If one were to narrow down the musical developments in rock music to the bare essentials in terms of impact, the short list might look like this: Elvis’ arrival, The Beatles’ arrival, punk’s arrival, and alternative rock’s arrival. An even shorter list might simply say: the Beatles arrival had more to do with rock’s evolution than any other singular event.
Of course, it wasn’t just the Beatles that “arrived” in America in 1964. It was also the Rolling Stones, and The Animals, and The Kinks, and The Yardbirds, and later The Who, The Hollies, and key names, each of which would inspire hundreds of bands apiece. There was also an enormous roster of now semi-forgotten also-rans that accompanied the Beatles in their invasion of the American charts in 1964-1965, some quite good (Them, The Small Faces, The Pretty Things), some lightweight but inoffensive (Dave Clark Five, The Searchers, Lulu), some quite silly (Freddie & The Dreamers, Herman’s Hermits). Not all of it is essential listening; much of it really does bear little relevance to anything today. But the best of it not only still makes good compelling and exciting listening, it also represents the very bedrock upon which modern rock (as opposed to rock ‘n’ roll) is built.
In 1963, the American charts were fairly devoid of rock ‘n’ roll; the most compelling voices of the 50’s had been largely neutered. Elvis had gone into the army and came out a popmeister. Chuck Berry was thrown in jail on dubious charges with racial overtones, where he languished. Jerry Lee Lewis was blacklisted for marrying his underaged cousin. Little Richard, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, had become a preacher. In 1963, Jan & Dean’s unthreatening “Surf City” was the only rock ‘n’ roll hit to reach #1; other #1 artists of 1963 included Steve Lawrence, Bobby Vinton, The Singing Nun, Kyu Sakamoto, Lesley Gore, and Paul & Paula. The closest thing to “rock” were the youthful pop stylings of the Four Seasons, or the girl-group pop of The Chiffons, neither of which could really be called “rock” with a straight face. Gone were anthems to jailhouses, school days, shaking, and wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom.
America may have invented rock ‘n’ roll, but it took the British to save it.
What is known for sure is that the British Invasion began in America in February 1964, when the Ed Sullivan Show booked the Beatles for an unprecedented three appearences for the sum of $10,000. The Beatles, with their moptop hair, cheeky attitudes, and Edwardian suits became overnight sensations of the sort that doesn’t happen anymore in the age of fragmented media. When the Beatles appeared, everyone saw them, from teenagers to their parents to their grandparents. And their “yeah yeah yeahs” and alien accents, and manic exhuberance, and tuneful melodicism, and electric guitars changed the musical landscape forever, big time. They made the cover of magazines, their albums shot to number one, at one point in 1964 the Beatles had all five #1-#5 singles on the chart simultaneously, a feat nobody has come close to approaching ever since.
All of this seemed very sudden in America, which was subsequently inundated. Aside from six Beatles singles to reach #1 in 1964, other #1 artists that year included The Animals, Manfred Mann, and Peter & Gordon; in 1965, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits, Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders, and Freddie & the Dreamers all reached #1 as well. Dozens of other British acts made the top-10, top-40, and top-100; the British dominance of the American charts was rivalled only by The Beach Boys and the Motown soul groups. It wasn’t until mid 1965, when the first American folk-rock began to chart (itself a hybrid of Beatles-style electric rock grafted to traditional American folk music), that American rock music regained serious popularity again. British bands continued to swamp America however, with new arrivals continuing through the 1960’s; the original “British Invasion” is usually considered to have lasted from 1964-1968, until the dawn of the progressive-rock era.
While Americans remember the British Invasion as appearing out of nowhere, in the cold winter following the assassination of President Kennedy, the British Invasion (which obviously wasn’t thought of as an ‘invasion’ in England) had been developing since the late 1950’s, and had reached its maturity in 1962 in England, the year the Beatles first charted in the U.K. with “Love Me Do” (a #23 hit in England in 1962)
American rock ‘n’ roll had made the trip across the Atlantic in the other direction, to England, in the late 50’s. Acts like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard not only were popular in England, they remained so even after their popularity had waned (or been purposely sabotaged) in the U.S. In addition, many of the U.S. electric blues performers like Muddy Waters, Elmore James, and Howlin’ Wolf found audiences in England that they lacked at home; many of the still living electric bluesmen of the 50’s found their talents in demand in England in the early 60’s. Particularly in the port cities of England, which always had a healthy influx of imported blues, rock, and pop records from America, young people were exposed to a grittier, more earthy rock experience than teens in America were during the chilly years of 1959-1963.
There really were three styles of rock popular in England during these formative years, and they differed depending largely on what city you were in. Some of the bands had evolved from skiffle, a British form of folk music usually played on improvised instruments and taking some cues from blues; Lonnie Donnegan represents the big name of British skiffle, who had an influential hit with Leadbelly’s “Rock Island Line” in 1955. The Quarrymen are probably the most well-known skiffle group in America, by virtue of their later becoming the Beatles. Chuck Berry and Little Richard had a big effect on these bands in the late 50’s, and their sound evolved into a fully electric, uptempo rock ‘n’ roll.
Other bands, like The Rolling Stones (middle class sophisticates from London), and The Animals (working class stiffs from Newcastle) took a more purist approach to blues, mimicing the vocal techniques, copping licks, recording material by blues artists, appearing onstage with them. Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James were among the names these bands listened to. The Rolling Stones married blues-rock to Chuck Berry-style rock; the Animals stayed purer, but also added electric organ.
A third style of the first wave relied more on r&b, usually accentuated for its grit, among them Them (from Belfast) and The Who (originally The Detours, also from London). The r&b flavored British invasion groups were among the last to click in America, although they enjoyed robust sales in the U.K.
Other cities with active scenes that produced famous acts were Manchester, home to the Hollies; Birmingham, home to The Moody Blues; and of course, Liverpool, home to The Searchers, Gerry and the Pacemakers in addition to the Beatles.
Why was the British Invasion so influential to rock? Aside from reinvigorating the form and making it viable again, it introduces some new concepts to the music that have now become part of its formula, and very DNA. The British Invasion helped to popularize the notion of a band as a self-contained unit. Unlike the 50’s bands, which generally had on acknowledged star, and a fairly faceless backing group as satellites (Somebody and the Somethings), many of the new British bands came branded as a single entity (the Beatles, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones). This bolstered the notion (in theory) that the band was more important than the individual, and that (again, in theory) the bassist was just as important as the singer, and the drummer every bit as integral as the guitarist. While it didn’t always work out that way, in the case of the successful bands it often did, at least for a while.
In this self-contained group unit, the band gradually came to be expected to write its own material, instead of the traditional practice of relying on outside songwriters. The Beatles’ 1964 album, A Hard Day’s Night was the first album ever released by a rock group that contained only songs written by the group itself; soon, this became standard practice, putting the Tin Pan Alley roster of professional songwriters largely out of business.
The British Invasion was important also for helping to birth folk rock, by inspiring folkies like Roger (nee Jim) McGuinn to toss away their acoustics for electrics. The British Invasion led to the first psychedelic music (The Yardbirds), the power trio (The Who, Cream), progressive rock (Sgt. Pepper, The Moody Blues, Pink Floyd) and ultimately heavy metal (Argent, Led Zeppelin).
In the 70’s, plenty of British acts continued to hit big in America, but no longer as a monolith; British artists who succeeded did so within their own specific musical genres, be it hard rock, heavy metal, progressive, singer/songwriter, punk, et. al. The original, classic British Invasion sound remains variations on the two guitars-bass-drums-maybe an organ-singer lineup, producing melodic pop or rhythmic rock.
Obviously, many of the well-known groups are great, and any recording of theirs is worth a listen. Some of the British Invasion groups were also pretty awful; either cloyingly saccharine, overly cute, or simply bland and uninspired. Thus, any anthology that claims to be a thorough overview of the era is bound to be a very bumpy listen. However, there is a lot of good stuff beyond the obvious names, much of it worth exploring. Not only for Beatles-Stones-Who-Kinks fans, but for anyone with an interest in rock’s most formative years; its own teendom, in some respects.
Some important/influential British Invasion artists/songs include:
1. The Beatles: A Hard Days Night
From its opening 12-string guitar chime to its chiming 12-string coda, this is one of the Beatles’ most self-assured and best recordings. The rhythm is jaunty, the Lennon/McCartney vocals stellar, the first appearance of a 12-string guitar on a rock record ultimately birthed folk-rock, the exhuberance is still real and unforced, the song writing duo really collaborated on it; it’s essentially a perfect rock single. The Richard Lester film, A Hard Days Night, an absurdist take on a typical day in the boys’ lives, was a major success, and earned kudos for its sophistication. The single reached #1, as did the album, A Hard Day’s Night. The U.S. version of the album (on United Artists) contained the seven songs contained in the film, plus the film’s incidental music (not featuring the Beatles) as padding, and Capitol combined leftover numbers from the British album with a British EP and a German language version of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” as Something New, thus the companies squeezed two albums out of one; both reached #1. During one week in 1964, the Beatles had singles in the #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #31, #41, #46, #58, #65, #68, and #69 positions, plus the #1 and #2 allbums. The following week, two more Beatle songs entered the Hot-100.
2. The Rolling Stones (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
Friendly rivals to the Beatles, who gave them their first U.K. hit in 1964 with “I Wanna Be Your Man”, the Rolling Stones were the surly, scruffy, sinister alternative to the Beatles’ sunny dispositions; whereas some parents tolerated their daughters’ Beatles fixations, the Stones were another matter. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, from 1965, was the band’s first #1 in America and remains one of the band’s signature tunes. There’s no denying the excitement this record holds too, from its opening fuzz-guitar riff to Jagger’s rap/rant, which was provocative enough to have people whispering that the final verse was about menstruation. It is really here on this single, and the album Out Of Our Heads, where the Rolling Stones truly assumed their identities; Out Of Our Heads was the first Stones album to contain only material written by the group, and “Satisfaction” is where Jagger stopped mimicking the blues and truly reinvents the model of rock frontman.
3. The Yardbirds: Shapes Of Things
The Yardbirds never quite reached the heights of popularity in the States as they did in England, although they did chart six singles in America in 1965-1966. Usually remembered as the launching pad for the careers of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, Clapton had already departed in 1964, when the band recorded “For Your Love”, which peaked at #6 (and substituted a harpsichord for a lead guitar, and early example of the band’s creative experimentation). Indeed, the Yardbirds was much more than a vehicle for its guitarists, although it was their guitarists that helped make them great. In addition to the rotating guitarist slot, the band consisted of Keith Relf (vocals), Paul Samwell-Smith (bass), Chris Dreja (rhythm guitar), and Jim McCarty (drums), and were a relatively cohesive unit in their heyday. All of their hits are classic, and their albums are full of great morsals too; “Shapes Of Things”, a #11 single in the U.S. in 1966, is from the Beck era, and is one of the greatest of all British Invasion singles, with its meaningful and evocative lyrics, its embryonic heavy metal stomp, atmospheric feedback discharges, and psychedelic rave-up.
4. The Who: My Generation
Remarkably, the Who left little impression in America during the British Invasion. While they routinely scored hits in the U.K. from 1965-1968, only “Happy Jack”, which made #67 in 1967 following the band’s Monterey Pop performance, reached the singles chart. Neither the explosive landmark hit “My Generation” nor the album The Who Sing My Generation entered the charts in the U.S. The only explanation that seems plausible is that the States simply weren’t ready for the Who’s brand of electrifying chaos; Americans also misunderstood the Who’s violent guitar smashing onstage. What Americans missed is what was arguably the Who’s greatest years, when they came up with great single after great single, “Substitute”, “Anyway Anyhow Anytime”, “I Can’t Explain”, and “The Kids Are Alright” only scraping the surface. Tommy, from 1969, broke them for good in America, by then they had become focused on albums, and while they made some excellent ones, they never regained their knack for singles. “My Generation”, known for its explosive finale in which the song collapses in chaos entirely, is seen to excellent effect in the famous 1967 clip from The Smothers Brothers show, when Keith Moon literally explodes his drums.
5. The Kinks: You Really Got Me
From London, the Kinks have spent most of their latter-day career as vehicles for singer/guitarists Ray Davies and younger brother Dave. In the early days, they were augmented by bassist Peter Quaife (a schoolmate of Ray’s) and drummer Mick Avory. The band’s first single was recorded as The Ravens, a cover of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally”, in January 1964. The band changed names shortly before the single came out, and struck gold with their third single “You Really Got Me”, which is built around Dave Davies’ muscular power chord riff, one of the most memorable in rock history, and ultimately one of the most influential. The Kinks’ early material ranges from similar hard rock numbers “All Day And All Of The Night” to gentle melodic pop “Tired Of Waiting For You”. The Kinks’ popularity in America rivaled those of the other British bands until the conclusion of the Kinks’ 1965 tour, after which they were banned from re-entering the U.S. until 1969 for reasons that remain murky. After eight top-40 singles, the hits dried up until “Lola” in 1970. The late sixties were a fertile time for the band, however, resulting in their best work ever as Ray Davies began dabbling in social satire; in the late 1970’s, after several years of very uncommercial concept albums, the band reinvented itself as a hard rock arena rock act and regained its commercial muscle. The band faded again after Word Of Mouth in 1984.
6. The Animals: It’s My Life
The Animals were from the relative nowhere of the industrial coal-mining city of Newcastle, in Northern England, and took thier biggest cues from blues and r&b. The band’s most notable assets were the deep, soulful, bluesy voice of Eric Burdon, who really did sound black, and the organ work of Alan Price; they were complimented during their classic period by guitarist Hilton Valentine, bassist Chas Chandler (who would become Jimi Hendrix’ manager in 1967), and drummer John Steel. This lineup recorded their debut “Baby Let Me take You Home” and their big American breakthrough cover of “House Of The Rising Sun” the first blues-rock to reach #1 on the charts. A number of other hits including “Don’t Let Me be Misunderstood” and “We’ve Gotta get Out Of This Place” followed, as did two excellent albums, The Animals, and Animal Tracks, but the band began to splinter. Price left, and embarked on a briefly successful solo career. By late 1965, the band was unhappy with the material producer Mickie Most was giving them; “It’s My Life”, a #7 hit, was their last under Most and their original record label. After a 1966 album for MGM, Animalism, Valentine and Steel departed; a new band was formed as Eric Burdon and The Animals that had a few more hits, including the psychedelic “Monterey” and “Sky Pilot” in the late 60’s. The original Animals reuinted for albums-with-tours twice, in 1977 and 1983.
7. The Hollies: I Can’t Let Go
The Hollies, while somewhat more lightweight than the aforementioned groups, nontheless came up with a remarkable number of good, memorable, tuneful singles, and managed to remain a commercial force in America into the mid 1970’s, one of a very small number of British Invasion acts to do so. The Hollies were formed in Manchester in 1962-3 by singer Allan Clarke and singer/guitarist Graham Nash and bassist Eric Haydock; shortly after they were signed to EMI following an appearance at the Cavern Club in Liverpool in 1963 they were joined by singer/guitarist Tony Hicks and drummer Bobby Elliott. Their first recordings, which included a lot of r&b covers, were pretty weak, but they shone on more pop-oriented material, eventually working out stellar three-part harmonies and shining lead guitar bits; the Al Gorgoni/Chip Taylor-penned “I Can’t Let Go”, which reached a modest #42 in 1966, is a gorgeous piece of uptempo pop-rock, with a fairly complex vocal arrangement with Nash singing counterpoint to the others, while Hicks gets a great ringing 12-string guitar solo. It was included on the U.K. album Would You Believe? and its counterpart Beat Group! in America. Linda Ronstadt covered “I Can’t Let Go” in 1980, and took it to #31. The band didn’t really break in the U.S. until 1966 with “Bus Stop”; a rash of good singles followed, including “Stop Stop Stop” “Carrie Anne” “King Midas In Reverse” and “Pay You Back With Interest”. Nash departed in 1968, and formed Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Clarke split in 1972, after “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress”, but returned in 1974 for one more smash “The Air That I Breathe”, before the Hollies finally ran out of commercial steam.
8. The Troggs: Wild Thing
The Troggs were latecomers to the British Invasion, not scoring until 1966 with “Wild Thing”, but they left a lasting impression; “Wild Thing” has become something of a cultural artifact; even Jimi Hendrix covered it at the Monterey Pop Festival. It was written by Chip Taylor, who also had a hand in writing “I Can’t Let Go” for the Hollies. Led by vocalist Reg Presley, the band, from Andover, were primitives; specializing in three chord bashfests, or rudimentary ballads; they only had three hits in the U.S.; “Wild Thing”, “With A Girl Like You”, and “Love Is All Around” are all classics of trashy proto-punk garage-band style noise, with the latter two being ballads. Various permutations of the Troggs remained active through the 70’s; they were re-discovered by both the punk audience and garage rock archaeologists.
9. The Zombies: She’s Not There
Of all the second-tier British Invasion bands, none deserved a better career than The Zombies, whose complex harmonics and gorgeous melodies set them apart from their peers, and resulted in a couple of the more haunting singles of the mid-60’s. The key axis was vocalist Colin Blunstone, organist Rod Argent, and guitarist Chris White; Blunstone’s breathy, urgent vocals and Argent’s jazz and classical informed playing coupled with strong original material usually written by Argent or White has dated very well, and were something special in their day. “She’s Not There” got them their contract with Decca in 1964, and became their debut single. A jazzy bass opens the song, as Blunstone delivers a delicate and intense vocal that reaches an eerie crescendo; Argent’s organ playing is a milestone on a rock record. The band released a series of follow-up singles, but only “Tell her No” clicked in 1965; after switching labels in 1967, the band recorded their masterpiece, the album Odessey and Oracle (sic). The album hit after the group had disbanded; the unsettling but sublime “Time Of the Season”, which peaked at #3 two years after it was recorded, remains a radio staple to this day. Blunstone went on to moderate solo success in the U.K.; Rod Argent formed the progressive rock/heavy metal band Argent in 1969, who had a major hit with “Hold Your Head Up” in 1972.
10. The Pretty Things: Midnight To Six Man
The Pretty Things are another group that deserved more recognition in the States than they’ve received, although they managed a fairly successful career into the 1980’s in England. Formed by guitarist Dick Taylor (who had been in an early version of the Rolling Stones) and vocalist Phil May, the Pretty Things specialized in a Stonesey r&b/hard rock sound that was generally grittier, tougher, and punkier than the Stones themselves. Most fans rally around the band’s sophomore album Get The Picture?, released in December 1965, which contains the rollicking garage-band sounding “Midnight To Six Man”, on which May’s Jagger-esque vocals could be mistaken for the original, and Taylor’s guitar gets a great stinging lead. Also of note on the album is “L.S.D.” cut as a demo and released as-is; it was later covered with a new title (“E.S.P.”) by garage rockers Beaver Patrol. The band’s S.F. Sorrow album, from 1968, was a rock opera from which Pete Townshend may have taken some inspiration for Tommy. The band later recorded for Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label, Silk Torpedo from 1975, on Swan Song, was their best selling album in America, peaking at #104.
11. Them: Here Comes the Night
Them, led by Van Morrison, were from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and specialized in a gritty, hard r&b perhaps best epitomized by their cover of Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go”, which never charted in America, but has become well-known after many appearances in movies. They influenced thousands of rock bands with “Gloria”, a three-chord workout originally released as a B-side in 1965; it would be covered by The Shadows Of Knight, The Doors, and Patti Smith, among countless others. “Here Comes The Night”, a Bert Berns original (actually released by Lulu before Them), was their biggest American hit, peaking at #24 in 1965; somewhat atypical of the band’s best material, it’s a lightweight but tuneful pop number, highlighted by its impassioned chorus and a nice guitar lead. Morrison quit the band in 1966, and embarked on a long-lived and critically respected solo career; his 1968 album Astral Weeks, and its 1970 follow-up Moondance remain among the essential albums of the late 60’s. Essential to the mid-60’s is Them’s 1965 debut, Them (in America) and Angry Young Them (in England).
12. The Searchers: Needles And Pins
The Searchers hailed from Liverpool, and were one of the Beatles’ chief competitors in the early days, before either band had been discovered. Their history dates back to 1957, when singer/guitarist John McNally formed the first version of the group. By 1959, the nucleus of McNally, singer/guitarist Michael Pender, and singer/guitarist Tony Jackson was in place; Jackson eventually took up bass, while drummer/singer Chris Curtis rounded out the lineup (for a couple of years the band was a quintet, called Johnny Sandon & the Searchers). The band was signed to Pye in 1963, and hit #1 with their first single, a cover of the Drifters’ “Sweets for My Sweet”. “Don’t Throw Your Love Away” and “Needles And Pins” were their biggest American hits, both making the top-20 in 1964; altogether, the band would reach the U.S. top-40 six times through 1965. “Needles And Pins” is a chiming piece of proto-folk-rock written by none other than Sonny Bono; The Ramones covered it in 1977. The band started to unravel as early as 1964, when Tony Jackson left and was replaced by Frank Allen; Chris Curtis split in 1966. Although their hits began to dry up after 1966, the band continued working and recording through 1985, when a rift caused Pender and McNally to split up; both have led their own versions of the Searchers on the oldies circuit.
13. Peter & Gordon: A World Without Love
The second British Invasion act to hit #1 with a single in America (after the Beatles), Peter and Gordon’s 1964 #1 “A World Without Love” could pass for The Beatles on a (very) off-day. The song was written by Lennon/McCartney (i.e. McCartney) and given to the duo, primarily because McCartney was dating Peter Asher’s sister Jane at the time. Not blessed with great voices, nor a commanding stage presence, nor great songwriting ability, Peter and Gordon nontheless did manage to place ten songs in the American top-40 from 1964-1967; “I Don’t Want To See You Again” and “Nobody I Know” were also Lennon/McCartney leftovers. Despite this string of hits, Peter and Gordon weren’t popular enough to survive the end of the British Invasion, and split in 1968. McCartney continued to help Asher, giving him a job at Apple records, where he produced James Taylor’s debut; Asher went on to become an enormously successful record producer for Warner Brothers in the 1970’s, best known for his production work on Linda Ronstadt albums.
14. Lulu: Shout
Lulu (Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie) was a little spitfire of an r&b influenced singer, who first hit big in the U.K. in 1964 with “Shout”, a cover of the Isley Brothers’ hit. At the time, she was only 16 years old, but displayed a commanding voice that displayed more grit than many of the male singers among her peers. Despite its success in England, where she belted the number on a TV special starring The Beatles, it only reached #94 in America; her American breakthrough wouldn’t come until 1967, when she had a huge international #1 with the theme song to the Sidney Poitier film, To Sir With Love, in which she co-starred. Much of her late 60’s and early 70’s music is in a similar vein to Dusty Springfield’s, although Lulu had a few interesting twists and turns, including hosting her own TV show, singing the theme to the James Bond flick The Man WIth The Golden Gun, and recording an interesting session with David Bowie in 1973 that yielded the single “The Man Who Sold the World”. She reached the top-40 in America as late as 1981 with “I Could Never Miss You (More Than I Do)”.
15. Petula Clark: I Know A Place
In many respects, Petula Clark doesn’t belong on this list; she wasn’t really a “rock” singer, and she was about 10 years older than most of the performers on this list. She had a movie role as early as 1944, at the age of 12, and would appear in over two dozen; she had her first U.K. top-20 hit as a singer in 1954, before rock even existed. However, as the U.S. suddenly thirsted for all things British in 1964, Clark, a well-established star in her 30’s at this point, rode the wave and broke through in America with “Downtown”, making her the first British woman to reach #1 on the American pop charts. “I Know A Place”, despite its piano-driven melody and enormous orchestra still manages to capture a little of the British Invasion feel, and name-drops the title of Beatle manager Brian Epstien’s book, “A Cellarful Of Noise”. Clark became a mainstay on the American pop charts through 1968, hitting #1 again with “My Love” and “Don’t Sleep In The Subway” before beginning to fade. She appeared on Broadway in “Blood Brothers” in 1993, and is still working at the age of 73.
16. Herman’s Hermits: There’s A Kind Of A Hush
Adults in their twenties could get away with listening to the Stones and The Kinks in 1965; it made them seem hip. Not so, Herman’s Hermits, a clean-cut group from Manchester who featured good-looking 17-year-old Peter Noone as resident heartthrob. Mickey Most, who also produced the Animals, saw them at a show in Manchester in 1964 and agreed to produce their first album. Their first hit, released in late 1964 was “I’m Into Something Good” a cheerful pop tune that peaked at #13 and established them as favorites among the teenage girl sector, although they are perhaps best remembered for the almost ridiculous “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter”. Most produced with an iron fist; like many teen-oriented bands of the era, the Hermits didn’t get to play on most of their own hits; sessionmen were used to back Noone. Nontheless, Herman’s Hermits played ball, and appeared at many package tours in the mid-60’s; they also had a fairly remarkable eighteen top-40 hits through 1968 in America, making them #2 to the Beatles in chart action among the British Invasion groups. “There’s A Kind Of A Hush” was pretty much their last gasp; a mature-sounding pop number, it peaked at #4 in 1967, their last showing in the top-20. The Carpenters also had a hit with it in 1976.
17. The Small Faces: Itchykoo Park
The Small Faces only scored one hit in America, “Itchykoo Park”, which peaked at #16 in 1968, although from 1965-1968 they were among the most important British bands, specializing in an r&b-flavored hard rock displaying unusually good musicianship from the band, which consisted of singer/guitarist Steve Marriott, singer/bassist Ronnie Lane, drummer Kenney Jones, and keyboardist Ian McLagan, who replaced original member Jimmy Winston. “Whatcha Gonna Do About It” was their first UK hit, in 1965; Sha-La-La-La-Lee peaked at #3 in the U.K. in 1966. The band were part of the “mod” scene, which also included The Who, and favored colorful, dandified duds over leather “rocker” attire; clashes between the mod and rocker camps sometimes were bloody. “Itchykoo Park”, one of the band’s later numbers, found them taking on a somewhat progressive approach to their music; their 1968 album Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake is a classic concept album with hints of r&b and progressive rock on it. The band broke up in 1969, but all members minus Marriott carried on with the Faces, with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood. The Small Faces reconvened in the late 70’s for two albums, neither made much impact.
18. The Swinging Blue Jeans: You’re No Good
The Swinging Blue Jeans only had one hit in America, “The Hippy Hippy Shake”, a #24 hit from 1964, originally adapted from a 1959 Chan Romero version that was a good deal more rockabilly than the Swinging Blue Jeans’ version. Good enough for the Beatles to include in their live performances (available on the BBC CD), the Swinging Blue Jeans’ also did a good job with it, revving it up a bit, overplaying the exhuberance. In England, the band scored again with “You’re No Good”, which was also a 1964 hit for soul singer Betty Everett, and later a #1 smash for Linda Ronstadt. The Swinging Blue Jeans took it into the top-5 in England, but in America the highest it got was #97. The band never left an impression again, although original members Ray Ennis and Les Braid still lead a version of the group to this day.
19. Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders: The Game Of Love
Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders have one of the stranger biographies of the British Invasion groups. Wayne Fontana was Glyn Geoffrey Ellis, a telephone engineer who renamed himself after Elvis Presley’s drummer, DJ Fontana, and formed his first band, The Jets, in Manchester in 1961-1962. When half of his band didn’t show up for an important gig, Fontana drafted members from the bar, drummer Ric Rothwell and guitarist Eric Stewart, to augment himself and bassist Bob Lang; the new combo was renamed The Mindbenders, and released their debut single, a cover of Fats Domino’s “My Girl Josephine”, in 1963. Their big American hit was “The Game Of Love” written by Clint Ballard, and featuring a break that recalls a cross between Bo Diddley and Buddy Holly in the middle, showcasing Stewart’s guitar, which reached #1 in the States. An American tour followed, after difficulties with immigration, but the band was unable to follow up their hit; by 1965 Fontana had decided to pursue a solo career and left the band suddenly at the end of a gig. The Mindbenders soldiered on without him, scoring a #1 hit on their own in 1966 with “A Groovy Kind of Love”, their first single without Fontana. After that, they struggled again, barely making the charts, despite releasing a pretty good and somewhat audacious concept album With Woman in Mind in 1967. Eric Stewart would later form 10cc, and also appeared on some Paul McCartney albums in the 1980’s.
20. Dave Clark Five: Because
Of all the British Invasion groups, the one that seemed to rival the Beatles in popularity the most in 1964 was the Dave Clark Five, from London. They were the ones who knocked “I Want To Hold Your Hand” out of the top spot on the British charts in 1964 with their own “Glad All Over” a big, stomping, good-natured pop-rocker, that featured Dave Clark’s pounding drum front and center; vocals were handled by Mike Smith. The band was big in America too; they had ten top-20 singles in 1964-1965, and continued to chart as late as 1968. “Because” is arguably their best song, written by Clark, which almost rivals the Beatles’ close-harmony numbers like “This Boy” and “Yes It Is”. Ironically, the song was only a B-side in England, backing “Can’t You See That She’s Mine”; Clark insisted it become an A-side in America. It was, and peaked at #3. The band continued releasing albums through 1972, but with little success after the 60’s.
21. Gerry & The Pacemakers: Ferry Cross The Mersey
Gerry & The Pacemakers provide proof that it took more than Brian Epstien’s management, George Martin’s production, and Liverpool as a hometown to be the Beatles. Formed by Gerry Marsden in the late 1950’s, the band also featured brother Fred Marsden on drums, Les Chadwick on bass, and Arthur Mack (replaced in 1961 by Les McGuire) on piano. They played the same places the Beatles did, from the Cavern to Hamburg, and Marsden was a melodic songwriter. But little of their recorded output is arresting now; much of it is remarkably lightweight and square. One famous story regarding the band involves their 1963 single “How Do You Do It?”, written by Mitch Murray. George Martin wanted the Beatles to record it as their second single, something the band was loathe to do, because they were working on their own “Please Please Me” as a follow-up to “Love Me Do”. When time came for the Beatles to record a demo, they purposely played poorly and Martin gave up, giving the song to Gerry & The Pacemakers instead. Gerry and the boys cheerfully complied, and had a #1 hit with it, and a #9 single in America. The Beatles fared well too, with “Please Please Me” reaching #1 in the U.K. “Ferry Cross The Mersey”, a Marsden original that reached #6 in 1965, is probably their most enduring number, with a sophisticated string arrangement, and a pretty, windswept melody. It was also the theme song from the Gerry and the Pacemakers’ little-remembered film, Ferry Cross The Mersey. The band last charted in America in 1966, and the group disbanded. Gerry Marsden, with and without various Pacemakers, still plays gigs to this day.
22. Dave Berry: The Crying Game
Dave Berry is an also-ran in the British Invasion genre; unknown in America, and barely known in England. A teen idol who favored r&b, but usually had to cover pop ballads, his one shining recording was “The Crying Game” from 1964, later unearthed in 1993 and covered by Boy George as the theme song for the film of the same name. He also hit in the U.K. with Bobby Goldsboro’s “Little Things” in 1965 and Carl Perkins’ “Mama” in 1966. In America, he never charted at all. Berry gave up by 1968, although he did release a couple of albums in the 1980’s as a comeback attempt. The Sex Pistols, of all possible groups, covered Berry’s own “Don’t Gimme No Lip Child”, a tougher-edged r&b number from 1964.
23. Freddie & The Dreamers: I’m Telling You Now
Freddie & The Dreamers are arguably the weakest act on this list, although they do earn points for a somewhat self-effacing sense of humor. Leader Freddie Garrity had played in a number of skiffle groups since the late 50’s before forming Freddie & The Dreamers in the wake of The Beatles’ success. Remembered for their extremely lightweight pop tunes, and also their misbegotten attempt to start a dance craze (“Do The Freddie”), they actually managed four top-40 entries in the U.S. in 1965, going all the way to #1 with the Beatle-esque “I’m Telling You Now” (it had reached #2 in England almost 1 1/2 years earlier, in 1963). The tune was written by Freddie Garrity with Mitch Murray, the latter having penned “How Do You Do It?”, the Gerry and the Pacemakers hit the Beatles had turned down; it displays a lot of similarities in sound. Freddie & The Dreamers managed four movie appearences, but by 1966 the band was finished, and broke up.
24. The Moody Blues: Go Now
Younger listeners probably know the Moody Blues best for their orchestral numbers like “Nights In White Satin”, or their Mellotron-backed quasi-progressive rock numbers like “Question” and “I’m Just A Singer In A Rock ‘n’ Roll Band”. However, the band goes back all the way to 1963 when Ray Thomas (harmonica, vocals) and Mike Pinder (keyboards, vocals) formed The Krew Kats in Birmingham. By 1964, the band had been re-named and also included Denny Laine (vocals, guitar), Graeme Edge (drums), and Clint Warwick (bass, vocals). A successful gig at the Marquee Club got them signed to Decca (less than 6 months after forming), and the band found almost instant success with their second single, a cover of “Go Now”, originally done by American r&b singer Bessie Banks. “Go Now”, sung by Denny Laine, peaked at #10 (#1 in England) in America after its late 1964 release. The song is a classic of the era, easily one of Laine’s best-ever vocals, but the band was unable to follow it up. Throughout 1965, single after single stiffed; Warwick and Laine quit in 1966, replaced during the course of the year by John Lodge and Justin Hayward, both of whom would have a big hand in shaping the band’s evolution in a progressive, and ultimately successful direction. Denny Laine was later involved in a variety of late 60’s projects including Ginger Baker’s Air Force, but never really saw success again until 1971 when he was tapped by Paul McCartney to be a founding member of Wings. Laine remained with Wings until McCartney officially disbanded it in 1981; in addition to singing “Go Now” at a lot of their shows, he also contributed an average of one song per album.
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