The British Invasion is not what it sounds like at first. It doesn’t have anything to do with wars, colonies, or the British Empire. The term ‘British Invasion’ actually means the mid-1960s musical movement consisted of several British rock and roll groups who became rapidly popular in the United States.
In New York City, the Beatles arrived on February 7th, 1964. Their arrival opened up the doors of the United States to the musical talent in Britain at the time. After that, the musical British invasion was only a matter of time.
During the 1950s, the young generation in Britain was fascinated by the suggestive and frantic beat of American rock and roll. While their own musical groups tried to replicate that genre, they didn’t quite succeed due to the lack of the basic elements. American rock and roll included rhythm, country music, the blues, and several other components. What’s more, the British sense of decorum was also an obstacle to letting it all loose like American rock and rollers did. The closest the British musicians got at the time was in the late 1950s, with the skiffle craze led by Lonnie Donegan.
Skiffle groups consisted of mostly guitars and banjos, with a noticeable lack of drums. The Quarrymen are a good example of these, and are especially memorable for being the launchpad of the Beatles themselves. Groups like these mostly sang traditional folk songs that sailed from America. While they didn’t have much instrumental polish, there was certainly a lot of spirit in skiffle groups.
By the year 1962, many British teens got a feel of the rock and roll idiom. The music of Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran, James Brown, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard were among the most influential figures in this movement. Along with this, there were local musical traditions like pop, Celtic folk, and dancehall. That resulted in an original form of music that the British musicians could claim as their own. The result was that there were several young groups playing electric guitars and coming up with melodious pop songs as well as scorching rock and roll and electric blues in the Chicago style.
The Importance of Liverpool
At this point in the 1960s, Liverpool was the first place where the ‘beat-boom’ of British music was located. While the Beatles are now one of the most influential musical groups ever, they weren’t alone in their genre. There were the Fourmost, the Searchers, and Gerry and the Pacemakers right alongside them. There was also Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, all of whom launched the estuary ‘Merseybeat’.
In the latter part of 1962, The Beatles got to the British record charts, with the rest joining in the next year. However, the Tornados preceded the Beatles with their smash hit ‘Telstar’, which became the first British musical record to get to the top of the American singles chart.
Rock Taking Over Britain
When 1964 rolled around, Greater London had huge names such as the Yardbirds, the Kinks, the Who, the Rolling Stones, and Dusty Springfield. Manchester boasted names such as Freddie and the Dreamers, Wayne Fontana, and many more. Birmingham has the Moody Blue and the Spencer Davis Group. More bands in the rock genre were springing up all over the place, with artists working on developing the styles further and pushing them forward.
The beat boom here was providing Britons with their own music after the secondhand rock they got from the United States. The first film by the Beatles, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ in 1964, established England as the rock center of the universe at the time.
A Line of Musical Hits
From the year 1964 to around 1966, the UK was sending a line of musical hits across the ocean. Just a few of the highest-rated singles include:
- Peter and Gordon (“A World Without Love”)
- The Animals (“House of the Rising Sun”)
- Manfred Mann (“Do Wah Diddy Diddy”)
- Petula Clark (“Downtown”)
- Freddie and the Dreamers (“I’m Telling You Now”)
- Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders (“Game of Love”)
- Herman’s Hermits (“Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”)
- The Rolling Stones (“[I Can’t Get No] Satisfaction”)
- The Troggs (“Wild Thing”)
- Donovan (“Sunshine Superman”)
The above singles were all at the top of the singles Billboard chart at some point. Many of these borrowed from American rock music and refreshed it to a new generation. The cover of Time magazine in April 1966 featured a cover story titled ‘London: The Swinging City’. By the time 1967 came around, both American and English bands were considered equals in the international rock scene.
The Invasion of American Pop Culture
In 1964, American pop music started experiencing a serious shift. This was the year when British musicians launched a thorough invasion of the American pop music charts. Not only this, but their music permeated into and shaped the pop culture of that time as well. Eventually the Beatles and other British music acts were among the biggest pop culture trends of the 1960s in America.
Along with the Beatles, several other bands we’ve mentioned above majorly influenced the development of American rock and roll. Perhaps there was no other time before this that American culture has been so shaken up and changed by foreign influences.
The Beatles’ First Visit to America
The first visit by the Beatles to the United States was just a two-week one. However, their performances in this time period were enough to properly spark Beatlemania in the country. This would then serve to introduce new eras in both popular music and pop culture.
During this brief visit, the Beatles were interviewed dozens of times. They toured just three cities and played only three concerts, but they also appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show three times. Their hit single titled ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ was ruling the topmost slot of the American pop charts. American teenagers were especially enthusiastic about this quarter and eagerly awaited their return.
The Later British Acts
After the Beatles made such a splash in America, they opened the doors for many other British acts to make their marks. These were not just limited to guitar bands, but also included duos and solo artists. They also came from all over the United Kingdom, not just England or Liverpool.
All at once, the United States was filled with these new-sounding elements and styles from another continent. Part of the cultural influence of British music was due to the differences; American teens loved British accents, the various fashions, and unique hairstyles. We can still see elements of these interests in American media today, with British accents and styles being much appreciated by the audiences here.
However, most of this invasion was based on the music. While they were inspired by American styles, the British musical sounds soon took on a life of their own.
The 1960s was a time when most middle class American homes started to have separate bedrooms for each teen in a family. This meant that teenagers were more able to get the privacy and opportunity they needed to express themselves in a certain space.
With this freedom, teenager started decorating their bedroom walls with posters of British bands and solo artists. There were also vast record collections, scrapbooks, and other celebrations of the American teen’s love for British pop music.
The American Inspiration
Young American music fans in 1964 may be hyped up on Beatlemania and the love for other British acts as well, but they may not have realized that those sounds from across the ocean weren’t really that new. Most of the British invasion artists created the rich popular musical traditions in America as their main influence and inspiration. What they did was reinvent their music so that it seemed innovative and fresh. This interpretation, their different accents, and radical hairstyles plus other fashion choices, was what made British acts so attractive. This music renaissance that they enacted in America would leave a lasting mark that’s still present.
Changing the American Music Landscape
In the early 1960s, the music landscape in America was still somewhat like the 1950s. There are several music styles, including rock and roll, soul, rhythm, blues, etc. Soul music was derived from R&B, which was a mostly African-America sound. It was a smoother groove, which was much more pleasing to general audiences.
Soul artists like the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, and Smokey Robinson would also give rise to the Motown Sound. All of these were heavily featured in the pop music charts in the beginning of the 1960s. Overall, they were a major influence on the British Invasion acts.
The Photography of Bob Bonis
Bob Bonis was the tour manager for the band ‘The Rolling Stones’ in the United Stated for at least two years (1964-1966). In addition to his main profession, Bonis was also a camera enthusiast. He took several hundred pictures of The Beatles and the Stones while they were touring the United States. Many of these pictures were not released to the public at the time. However, when they were available to everyone, the pictures gave fans an unprecedented insight into the famous groups. Since Bonis was able to access the members of both bands backstage, onstage, and other moments during their tours, the pictures he took provided a good documentation of the British Invasion in America.
Response From the American Industry
There were many changes that came about as a result of the British musical explosion in the United States during the 1960s. Along with the sales of music recordings and vinyl records, guitar sales also skyrocketed. Many men would either sport long hair or the bowl-like cut sported by the Beatles. Even the British flag was utilized as a fashionable statement. A music press came about, while many youngsters were starting to form their own bands all over the country. Even today, many music lovers would like to go back to vinyl records to get that same experience from back in the day.
The Byrds, a band based in Los Angeles, was inspired by the Beatles’ sound. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was also inspired by the Beatles albums ‘Revolver’ and ‘Rubber Soul’. He used both for his ‘Pet Sounds’ masterpiece. In San Francisco, the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane would probably not be around if it weren’t for the British Invasion.
The Standells in Boston were a reflection of the raw energy shown by the Rolling Stones. Bob Dylan, hailing from New York, would also transition from folk music to something more like rock thanks to the Beatles. Even the Motown acts in Detroit were doing interpretations of Beatles songs.
Conclusion: The Second Wave of Invasion
While the British Invasion never officially ended, some historians say that the last Beatles concert in Candlestick Park (San Francisco) in the August of 1966 marked a kind of conclusion to the movement. After that performance, the Beatles were more interested in studio recording than live performances. However, their singles like ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and the ‘ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ album marked the coming of the second invasion.
It’s evident that the advent of British music in America had a lasting effect on the music and culture of a whole country. These effects are still apparent, with many of the involved artists changing the landscape of the music industry as well.