The British Invasion was a phenomenon that occurred in the mid-1960s when rock and pop music acts from the United Kingdom, as well as other aspects of British culture, became popular in the United States, and then throughout the world. Bands such as The Beatles, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, and The Who would get their start during this time and go on to make a lasting impact on the US music scene.
The rebellious tone and image of US rock and roll and blues musicians became popular with British youth in the late 1950s. While early commercial attempts to replicate American rock and roll mostly failed, the trad jazz–inspired skiffle craze, with its 'do it yourself' attitude, was the starting point of several British Billboard singles.
Young British groups started to combine various British and American styles, coalescing in Liverpool during 1962 in what became known as Merseybeat, hence the "beat boom". That same year featured the first three acts with British roots to reach the Hot 100's summit. Also that same year, the James Bond film series began[unreliable source?] (see the Barry Miles reference, below) on the same date that The Beatles released their first record, "Love Me Do".
Some observers have noted that US teenagers were growing tired of singles-oriented pop acts like Fabian Forte. The Mods and Rockers, two youth "gangs" in 1950s England, also had an impact in British Invasion music. Bands that had a Mod aesthetic would end up becoming the most popular, but bands that were able to balance both (e.g., The Beatles) were also successful.
The Huntley-Brinkley Report aired a two-minute segment on the Beatles on November 18, 1963, and the CBS Morning News with Mike Wallace aired a story on the group on November 22, 1963, but the planned repeat of the CBS report that evening was shelved because of U.S. President John F. Kennedy's assassination. On December 10, 1963, the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite finally re-ran that CBS report, about the Beatlemania phenomenon in the United Kingdom.
After seeing the report, 15-year-old Marsha Albert of Silver Spring, Maryland, wrote a letter the following day to disc jockey Carroll James at radio station WWDC asking "why can't we have music like that here in America?" On December 17 James had Miss Albert introduce "I Want to Hold Your Hand" live on the air. WWDC's phones lit up, and Washington, D.C., area record stores were flooded with requests for a record they did not have in stock. On December 26 Capitol Records released the record three weeks ahead of schedule.
The release of the record during a time when teenagers were on vacation helped spread Beatlemania in the US. For the January 25, 1964 edition of Cash Box magazine (on sale January 18) "I Want to Hold Your Hand" reached number one on the chart; it did the same on Billboard's February 1 chart. On February 7, the CBS Evening News ran a story about the Beatles' United States arrival that afternoon in which the correspondent said "The British Invasion this time goes by the code name Beatlemania". Two days later (Sunday, February 9) they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Nielsen Ratings estimated that 45 percent of US television viewers that night saw their appearance.
According to Michael Ross, "it is somewhat ironic that the biggest moment in the history of popular music was first experienced in the US as a television event." The Ed Sullivan Show had for some time been a "comfortable hearth-and-slippers experience." Not many of the 73 million viewers watching in February 1964 would fully understand what impact the band they were watching would have. On April 4, the Beatles held the top 5 positions on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, and to date no other act has accomplished this feat. The group's massive chart success continued until they broke up in 1970.
One week after The Beatles entered the Hot 100 for the first time, Dusty Springfield, having launched a solo career after her participation in The Springfields, became the next British act to reach the Hot 100, with "I Only Want to Be With You", which fell just short of the top 10. She soon followed up with several other hits, becoming what Allmusic described as "the finest white soul singer of her era." On the Hot 100, Dusty's solo career lasted almost as long, albeit with little more than one quarter of the hits, as The Beatles' group career before their breakup.
During the next two years or so, Peter and Gordon, The Animals, Manfred Mann, Petula Clark, Freddie and the Dreamers, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Herman's Hermits, The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark Five, The Troggs, and Donovan would have one or more number one singles in the US. Other Invasion acts included The Searchers, Billy J. Kramer, The Bachelors, Chad & Jeremy, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Honeycombs, Them (and later its lead singer, Van Morrison), Tom Jones, The Yardbirds, and numerous others.
On May 8, 1965, the British Commonwealth came closer than it ever had or would to a clean sweep of a weekly Hot 100's Top 10, lacking only a hit at number two instead of "Count Me In" by the US group Gary Lewis & The Playboys. That same year, half of the twenty-six Billboard Hot 100 chart toppers (counting The Beatles' "I Feel Fine" carrying over from 1964) belonged to British acts. The British trend would continue into 1966 and beyond. British Invasion acts also dominated the music charts at home in the United Kingdom.
British Invasion artists played in styles now categorized either as blues-based rock music or as guitar-driven rock/pop. A second wave of the invasion occurred featuring acts such as The Who, The Zombies, and The Hollies, which were influenced by the invasion's pop side and US rock music. The musical style of British Invasion artists, such as the Beatles, was influenced by earlier US rock 'n' roll, a genre which had lost some popularity and appeal by the time of the Invasion. White British performers essentially revived a musical genre rooted in black US culture.
The Rolling Stones were perceived by the US public as a much more 'edgy' and even dangerous band. They stated themselves that they were much more influenced by black-oriented rhythm and blues. This image marked them as separate from beat artists such as the Beatles, who had become a more acceptable, parent-friendly pop group. The Rolling Stones (and also The Animals) appealed more to an 'outsider' demographic and popularized, for young people at least, the rhythm and blues genre which had been largely ignored or rejected when performed by black US artists in the 1950s. The Rolling Stones would become the biggest band other than The Beatles to come out of the British Invasion, topping the Hot 100 eight times.
"Freakbeat" is a term given to British Invasion acts, particularly British Blues and Garage Rock acts, that remained obscure to US listeners. Though popular charting bands in the UK, the Pretty Things, Soft Machine and Status Quo are all acts that are associated with Freakbeat.
MSNBC has claimed that British Acts came to the United States to save on taxes and that the American Federation of Musicians became "convinced that British bands were getting a disproportionate share of musician's income".
The emergence of a relatively homogeneous worldwide "rock" music style about 1967 marked the end of the "invasion".
Outside of music
Outside of music other aspects of British arts became popular in the US during this period and led US media to proclaim the United Kingdom as the center of music and fashion.
The Beatles movie A Hard Day's Night marked the group's entrance into film. Mary Poppins, released on August 27, 1964 and starring English actress Julie Andrews, became the most Oscar-winning and Oscar-nominated Disney film in history, and My Fair Lady, released on December 25, 1964, won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director.[original research?] Besides the Bond series, films with a British sensibility such as the "Angry Young Men" genre, What's New Pussycat? and Alfie styled London Theatre. A new wave of actors such as Peter O'Toole and Michael Caine intrigued the US audiences.
Fashion and image marked the Beatles out from their earlier US rock and roll counterparts. Their distinctive, uniform style "challenged the clothing style of conventional US males", just as their music challenged the earlier conventions of the rock and roll genre. "Mod" fashions, such as the mini skirt from "Swinging London" designers such as Mary Quant and worn by early supermodels Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton and other models, were popular worldwide.
Even while longstanding styles remained popular for quite some time to come, US teens and young adults started to dress "hipper". The evolution of the styles of the British Invasion bands also showed in US culture, as some bands went from more clean cut to being more hippie.
The British Invasion had a profound impact on the shape of popular music. It helped internationalize the production of rock and roll, establishing the British popular music industry as a viable centre of musical creativity, and opening the door for subsequent British performers to achieve international success. In America the Invasion arguably spelled the end of instrumental surf music, pre-Motown vocal girl groups, the folk revival (which adapted by evolving into folk rock), and (for a time) the teen idols that had dominated the American charts in the late 1950s and 60s. Television shows that featured uniquely American styles of music, such as Sing Along with Mitch and Hootenanny, were quickly canceled and replaced with shows such as Shindig! and Hullabaloo that were better positioned to play the new British hits.[original research?]
It dented the careers of established R&B acts like Chubby Checker and temporarily derailed the chart success of certain surviving rock and roll acts, including Fats Domino and Elvis Presley. It prompted many existing garage rock bands to adopt a sound with a British Invasion inflection and inspired many other groups to form, creating a scene from which many major American acts of the next decade would emerge. The British Invasion also played a major part in the rise of a distinct genre of rock music and cemented the primacy of the rock group, based around guitars and drums and producing their own material as singer-songwriters.
Though many of the acts associated with the invasion did not survive its end, many others would become icons of rock music. The claim that British beat bands were not radically different from US groups like The Beach Boys and damaged the careers of African-American and female artists has been the subject of controversy about the Invasion, even though the Motown sound actually increased in popularity during that time.
Other US groups also demonstrated a similar sound to the British Invasion artists and in turn highlighted how the British 'sound' was not in itself a wholly new or original one. Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, for example, acknowledged the debt that American artists owed to British musicians, such as the Searchers, but that "they were using folk music licks that I was using anyway. So it's not that big a rip-off." The US Sunshine pop group The Buckinghams and the Beatles influenced US Tex-Mex act the Sir Douglas Quintet adopted British sounding names, and San Francisco's The Beau Brummels took their name from the same-named English dandy. Roger Miller had a 1965 hit record with a song entitled "England Swings". Englishman Geoff Stephens (or John Carter) reciprocated the gesture ala Rudy Vallée a year later in The New Vaudeville Band's "Winchester Cathedral". Even as recently as 2003, "Shanghai Knights" made the latter two tunes memorable once again, in London scenes.
In Australia, the success of The Seekers and The Easybeats (the latter a band formed mostly of British emigrants) closely paralleled that of the British Invasion. The Seekers had two Hot 100 top 5 hits during the British Invasion, the #4 hit "I'll Never Find Another You" in May 1965 and the #2 hit "Georgy Girl" in February 1967. The Easybeats drew heavily on the British Invasion sound and had one hit in the United States during the British Invasion era, the #16 hit "Friday on My Mind" in May 1967.
The British Invasion's influence on rock music waned from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s. Early 1970s exceptions were Badfinger, The Raspberries, and Sweet, who played a heavily British Invasion influenced style deemed power pop. In 1978 two rock magazines wrote cover stories about power pop and championed the genre as a savior to both the new wave and the direct simplicity of the way rock used to be. New wave power pop not only brought back the sounds but the fashions be it the mod style of The Jam or the skinny ties of the burgeoning Los Angeles scene. Several of these groups were commercially successful, most notably The Knack whose My Sharona was the number 1 U.S. single of 1979. A backlash against The Knack and power pop ensued but the genre over the years has continued to have a cult following with occasional periods of modest success.
- List of British Invasion artists
- Second British Invasion, 1980s
- Swinging London
- List of Billboard Hot 100 number-ones by British artists
- British soul
- Music of the United Kingdom (1960s)
Other cultural waves:
- Korean wave, South Korean entertainers in Asia and other parts of the world, 2000s
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