of course, we must remember the Kinks. “You Really Got Me” features intentionally-created feedback and power chords that would later influence heavy metal and punk rock. And where would Van Halen have gotten half of their discography without the Davies Bros. & Co.?
This pithy list is merely scratching the surface of amazing British Invasion artists, so be sure to check out the Spotify playlist below!