Two years short of 60 years ago, the invasion of British Pop and Rock music was spearheaded by the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. In a short period of time the thermometer in the American music scene, the Billboard Top 100, changed dramatically Here are the major top British acts considered as game changers.
The Beatles: Beatlemania didn’t happen for nothing. They weren’t an average boyband. Lennon and McCartney were divinely touched, possessing the ability to write pop songs that were pretty and not sappy. Harrison was truly an innovator on the guitar, finding the strange notes to use rather than the obvious ones. He also never overstayed his welcome, with solos short and concise, making every second count. How four men could transform several times between 1962 and 1965 is amazing. Moving from pop classics like “Please Please Me” and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” to mature songs like “In My Life” and “Nowhere Man” in such little time is evidence enough as to why they resonate so many decades later. The Beatles as a band called it quits in 1969, after which time all four members started solo careers, with Paul McCarthy gaining most success. He is still doing 3 hour sold out shows at age 80 in 2022. Sadly John Lennon was murdered in New York City in December 1980 and George Harrison died of cancer in 2001, while Ringo still tours strong at the age of 82.
The Rolling Stones: Always showing off a hard edge, the Stones kept the blues alive and well in their early days. Pushed by their manager Andrew Loog Oldham, Jagger and Richards started writing their own compositions and quickly learned how to make a tune that was rough around the edges without succumbing to cheap shock-value. The Beatles were masters of gorgeous love songs, but the Stones were the masters of fury and blue collar disgust. “Satisfaction,” “The Last Time,” “19th Nervous Breakdown,” and “Play With Fire” all show these boys, some of the top musicians of their day, in gleeful rage. Today the Stones are considered the world’s best rock and roll band, as they still fill up stadium venues in 2022, even though drummer Charly Watts is no longer with us. He passed away at age 80 in 2022.
The Kinks: Before singer/songwriter Ray Davies started reflecting on the beauty and futility of English culture, The Kinks were pioneers of hard rock. “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night” was the testament of four wild men.However, it wasn’t long before they began letting Indian influences into their songs, as in “See My Friends.” Their best Invasion period tracks, “A Well-Respected Man,” and “Lola” showed off Ray’s wit, an attack on the upper classes and a preview of the satirical nature of their future songs.
The Who: Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon, and John Entwistle were only in the British Invasion era for its last year (1965), but they stuck out immediately. One didn’t need to see them live to feel their energy. “My Generation” and “I Can’t Explain”, “Substitute”, created the dawn of a new direction in rock (even if The Kinks probably deserve more credit for the sound than they received). “The Kids Are Alright” was clearly influenced by The Beatles, but included that energy that was purely that of The Who. Few bands, to this day, put such vigor into their work. Everyone was pulling their weight. The band’s talent was clear progressive as they managed to change their musical directions when they introduced the rock operas Quadrophenia and Tommy in the late 1960s.
The Zombies: Led by Rod Argent’s glorious keyboard and Colin Blunstone’s pristine vocals, the Zombies still seem an oddity in the British Invasion canon. There weren’t really any other bands that based their songs off of keyboard riffs. “Tell Her No” and “Is This The Dream?” showed off a Motown vibe by a band that was all about capturing a cool atmosphere. Sadly, they were quickly forgotten after the height of the Invasion even though they recorded two lasting evergreens with “She’s Not There” and the incredible “Time of the Season”. When they parted ways Blunstone and Argent found successful careers.
The Yardbirds: Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton were leading this group, one that gave garage rock a perfect start, before they became household names. Working off of the Chicago blues, as the Stones loved, the Yardbirds combined it with a raucous, experimental feel, much because of the prowess and talent of the lead guitar players and the harmonica talent of singer Keith Relf. “Heart Full of Soul,” “Shapes of Things,” and particularly “For Your Love” stood out because they had a raw intensity that no one else was really trying at the time. Relf later founded the prog rock band Renaissance with his sister Jane.
The Animals: Eric Burdon has one of the most soulful voices of all-time and it was the glue that kept the Animals together. They were also one of the most socially conscious acts across the pond. Whether it was their take on “House of the Rising Sun,” “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” or “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” The Animals spoke for the working class with no apologies. “House of the Rising Sun” became the starter song for every kid wanting to learn to play the guitar, simply because of Hilton Valentine’s repetitive chord progression. Alan Price on keyboards founded the Alan Price Set after the Animals broke up.
Herman’s Hermits: Another band that prided themselves in light pop songs, Peter Noone led Herman’s Hermits. “I’m Henry The Eighth,” “There’s A Kind of Hush,” and “I’m Into Something Good” have staying power because they don’t take themselves too seriously. The hit song “No Milk Today” is a prime example of this. The arrangements are lovely, but their best track is the stripped down “Listen People,” based on a descending chord progression, that is utterly beautiful.
The Hollies: Before Graham Nash teamed with David Crosby and Stephen Stills to form the supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash, he took part in a group that became big on covers and light pop songs. The result was one of the most accessible bands of their time. Being able to churn out hits like “Bus Stop”, “I’m Alive” and “Look Out Any Window,” the Hollies would hit their peak just at the end of what is referred to as the British Invasion, but still earned their names among the greats. Other great songs that came from Graham Nash’s pen were: “Carrie Ann”, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother”, and his parting gift to the Hollies “On a Carousel”.
Dave Clark 5: “Glad All Over,” “Bits and Pieces”,“Because,” and “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” are among the best songs of their time because they showed off an ease. Some of the best songs are based on sadness and anger, but there is something appealing about the Dave Clark 5’s ability to create breezy tunes that didn’t carry much weight. They were the second group of the British Invasion to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show in the United States (for two weeks in March 1964 following the Beatles’ three weeks the previous month). They would ultimately have 18 appearances on the show. The DC5 were one of the most commercially successful acts of the British Invasion, releasing seventeen top 40 hits in the US between 1964 and 1967.
Manfred Mann: Supported by the sound of double keyboards, Manfred Mann was primarily a blues/jazz based often changing line up of great London musicians that turned into a pop-r&b monster for a few years. They also became the first southern-England-based group to top the US Billboard Hot 100 during the British Invasion with a cover of the Exciter’s “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy”. The track reached the top of the UK, Canadian, and US charts. With the success of “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” the sound of the group’s singles moved away from the jazzy, blues-based music of their early years to a pop hybrid that continued to make hit singles from cover material. They hit No. 3 in the UK with another girl-group cover, “Sha La La” (originally by the Shirelles), which also reached No. 12 in the US and Canada, and followed it with the sentimental “Come Tomorrow” (originally by Marie Knight). Another hit during the British Invasion period was “Pretty Flamingo”. After singer Paul Jones left in 1966 to go back to the blues, he was replaced by Mike d’Abo who managed to take the band to another height in 1968 with the Dylan-penned “Mighty Quin”. The band called it quits in 1969.
The British Invasion years into the US Music scene started the essence of what happened to Rock and Roll in the decades that followed. The essence of the invasion was that British bands took most American blues and R&B sounds and songs and gave them their own innovations, rhythm changes and instrument adjustments.