The 25 greatest British Invasion singles of all-time

By Dave Thompson
Leaving aside The Beatles, for the most part, we present the finest in ’60s Brit-pop
THE HOLLIES check in at #1 on our list of the 25 Greatest British Invasion Singles with “Bus Stop.” Courtesy of Michael Jensen Communications
THE HOLLIES check in at #1 on our list of the 25 Greatest British Invasion Singles with “Bus Stop.” Courtesy of Michael Jensen Communications
The British Invasion was when music came of age — not in America, where rock ’n’ roll was already a healthy seven years old; nor in the U.K., where the likes of Lonnie Donegan, Cliff Richard, The Shadows and Joe Meek had already made a massive mark. 

It was on a global scale that the Invasion mattered, translating for a worldwide audience the thoughts and dreams of a truly provincial musical movement. For what else were Manchester, St. Albans, Newcastle and Liverpool (the home cities of our first four entrants) if not provincial? And between 1964 and 1966, it was towns and cities like these that ruled the world, dictating hair, clothing, even language and slang, to teens across the planet.

The 25 records that we have singled out as the toppermost of the Invasion poppermost are those that, today, still resonate with all of the magic that hallmarked the original Invasion. Whether it’s the everyman mundanity of “Bus Stop,” speaking to everyone who has ever waited for public transport in the rain, or the universal suffering of “Tobacco Road.”

Whether it’s the private sorrows of “Here Comes The Night” or the gratuitous gold-digging of “Georgy Girl,” the Invasion was more — a lot more — than just another bunch of longhairs shouting “yeah yeah yeah.” And these are the songs that remind us of that.

We don’t expect you all to agree. Not at first, anyway. Why only one Beatles song, you may ask — and you’d be right to, because without them, there’d have been no Invasion to speak of. But what fun would be a list of 25 Beatles (or Stones or Dave Clark Five) songs? One band, one song is the rule here, and we open up to a variety that history sometimes overlooks. From The Seekers to The Searchers, from Freddy and his Dreamers to Billy J and his Dakotas, (almost) all Invasion life is here. It still has life as well.

Pile them onto your iPod and see for yourself.

1. The Hollies — “Bus Stop” (Imperial) 1966
A Graham Gouldman jewel, one in a stream of hits for Graham Nash and company, but bedecked with such glorious harmonies and magnificent melody that nothing else they ever did came close.

2. The Zombies — “She’s Not There” (Parrot) 1964
Colin Blunstone’s beautifully breathy voice leads this half-ballad, half-lament to glory, and it still seems incredible that The Zombies weren’t the biggest thing on 10 legs. But they scored just one more hit (“Tell Her No”), and that was more or less it until the end of the decade, by which time of the season, they’d already broken up.

3. The Animals — “House of the Rising Sun” (MGM) 1964
An old American blues ballad, given a distinctive rearrangement by the Geordie outfit that proved there was more to Merseybeat than a Liverpool accent.

4. The Mindbenders — “Groovy Kind of Love” (Fontana) 1966
A Carole Bayer Sager lyric that reminds us just how deeply involved with the Invasion homegrown talent was — a proper Fifth Column, in fact. Arguably the last true Invasion hit before the tides of fashion turned and psychedelia took over, “Groovy Kind Of Love” would be a hit again two decades later, under the aegis of Phil Collins. But this version remains the greatest.

5. Nashville Teens — “Tobacco Road” (London) 1964
A J.D. Loudermilk blues, rocked up and spangled with one of the most evil guitar sounds of the age. Even today, it’s sometimes hard to believe that this record was made so long ago — although check the production credit, Mickey Most, and it slots in alongside “House Of The Rising Sun” in terms of giving your ears the surprise of their lives.

6. The Kinks — “You Really Got Me” (Reprise) 1964
London Mods in red riding jackets, The Kinks more or less invented heavy metal with their first hit. They moved on from there … arguably, metal never did.

7. Moody Blues — “Go Now!” (London) 1965
The old Bessie Smith chest-beater rendered in immaculate tones by Denny Laine and the decidedly pre-prog rocking Moodies. 

8. Yardbirds — “For Your Love” (Epic) 1965
Second only to Lennon/McCartney, Graham Gouldman was Britain’s top songwriting export. Hits for The Hollies, Herman’s Hermits and many more followed, but this was his, and the Yardbirds’, first.

9. Pretty Things — “Rosalyn” (Fontana) 1964
The first U.K. hit for the band that out-Stoned the Stones when it came to titillating the tabloids — but, incredibly, an American miss. Bet you all feel very silly about that now.

10. Them — “Here Comes The Night” (Parrot) 1965
It was either this or “Gloria.” Van Morrison has never sounded so impassioned or mean, while Them became the standard-bearers for a host of future garage bands.

11. The Who — “My Generation” (Decca) 1965
Unrestrained violence, an unrepentant stutter — 1965’s “My Generation” was the ultimate teen anthem then, and it still is.

12. Small Faces — “Whatcha Gonna Do About It” (Press) 1965
Another bunch of Mods, the Small Faces astonishingly missed the chart completely with their earliest singles, but they capture the mood of the era regardless.

13. Rolling Stones — “Tell Me” (London) 1964
Rapidly outgrowing the confines of the Invasion, the Stones became a power by virtue of self-composed gems like “Satisfaction” and “Get Off of My Cloud.” But this impassioned plea through a beautiful blues song captured their appeal long before.

14. Herman’s Hermits — “I’m Into Something Good” (MGM) 1964
At one point, the Hermits were as big as The Beatles and The Dave Clark Five in the U.S. Their earliest hits radiate the cheeky chappiness American audiences adored.

15. Gerry & The Pacemakers — “Ferry Cross The Mersey” (Laurie) 1965
Not one of their first, or biggest hits, but there was always more to The Pacemakers than Gerry’s cracked grin.

16. The Seekers — “Georgy Girl” (Capitol) 1965
The main theme to one of the year’s best British movies, supplied by British Invaders who weren’t actually British — like The Easybeats, The Seekers hailed from Australia.

17. Swinging Blue Jeans — “Hippy Hippy Shake” (Imperial) 1964
Opens with another of those classic lines, an impassioned cry of “for goodness sake….” Nothing the Swinging Blue Jeans ever did in the future sounded as glorious.

18. Searchers — “Needles And Pins”  (Kapp) 194
A Sonny Bono/Jack Nitzsche composition given the old Merseybeat treatment by a surprisingly resilient beat combo.

19. Manfred Mann — “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” (Ascot) 1964
“There she was, just a-walking down the street” — so many Invasion hits kicked off with a first line that you’ll never forget, but the Manfreds did it best of them all.

20. Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas — “Little Children” (Imperial) 1964
One more from Brian Epstein’s Merseybeat stable and generally regarded as the lesser of the lot. But Billy J sang well and projected better, and this ode to the terrors of babysitting strikes a chord with horny teens everywhere. Go to bed, you little brats!

21. Petula Clark — “Downtown” (Warners) 1964
Petula Clark already had close to a decade of U.K. hits beneath her belt when this one hit. But a swish Tony Hatch production gave “Downtown” the unmistakable feel of “London in the late night rain.”

22. Dave Clark Five — “Glad All Over” (Epic) 1964
British fans still seem surprised when they discover just how huge the DC5 were in America at one point. But play the records and the excitement goes off the Richter scale from the very first thud.

23. The Silkie — “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” (Fontana) 1965
Another Beatles cover, and arguably not a brilliant one either. But there is something so haunting about it that it was one of the first songs onto this list.

24. Freddie & The Dreamers — “I’m Telling You Now” (Tower) 1965
A novelty act that somehow escaped the confines of the comedy show.

25. Beatles — “Can’t Buy Me Love” (Capitol) 1964
The Beatles crystallized the sound of the British Invasion before anyone else even got a look in. The strange thing is, they also sound a lot more dated than many of the others. Some will say The Beatles should be at #1 on every list. Some think they’re so inevitable that they shouldn’t even be mentioned. We split the difference and place them last.

2 thoughts on “The 25 greatest British Invasion singles of all-time

  1. To ensure the segment on the Zombies reads correctly, you may want to capitalize and otherwise highlight ‘Time of the Season’. As is, that line neither reads correctly nor communicates as intended.
    As for the list, it would have been nice to see Sandie Shaw’s ‘Girl Don’t Come’ instead of The Silkie. And one of the early Spencer Davis tunes, like ‘Keep on Running’, or possibly that was a tad over the time line. It’s great to see the Small Faces in there. Their first album – all r ‘n’ b (and the track ‘You Need Loving’ the source of ‘inspiration’ for Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love, and the intro of ‘E to D’ pre-dating the Who’s ‘I Can See for Miles’) is worth hearing by everyone, but especially anyone in a band who wants to learn a set of simple tunes with which they could entertain any club audience.

  2. The B side to “Sunny Afternoon” is a very important British Invasion tune-” I’m Not Like Everybody Else” by Ray Davies is a punk rock anthem from 1967 that should be played very loudly.

Leave a Reply