Thursday, June 17, 2004

The British Invasion Part One

I was born just a little under a year before The Beatles arrived in America. I was much too young to remember their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, although I was able to see their impact fairly immediately. By the time I was old enough to remember much of anything, British groups dominated the charts. At ages three, four, and beyond, I was able to witness the effects of the British Invasion.

Of course, The Beatles started it all. And it seems quite likely to me that the first song I ever heard (or at least actually listened to) was a Beatles song. In the Sixties, The Beatles dominated the media. Their songs were constantly played on the radio. Four movies were released featuring The Beatles in some shape or form. Even television was not immune to The Beatles. Although they stopped playing in person on American television by the time I could form memories, they sometimes sent promo films to various shows. And, of course, there was the animated cartoon. The Beatles brought the Fab Four's music to kids every Saturday morning.

I rather suspect that The Beatles had a greater impact on me than any other musical performers. The first album I ever bought with my own money was Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Even as a child I bought nearly every magazine, nearly every book that mentioned them. And I eagerly watched A Hard Day's Night, Help!, and Yellow Submarine on television. To this day the death of John Lennon is one of those pivotal events in history for me. I can remember it clear as day, my brother awaking me and telling me that Lennon had been murdered.

Of course, The Beatles began a wave of British bands that crossed the Atlantic to try to find fortunes here in the United States. Oddly enough, many of the major bands to emerge during the British Invasion did not immediately find success here in the United States. The Rolling Stones first arrived in the United States in 1964, hot on the heels of The Beatles. Despite this, they did not have a big hit here in America until "Satisfaction" in 1966. Of course, by that time I was old enough to listen to and appreciate music. Two things have always set The Rolling Stones apart from The Beatles. One is the rough image cultivated by Andrew Oldham. While in the early days The Beatles were seen by many as relatively non-threatening, The Rolling Stones were seen as very rough and tumble. The other is The Rolling Stones often played unadulterated blues. While The Beatles had also been influenced by rhythm and blues, they gravitated more towards straight forward rock 'n' roll. The Stones continued to play blues influenced music until 1967 when psychedelia crept in. Of course, afterwards the blues influences would return.

As a child I was relatively innocent of The Rolling Stones' rough image and their blues influences. I do remember many of the Stones' early songs being played on the radio--"Satisfaction," "Ruby Tuesday," "Paint It, Black," and so on. To this day I have always enjoyed the songs that the Rolling Stones put out in the Sixties, even if I have found some of their later material somewhat lacking. I have to wonder how much the death of guitarist Brian Jones's departure from the band and his subsequent death had to do with the decline in The Stones' musical quality. At any rate, it seems to me that after 1971 they did not put out good songs as consistently as they had before.

Another major band from the British Invasion that did not hit it big immediately was The Who. As hard as it is to believe, many of The Who's early songs ("Happy Jack," "Substitute," "Magic Bus") were not huge hits. The band did not really take off until the creation of their rock opera Tommy. Afterwards, The Who were a force with which to be reckoned, producing a string of hits throughout the Seventies and Eighties, from "Won't Get Fooled Again" and "Rain" to "Who Are You." The group's success even extended to movies. Quadrophenia drew upon the band's successful album for inspiration. The documentary The Kids Are Alright offered an inside look at the band, from their early beginnings to the Seventies. The movie based on their rock opera, Tommy, is a cult item to this day.

I do remember many of The Who's early songs being played on the radio. I also remember being a Who fan at least since grade school. Unlike the Rolling Stones, it seems to me that The Who never saw an appreciable decline in the quality of their music. I tend to prefer their songs from the Sixties, but their work in the Seventies and Eighties sounds quite good to me as well!

In my mind the fourth major band to emerge from the British Invasion would be The Moody Blues. Formed in May 1964, they had their first hit on both sides of the Atlantic, "Go Now," in the fall of that year. The group failed to follow up on that success, however, so that by 1965 both guitarist Denny Laine and bassist Clint Warwick left the band. They were replaced by John Lodge and Justin Hayward respectively. Originally playing rhythm and blues oriented music, the addition of Lodge and Hayward took the group into a different direction. They recorded what may well be one of the greatest rock albums of all time, Days of Future Passed. The album was revolutionary in two respects. First, it was one of the earliest concept albums--it depicted the passage of a typical day. Second, it mixed rock music with a symphony. The album proved to be a hit, as did such singles from the album as "Nights in White Satin" and "Tuesday Afternoon." The Moody Blues would continue to have hits throughout the late Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties. The group still tours today to sold out crowds. They also remain one of my favourite bands of all time, having produced many of my favourite songs ("Nights in White Satin," "The Story in Your Eyes," and "On the Threshold of a Dream").

Like The Rolling Stones, The Who, and The Moody Blues, The Kinks proved to have lasting power. Unlike The Rolling Stones and The Who, The Kinks found success in America very early in their career. Both "You Really Got Me" and "All of the Day and All of the Night" were huge hits. Unfortunately for The Kinks, they crossed the American Federation of Musicians. Following a 1965 appearance on the TV show Hullabaloo, the powerful union banned The Kinks from performing in America for five years, presumably because of unprofessional conduct. This meant that they could not appear on stage or even on television. In other words, they could not effectively promote their songs here in the United States. As a result The Kinks did not again have a major success in America until "Lola" in 1970, even though they continued to do well on the British charts. Fortunately, The Kinks had longevity on their side, giving new fans a chance to discover them. As a child I can remember their two early hits, "You Really Got Me" and "All of the Day and All of the Night", being played on the radio. As I got older I was able to discover more of their music. I have always liked The Kinks.

Besides the aforementioned bands, there is only one British Invasion group that seems to me to have had real staying power. That is The Hollies. Curiously, like The Stones and The Who, they were not an immediate smash in America. Although they had hit singles in Britain in 1964, it was not until 1966 that they had a hit in America with "Bus Stop." Afterwards, they regularly hit the charts in the States, racking up a string of hits until 1974. "Stop, Stop, Stop," "On a Carousel," "He Ain't Heavy (He's My Brother)," "Long, Cool Woman," and "The Air That I Breathe" all did very well in the United States. Even the departure of original member Graham Nash (to form Crosby, Stills, and Nash) did not detour The Hollies' success. Unfortunately, following the huge success of "Long, Cool Woman," and "The Air That I Breathe," The Hollies' albums and singles failed to sell. A reunion with Graham Nash in the Eighties produced a minor hit with a remake of "Stop In The Name Of Love." Regardless, I always have loved The Hollies. I remember many of their older songs being played on the radio and I also remember their later hits quite well. They certainly were among the best bands of the British Invasion.

Of course, there were more bands than simply The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Moody Blues, The Kinks, and The Hollies to emerge from the British Invasion. The number of British groups hitting the American charts was huge in the Sixties. And from what I have read, it seems that there were times when they dominated Billboard's Top Ten. While many of the bands didn't have the lasting power of The Stones, The Who, The Moody Blues or The Kinks, they would find a good deal of success here in America.

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