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The British Invasion was, quite simply, one of the watershed developments in American popular music history. The phenomenon involved the virtual domination of AM radio and the record industry in the United States by British artists, particularly the beat groups who had proved adept at recycling the American rhythm and blues and rockabilly songs of the 1950s.

The convergence of a number of events set provided the appropriate setting for this onslaught. Perhaps of greatest importance, American rock 'n' roll had been undergoing a steady decline in quality since the major record companies--aided and abetted by other media outlets, most notably Top 40 radio and Dick Clark's "American Bandstand"--had harnessed it and begun releasing a tamer product. The pop hegemony enjoyed by teen idols such as Frankie Avalon and Fabian had driven many youth to commercial folk and jazz, while a seemingly endless stream of novelty songs (e.g., Sheb Wooley's "Purple People Eater," David Seville's "Witch Doctor," Larry Verne's "Mr. Custer," and Brian Hyland's "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini") and dance crazes proved unsuccessful in cultivating a substantial core following for rock 'n' roll.

In the meantime, the British music scene appeared incapable of producing much more than pale Elvis Presley imitators (e.g., Cliff Richard, Billy Fury, and Marty Wilde) and bland pop along the lines of Mr. Acker Bilk, whose "Stranger on the Shore" (1962) was one of the few British imports to make a substantial dent in the stateside charts prior to 1964. However, the pop underground in Great Britain was quietly brewing something far more potent starting in the mid-1950s. The skiffle music craze (a uniquely English form of folk revival music drawing heavily on American material) led by Lonnie Donegan spurred the baby boomer generation to form their own bands. The most notable of these aggregates--then known by names such as the Quarrymen and the Silver Beatles--would go on to spearhead the British Invasion.

It's hard to imagine the invasion taking place without the Beatles. Many of the bands swept along on the Fab Four's coattails to the top of the American charts possessed no more talent than the bland teen idols they had displaced. The Beatles, however, were another matter. Three of members--the songwriting team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and, to a lesser extent, lead guitarist George Harrison--were capable of producing first-rate material. After a brief period of covering American r & b, pop, and country standards, the group went on to compose a long string of rock classics, many of which are likely to be performed for generations to come. The band members were also all excellent musicians, thanks in large part to years spent performing in small clubs in England and Germany. Lennon and McCartney both were superb vocalists, capable of putting across rave-up rockers and introspective ballads in an equally convincing manner.

Despite the band's ability--so easy to assess in retrospect-- success in the U.S. might easily have eluded them had not conditions proved ripe for receptiveness on the part of the American public. The Beatles, under the skilled management of Brian Epstein, had attempted a number of times in 1963 to secure a hit record on the American charts. Songs like "Love Me Do," "From Me to You," "Please Please Me," and "She Loves You"--all hits in the U.K.--had gone nowhere when released by various labels in the states. By late 1963, however, the nation was caught up in communal sense of mourning, brought on by the assassinaton of popular President John F. Kennedy. The Beatles--with their cheeky wit (as evidenced in countless news interviews punctuating the whirlwind visits to the U.S. during the early months of 1964) and catchy, upbeat pop songs--proved to be the perfect anecdote America's collective depression. In addition, the mop-top hairstyle exhibited by the band members garnered considerable attention. As had been the case with Elvis Presley's heavily greased DA hairstyle of the mid-1950s, the Beatles look engendered considered controversy on the part of the adult establishment when it first assaulted the public consciousness. It provided instant credibility with America's youth, who were always in search of culture symbols to both collectively identify with and flaunt in the face of authority figures as an act of rebellion.

Within a matter of weeks in January 1964, catapulted by round-the-clock radio play and appearances on the "Ed Sullivan Show," the Beatles went from complete unknowns to household names in the U.S. With "I Want to Hold Your Hand" perched in the number one position on the Billboard "Hot 100," record companies owning the distribution rights to earlier Beatles hits rushed them back out into the marketplace. At one point in the spring, the band held down all top five positions on the national singles chart.

These developments made a substantial impression on the British music scene. British artists of every stripe--from beat groups to purveyers of easy listening fare--were hurriedly signed up by American labels and promoted through the mass media with a vengeance. In the weeks immediately following the appearance of the Beatles, countless other U.K. recording acts--some of whom had realized very little success in their own country--enjoyed heavy radio play and print coverage stateside. The first onslaught of British performers to achieve success on the American charts included Dusty Springfield, the Dave Clark Five, the Searchers, Billy J. Kramer, and Peter and Gordon. Perhaps of even greater importance, countless other British youths were inspired to become musicians, resulting in a steady stream of talent which, many would argue, has remain undiminished to the present day.

By early summer the floodgates had burst open; there seemed to be more British artists than American on the airwaves. Indeed, a considerable number of established U.S. acts--to say nothing of the more marginal recording artists--virtually disappeared from the charts in 1964 (some never to return). Stars suddenly thrust into the periphery of record industry included Dion, Fats Domino, Rick Nelson, Neil Sedaka, Connie Francis, Brenda Lee, Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers, and Chubby Checker. Even Presley's career was sent into a tailspin. After eight years of uninterrupted success, he enjoyed only one top ten hit ("Crying in the Chapel"; which charted in 1965 but was recorded in 1960) prior to his revival in 1969 with "In the Ghetto" and "Suspicious Minds." Only a handful of American artists continued to thrive in 1964 and beyond, most notably the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons. New homegrown talent found it necessary to incorporate elements of the merseybeat sound such as the trademark jangly guitars and seamless three-part vocal harmonies. The garage punk and folk rock movements were particularly influenced by English rock bands. Some American groups--for example, Beau Brummels and the Sir Douglas Quintet in 1965--found it expedient to ape the British Invasion look to the extent of carefully covering up their native origins.

Probably the most positive result of the British Invasion was its role in clearing away the musical deadwood which had found a home on the American charts. With many of the long established American acts--as well as countless lesser luminaries--unable to compete with the host of often lackluster British stars, fresh stateside talent was more readily able to garner the attention of record company executive. Within a year or two of the initial British onslaught, a new wave of American musicians had already laid the groundwork for the creative renaissance in popular music during the latter half of the 1960s.


Top Artists and Their Hit Recordings

The First Wave

The Animals(, Eric Burdon and the)--"The House of the Rising Sun" (1964); "See See Rider" (1966); "San Franciscan Nights" (1967)

The Beatles--"I Want to Hold Your Hand" (#1; 1964); "She Loves You" (#1; 1964); "Please Please Me" (1964); "Twist and Shout" (1964); "Can't Buy Me Love" (#1; 1964); "Do You Want to Know a Secret" (1964); "Love Me Do" (#1; 1964); "P.S. I Love You" (1964); "A Hard Day's Night" (#1; 1964); "I Feel Fine" (#1; 1964); "She's a Woman" (1964); "Eight Days a Week" (#1; 1965); "Ticket to Ride" #1; (1965); "Help!" (#1; 1965); "Yesterday" (#1; 1965); Rubber Soul (1965); "We Can Work It Out" (#1; 1966); "Day Tripper" (1966); "Nowhere Man" (1966); "Paperback Writer" (#1; 1966); Revolver (1966); "Yellow Submarine" (1966); "Penny Lane" (#1; 1967); "Strawberry Fields Forever" (1967); Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967); "All You Need Is Love" (#1; 1967); "Hello Goodbye" (#1; 1967); "Lady Madonna" (1968); The White Album (1968); "Hey Jude" (#1; 1968); "Get Back" (#1; 1969); Abbey Road (1969); "The Ballad of John and Yoko" (1969); "Come Together" (#1; 1969); "Something" (1969); "Let It Be" (#1; 1970); "The Long and Winding Road" (#1; 1970)

Chad and Jeremy--"A Summer Song" (1964)

The Dave Clark Five--"Glad All Over" (1964); "Bits and Pieces" (1964); "Can't You See That She's Mine" (1964); "Because" (1964); "I Like It Like That" (1965); "Catch Us If You Can" (1965); "Over and Over" (#1; 1965); "You Got What It Takes" (1967)

Petula Clark--"Downtown" (#1; 1965); "I Know a Place" (1965); "My Love" (1966); "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love" (1966); "This Is My Song" (1967); "Don't Sleep in the Subway" (1967)

Freddie and the Dreamers--"I'm Telling You Now" (1965); "Do the Freddie" (1965)

Gerry & the Pacemakers--"Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" (1964); "How Do You Do It?" (1964); "Ferry Cross the Mersey" (1965)

Herman's Hermits--"Can't You Hear My Heartbeat" (1965); "Silhouettes" (1965); "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter" (1965); "Wonderful World" (1965); "I'm Henry III, I Am" (1965); "Just a Little Bit Better" (1965); "A Must to Avoid" (1966); "Listen People" (1966); "Leaning on the Lamp Post" (1966); "Dandy" (1966); "There's a Kind of a Hush" (1967)

The Hollies--"Look Through Any Window" (1965); "Bus Stop" (1966); "Stop Stop Stop" (1966); "Carrie-Anne" (1967); He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" (1969); "Long Cool Woman" (1972); "The Air That I Breathe" (1974)

The Honeycombs--"Have I the Right?" (1964)

The Kinks--"You Really Got Me" (1964); "All Day and All of the Night" (1965); "Tired of Waiting For You" (1965); "Lola" (1970)

Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas--"Little Children" (1964); "Bad to Me" (1964)

Lulu (& the Lovers)--"Shout" (1964); "To Sir With Love" (1967)

Manfred Mann--"Do Wah Diddy Diddy" (#1; 1964); "Mighty Quinn" (1968)

The Mindbenders(, Wayne Fontana and the)--"Game of Love" (1965); "A Groovy Kind of Love" (1966)

The Moody Blues--"Go Now!" (1965); Days of Future Passed (1967); In Search of the Lost Chord (1968); On the Threshold of a Dream (1969); To Our Children's Children's Children (1970); A Question of Balance (1970); Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1971); Seventh Sojourn (1972)

The Nashville Teens--"Tobacco Road" (1964)

Peter and Gordon--"A World Without Love" (1964); "I Go To Pieces" (1965); "Lady Godiva" (1966)

The Rolling Stones--"Time Is On My Side" (1964); "The Last Time" (1965); "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" (#1; 1965); "Get Off Of My Cloud" (#1; 1965); "As Tears Go By" (1965); "19th Nervous Breakdown" (1966); "Paint It, Black" (#1; 1966); "Mother's Little Helper" (1966); "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?" (1966); "Ruby Tuesday" (#1; 1967); "Jumpin' Jack Flash" (1968); "Honky Tonk Women" (#1; 1969); "Brown Sugar" (#1; 1971); "Tumbling Dice" (1972); "Angie" (#1; 1973); "Miss You" (#1; 1978); "Start Me Up" (1981)

The Searchers--"Needles and Pins" (1964); "Love Potion Number Nine" (1965)

Dusty Springfield--"Wishin' and Hopin'" (1964); "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" (1966); "Son of a Preacher Man" (1969)

The Swingin' Bluejeans--"Hippy Hippy Shake" (1964)

Them--"Here Comes the Night" (1965); "Gloria" (1966)

Whitcomb, Ian--"You Turn Me On" (1965)

The Who--"My Generation" (1965); "I Can See For Miles" (1967); Tommy (1969), Live at Leeds (1970); Who's Next (1971); Quadrophenia (1973)

The Yardbirds--"For Your Love" (1965); "Heart Full of Soul" (1965); "I'm a Man" (1965); "Shapes of Things" (1966); "Over Under Sideways Down" (1966)

The Zombies--"She's Not There" (1964); "Tell Her No" (1965); "Time of the Season" (1969)

The Second Wave

Bee Gees--"New York Mining Disaster 1941" (1967); "To Love Somebody" (1967); "Holiday" (1967); "Massachusetts" (1967); "I've Gotta Get a Message to You" (1968); "I Started a Joke" (1968); "Lonely Days" (1970); "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" (#1; 1971); "Jive Talkin'" (#1; 1975); "Nights on Broadway" (1975); "You Should Be Dancing" (#1; 1976); "Love So Right" (1976); "How Deep Is Your Love" (#1; 1977); "Stayin' Alive" (#1; 1978); "Night Fever" (#1; 1978); "Too Much Heaven" (#1; 1978); "Tragedy" (#1; 1979); "Love You Inside Out" (#1; 1979)

Blind Faith--Blind Faith (1969)

Joe Cocker--With a Little Help From My Friends (1969); Joe Cocker (1969); Mad Dogs & Englishmen (1970)

Cream--Fresh Cream (1967); Disraeli Gears (1967); Wheels of Fire (1968); Goodbye (1969)

Deep Purple--"Hush" (1968); "Kentucky Woman" (1968); "Smoke on the Water" (1973)

Free--"All Right Now" (1970); Fire and Water (1970); Highway (1971)

Jethro Tull--Stand Up (1969); Benefit (1970); Aqualung (1971); Thick as a Brick (1972); Living in the Past (1972); A Passion Play (1973); War Child (1974)

John, Elton--Elton John (1970); Tumbleweed Connection (1971); Madman Across the Water (1971); Honky Chateau (1972); Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player (1973); Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973); Caribou (1974); Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975); Rock of the Westies (1975)

Van Morrison--"Brown-Eyed Girl" (1967); Astral Weeks (1969); Moondance (1970); His Band and the Street Choir (1971); Tupelo Honey (1971); Saint Dominic's Preview (1972)

Mott the Hoople--Moot the Hoople (1970); All the Young Dudes (1972); Mott (1973); The Hoople (1974)

The Move--Shazam! (1969); Message From the Country (1971)

Pink Floyd--Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967); Ummagumma (1969); Atom Heart Mother (1970); The Dark Side of the Moon (1973); Wish You Were Here (1975); Animals (1977); The Wall (1979); The Final Cut (1983); A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)

Procol Harum--"A Whiter Shade of Pale" (1967); Shine on Brightly (1968); A Salty Dog (1969); Home (1970); Broken Barricades (1971); Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (1972)

Spooky Tooth--Spooky Two (1969); The Last Puff (1970)

The Status Quo--"Pictures of Matchstick Men" (1968)

Traffic--Mr. Fantasy (1968); Traffic (1968); Last Exit (1969); John Barleycorn Must Die (1970); The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (1971); Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory (1973)

The Troggs--"Wild Thing" (#1; 1966); "Love Is All Around" (1968)

The Third Wave

Bad Company--"Can't Get Enough" (1974); "Feel Like Makin' Love" (1975)

Electric Light Orchestra--Electric Light Orchestra II (1973); On the Third Day (1973); Eldorado (1974); Face the Music (1975); A New World Record (1976); Out of the Blue (1977); Discovery (1979); Xanadu (with Olivia Newton-John; 1980)

Emerson, Lake & Palmer--Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1971); Tarkus (1971); Pictures at an Exhibition (1972); Trilogy (1972)

Stealers Wheel--"Stuck in the Middle with You" (1973)

10cc--"I'm Not in Love" (1975); "The Things We Do For Love" (1977)

Thin Lizzy--Jailbreak (1976)

Wings(, Paul McCartney and)--"Another Day" (1971); "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" (1971); "My Love" (1973); "Live and Let Die" (1973); "Jet" (1974); "Band on the Run" (1974); "Junior's Farm" (1975); "Listen to What the Man Said" (1975); "Silly Love Songs" (1976); "Let 'Em In" (1976); "With a Little Luck" (1978)

Yes--Fragile (1972); Close to the Edge (1972); Tales From Topographic Oceans (1973); Relayer (1974)