Music History

Vanity Fair’s “An Oral History of the British Invasion”

In you’re still swept up in all the 50th anniversary Beatles nostalgia, here’s a good read from Vanity Fair from 2002 which tried to explain why North America went so apeshit over British music in the middle 60s tapping into the memories of Andrew Loog Oldham, Eric Burden, Peter Noone and many others.

This much is familiar: On January 25, 1964, the Beatles’ single “I Want to Hold Your Hand” entered the American Top 40. On February 1 it reached No. 1. On February 7 the Beatles arrived in New York for their inaugural U.S. visit, and two days later played on The Ed Sullivan Show to hysterical response and record viewership, thereby effecting a cataclysmic cultural shift and triggering a musical movement that would come to be known as the British Invasion. Cue screaming girls, fringe haircuts, Murray the K, etc.What’s less remembered are the specifics of precisely what and whom this invasion encompassed. Today, the term “the British Invasion” is usually employed to describe (and market) the triumphal epoch of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Who, with honorable mentions to the Kinks and the Animals. In hindsight, and on merit, this sounds about right—these are the best and most revered of the English bands who came of age in the 1960s—but the reality of the British Invasion, which was at its most intense in the two years immediately following the Beatles’ landfall, was somewhat different.

Far from being solely a beat-group explosion, the Invasion was a rather eclectic phenomenon that took in everything from Petula Clark’s lushly symphonic pop to Chad and Jeremy’s dulcet folk-schlock to the Yardbirds’ blues-rock rave-ups. And while the Beatles were unquestionably the movement’s instigators and dominant force, the Rolling Stones and the Who were, initially, among the least successful of the invaders—the former group struggling throughout ’64 to gain a foothold in America while the Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits, and even Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas vaulted ahead of them, the latter group struggling even to get its terrific run of early singles (“I Can’t Explain,” “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere,” “My Generation,” “Substitute”)released in the United States. (Arguably, given that they didn’t perform in America or chart in its Top 40 until 1967, with “Happy Jack,” the Who don’t even qualify as an Invasion band.)

The British Invasion was, nevertheless, a very real phenomenon.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38569 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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