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In Music, What Is the British Invasion?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
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  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2014
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The British Invasion was a period of 1960s music in which a large number of British rock & roll groups became popular in the US. Many of these performers had already gained some success and fame in the UK prior to the release of their records and live performances in the US. This is often associated with “Beatlemania,” though it is unfair to give credit for the explosion of British music in the US solely to The Beatles. The British Invasion involved numerous musicians and rock groups including The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Hollies, Dusty Springfield, and Herman’s Hermits.

Though rock & roll music was quite popular throughout the 1960s in the US, many people assert that the beginning of the British Invasion of rock music was in 1964. American music in the 1950s and early 1960s had begun to move away from blues-influenced musicians and the early rock music of performers like Elvis Presley, as female singing groups and teenage musicians became more popular. In the UK, however, performers like Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly had inspired young musicians to experiment with rock & roll. Many of these young performers were in Liverpool, which has often been given credit as the birthplace of the British Invasion.

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The initial invasion can be said to have begun in 1962. This is when a single called Telstar by The Tornadoes became the first #1 single in the US by a British musical group. In December of 1963, I Want to Hold Your Hand by The Beatles was played on American radio stations and the single was released to remarkable success. 1964 is often credited as the beginning of the full British Invasion, however, due to the live performance by The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show on 9 February and the ensuing storm of fame and publicity for them.

While The Beatles are often seen as the face of the British Invasion, the particular fame of The Beatles is often referred to specifically as “Beatlemania.” A number of other music groups and performers followed them into popularity in the US, including The Hollies and Herman’s Hermits. Dusty Springfield was renowned for her vocal style and became one of the most well-known and successful female artists of the 1960s. The Rolling Stones, who were also an important group for the British Invasion, were typically seen as representing another side of British music, with a stronger blues influence and music and lyrics that were often darker and more sexual in nature.

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anon347713
Post 6

I emigrated at 20 years old so we are discussing my teen years, and although the bands mentioned were known, we did not understand the Americans' screaming worship of them. But when they came home, it was the same in England. --Kerryeyes

anon322842
Post 5

Which "British Invasion" group (or pre-group members) performed at a high school in the USA, prior to 1964?

Emilski
Post 4

@titans62 - There are a lot of other bands from the British rock invasion that aren't listed here. The most notable ones I can think of are the Who, the Kinks, and the Animals. Those bands were all around in the 60s.

I was recently reading Eric Clapton's biography, and he seemed kind of resentful of the British Invasion. He was very inspired by blues artists at the time like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf that were popular in England at the time. He saw all of the British invasion songs getting popular in America, but that wasn't the kind of music he wanted to make. Interestingly enough, once those bands found fame in America, more of the blues-based bands like the Yardbirds started for form and get popular in England.

In the end, once the 70s rolled around, America was ready for a change, and then artists like Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, and Pink Floyd who had mostly been playing in England were able to come to America and find success.

titans62
Post 3

Are there any other popular British Invasion bands that weren't mentioned in the article? I do like that it draws the distinction between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, since they really had two different types of music that appealed to different types of listeners.

There is an unfortunate side to the British Invasion, though that a lot of American bands were making similar music to the Beatles and other British bands around that time, but many of the people buying records weren't interested in listening to American bands.

Two of the bands that made similar music and gained some fame were The Byrds and The Monkees, but they never had near the same level of success as the Beatles.

matthewc23
Post 2

@TreeMan - You're right that a lot of the British Invasion bands don't get credit for all the work they did prior to becoming popular. A lot of people always reference the Beatles playing at the Cavern, but what a lot of people don't know is that they played for a couple years in Germany where they got the chance to play regularly and hone their skills before coming back to England. They weren't just instantly popular.

I think it is also interesting to see where music came from and how it evolved into new things. Like the article mentions, a lot of the English bands of that time were listening to American music. The music that Elvis sang, though, was inspired by a lot of the blues artists that came before him and so on and so forth. Then looking past the Beatles, you see a lot of bands that took a lot of influence from them and became very popular in the future.

TreeMan
Post 1

I always think it is amazing how fast the Beatles rose to fame after they were introduced. I don't think anything like that had ever happened before. I'm not sure anything like that has really happened since. Even during the boy band and pop era toward the end of the 90s and early 2000s, you didn't have the same type of fanaticism that the British bands saw.

I think it is even more impressive when you consider that people couldn't find music on the internet and watch videos on MTV. The spread of the Beatles was mostly by word of mouth. Just people buying the albums at first and letting their friends listen to it.

What I am really wondering about that doesn't get discussed much is how all of these bands got popular in England before they started coming to the US. Did they start out small and work their way up, or where they instantly big like the bands today?

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