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1960's At 60
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, the Yardbirds and the Kinks. 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. The beat movement provided most of the groups 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
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 itself.
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 No. 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 No. 45 before it became the No. 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 No. 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 Presley. 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.
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