By Jeff Marcus
If you were a pre-Beatlemania British act trying to make it in America, you didn’t have a prayer. With the exception of Lonnie Donegan’s “Rock Island Line” (1956) and “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (On The Bedpost Overnight” (1961) and Laurie London’s 1958 smash, “He’s Got The Whole World (In His Hands),” America wanted nothing to do with English artists. It stayed that way until the Fab Four exploded here, albeit with several obstacles.
There may be better songs than “I Want To Hold Your Hand” in The Beatles’ catalog of 186 songs, but none are more historic. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why “Hand” was the song that ignited Beatlemania in America. “She Loves You,” released before “Hand,” is regarded as the better song, but it wound up going nowhere when first issued on Swan Records in 1963. Two other singles were released prior to “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand”: “Please Please Me” and “From Me To You,” but they suffered similar fates for Chicago-based Vee-Jay Records.
Actually, before “I Want To Hold Your Hand” set off a wave in rock music that will never be duplicated, no one wanted to touch The Beatles in America. They were rejected by every major label, including Capitol Records, the U.S. sister label of Britain’s EMI Records. In fact, Capitol’s president at the time, Alan Livingston, gave Beatles material to staffer Dave Dexter to review, but Dexter said to forget the band, as it would never amount to anything.
Meanwhile, back in Britain, The Beatles were breaking record after record. The band’s first single, “Love Me Do,” released in 1962, was a respectable hit, peaking at No. 17 on the U.K. charts. “Please Please Me,” “From Me To You” and “She Loves You” were all No. 1 singles in their native land. But The Beatles had seen what happened to other British artists who tried to penetrate the States and failed. The band’s members told manager Brian Epstein that they would not go to America until they had a No. 1 record, citing British superstar Cliff Richard as an example. In England, Richard was the U.K equivalent of Elvis Presley and had dozens of hits. But in America, he was all but ignored.
The Beatles refused to take a step down in their career and stuck to their guns. Not long after, news of The Beatles’ success and the frenzy the band was creating in the U.K. began to appear in U.S. newspapers and magazines. By the time The Beatles released “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” the band’s fourth consecutive No. 1 hit, Capitol Records finally decided to sign and promote the group. The rest is well-documented history. Released Dec. 26, 1963, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was The Beatles’ first No. 1 American single; it remained on the top of the charts for seven weeks. When The Beatles appeared on American television for the first time during the legendary Feb. 9, 1964, broadcast of “The Ed Sullivan Show,” a reported 73 million people tuned in to watch.
Fun Fact: Did you know that radio deejay Carroll James of WWDC in Washington, D.C., was the first to play “I Want To Hold Your Hand?” in the U.S.? It was at the request of listener Marsha Albert, who had seen a Walter Cronkite TV news story on The Beatles.
The Rolling Stones
Most of the British Invasion bands in the ’60s were marketed as cuddly mop tops: Herman’s Hermits, Gerry and The Pacemakers, The Dave Clark Five and, of course, The Beatles. The Rolling Stones, however, were the antithesis. There were no Rolling Stones bubblegum cards, coloring books or Mick Jagger talcum powder. Like fellow Englishmen, The Animals, the Rolling Stones’ sound was rooted in the blues; The Stones’ name was even derived from a Muddy Waters song. So when The Stones covered Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” the band’s first U.S.-charting single in 1964, it leaned more toward the blues rather than rock. Unsurprisingly, the song stalled at No. 48.
Needless to say, the Stones managed to rock just fine, outlasting all of the bands of their day. “Time On My Side” became the group’s first Top 10 hit in America, peaking at No. 6 in 1964. The Rolling Stones’ signature song, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” became the band’s first U.S. chart topper for four weeks in 1965. In all, The Rolling Stones racked up 22 Top 10 singles from 1964 to 1989, eight of which made it to No. 1.
The band switched from London Records to their own Rolling Stones label (distributed by the WEA family) at the beginning of the ’70s. Two fine documentaries are a must: “Gimme Shelter,” which chillingly captures the chaos of the ill-fated Altamont, Calif., show, where the notorious Hells Angels were engaged as security, and footage of the melee and a murdered audience member eerily unfold; and “Shine A Light,” by acclaimed film director Martin Scorsese, which showcases the band members, well into their sixties, rocking as hard as they did during their debut more than four decades earlier. Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts have been the mainstays. Founding member Brian Jones drowned in his swimming pool on July 3, 1969, less than a month after he left the group. His replacement, Mick Jones, left in 1975; Ronnie Wood joined up and has been with the band ever since. Bassist Bill Wyman departed in 1992.
Yet, for all of the band’s success, the band members’ solo projects did not make a proportionally large commercial impact. The best Mick Jagger managed was a No. 12 hit with “Just Another Night” in 1985. The rest of his solo material — sans the duet with David Bowie on “Dancing in the Street” (No. 7 in ’85), failed to chart higher than No. 38. Keith Richards released several solo albums, but none of the tracks entered the Top 100. The band won a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1986. In 1989, The Rolling Stones were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
The Dave Clark Five
In 1964, The Dave Clark Five was the most popular band behind The Beatles. From 1964 through 1965, the group placed seven songs in Billboard’s Top 10, including the No. 1 hit “Over and Over” in 1965.
Many thought that Clark, the band’s drummer, was lead singer. The voice of The Dave Clark Five belonged to Mike Smith, whose thunderous vocals accompanied the group’s pounding beat perfectly. Clark proved to be a savvy businessman. In addition to writing the stage musical, “Time,” he had been a soccer player and a stunt man in the film industry. Perhaps his smartest move was retaining the publishing rights to the band’s master recordings, which still paid off handsomely once the band’s appeal eventually fell out of fashion. The band finally was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.
Fun Fact: The Dave Clark Five starred in the movie, “Having a Wild Weekend.”
Timing worked to The Animals’ advantage, as the band’s debut single, “House of The Rising Sun,” shot to No. 1 in the thick of the British Invasion. The song, which is based on a traditional folk song, was written by band member Alan Price. Its dark subject matter, with a blues sound, made it an odd mix for a pop hit. “House” was a drastic variation from most of the English fare that was having chart success in 1964.
Like The Rolling Stones, The Animals were anything but cuddly mop-top types. The band scored 10 Top 20 hits, all with that distinctive blues feel.
The Animals would reunite twice: in 1976 and 1983. The group’s producer, Mickie Most, also helmed the hits for Herman’s Hermits, whose sound was as far away from The Animals as you could get.
Fun Fact: The Animals’ member Bryan “Chas” Chandler is credited for discovering guitar guru Jimi Hendrix and the band Slade.
The Kinks never received the airplay, appreciation or chart success that The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark Five or even Herman’s Hermits enjoyed.
Dave Davies formed The Bo Weevils with bassist Pete Quaife. They changed the band’s name to The Ramrods and then to The Ravens, by which time Dave’s brother, Ray, joined the fold. the group added Mike Avory on drums and morphed into The Kinks. Ray became the band’s songwriter, and The Kinks burst onto the American music scene with their classic, “You Really Got Me” (No. 7 in 1964).
The band wanted to follow up with the calmer “Tired Of Waiting For You” — which ultimately became the band’s third single (No. 6 in 1965). But record executives wanted “All Day And All Of The Night” as the second release, which bore a strong resemblance to “Really.” Nonetheless, “Day” went to No. 7, but it took The Kinks another five years before the band hit the Top 10 again with the gender-bending “Lola” (No. 9 in 1970).
Over the years, The Kinks released several albums to critical acclaim, but pop single success eluded The Kinks. The band returned to the pop charts once more — 13 after “Lola” — with the No. 6 toe tapper, “Come Dancing.” Many key Kinks tracks, like “Waterloo Sunset,” “Celluloid Heroes,” “Sleepwalker” (No. 48 in 1977) and “Don’t Forget to Dance” (No. 29 in 1983) deserved a better fate than they received in the U.S. The Kinks were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1990.
Fun Fact: The Kinks were forced to change the words “Coca-Cola” to “cherry cola” after the Coca-Cola Company objected to the product name being used in the song “Lola.”
Manfred Mann is one of the many English bands to benefit from the British Invasion. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the band created a catchier moniker than using its founder’s given name: Manfred Lubowitz.
Lubowitz formed the band in 1964, and it had an instant hit with “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” (No. 1 in 1964), which was written by famed Brill Building composers Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich (also known for such ’60s pop anthems as “Be My Baby,” “Chapel Of Love,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Leader Of The Pack” and “Then He Kissed Me.”
The band continued its streak of finding hits with songs penned by others. “Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)” (No. 10 in 1968) was written by Bob Dylan, while the band’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded By The Light” peaked at No. 1 in 1976. By the time the group scored the hit with Springsteen’s song, its name had changed to Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. The band released another Springsteen cover, “Spirit In The Night,” but it stalled at No. 40 in 1977.
The band made one more attempt with another Dylan tune, “You Angel You,” but it peaked at No. 58 in 1979.
Herman’s Hermits rode the wave of The British Invasion to great success, placing nine consecutive hits in the Top 10. In all, Herman’s Hermits scored 11 Top 10 singles before the band’s bubble burst.
Even with that chart success, it remains a bit of a head scratcher why audiences screamed bloody murder when Herman’s Hermits appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” When crowds did the same for The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, it was understandable. Lead singer Peter Noone was all of 17 at the time, and with his gawky looks and skinny frame, he seemed far younger.
The band’s two U.S. chart toppers are the weakest hits in their catalog. “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” became the band’s first No. 1. “I’m Henry The VIII, I Am,” a popular “pub” song, dating back to 1911, made it to the top in 1965.
Herman’s Hermits also found chart success with remakes of past pop and R&B hits when The Rays 1957 smash, “Silhouettes,” and Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World” went to Nos. 5 and 4, respectively, in 1965. The band also took a song by Ray Davies of The Kinks to No. 5 when the group covered “Dandy.”
Herman’s Hermits’ last big hit, “There’s A Kind Of Hush” (No. 4 in 1967), was arguably its best.
Noone, who still tours the oldies circuit, appeared with the rest of Herman’s Hermits in three forgettable movies. The films had been slapped together quickly to capitalize on the group’s fame, which lasted all of two years and four months.
Fun Fact: Did you know that Herman’s Hermits producer Mickie Most also helmed discs for The Yardbirds?
Freddie And The Dreamers
While it may not have been the best of the British Invasion bands, Herman’s Hermits was far from the worst. That honor goes to Freddie and The Dreamers, which had a No. 1 hit for two weeks with “I’m Telling You Now” (1965), and an ill-fated dance craze called “Do The Freddie” (No. 18 in 1965). Seek out the footage of Freddie and The Dreamers performing it on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” It’s really embarrassing!
With the 1964 British Invasion, many English acts benefited from the wave of hysteria created by The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits and The Rolling Stones.
But The Hollies, who named their group in honor of Buddy Holly, arrived a bit later on the U.S. charts. The Hollies’ first Top 10 hit came in 1966 with “Stop Stop Stop” (No. 7).
In all, The Hollies accumulated six Top 10 singles, including “Bus Stop” (No. 5); “Carrie-Anne” (No. 9), “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” (No. 7), and “Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)” (No. 2). The band’s last Top 10 hit, “The Air That I Breathe” (No. 6 in 1974), sold more than a million units in 1974.
Fun Facts: The Hollies’ song “Carrie-Anne” was penned in honor of Marianne Faithfull. Band member Graham Nash became one-third of Crosby, Stills and Nash in 1968.
Scottish born Donovan Leitch scored four Top 10 singles from 1966 to 1969. His first, the number one “Sunshine Superman,” features the legendary Jimmy Page on guitar.
Donovan’s follow up, “Mellow Yellow” (#2), has Beatle Paul McCartney contributing to the song’s background chatter. Donovan’s two strangest singles, the #5 “Hurdy Gurdy Man” (1968), is a disturbing sounding pop single, while “Atlantis” (#7 in 1969) is a spoken-word composition, sans the chorus, about the sunken continent located in the Atlantic Ocean. Donovan was with The Beatles when they went to India to study transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Yogi.
Fun Fact: Donovan’s children also entered show business. His daughter, Ione Skye, starred in the John Cusack classic, “Say Anything.” She married (and later divorced) Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz. His son, Donovan Leitch Jr., also became an actor and appeared in the indie film, “I Shot Andy Warhol.”
Many are shocked to learn that while The Who released many best-selling albums, this influential rock band was only able to score one Top 10 single: 1967’s “I Can See For Miles” (No. 9).
The legendary English band consisted of lead singer Roger Daltrey; songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Pete Townshend; bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon. The Who pioneered the destruction of instruments on stage, smashing guitars and piercing them through stage equipment — not to mention blowing up of drum kits.
Townshend’s manic guitar playing, Moon’s gonzo drumming and Daltrey’s bellowing vocals and microphone twirling were a major contrast to Entwistle’s stone-faced demeanor.
The band’s lineup stayed the same until Moon’s death on Sept. 7, 1978, of a drug overdose. Kenney Jones of The Small Faces replaced Moon until The Who eventually broke up.
The Who’s seemingly bottomless catalog has become a staple of classic rock radio stations. Its influential rock opera album, “Tommy,” was turned into a movie in 1975 and featured Tina Turner and Elton John. A second rock opera, “Quadrophenia,” earned the band praise, as well.
The Who inadvertently made headlines when 11 concertgoers lost their lives by being trampled to death prior to the band’s Dec. 3, 1979, show in Cincinnati. The tragedy led to a policy barring general admission seating.
The Who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
Several reunions of The Who have taken place since the mid-1980s. On June 27, 2002, shortly before one of those tours was set to begin, Entwistle was found dead in his Las Vegas hotel room. Daltrey and Townshend later reunited, featuring Zak Starkey, the son of Ringo Starr, on drums.
Fun Fact: Pete Townshend scored a No. 9 single with “Let My Love Open The Door” (1980), while Daltrey made it to No. 20 with ‘Without Your Love” in the same year.
The term “supergroup” is commonly used today, but it was unheard of when The Yardbirds came together. Of course, The Yardbirds yielded enough star guitar players to create supergroups several times over.
Formed in 1963, The Yardbirds consisted of Keith Relf, Anthony Topham, Chris Dreja, Jim McCarty and Paul Samwell-Smith. Topham was replaced by Eric Clapton, who, in turn, was replaced by Jeff Beck in 1965. In 1966, guitarist Samwell-Smith left and was replaced by guitarist Jimmy Page, while Dreja switched to the bass. The group disbanded in 1968, with Page forming The New Yardbirds that soon morphed into Led Zeppelin. The 1965 incarnation of The Yardbirds scored two back-to-back Top 10 U.S. singles with “For Your Love” (No. 6) and “Heart Full Of Soul” (No. 9).
Next to The Kinks, The Zombies may be the most overlooked British Invasion band.
The group, which consisting of Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone, Chris White, Paul Atkinson and Hugh Grundy, earned three U.S. Top 10 hits: 1964’s “She’s Not There” (No. 2), “Tell Her No” (No. 6 in 1965) and 1969’s “Time of The Season” (No. 3), a hit that came nearly two years after the group disbanded.
Key songwriter Rod Argent later formed the self-named Argent and had a No. 5 hit in 1972 with “Hold Your Head Up.” Two Argent band members — Robert Henrit and Jim Rodford — later joined the Kinks.
Sadly, The Zombies receive little attention compared with other ’60s British Invasion bands, which is a shame.