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RULE BRITANNIA -BRITISH BEAT INVADES AMERICA



It's interesting to note that each time popular music has gone off the boil in the 45 years covered, history reveals that a return to the roots will usually provide rehabilitation, The first time it occurred was the most significant, back in 1964, when an event known in the US as "The British Invasion" took place.

Rock'n'roll music was hardly ten years old, but already its youthful audience had demonstrated one of its most noticeable characteristics, one, which still continues today -a short attention span, coupled with an insatiable appetite for something new, Early rock'n'roll's first hero, Bill Haley, seemed too old, Elvis Presley's stint as a GI seemed to have made his music soft, Jerry Lee Lewis was in disgrace for marrying his 13 year old cousin, Little Richard had got religion, Chuck Berry was in prison, Buddy Holly was dead, and the new stars who had risen seemed less exciting and flamboyant.

Very few British records had penetrated the US chart before 1964 -you could almost count them on the fingers of one hand: Laurie London, Lonnie Donegan, The Tornados, maybe one or two more. However, in the wake of Donegan, innumerable semi-professional British groups had sprung up all over Great Britain, most of them playing songs the heard on records by Americans, in particular songs with a strong rhythm blues bias a la Berry or Holly.

Liverpool (the port where many ship from America docked) was one port where American sailors sold their records, Lo was obviously another, and it was these international cities which became the headquarters of the British beat group phenomenon. In fact, many of the best Liverpool bands had already ventured

Hamburg (the Liverpool of West Germany), where they not only played music in the style of the great rock'n'roll pioneers, but also began writing original (if primitive) material. The Beatles, Gerry & The Pacemakers, The Searchers and others were rocking in Hamburg while the US and pretending that the twist, ersatz rockers like Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell, and in Britain, Cliff Richard & The Shadows, were filling the gap caused by the demise of original rock'n'roll.

It initially happened in Britain. The charts for the first three months of 1963 were dominated by Cliff & Co., then Liverpool acts shut out virtually all the competition for the top slot in the UK singles chart.

Initially, the United States was enthusiastic, despite the fact that the rest English-speaking world had capitulated, but the appearance of The Beatles on the influential 'Ed Sullivan Show' opened the floodgates for literally dozens of British groups to achieve commercial success in the New World. Some acts, such as Dave Clark, Herman and The Zombies (from St. Albans), found greater success in North America than they would ever achieve in their own country. Ultimately, virtually every British group of any note from the mid-1960s made it in the States, including The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Hollies, The Yardbirds, The Moody Blues, Cream, Traffic, Pink Floyd and The Troggs (although in some cases, success did not occur overnight as it had for The Beatles and The Stones).

For the first time since rock'n'roll was born, America wasn't totally predominant, and American acts like The Walker Brothers and later Jimi Hendrix successfully launched themselves in Britain before returning to reap the bigger rewards provided in their homeland.


America's return to control came via '60s soul music and then psychedelia -both these styles had much in common with R&B and country music, the joint sources of rock'n'roll, and their victory over the marauding Brits came much more gradually than the tidal wave bearing British beat music. What was different -and remains one of the British Invasion's most impressive achievements - was that Britain would henceforth be taken seriously as an inventive and trend-setting source of popular music.

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