The arrival of The Beatles in the U.S., and subsequent appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, marked the start of the British Invasion in which a large number of Rock and roll, beat and pop performers from the United Kingdom gained massive popularity in the U.S.
In the late 1950s, a flourishing culture of groups began to emerge, often out of the declining skiffle scene, in major urban centres in the UK like Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and London. This was particularly true in Liverpool, where it has been estimated that there were around 350 different bands active, often playing ballrooms, concert halls and clubs. Beat bands were heavily influenced by American bands of the era, such as Buddy Holly and the Crickets (from which group The Beatles derived their name), as well as earlier British groups such as The Shadows. After the national success of the Beatles in Britain from 1962, a number of Liverpool performers were able to follow them into the charts, including Gerry & The Pacemakers, The Searchers, and Cilla Black. Among the most successful beat acts from Birmingham were The Spencer Davis Group and The Moody Blues. From London, the term Tottenham Sound was largely based around The Dave Clark Five, but other London bands that benefited from the beat boom of this era included the Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds. The first non-Liverpool, non-Brian Epstein-managed band to break through in the UK were Freddie and the Dreamers, who were based in Manchester, as were Herman’s Hermits and The Kinks. The beat movement provided most of the bands responsible for the British invasion of the American pop charts in the period after 1964, and furnished the model for many important developments in pop and rock music.
The British Invasion
The Rolling Stones in 1965
By the end of 1962, the British rock scene had started with beat groups like The Beatles drawing on a wide range of American influences including soul music, rhythm and blues and surf music. Initially, they reinterpreted standard American tunes, playing for dancers doing the twist, for example. These groups eventually infused their original rock compositions with increasingly complex musical ideas and a distinctive sound. In mid-1962 The Rolling Stones started as one of a number of groups increasingly showing blues influence, along with bands like The Animals and The Yardbirds. During 1963, The Beatles and other beat groups, such as The Searchers and The Hollies, achieved great popularity and commercial success in Britain.
British rock broke through to mainstream popularity in the United States in January 1964 with the success of the Beatles. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was the band’s first #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, starting the British Invasion of the American music charts. The song entered the chart on January 18, 1964 at #45 before it became the #1 single for 7 weeks and went on to last a total of 15 weeks in the chart. Their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show February 9 is considered a milestone in American pop culture. The broadcast drew an estimated 73 million viewers, at the time a record for an American television program. The Beatles went on to become the biggest selling rock band of all time and they were followed by numerous British bands.
During the next two years, Chad & Jeremy, Peter and Gordon, The Animals, Manfred Mann, Petula Clark, Freddie and the Dreamers, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Herman’s Hermits, The Rolling Stones, The Troggs, and Donovan would have one or more #1 singles. Other acts that were part of the invasion included The Kinks and The Dave Clark Five. British Invasion acts also dominated the music charts at home in the United Kingdom.
The British Invasion helped internationalize the production of rock and roll, opening the door for subsequent British (and Irish) performers to achieve international success. In America it arguably spelled the end of instrumental surf music, vocal girl groups and (for a time) the teen idols, that had dominated the American charts in the late 1950s and 60s. It dented the careers of established R&B acts like Fats Domino and Chubby Checker and even temporarily derailed the chart success of surviving rock and roll acts, including Elvis. The British Invasion also played a major part in the rise of a distinct genre of rock music, and cemented the primacy of the rock group, based on guitars and drums and producing their own material as singer-songwriters.
British blues boom
Led Zeppelin at Montreaux
In parallel with Beat music, in the late 1950s and early 1960s a British blues scene was developing recreating the sounds of American R&B and later particularly the sounds of bluesmen Robert Johnson, Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters. It reached its height of mainstream popularity in the 1960s, when it developed a distinctive and influential style dominated by electric guitar and made international stars of several proponents of the genre including The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, The Yardbirds, Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin.
A number of these moved through blues-rock to different forms of rock music and as a result British blues helped to form many of the sub-genres of rock, including psychedelic rock and heavy metal music. Since then direct interest in the blues in Britain has declined, but many of the key performers have returned to it in recent years, new acts have emerged and there have been a renewed interest in the genre.
The British band Cream in 1966
British psychedelia emerged during the mid 1960s, was influenced by psychedelic culture and attempted to replicate and enhance the mind-altering experiences of hallucinogenic drugs. The movement drew on non-Western sources such as Indian music’s ragas and sitars as well as studio effects and long instrumental passages and surreal lyrics. Established British artists such as Eric Burdon, The Who, Cream, Pink Floyd and The Beatles produced a number of highly psychedelic tunes during the decade. Many British psychedelia bands of the 1960s never published their music and only appeared in live concerts during that time.
The US and North America
By the 1960s, the scene that had developed out of the American folk music revival had grown to a major movement, utilising traditional music and new compositions in a traditional style, usually on acoustic instruments. In America the genre was pioneered by figures such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger and often identified with progressive or labor politics. In the early sixties figures such as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan had come to the fore in this movement as singer-songwriters. Dylan had begun to reach a mainstream audience with hits including “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1963) and “Masters of War” (1963), which brought “protest songs” to a wider public, but, although beginning to influence each other, rock and folk music had remained largely separate genres, often with mutually exclusive audiences.
Psychedelic music’s LSD-inspired vibe began in the folk scene, with the New York-based Holy Modal Rounders using the term in their 1964 recording of “Hesitation Blues”. The first group to advertise themselves as psychedelic rock were the 13th Floor Elevators from Texas, at the end of 1965; producing an album that made their direction clear, with The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators the following year.
Psychedelic rock particularly took off in California’s emerging music scene as groups followed the Byrds from folk to folk rock from 1965. The Los Angeles-based group The Doors formed in 1965 after a chance meeting on Venice Beach. Although its charismatic lead singer Jim Morrison died in 1971, the band’s popularity has endured to this day. The psychedelic life style had already developed in San Francisco since about 1964, and particularly prominent products of the scene were The Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, The Great Society and Jefferson Airplane. The Byrds rapidly progressed from purely folk rock in 1966 with their single “Eight Miles High”, widely taken to be a reference to drug use.
Psychedelic rock reached its apogee in the last years of the decade. In America the Summer of Love was prefaced by the Human Be-In event and reached its peak at the Monterey Pop Festival, the later helping to make major American stars of Jimi Hendrix and The Who, whose single “I Can See for Miles” delved into psychedelic territory. Key recordings included Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow and The Doors’ Strange Days. These trends climaxed in the 1969 Woodstock festival, which saw performances by most of the major psychedelic acts, but by the end of the decade psychedelic rock was in retreat. The Jimi Hendrix Experience broke up before the end of the decade and many surviving acts, moved away from psychedelia into more back-to-basics “roots rock”, the wider experimentation of progressive rock, or riff laden heavy rock.
R&B and Soul
Motown’s The Four Tops performing in New Rochelle, New York, 1967
The Detroit-based Motown label develops as a pop-influenced answer to soul music. The label begins a long run of No. 1 U.S. hit singles in 1961 with “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes. The label would have numerous No. 1 Billboard hits throughout the decade and into the 1990s. Notable Motown acts included The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas, and the Jackson Five, who debuted in 1969.
Soul music develops popularity throughout the decade, led by Sam Cooke, James Brown, and Otis Redding, among many others. Funk begins later in the decade with James Brown and Sly & the Family Stone having early hits. You Keep Me Hanging On uses a fast tempo which would prove innovative in the development of disco music. Aretha Franklin’s 1967 recordings, such as “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”, “Respect” (originally sung by Otis Redding), and “Do Right Woman-Do Right Man”, are considered the apogee of the soul genre, and were among its most commercially successful productions.