America’s Music History: The British Invasion
On February 9, 1964, a British boy band by the name of The Beatles made their first appearance on America television with a highly publicized performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Attracting 73 million viewers, the performance was both a music and cultural phenomenon. Soon after, British artists like The Rolling Stones and Petula Clark jumped the pond to appear on the show, top the record charts and ignite what many consider now to be one of the most influential eras of music history: The British Invasion.
Music Prior to the British Invasion
Although the British Invasion may have started in early 1964, there were a number of American artists that were paving the way for this musical renaissance. In fact, British groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones started out doing covers of American black blues singers who, at the time, were not particularly popular in their own country due to the racial climate of the time. The rock and roll icon Elvis also had an extremely important part in sparking the British Invasion with British teenagers connecting with The King’s rebellious tone and captivating image.
While Elvis and American blues artists inspired British artists, it is also important to note the climate of American radio during the late 50s and early 60s. At the time, America’s record industry was pumping out single after single, with artists’ sole focus being quick radio hits. Many music scholars believe that Americans, particularly the youth, were no longer interested in these radio singles and instead were looking for music that was more artistic and even slightly rebellious.
The British Invasion
The title of this era of music is no hyperbole – prior to The Beatles appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, the only two songs to ever top Billboard Hot 100 chart were instrumentals: Acker Bilk’s “Stranger on the Shore” and the Tornadoes’ “Telstar.” Two months after their performance, The Beatles would have all of the top five spots on the prestigious Billboard Hot 100 chart (to this day, no other musician has even maintained the top three spots). Following The Beatles appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, a number of British artists would enter the chart for the first time, some of which include Peter and Gordon, Petula Clark, the Dave Clark Five, the Troggs and Donovan.
With the high acclaim from both fans and media outlets, The Beatles soon became the heroes of the music industry. Yet as The Beatles enjoyed the positive public attention, the ever rebellious, roots oriented The Rolling Stones were gaining popularity with listeners seeking music outside of the mainstream. Although equally as popular, the Stones were considered by the press as dangerous, particularly because their performances were being called off early due to young women would stampeding the stage. Despite the bad press, the Rolling Stones would achieve 8 number one songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and eventually become music legends in their own right.
New Musical Components
The British Invasion predominately consisted of English boy bands covering or copying American rock and roll and blues, but that’s not to say that these artists did not add new components to the history of music. One of the essential elements music components brought on by the British Invasion was the unique combination between clean pop and gritty blues. This combination can be heard in a number of early Beatles and Stones songs where the instrumentation, largely the guitars and drums, is grimy and hard hitting while the vocals are radio friendly pop melodies. Another new component of the British Invasion is the heavy use of distortion and fuzz pedals which helped add to the much needed instrumentation grit.
When considering the British Invasion, The Beatles and Rolling Stones often receive the most recognition, but there were a number of other bands and songs that spawned from this era of music. Some of the most important include:
- “A World Without Love” by Peter and Gordon – written by Paul McCartney, this song was the first song to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart after The Beatles.
- “The House of the Rising Sun”– a traditional folk song with no traceable origins, “The House of the Rising Sun” topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart thanks to The Animals who recorded and released this song in late 1964.
- The Dave Clark Five – appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show just two weeks after The Beatles and topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in December of 1965 with the song, “Over and Over.”
- Petula Clark – One of the key female figures of the British Invasion movement, Petula Clark topped the charts with classic pop hits such as “Downtown” and “My Love.”
By 1967, the number of British and America bands playing similar music was so great that many consider this year to be the official end of this music and cultural phenomenon. Although passed, the influence of this era continues to permeate in even today’s music industry, with many modern musicians citing The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and other British artists of the era as their main inspiration.
Are you passionate about music education? Well, why not share your passion with others by becoming the next graduate of Kent State’s online Master of Music in music education program. You can study entirely online and graduate in as few as 23 months – find out more today!