British Invasion @ 50

Been thinking about the British Invasion.  Not the one we studied in history books… The one that happened in my lifetime… a half-century (Yikes!) ago in 1964.

I was in the fourth grade when a classmate invited me over to his house after school: “Malcolm, you gotta hear this album (Meet the Beatles) by The Beatles.”  I was hooked from the get-go.  Then when I saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show, well, I immediately forgot all about Topo Gigio.  (Who’s that? Well, if you have to ask, I doubt I could explain it.)

Anyway, for the next 3-4 years, American radio pulsated with the sounds of British bands.  The Beatles, by themselves, charted 25 songs in the Top 20 by the end of… 1967!  (I mean, stuff like The White Album and Abbey Road was still yet to come!)  Groups like The Dave Clark 5, Herman’s Hermits, and The Rolling Stones each charted 10+ Top 20 hits during the same time.

It was total domination for about three years until “The Summer of Love” when American musicians like The Doors, The Grateful Dead, and Jimi Hendrix joined forces with The Brits to swing the world’s attention to musical events like Monterey Pop and Woodstock.

So, in honor of this great music, I figured I’d serve up my own 50th Anniversary Top-10 List of British Invasion songs, one per group, alphabetical by artist:

1. The Animals – “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” (1965). While “House of the Rising Sun” went to #1, this was the song that showed me that the Invasion wasn’t just about what one of its architects later called “silly love songs.” This may be a love song, but Eric Burdon delivers it with a rough edge: “Girl, there’s a better life for me and you.”

2.  The Beatles – “I Saw Her Standing There” (1964). There were so many great ones by them – one week, early in the Invasion, they had songs at #1, #2, #3, #4, and #5! — but, well, “How could I dance with another?”

3. Dave Clark 5 – “Anyway You Want It” (1965). I don’t think history has been as kind to this group as it should be, probably because they were always compared to The Beatles.  They could do upbeat (“Glad All Over”); they could do soft and slow (“Because”).

4. The Kinks – “A Well Respected Man” (1966).  These guys brought some much-needed irreverent satire to the party. “He’s a well-respected man about town, Doing the best things so conservatively.”

5. Peter & Gordon – “A World Without Love” (1964).  This duo didn’t grab me like the Beatles and Stones, but with eight Top 20 songs, they were obviously popular.  (Also, if you were a guy who wanted to make an impression on the girls, you quickly realized that you couldn’t dis P&G.)  This was their one #1 hit.  “I don’t care what they say…”

6. The Rolling Stones – “The Last Time” (1965).  As with The Beatles, it’s hard to choose just one.  With a name copped from a Muddy Waters song, they brought the blues to the party.  Great song: “I told you once, and I told you twice; But you never listen to my advice.”

7. The Searchers – “Love Potion #9” (1964).  The Searchers had a number of hits (e.g., “Needles & Pins”) but this song brought the fun.  It also brought some teenage rebellion thanks to a line that caused the song to be banned by some American radio stations: “But when I kissed a cop down on 34th & Vine, he broke my little bottle of Love Potion #9.”

8. The Who – “My Generation” (1965). While this may be my #1 favorite on this whole list, it’s the only one of these ten songs that never hit America’s Top 20. (In fact, it never got higher than #74 here.)  Then again, Rolling Stone Magazine, on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time, ranks it #11.  That may be because it “caused a big s-s-s-sensation.”

9. The Yardbirds – “For Your Love” (1965).  The Intelligent Listener’s British Invasion Band, and not only because their name references jazz icon Charlie Parker.  History has surely validated their believing fans given that 3 alumni were named in the Top 5 of Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 Top Guitarists List: Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page.

10. The Zombies – “She’s Not There” (1964).  This song holds up over time.  Maybe that’s because its lament is timeless: “Well, no one told me about her…”

Of course, by singling out these songs, I commit the sin of omission.  To be sure, other songs/bands of that era remain forever etched in my memory: Petula Clark’s “Downtown” – Manfred Mann’s “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy” – Them’s (featuring Van Morrison) “Here Comes the Night” – The Spencer Davis Group’s (featuring a 16-year old Stevie Winwood) “I’m a Man” – The Trogg’s “Wild Thing” and, of course, Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual.”

The great thing is that you did not have to be there. You can listen to these songs today.  And I recommend you do.

Onward, Malcolm Gauld