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Female solo singers rode the British Invasion wave to chart success in the U.S.

The British Invasion introduced The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Kinks and Gerry & The Pacemakers to American audiences. So where were the women?

By Gillian G. Gaar

The British Invasion introduced the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Kinks and Gerry & The Pacemakers, among others, to American audiences. And where were the women? Well, they weren’t often to be found in groups (a rare exception being Ann “Honey” Lantree, drummer with the Honeycombs, who had a No. 5 hit “Have I The Right?”).

They were solo singers who rode the British Invasion wave to chart success in the States, usually following the same pattern: After a few early hits (with a Burt Bacharach-Hal David song usually lurking in there somewhere), continental appeal cultivated by recording non-English releases, hosting a TV series, subsequent work in TV, film and legitimate theater, and a rediscovery in the ‘80s/’90s in the company of a younger, male act. Fashion was also a big part of the appeal; sporting the latest Carnaby Street wear — pop art mini dresses, beads and “kinky boots” (as a 1964 single recorded by Honor Blackman and Patrick Macnee, then starring in “The Avengers” TV show put it) — these dolly birds helped make Swinging London the pop culture center of the universe.

(Want to learn more about women in rock and roll? Check out the book "She's a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock and Roll)


Lulu, aka Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie. Courtesy Decca Records.

Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie began singing with bands in her native Glasgow, Scotland, when she was barely in her teens. By the age of 15, she had signed with Decca records and notched up her first hit, a fiery cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout,” which reached No. 7 in the U.K. (and hit the Top 10 again when it was reissued in 1986). She had nine more U.K. Top 40 hits in the ’60s, but her only big hit in America was far milder, the theme for the film “To Sir With Love,” in which she also appeared. The song topped the U.S. charts, but in England was ironically relegated to the B-side of the single “Let’s Pretend,” which peaked at No. 11.

She also enjoyed hits in Europe with the non-English versions of her songs. In 1966, Lulu became one of the few British female singers to perform behind the Iron Curtain, when she toured Poland with the Hollies. In 1969, she won the Eurovision Song Contest with the song “Boom Bang-a-Bang.”

By this time, she’d begun extensive work in television, and had her own TV series (Jimi Hendrix was a guest on one memorable episode, playing “Sunshine of Your Love” instead of the scheduled “Hey Joe”). Her music also veered out of straight pop; her 1969 album “New Routes” was recorded at Alabama’s Muscle Shoals Studios and featured Duane Allman. 1974 saw her having a hit with David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World,” for which the Thin White Duke played saxophone and produced. The same year, she recorded the theme song for the James Bond film “The Man With The Golden Gun.”

After spending more of her time on live performance, radio and television, Lulu returned to recording in the ’90s with the appropriately titled “Independence,” which reached No. 11 U.K. She topped the U.K. charts in 1993 via a guest appearance on Take That’s single “Relight My Fire.” Her duet with Irish singer Ronan Keating on “We’ve Got Tonight” reached No. 4 on the U.K. charts. Lulu was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (the OBE, one step above the MBE) in 2000.

Sandie Shaw

Sandie Shaw, aka the barefoot pop princess of the 1960s. AP photo.

Sandie Shaw
Sandie Shaw was dubbed “the barefoot pop princess of the 1960s” due to her penchant for performing in her bare feet. Born Sandra Ann Goodrich, she grew up in the London suburb of Dagenham and took to modeling and singing after leaving school. After seeing her perform at a London charity concert, singer Adam Faith recommended Goodrich to his manager, who promptly signed her, got a recording contract and rechristened her “Sandie Shaw.”

Though Shaw’s first single was not a success, she had better luck with her second outing, the Bacharach-David number “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me,” which topped the U.K. charts in 1964, when Shaw was just 17. There were 14 more U.K. Top 40 hits in the ’60s, including two more No. 1’s, “Long Live Love” and “Puppet On A String.”

Shaw’s performance of the latter song won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1967 — the first time a British act had won the award, though Shaw admitted she never cared for the song. The year after Eurovision, she hosted her own TV show.

Shaw never enjoyed similar success in the U.S., where only 1965’s “Girl Don’t Come” came close to reaching the Top 40 (it peaked at No. 42). But her records did well in other countries, especially her non-English recordings. Her last album of the ’60s, “Reviewing the Situation,” marked a step away from her usual musical style, including covers of “Sympathy for the Devil” and Led Zeppelin’s “Your Time is Gonna Come.”

Shaw put her singing career on hold in the ’70s when she became a mother, but she kept working creatively, writing songs and writing and illustrating children’s books. Financial mismanagement during this period meant that Shaw had to resort to waitressing when she relaunched her recording career. But things improved in the ’80s, when her cover of The Smiths’ “Hand in Glove” was a U.K. hit in 1984.

After winning back the right to her song catalogue, her early work was successfully reissued. In a more unexpected move in the ’90s, Shaw became a certified psychotherapist. Last year, bringing things full circle she recorded the theme song for the British film “Made In Dagenham.”

Cilla Black

Cilla Black and Cliff Richard

Cilla Black and Cliff Reichard throw up votes they are counting for Britain's "Song of Europe" in 1968. AP Photo.

“Swinging Cilla” Black was born Priscilla Maria Veronica White, becoming “Cilla Black” when Mersey Beat editor Bill Harry mistakenly changed her surname from White to Black in an article. Growing up in Liverpool, she witnessed the birth of Mersey Beat first hand, and the rise of groups like The Beatles helped launch her own career. She managed to land jobs at clubs like The Cavern and Zodiac and was occasionally invited to perform with the bands. Her friendship with The Beatles led to her being signed by their manager, Brian Epstein, as his only female client.

Black’s first single, the Lennon-McCartney song “Love of the Loved” (which The Beatles themselves performed at their Decca Records audition) had a bold and brassy strut, and cracked the U.K. Top 40. Her breakthrough came the following year with “Anyone Who Had A Heart” and “You’re My World” (an English-language version of the Italian song “Il Mio Mondo)” both of which topped the U.K. charts and became international hits — except in the U.S.

Black was not destined to find stateside success. “You’re My World” would be her only single to reach the U.S. Top 40. The biggest problem was that Black had so many engagements in England, she was never able to put in the time needed to break the American market. As the book “Cilla Through The Years” puts it: “Cilla’s career in America began and ended with spasmodic television appearances, record releases which were not promoted in the best way, and a New York cabaret stint which turned into a personal triumph but did not make her a household name.”

But success continued apace in her native England. She had 19 Top 40 singles and five Top 40 albums in the U.K. over the course of her career, making her Britain’s best-selling female artist in the 1960s. From the 1970s on, she moved increasingly into television (she’d hosted her first series in the ’60s, complete with a theme song by Paul McCartney, “Step Inside Love”), though she continues to perform live. Her 1993 album “Through The Years” featured a duet with Dusty Springfield on the song “Heart and Soul.” In 1997, Black was made an OBE.

Petula Clark

Petula Clark was dubbed "Britain's Shirley Temple." Publicity photo.

Petula Clark

Pet Clark was about a decade older than the other dolly birds of the Swinging Sixties, and she had been performing since childhood. Her popularity soared during World War II, when she sang “Mighty Lak A Rose” to calm a radio audience during an air raid. She eventually was dubbed “Britain’s Shirley Temple,” with British troops posting her picture on their tanks for good luck — ironic for a performer who would one day write an anti-war song “On The Path Of Glory.”

Clark moved naturally into recording, film and the burgeoning realm of TV. She began releasing records in the U.S. in the early ’50s without success. But her fame continued in England and across Europe, where she began touring and releasing non-English language recordings. She also began writing songs herself.
And then came “Downtown.” The song was written by Tony Hatch, who worked frequently with Clark. The number was inspired by Hatch’s first visit to New York City, and he thought of giving it to The Drifters (one can easily imagine the song having a doo-wop arrangement); instead, Clark asked if he’d give it to her.

On its release in late 1964, it gave Clark her first big U.K. chart success in two years, peaking at No. 2. In the U.S., the optimistic number about losing oneself in some groovy little nightclub “where they never close” did even better, topping the charts in 1965 and winning the Grammy for Best Rock and Roll Recording. Clark would have 14 more U.S. Top 40 hits during the decade, including “My Love” (another No. 1), “I Know A Place” (which won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Female Vocal Performance) and “Don’t Sleep In The Subway.” She also briefly courted controversy when she touched Harry Belafonte’s arm when the two sang “On The Path Of Glory” during her TV special. Director Steve Binder (who would go on to direct the 1968 “Elvis” special) was asked to take the sequence out, but he refused, thus making Clark one of the first performers to break the “color bar” on U.S. TV.

U.S. chart success stopped in the ’70s, but Clark has continued to record and perform live. She briefly revived her film career at the end of the ’60s, starring in “Finian’s Rainbow” and the musical version of “Goodbye Mr. Chips.” She also took up extensive work in the theater, particularly musicals, appearing in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard” in England, Ireland and America. In 1998, Clark was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE, one step above the OBE).

Dusty Springfield

Dusty Springfield, born Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien, performed with The Lana Sisters and The Springfields before finding success as a solo artist.

Dusty Springfield

Dusty Springfield came the closest to having parallel success in the U.K. and U.S. Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien began her career in the vocal group The Lana Sisters in the late ’50s; the group had a hit in Ireland with “You’ve Got What It Takes.” O’Brien then left the group to form the trio The Springfields, along with her brother, Tom, both of whom took “Springfield” as a surname, Mary taking on the first name “Dusty,” as well. The folk trio enjoyed immediate success in both the U.K. and U.S. (their biggest U.S. hit was “Silver Threads and Golden Needles”). But Springfield wanted to pursue solo success, and she left the group in 1963.
Springfield’s first solo single, “I Only Want To Be With You,” was released in late 1963 and reached No. 4 in the U.K. It also did well in America, peaking at No. 12 at just the time The Beatles were beginning to take over the US airwaves. She had a further 14 U.K. Top 40 hits, and eight in the U.S., her biggest stateside success coming in 1966 with “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me,” which reached No. 4. In 1964 Britain’s New Musical Express readers poll voted her Top Female British Artist; she was awarded the World’s Top Female award by NME the following year.

Springfield was a huge fan of Motown and hosted a U.K. TV special that introduced acts on the label to the British public; she also hosted her own series. By the late ’60s, with pop increasingly out of fashion, Springfield signed to Atlantic Records and recorded her landmark album “Dusty in Memphis” at American Sound Studio in Memphis (though her nervousness meant she had to re-record her vocals in New York City). The album was a commercial failure on its release in 1969, but it has since gone on to be a well-regarded white soul classic; the single “Son Of A Preacher Man” was also a Top 10 hit in the U.S. and U.K..

As her chart success declined, Springfield moved to America, where she struggled with drug addiction. She attempted to revive her singing career, and eventually she returned to the U.K. Her efforts finally caught fire when she guested on the 1987 Pet Shop Boys’ single “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” The single reached No. 2 in both the U.S. and U.K.; her 1990 U.K.-only album “Reputation” was another chart success. Springfield continued to record and perform until she was diagnosed with cancer. Shortly before her death in 1999, she was made an OBE.

Marianne Faithfull

Marianne Faithfull and Mick Jagger

Marianne Faithfull and Mick Jagger leave theirhome in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, Engand, on May 29, 1969. AP Photo.

In the early ’60s, Marianne Faithful was more interested in folk music than in the pop world. That changed when she met The Rolling Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, at a party. Taken by her striking looks, Oldham insisted Mick Jagger and Keith Richards write a song for her — he’d been trying to get them to have a songwriting partnership after the fashion of Lennon & McCartney — and Faithfull’s first single, “As Tears Go By,” was the result.

The single, released in 1964, hit the British Top 10 (No. 22 in America), and for the next few years, Faithfull had further success with folk-influenced fare like “Come And Stay With Me” and “This Little Bird” (always more successful in the U.K. than the U.S.). Faithfull was never very keen on her pop material; she also released folk albums that featured traditional material (“North Country Maid” and “Scarborough Fair,” the latter recorded prior to Simon & Garfunkel’s hit version) and even poetry (“Jabberwocky” from Lewis Carroll’s “Through The Looking Glass”).

But it was when she left her husband to be Mick Jagger’s girlfriend that she really stepped into the public eye, especially in the wake of The Rolling Stones’ drug busts in 1967. Faithfull also pursued acting and was beginning to write her own material (including “Sister Morphine”), but after her split with Jagger in 1970, she fell into serious drug addiction. Against all odds, she made a stunning comeback with the 1979 release of the classic album “Broken English.” Faithfull’s ravaged voice, the result of years of hard living, was well suited to the rawness of the punk era, and it gave her songs (whose melodies tended to be slow and brooding instead of a hard-rock assault) a decided edge.

Faithfull never again found chart success. But she has become a highly respected performer who has chosen to develop her skills by exploring numerous musical directions: recording the songs of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht; working with David Lynch composer Angelo Badalamenti; collaborating on her 2002 album “Kissin’ Time” with Beck, Blur, Jarvis Cocker and Billy Corgan; and collaborating (separately) with P.J. Harvey and Nick Cave on 2005’s “Before the Poison.” She also continues to perform live and in theater, television and film, having appeared in Roger Waters’ production of “The Wall” staged in Berlin in 1990, and as “God” in three episodes of the hit British sitcom “Absolutely Fabulous.” Faithfull has not been one to capitalize on her Swinging Sixties period, probably because her most interesting work was released after that time.