Second British Invasion
The term Second British Invasion refers to music acts from the United Kingdom that became popular in the United States from the summer of 1982 into the autumn of 1986, primarily due to the cable music channel MTV. While acts with a wide variety of styles were part of the invasion, it was mainly synthpop and new wave influenced acts that predominated. During the late 1980s, hair metal and dance music replaced Second Invasion acts atop the U.S. charts.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, music from the United Kingdom was informed by the after effects of the "punk/new wave" revolution. In early 1979 "Sultans of Swing" by Dire Straits and "Roxanne" by The Police cracked the American Top 40, followed by the more modest chart successes of Elvis Costello, Sniff 'n' the Tears, The Pretenders, Gary Numan, and Squeeze. Scripps-Howard news service described this success as an early stage of the invasion.
Music videos, having been a staple of British music television programs for half a decade, had evolved into image conscious short films. At the same time, pop and rock music in the United States was undergoing a creative slump due to several factors, including audience fragmentation and the effects of the anti-disco backlash. Videos did not exist for most hits by American acts, and those that did were usually taped concert performances. When the cable music channel MTV launched on August 1, 1981, it had little choice but to play a large number of music videos from British new wave acts. The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star" was the first music video shown on MTV in the U.S. At first, MTV was only available in small towns and suburbs. To the surprise of the music industry, when MTV became available in a local market, record sales by acts played solely on the channel increased immediately and listeners phoned radio stations requesting to hear them. Also in 1981, Los Angeles radio station KROQ-FM began the Rock of the '80s format, which would make it the most popular station in that city.
More hints of the impending invasion were observed in 1981 on the dance charts. Only seven of the top 30 groups of the dance rock chart Rockpool were of American origin, while later in the year, 12-inch singles by British groups began appearing on the Billboard Disco chart. The trend was particularly strong in Manhattan where import records and the British music press were convenient to obtain and where the New York Rocker warned that “Anglophilia” was hurting U.S. underground acts.
On July 3, 1982, The Human League's "Don't You Want Me" started a three-week reign on top of the Hot 100. The song got considerable boost from MTV airplay and has been described by the Village Voice as "pretty unmistakably the moment the Second British Invasion, spurred by MTV, kicked off". The September 1982 arrival of MTV in the media capitals of New York City and Los Angeles led to widespread positive publicity for the new "video era". By the fall, "I Ran (So Far Away)" by A Flock of Seagulls, the first successful song that owed almost everything to video, had entered the Billboard Top Ten. Duran Duran's glossy videos would come to symbolise the power of MTV. In 1983, Billy Idol became an MTV staple with "White Wedding" and "Eyes Without a Face" and had commercial success with his second album Rebel Yell. Pop rock songs that topped the charts included Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart", John Waite's "Missing You", and Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" (with its iconic video).
New Music became an umbrella term used by the music industry to describe young, mostly British, androgynous, and technologically oriented artists such as Culture Club. Many of the Second Invasion artists started their careers in the punk era and desired to bring change to wider audience, resulting in music that, while having no specific sound, was characterized by a risk-taking spirit within the context of pop music. Rock-oriented acts that knew how to use video, such as Def Leppard, Big Country and Simple Minds, became part of the new influx of music from Britain.
Early in 1983 radio consultant Lee Abrams advised his clients at 70 album-oriented rock stations to double the amount of New Music they played. During that year 30% of the record sales were from British acts. On July 16, 20 of the top 40 singles, including 7 of the top 10 singles, were by British artists, smashing the previous record of 14 set in 1965. One measure of the strength of the Second British Invasion is that 2 of the 20 singles were by acts from the first British Invasion: "Come Dancing" by The Kinks (their biggest hit ever) and "Stop in the Name of Love" by The Hollies. The overall record sales would rise by 10% from 1982. "Every Breath You Take" by The Police was the best selling single on the Hot 100 in 1983. Newsweek magazine ran an issue which featured Annie Lennox and Boy George on the cover of its issue with the caption Britain Rocks America – Again, while Rolling Stone would release an "England Swings" issue in November 1983. Culture Club and Duran Duran created a teen "hysteria" similar to Beatlemania during the first British Invasion. In April 1984, 40 of the top 100 singles, and on the 25 May 1985 Hot 100, 8 of the top 10 singles, were by acts of British origin. At the Second Invasion's height, during a three-month period the British Commonwealth claimed eight consecutive Hot 100 #1 hits, from Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)" through Tears for Fears' "Shout". "Don't You (Forget About Me)" (featured in The Breakfast Club) was the first of three British acts to provide the theme song for a Brat Pack film, followed by John Parr's Hot 100 #1 charting single "St. Elmo's Fire" (which was eclipsed at the top by Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing") and The Psychedelic Furs "Pretty in Pink".
U.S. radio stations that catered for black audiences also played Second Invasion acts. Music critic Nelson George ascribed this "reverse crossover" to the novelty of the music playing well on dance floors. Another music journalist, Simon Reynolds, theorized that, just as in the first British Invasion, the use of black American influences by British acts such as Wham!, Eurythmics, Culture Club, and Paul Young helped to spur their success.
Following the success of Pink Floyd in the 1970s, other 1970s British progressive rock artists would achieve major chart success in the U.S during the 1980s, such as Genesis, Yes ("Owner of a Lonely Heart" reaching #1), The Alan Parsons Project ("Sirius" would be used as entrance music by various American sports teams, notably the Chicago Bulls).
During the Second British Invasion, established British acts such as Queen, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Phil Collins and Elton John (Who experienced somewhat of a comeback after a career slump in the late 70's.) saw their popularity increase. Counting his work with Genesis, Collins had more top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart during the 1980s than any other artist.
All of this activity and the unusually high turnover of artists in the charts caused a sense of upheaval in the United States. Commentators in the mainstream media credited MTV and the British acts with bringing color and energy back to pop music that had been missing since the 60's, while rock journalists were generally hostile to the phenomenon because they felt it represented image over content and that the "English haircut bands" had not paid their dues. Great Britain initially embraced what was called "New Pop". However, by 1983, the song "Rip It Up" by Orange Juice and "kill ugly pop stars" graffiti were expressions of both a backlash against the Second Invasion groups and nostalgia for punk. "Instant Club Hit (You'll Dance to Anything)", which became an underground hit for Philadelphia punk group The Dead Milkmen, took a satirical shot at the American subculture that followed British alternative/new wave.
According to music journalist Simon Reynolds, a majority of acts that signed to independent labels in 1984 mined various rock influences and became an alternative to the Second Invasion. Reynolds named The Smiths and R.E.M. as the two most important "alt rock acts" among this group noting that they "were eighties bands only in the sense of being against the eighties".
End of the Invasion
As the 1980s wore on, American rock, heavy metal and pop music acts learned how to market themselves using video and make catchy singles. Martin Fry of ABC says that "The reality was that Madonna, Prince and Michael Jackson did it better, bigger and more global than a lot of British acts." From 1983 to 1985, several hair metal acts dented the U.S. charts and received some airplay on MTV, but heavy metal was still seen as a genre limited in popularity to teenage boys. In the spring and summer of 1986, acts associated with the Second Invasion continued to have chart success, with eight records reaching the Hot 100's summit. That fall Bon Jovi's third album Slippery When Wet topped the Billboard 200 and spent eight non-consecutive weeks there, and the leadoff single "You Give Love a Bad Name" displaced The Human League's "Human" atop the Hot 100. Such developments eventually led to decreased visibility of New Music. By 1987, New Music exposure on MTV was limited to the program The New Video Hour. In 1988 British acts rebounded with twelve singles topping the chart that year. Over time British acts became less prevalent on the U.S. charts, and on 27 April 2002, for the first time in almost 40 years, the Hot 100 had no British acts at all.
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