The 60s were a transformative time in Britain and the States, from the Space Race to beginning of Doctor Who. One of the biggest cultural changes was the British Invasion of bands from the United Kingdom to the United States. Influenced by the States’ own Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Buddy Holly, Elvis, and other musicians, a new era of British Rock n’ Roll exploded over the isles and became so popular, their homeland couldn’t contain them. Many of these bands play on today, either together or as solo acts. Everyone on this list is in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and while this list is only my opinion, here are some of the best artists and their best songs from this time.
In honor of our latest t-shirt over at Anglotees.com, here is our pick of the top ten bands of the British invasion along with our favorite song for each.
10. The Small Faces – “Tin Soldier”
Founded in 1965 and splitting for the first time in 1969, The Small Faces were one of the most famous mod groups of the period. “Tin Soldier” was released in 1967 at the height of their popularity, and while songs like “Itchycoo Park”, “Lazy Sunday”, and “All or Nothing”, did better in the charts, this song, in my opinion, is the one that rocks out the most. “Lazy Sunday” can be found on the soundtrack for “The Boat that Rocked/Pirate Radio”.
9. The Animals – “The House of the Rising Sun”
Originally a rhythm and blues group, The Animals formed when deep-voiced singer Eric Burdon joined in 1963. Their second single, “House of the Rising Sun”, was their first big hit, becoming incredibly popular on both sides of the Atlantic. The traditional folk song tells the story of a young man whose life goes to ruin in the gambling houses of New Orleans. Though it was recorded several times before, The Animals’ cover is the most successful commercial version.
8. The Hollies – “Bus Stop”
Formed in 1962 in Manchester, The Hollies are one of the few groups from the 60s that never split up. Throughout the decade, they spent 231 weeks on the UK charts, the 9th most of any British band. Despite their success, their first hit in the US didn’t happen until 1966 with “Bus Stop”. The song was written by Graham Gouldman, responsible for another hit further down this list.
7. Dusty Springfield – “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me”
Born Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien in 1939, she began her singing career in 1958 and went solo in 1963. “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” was her top hit, first released in 1966. The melody was based on an Italian song, “Io Che Non Vivo (senza te)” – “I, who can’t live (without you)”, then given English lyrics by Vicki Wickham and Simon Napier-Bell, both of whom lacked much songwriting experience at that point. It reached no. 1 in the UK and no. 4 in the US, and like many songs on this list, was featured in the 2009 film “The Boat that Rocked/Pirate Radio.”
6. The Kinks – “All Day and All of the Night”
The Kinks were formed by brothers Dave and Ray Davies in North London in 1963. Both brothers stuck with the group until the band’s retirement in 1996. Like most bands, they were influenced by American rhythm and blues, but also by British hall music, folk, and some country. Picking their best for this list was a very difficult choice, but ultimately came down to “All Day and All of the Night” for me. It has a distinctive opening riff (much like the runner-up, “You Really Got Me”). It hit no. 1 in the UK and no. 8 in the US.
5. Tom Jones – “It’s Not Unusual”
Well before Carlton Banks was nerding up the dance floor to this man’s signature hit, Tom Jones was the biggest vocalist of the 60s. Born Thomas Jones Woodward in Wales, he started with the group Tommy Scott and the Senators in 1963. Later that year, he was discovered by Gordon Mills, who became his new manager, moved the singer to London, and rebranded him as Tom Jones. His first hit, “Chills and Fever”, did not make the charts, but the follow-up, “It’s Not Unusual” more than made up for the dud. It reached no. 1 in the UK charts in 1965 and crossed the pond at no. 10 in America.
4. The Yardbirds – “For Your Love”
The Yardbirds could almost be considered a super group in that three of its guitarists were also famous either when they were with the band or as part of other groups. These men being: Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, and Eric Clapton. Formed in 1963, their name referenced both the hobos hanging around the rail yard and jazz saxophonist Charlie “Yardbird” Parker. Clapton was still the guitarist when “For Your Love” was released in 1965, though he left soon after and was replaced by Beck. As mentioned earlier, this is the other song on the list written by Graham Gouldman, and reached no. 1 in Britain and no. 6 in the States.
3. The Who – “My Generation”
Roger Daltry, Pete Townsend, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon. These four count amongst the greatest legends in rock for their songs and antics both on and off stage. The four formed the band in 1964, out of an earlier group known as The Detours. Having already cracked the top ten of the UK charts with “I Can’t Explain”, “My Generation” hit a chord with young people in the 60s who felt their more conservative parents didn’t understand them. Daltry’s stutter in the song is inspired by the stuttering blues of John Lee Hooker. Above is their famous performance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, when one of the crew overloaded Keith’s drum kit with too much gunpowder.
2. The Rolling Stones – “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
Always seeming to come in second place, The Rolling Stones are the single-best group from the 60s still playing today, outlasting the no. 1 entry by forty-four years. The ever-changing group was formed in 1962 and seemingly always anchored by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts. Arguably their biggest hit, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was almost not released. According to Wyman, the vote to release the single was 3-2, with Wyman, Watts, and Brian Jones voting in favor, and Jagger and Richards voting against. Though Wood would eventually replace Wyman, the band plays on.
1. The Beatles – “I Want to Hold Your Hand”
Was there ever any doubt who would be at the top of this list? It may be clichéd, but there really isn’t much that can be said about this band that hasn’t been already. Instead, we’ll turn to the song. Paul McCartney had once said that the band members told manager Brian Epstein that they didn’t want to go to America until they had a number one record. Once released, it knocked their own “She Loves You” from the no. 1 spot in the UK charts. Later, a few American stations began to play the single and it caught on like wildfire, giving The Beatles the no. 1 record they wanted. What followed was history in the making, as the band’s landing in the States sparked the British Invasion, enabling every other artist on this list to become a hit in America.
To wrap up, I really can’t stress how awesome a film like “The Boat that Rocked” is and how much it puts the British Invasion artists on display. From The Small Faces to The Who, the film shows how pirate radio stations in the 60s helped these bands make waves that turned into a musical tsunami. If you can, I suggest finding the original cut on Blu-Ray from either the UK or Australia as that particular disc is region-free.
For a limited time – in fact just three days left – get our t-shirt tribute to the British Invasion called British Rocks! The British Invasion is an iconic moment in American History when the best bands from Britain came to our shores and rocked. This shirt is dedicated to all the great British music that has crossed the pond over the years. From the Beatles and The Who to the Rolling Stones and Queen, this shirt is dedicated to them all. If there’s one thing all Anglophiles can agree on it’s truly that Britain Rocks! Available in Men’s, Women’s, V-neck and Long Sleeve until Friday Noon CST starting at $16.99. Details here.
Now, inevitably a post like this will be about what we left off the list – so to head that off – what are your favorite songs of the British Invasion? Let us know in the comments!