Friday, June 18, 2004

The British Invasion Part Two

I don't know how many bands from the UK made the trip over the Atlantic during the British Invasion. It does seem to me that it must have been a fairly large number. Of course, for every band that had some success here in America, I would imagine that there were many more that had none. And, of course, I imagine that there were many one hit wonders, at least where the United States were concerned.

From the beginning, the media were looking for "the next Beatles." In the early days of the British Invasion, there were some who thought that could be the Dave Clark Five. I would imagine that there are many today who would be saying, "the Dave Clark who?" But in the early days of the British Invasion, the Dave Clark Five were The Beatles' chief rivals. They appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show within weeks of The Beatles' first appearance on that show. And they were one of the first British groups following The Beatles to crack Billboard's Top Ten Singles chart. That first hit was "Glad All Over." It was followed by several other hit songs, among them "Bits and Pieces" and "Catch Us If You Can." The Dave Clark Five were even successful enough to appear in their very own movie, Catch Us If You Can in 1965. The movie marked the directorial debut of John Boorman, who would go on to direct Deliverance and Excalibur. Although the Dave Clark Five were the first to challenge The Beatles' dominance of the charts, their success did not last. As time went by, they were eclipsed by other British bands arriving on America's shores. The advent of the psychedelic movement pretty much brought an end to the Five's career here in America. Unwillling to perform psychedelia, the Dave Clark Five last charted in America in 1967. At any rate, I can remember many of their early hits being played on the radio. While it is hard to see them as serious rivals to The Beatles, I have to admit that they were a pretty good band.

If the Dave Clark Five could be described as The Beatles' rivals, then perhaps Peter and Gordon could be described as The Beatles' allies. Peter and Gordon were Peter Asher and Gordon Waller. The two met in school and found a common interest in music. They soon began performing as a duo, combining elements of rhythm and blues, rock 'n' roll, and folk music. They were eventually signed by Capitol, the same label that was home to The Beatles. Indeed, while their relationship did not help Peter and Gordon get signed, Peter Asher knew Paul McCartney personally. Paul McCartney was dating Peter's sister, actress Jane Asher. It should then come as no surprise that Peter and Gordon recorded Lennon and McCartney songs that were never recorded by The Beatles. Besides their first hit, "World Without Love," they also recorded "Nobody I Know" and "I Don't Want to See You Again." The Beatles did not provide Peter and Gordon with their only hits, however, as they also had hits with "Lady Godiva," "Knight in Rusty Armour," and a cover of Buddy Holly's "True Love Ways." Peter and Gordon contiued to be somewhat successful even into the psychedelic era, but then broke up in 1968 to pursue separate careers. As a kid, both "World Without Love" and especially "Lady Godiva" were among my favourite songs.

While Peter and Gordon had a brief but fruitful career, The Zombies may have been the most unlucky British group besides The Kinks. Indeed, The Zombies were on the edge of breaking up when they won a local contest that offered a recording contract as the first prize. The Zombies had hits on both sides of the Atlantic with "She's Not There" and "Tell Her No." Unfortunately, their third single, "Leave Me Be," did not do nearly as well. Two more singles, "She's Coming Home" and "I Want You Back," did moderately well in the United States, but failed to make the charts in Britain. The Zombies recorded a second and final album, Odessey and Oracle in 1967. Unfortunately, the band's long string of failures resulted in the band's break up after the album had been recorded. Ironically, The Zombies finally had another hit single, "Time of the Season," after the group had split up! I always thought it rather sad that The Zombies met with so little success after their first two singles. From their only two albums it always seemed clear to me that they were among the best British Invasion bands. They were certainly among the best song writers of the era. Unfortunately, it seems that they just could not produce a hit single.

A band that did meet with a good deal of success was Herman's Hermits. Led by Peter Noone (AKA Herman), Herman's Hermits provided a lighter side to the British Invasion. Herman's Hermits performed easily assessible pop songs as well as many novelty tunes. Perhaps for this reason, they were among the most successful of the British Invasion bands. They had their first hit in Britain in the fall of 1964 with "I'm Into Something Good." Their success in Britain soon led to success in the United States. They had hits with "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat", "Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter," a remake of "Silhouettes," a cover of Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World," and the novelty song "I'm Henry The VIII I Am," perhaps their best known hit. Despite their early success, tastes in music effectively put an end to the band's string of hits. They had one last hit song in the United States in 1967. A movie, "Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter,", featuring Peter Noone, was released in 1968, but the soundtrack did not even chart. Herman's Hermits broke up in 1971. I must admit that I have always had a soft spot for Herman's Hermits. While they were admittedly lightweight, nearly to the point that they could be considered a precurssor to bubblegum, their songs are very listenable. And the group had a fine sense of humour.

Another novelty act to emerge from the British Invasion was Freddie and the Dreamers. Following successes in Britian, the group also found success in the United States. They had a hit with "I'm Telling You Now" in America and appeared on such TV shows as The Ed Sullivan Show and Shindig. Of course, much of their success here in the States may have been due to their stage antics. Lead vocalist Freddie Garrity would perform a rather odd dance while singing. The dance soon earned a name, "the Freddie," and the band even recorded a song to go with the dance, "Do The Freddie." The song actually hit the American top twenty. Freddie and the Dreamers were competent performers, producing several very listenable songs, among them "I'm Telling You Now," "A Little You," and "You Were Made For Me." Unfortunately, all of this was overshadowed by the group's stage performance and the ridiculousness of the "Freddie." No one took the band seriously. Perhaps realising this, Freddie and the Dreamers more or less became a novelty act. They recorded an album of nothing but Disney songs and a children's album Oliver In The Underworld (their last album). The group disbanded in 1970. Given the quality of their early work, it is sad to me that Freddie and the Dreamers took this course. Indeed, today they are largely forgotten. The only reason I probably know of them is the fact that my older sister had their first album

Indeed, it seems that it has been the more serious British Invasion bands that were remembered, even when those bands met with little succcess. It seems to me that Herman's Hermits was the only novelty group to be remembered at all.

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