Much can be said about the British Invasion of the early ’60s. Much has, in fact, been said right here on REBEAT. But as important as it is to examine the social and cultural causes and effects, it’s perhaps more important to go right to the sources: what made this music so damn likable? What did it offer that we, here in America, could not?
Perhaps some clues can be found in our following choices for our personal favorite British Invasion tracks. But further examination is needed; for a live-action taste of some of the artists that forever changed music and history by conquering American audiences, there’s the British Invasion tour, celebrating 50 years of English musicians on colonial soil. For a full list of dates, click here.
1) “House of the Rising Sun,” The Animals (1964)
Picked by: Jim
Not everyone got that the British Invasion was in large part an appreciation for and reflection of American blues music. After the Animals had a hit with their version of the piece, which was first pressed in the US in 1934 by Ashley and Foster though it had been around for years before that, audiences found themselves appreciating long-lost kin that finally found their way home.
2) “Ferry Cross the Mersey,” Gerry and the Pacemakers (1964)
Picked by: Susan
This song, written by Gerry Marsden and recorded by his band, vividly expresses the romanticized image that many Americans had of Liverpool and its famous river at the height of the British Invasion. Marsden’s lyrics capture a slice-of-life and the longing and nostalgia of a son of the ‘Pool for his hometown. The Mersey ferries still run today between Liverpool and the Wirral peninsula, but more as a tourist attraction than anything else — however, this is a must-see attraction for many, many fans. The title of the song is sometimes mistakenly listed as “Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey,” but it’s actually not a contraction of “across.” Rather, it’s a command — as in, ferry, cross the Mersey.
In 1965, Gerry and the Pacemakers starred in a film of the same name — with the usual kind of contrived plot for a pop group at the time (art students by day, musicians by night, band makes it big after having corny “adventure” involving misplaced instruments) — which has never seen any kind of commercial release since the theatrical one in early 1965. The video clip above, however, is from the film — and is notable because, when the band begins to sing and the three girls at the railing turn to look at them, the girl on the extreme left is Elisabeth Sladen, later to achieve considerable fame in her own right as the most popular companion of Doctor Who!
3) “Love of the Loved,” Cilla Black (1964)
Picked by: Erika
I LOVE CILLA BLACK. After the Beatles, she’s my absolute favorite British Invasion performer. So Cilla’s first single, which is also one of my favorite of the very early Lennon-McCartney tracks, is a natural pick for me.
Black was the only female to come out of the first wave of British Invasion artists from Liverpool, and the only woman Brian Epstein ever managed. A charismatic performer with a bright, versatile voice, she looked, sounded, and acted like few other female singers at the time. (I can only imagine what it must have been like for her to be an ambitious female performer in a culture where women were usually relegated to the role of groupie.)
American fans may not be as familiar with Black as their UK counterparts, since she never truly “invaded” America. Epstein’s efforts to launch her on the other side of the pond, which included an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show alongside the Beatles, didn’t give her the expected launch. But that didn’t stop her from becoming one of the most well-loved performers in the UK, with a 50-plus-year career as a singer, actor, and television personality. For those less familiar with her career, check out the 2014 ITV miniseries Cilla, a fascinating account of her start in Liverpool and her early rise to fame.
4) “Long Live Love,” Sandie Shaw (1965)
Picked by: Sharon
I really don’t think there was a cooler girl that came out of the British Invasion than Sandie Shaw. Barefoot in her Mary Quant dresses and with that trademark bob, she had a cooly, laid-back almost don’t-care attitude as she performed, looking slightly awkward as she sang perfect pop songs such as “Puppet On A String”, “Girl Don’t Come,” and “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me.”
Shaw was a working class girl from Dagenham who won a talent contest as a teen while working at the local Ford factory and the rest, as they say, is history. Even now, Shaw is seen as the epitome of Swinging Britain ans her success led to her hosting her own TV show (The Sandie Shaw Supplement), launching her own fashion label and even winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1967 — the first time the UK had ever won. For some reason, Shaw never enjoyed much success in the US (the closest she came was #42 with “Girl Don’t Come”), but she had no less than 14 hits in the UK including two #1s. All these years later, I still think she looks and sounds amazingly cool; there’s a timelessness about her that makes you feel that even if she debuted today she would still be a massive pop star beloved as much by the teenyboppers as the NME.
There’s a lot of great Shaw songs to love (she even was the first person to cover Led Zeppelin) but my favourite by far has to be “Long Live Love,” her UK #1 hit from 1965, which showcases Shaw’s distinctive phrasing perfectly. Shaw actually turned down the chance to sing “It’s Not Unusual” in favor of “Long Live Love” (Tom Jones then went on to have his first big hit with it), and while her single might not be as well remembered these days, I know which one I prefer to sing along to.
5) “Something Better Beginning,” The Kinks (1965)
Picked by: Emma
The most negative new relationship song comes from the wonderful Kinks. The Kinks are recognized as one of the biggest British Invasion bands, yet for some reason have a much smaller, cultier audience than the other big three (Beatles, Stones, Who). But Ray Davies had no problem showing his writing chops on emotional pieces like this one, which perfectly sums up both the excitement and fears of a new relationship. Yes, “You Really Got Me” was pretty basic, but that isn’t all there is to Davies or the Kinks in general.
6) “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” The Rolling Stones (1965)
Picked by: Pam
I’ve always summed up the difference between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in this way: the Beatles’ music was about love, while the Stones sang about sex. It may be hard to fantom given their career has lasted for more than a half decade, but the Stones struggled to gain a following in the US when they first hit the music scene. Most of their early singles were released in the UK and their first US tour, in 1964, was a “disaster” in Bill Wyman’s words. But with 1965’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” they finally broke through to American audiences and showed that they were never going to be a band that dressed alike and sang songs about holding hands with a girl. Its distinctive three note opening guitar riff by Keith Richards and sexually suggestive lyrics about not getting any action are rock ‘n’ roll at its most raucous best. Plus, as a Mad Men fan I will never forget the glorious sight of Don Draper standing on the street in his shades while this song plays in the background — an ironic choice for a television character who never had a problem getting a girl.