“I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND…AND SO DO MY MATES”
Christmas 1963. As Americans were shuttling the kids in station wagons to visit Santa, unclogging the broken Electrolux vacuum, and building a fallout shelter in the backyard, a bootleg song was starting to waft from the RCA radio in every living room. It was a new sound so harmonious, fresh, and…British. By the time the New Years passed into 1964 and February 1 arrived, The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” had shot like an ICBM warhead to the number one spot on U.S. charts. Seemingly overnight, the Fab Four caused every American boy and girl under the age of 17 to become certifiably Beatle-batty. Blinded by this mass hysteria, no one seemed to notice that other British bands were hiding inside the big Beatle Trojan Horse, waiting for their moment to leap onto our soil and slay us with crisp harmonies and toothy grins. Here are 14 British invaders who successfully surveyed our rhythm and blues heritage, endlessly put their instruments through finely-tuned drills, loaded up each song with “take-no-prisoners” hooks, and finally, bombarded our shores with a hefty barrage of Top Ten singles during that initial incursion from 1964 to 1965.
The first Brits to break through the barricades and crack America’s top 20 after the Beatles’ beachhead were this Liverpudlian quartet led by Mike Pender. Rich in four-part harmonies, the Searchers, who were named after the John Wayne film, covered “Needles and Pins,” a song written by Jack Nitzche and Sonny Bono, and burst onto the U.S. charts at #13 on April 11, 1964. In 1965, their cover of “Love Potion #9” clocked at #3 in America, and the group scored rankings with other tunes like “Bumble Bee” and “What Have They Done To The Rain?” before dissolving to the cabaret/dinner theatre circuit in the ‘70s.
The Dave Clark Five
Marching to the beat of The Beatles was drummer and ex-stuntman Dave Clark, who culled his team of musicians from the London area. After their first major hit, “Glad All Over” toppled “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on the UK charts, it nestled into #6 on American charts on April 25, 1964. When “Bits and Pieces,” a catchy follow-up, broke through to Billboard’s number 4, The Dave Clark Five firmly marched their Union Jack into North America with many successive hits, resulting in 11 top 30 entries. “Over and Over,” a cover of singer Bobby Day’s 1958 single, gave this extremely fortunate group their only number one U.S. hit in December of 1965.
The Rolling Stones
A betting man may have thought the title of this London powerhouse band’s first U.S. chartbreaker was overly optimistic. “Not Fade Away” barely made a dim blip on the horizon at #98 on May 2, 1964. But like a Mack truck barreling down a distant desert highway, the Stones catalog of hits were about to hurtle out of nowhere onto America’s playlists faster than we had a chance to move out of the road. “Not Fade Away” shifted up to #48 by July, then finally revved up to #11 by August. A few more hits, most notably “Time is On My Side,” rumbled across the heartland, until, on July 10, 1965, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” slammed onto the airwaves, making road kill of the competition by holding the number 1 spot for four weeks in a row. From that point on, Mick and Keith’s truckloads of Top 40 hits have never diminished.
Before they’d even delivered a hit single, Eric Clapton was gone. Dissatisfied with the musical direction the band was taking, ol’ “slowhand” bowed out of this rhythm and blues outfit. His replacement was no slouch. Jeff Beck joined lead singer Keith Relf and the other Yardbirds (so named after a reference in a Jack Kerouac book) in time to churn out their #6 charting U.S. hit “For Your Love” on June 3, 1964. The UK darlings lobbed more hit singles onto America’s charts like top 20 favorites “Heart Full of Soul,” “I’m A Man,” “Shapes of Things,” and “Over Under Sideways Down,” before flying south with their last recording in 1968.
Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas
The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, smelled another Liverpudlian sensation when he signed Kramer (born William Ashton) to a six-year management deal in 1963 and paired him with the Manchester-based Dakotas. A song by Mort Shuman and John McFarland called “Little Children” first got the Dakotas’ feet wet on Yankee shores. The single made it to number 7 on U.S. charts in early June 1964. Allowing the group to sift through the Beatles’ cookie jar, Billy J.’s association with Epstein led him to record several Lennon/McCartney-penned tunes, two of which, “I’ll Keep You Satisfied” and “From A Window,” went on to crack America’s top 30.
Peter and Gordon
“The Beatles in disguise” is perhaps another way of describing this duo’s introduction to American fans. Peter Asher and Gordon Waller, schoolmates in London, both played guitars and sang. Asher’s sister Jane had a friend (and later a fiance) in Paul McCartney. Written by Paul, but released with the familiar Lennon-McCartney writing credit, “A World Without Love” became Peter and Gordon’s number one hit in America during the week of June 27, 1964. The singing duo would go on to record two more McCartney compositions and have success with “Lady Godiva” and “I Go to Pieces” before their breakup in 1967.
Gerry and The Pacemakers
Gerry Marsden and his group of Pacemakers probably felt like second fiddles around Liverpool. From 1961 to 1963, the Beatles would appear on the same bill as Marsden’s band, but invariably, the four moptops would walk away as winners in the popularity contest. Following in their hometown heroes’ footsteps, Gerry and his boys played the London Palladium and the Ed Sullivan Show and finally charted a number 4 hit in the U.S. with “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying” on July 4, 1964. The group cracked America’s Top 30 a few more times until the end of 1966, when their Liverpudlian “Merseybeat” style began to wane with the times.
In the gritty Northern England town of Newcastle, Eric Burdon and Alan Price teamed with three other lads to form The Animals, named presumably in honor of a tough gang member/war vet in their town. Playing on the bill with Chuck Berry in London got them noticed and soon Price re-arranged the traditional folk song “House of the Rising Sun” into a moody rock classic. The single topped the American charts for 3 weeks in September 1964. Price later went on to play with Bob Dylan, and Eric Burdon helped launch the funk-rock outfit War in 1969.
Brothers in arms — the “arms” being guitars — Ray Davies and his younger sibling Dave started rocking in makeshift bands in their early teens. The London boys soon kicked off The Kinks and became well-known as raucous raconteurs in the local press. “You Really Got Me” launched their worldwide career and reached #7 in America on September 10, 1964. Group infighting and several faux separations ensued, but the Kinks managed to stay alive for decades, funneling a string of hits like “Rock and Roll Fantasy” in 1978 and “Come Dancing” in 1983 onto the U.S. charts.
Although born in South Africa, Manfred Mann (born Michael Lubowitz) relocated to London in the early ‘60s and immediately got a group together. With three recruits and singer Paul Jones in place, the band conceived the title song to Britain’s big music revue show “Ready Steady Go!” When they covered the Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich song “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” Manfred Mann became a name known on both sides of the Atlantic. The single captivated America for two weeks at number one in October 1964. Swapping out musicians in the band over the years, Mann scored two other cover hits with “The Mighty Quinn” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded By The Light,” which garnered this “Brit” invader another number one slot in the charts on February 19, 1977.
Move over lads, Petula is here. A natural singer at the age of 3, Petula Clark began recording when she was 17. Between 1951 to 1962, her singles had sold well all over the globe, except in the colonies. But after the Beatles had lobbed another smash across the ocean with “I Feel Fine,” Petula felt fine enough to give Americans her best shot with “Downtown.” The single blasted to the top of America’s charts in January of 1965, and Ms. Clark was officially the first British female of the rock era to have a number one hit in the U.S. Think that was the last of Petula? Not a chance. She became the first Brit femme to have two number one singles in America when Yanks started spinning “My Love” endlessly in February 1966.
Freddie and The Dreamers
If you tuned into “Shindig” on television in the mid-60’s, chances are you saw dancers jumping in the air, legs askance, doing “the Freddie.” Freddie Garrity of Manchester, England, a former milkman, had been performing with his group throughout the UK for most of the early ‘60s when their single, “I’m Telling You Now,” struck number one this side of the Marianna Trench for 2 weeks in April 1965. Freddie’s light-footed dance and jangly pop tunes translated especially well with children, and after the hits stopped coming, Freddie went on to host a kiddie show in the ‘70s.
Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders
The horror of it all! At least that’s the notion Wayne Fontana (born Glyn Ellis) must have had after watching a thriller at his local bijou in Manchester. For he named his backup band after being inspired by the plot of the movie. Playing mostly cover tunes, the band scored a hit with “Game of Love” in Britain and America, where it went to number one at the end of April 1965. This was a one-two Manchester punch to the top of America’s charts, following Freddie and the Dreamers’ smash song the week before. But a handful of hermits were to make the Manchester assault a triple knockout the very next week.
On May 1, 1965, Herman’s Hermits ruled the number one spot on America’s charts for three weeks with “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter.” Manchester native Peter Noone and his fellow hermits had snatched the song from a British television play. The band certainly weren’t reclusive after this one success, for, over the course of 1965, they had 7 songs in America’s top 100, locking in another number one with “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” in August. The group relied heavily on a pair of future Led Zeppers, John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page, when recording their songs in the studio. Herman’s Hermits continued churning out hits well into 1968 before slipping into legal and feuding battles amongst themselves at the end of the decade.
Although established around the time of the Beatles’ initial musical charge across U.S. turf, acts such as The Hollies and The Who wouldn’t enjoy America’s full embrace in the charts until after 1965. The first wave was phenomenal, and to this day, the British still keep coming.
© 2000 Ned Truslow