Styles & Forms | The British Invasion | Pop

On 1 February 1964, The Beatles’ ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ topped America’s Cashbox singles chart. Six days later, they arrived in New York for their first US visit, and on 9 February an audience of around 73 million people tuned in to see them on The Ed Sullivan Show, which had been booked the previous November. The timing could not have been better.

Accustomed to leading the way in terms of pop culture but reeling from the recent assassination of President Kennedy, America was ready for change and in need of an uplifting diversion. With their infectious music, charismatic personalities and unconventional ‘moptop’ appearance, The Beatles were able to deliver the goods. Even more remarkable than The Fab Four achieving the previously unimaginable feat of taking America by storm was the manner in which – with the doors to the States kicked wide open – a slew of other acts from across the Atlantic swamped the US charts. The shake-up quickly consumed all facets of American popular culture. In just less than 200 years after the War of Independence, a ‘British Invasion’ was under way.

Finally recovering from the ravages of the Second World War, Britain was in the thick of a particularly rich and creative period in all areas of the arts. With London about to ‘swing’, it was in a prime condition to export its musicians, actors, writers and fashions to Americans who were, to an extraordinary and unprecedented degree, receptive to anyone with a Liverpudlian – make that English – accent. In 1963, while the UK pop charts were swamped by so-called Mersey sound acts such as The Beatles, Gerry & The Pacemakers, The Searchers, The Swinging Blue Jeans and Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas, only three British singles managed to crack the US Top 40. In 1964, this paltry number rose to an astonishing 65. Previously, just two British singles – the 1962 instrumentals ‘Stranger On The Shore’ by Acker Bilk and ‘Telstar’ by The Tornados, written, produced and mixed by the legendary British producer Joe Meek – had topped Billboard’s ‘Hot 100’. In 1964, nine of the 23 Billboard chart-toppers (for 26 out of 52 weeks) were by British acts.

Supposed Rivalry

Admittedly, six of those records were by The Beatles, who on 4 April held the top five positions on ‘Hot 100’ and another seven spots lower down the chart. However, others were following fast behind them, and not only many of their aforementioned Liverpudlian compatriots. There was also The Animals from Newcastle, The Hollies from Manchester and The Dave Clark Five from Tottenham, North London. The DC5 had visited the US a month before The Beatles, having ended the six-week reign of ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ at the top of the British charts with ‘Glad All Over’ (composed by Clark and keyboardist/vocalist Mike Smith), prompting a national newspaper headline to ask, ‘Has The Five Jive Crushed The...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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