The British Invasion and American Counterattack

collageshrink

A mere handful of the insidious invaders who tried to destroy truth, justice and the American way and did a damn good job of it. Pictured are those left out of the upcoming review series.

I’ll give you a very brief summary of what I did during my month-long absence, focusing on how it impacts my work here at altrockchick.com:

  • The first week was spent in Côte d’Ivoire at what Westerners would call a “battered women’s center” or “domestic violence assistance center.” All I can tell you right now is that I was thankful I wore no makeup at all during the trip, because I cried myself to sleep every night. I’m still processing the experience and may write about it later.
  • Then I met my sweetie on Gran Canaria island, where we stayed for a week in a little bungalow near the beach. She had always wanted to take me to the Canaries, because she has fond memories from family vacations taken there during her youth. I slept for two days straight, holding her close to me and healing from the Côte d’Ivoire experience. We spent the next day visiting a bird sanctuary and soaking in the hot tub, then my mojo returned and we spent the last four days fucking.
  • After the passion play, we flew to Madrid and spent a week with her family. Her brother is a big Kinks fan, so I promised him I’d review Other People’s Lives as soon as I got back to writing. Mission accomplished!
  • We then flew to Nice and spent the rest of the holidays with my mother and father, which brings us back quite nicely to altrockchick.com.

Long before I was born, my anti-capitalist parents imposed a rule on the purchase of Christmas gifts. From the beginning of their relationship, they agreed that they would spend no more than twenty dollars on Christmas gifts for the other. They extended that rule to me, but by the time I came around, the massive inflation of the 1970’s had raised the price to forty dollars. After I cheated a little bit a few years ago ($44.95!), they agreed to raise the price to fifty bucks. With the move to Europe, we agreed to a converted limit of €40.

This means you must think hard about the kind of gifts you select, because you have to create maximum meaning with limited resources. With that in mind, I bought my mother a hardcover copy of Histoire d’O to thank her for helping to turn me into a pervert, and a leather peek-a-boo thong (a thong with a strategically placed hole to allow clitoral access). Wasn’t that sweet? My dad certainly approved and shouted, “Try it on, Nique!” My mother gave him her cold stare that could cut through ten feet of steel and haughtily replied, “I am not an exhibitionist like your daughter.” She then thanked me and gave me a sly little wink.

For my dad, knowing how much he misses baseball, I bought biographies of Smoky Joe Wood and the Waner brothers, and because he’s a huge Sandy Denny fan, a replacement vinyl copy of Sandy. My mother shied away from sex toys for her daughter and instead bought me The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, Dexter Gordon’s Our Man in Paris and Art Blakey’s Moanin’. My dad knocked it out of the park with the biography Walter Johnson: The Big Train and three CD collections of British Invasion bands.

“Hint, hint,” he remarked.

The purpose of the gift was to remind me that I hadn’t dealt with the 60’s British invasion groups who faded from the scene—bands like The Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Them (Northern Ireland is a part of the U. K.), The Dave Clark Five, The Hollies, Peter & Gordon, Chad & Jeremy, Freddie and the Dreamers, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Manfred Mann and The Zombies. I have avoided them because these are the bands he grew up with. People are very attached to the music of their teens and get very ornery when critics, even critics who are family members, pan the work of their childhood heroes. I completely understand the attachment to the music of our adolescence—it’s the music you heard the first time you received or gave a positive answer to the question, “Is it in?” Puberty heightens all the senses, so it makes sense that we would find the music associated with body odor, menstruation, pimples and wet dreams endlessly intoxicating.

I know my dad will never get off my ass if I don’t go there, so here’s the deal. Over the next three weeks I’m going to do a series I call “The British Invasion and The American Counterattack.” I’ve identified five Invasion bands and three American groups who were on the front lines during this epic engagement. Some were pretty good; others are included because I simply can’t ignore them in the context of the times. Even with such generous criteria, I could only identify three American bands from that era who had any kind of historical significance. The great American music of the mid-1960’s was soul music, not rock music, and the only songwriter the Americans produced who could compete with The British was Bob Dylan, a genre-crosser. Given that, I won’t leave you in suspense as to who won the transatlantic war of the rockers—The British, by a very comfortable margin.

This may be a difficult thing for the Yanks to accept. Many Americans still believe they have never lost a war, conveniently ignoring historical facts that indicate otherwise. However, they never suffered as crushing a defeat as they did in the face of The British Invasion, both commercially and artistically. In 1965, the British had half the #1 songs on Billboard and on May 8 had nine of the top ten songs on the Hot 100. In 1966, the Americans shooed the British out of the year-end top ten entirely (the top fifteen, actually), but their counterattack was orchestrated by non-combatants: Sgt. Barry Sadler (number fucking one!), Nancy Sinatra, Daddy Frank, The Righteous Brothers and Roger Williams. The Supremes, The Four Tops and Jimmy Ruffin made it, demonstrating that Motown and the other soul labels had more firepower than the American rock scene at the time. Only two American rock bands (using the term loosely) made the list: The Monkees and The Lovin’ Spoonful. Not a particularly strong showing from American rockers. The Mamas and the Papas earned two slots, but they were neither rockers nor a group to be taken seriously.

By 1966, though, the battlefield had shifted to albums, and The British clearly had the advantage there. British rock musicians seemed endlessly inventive, exploring new sounds and styles while Americans were returning to the past, in some cases rediscovering blues and in other cases seeking solace in country, bluegrass and other down home derivatives. This is what led to Credence Clearwater Revival’s dominance in the late 1960’s, a development that told me that the Americans had given up and gone home, because that music wasn’t going to lead anywhere but to the past.

So, Ready Steady Go! The British are coming!

Reviews in this series:

The Dave Clark Five: The Hits

The Animals Retrospective

Herman’s Hermits Retrospective

The Hollies Greatest Hits

Odessey and Oracle

The Byrds Greatest Hits

The Lovin’ Spoonful: Greatest Hits

The Best of the Monkees

6 responses

  1. Looking forward to it!!!

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  2. I hope you don’t mind my serial commenting. I’m laid up with a bad back, and I’ve been in the middle of writing an article on Emily Dickinson that is killing me–her poems make you work, and I love her for it. Her oblique language and diction is like going down a rabbit hole of interpretation. Trying to hold Dickinson is like trying to hold water.

    I’ve wanted to write about the music from 1963 to maybe 1972 for a long time, perhaps a series of articles, and discovering your review of the Kinks has led me to your voice which speaks with refreshing insight I share. So maybe I’m warming up for my interpretive foray into the beauty and the immense innovation the Brits brought to the 2 to 3 minute song. With that said, I’m an American but I agree that American music lagged miserably behind the Brits after the heyday of the 50s. Part of the problem, I think, is that, first, Americans basically did not know how to take their musical tradition–jazz, blues, country, soul– into new ground. When they did, they came up with such horrors as disco. The Brits could appropriate those traditions and add their rich and more whimsical and literate musical heritage into the mix, particularly in poetry, and create a transatlantic hybrid that, well, the Americans couldn’t match. When the Brits appropriated and synthesized American music, it was magic – and even Jagger found that he could drop his fake American singing voice by 1965 or so. But there is nothing more miserable than listening to American groups that tried to ape British music.

    Secondly, the Americans drew from the blues – the glorious blues! – to transition to psychedelia. The result was almost always miserable. There’s nothing more horrible than listening to basic blues chords and song structures stretched out over long odes to drugs, replete with fuzzy guitar effects and horribly played organ. The Brits drew from everything for psychedelia, particularly their own rich history, and created unique and authentic music. And, irony irony, if they used the blues for psychedelia, they were glorious! I think The Yardbirds is one of the most exciting groups from the 60s (more interesting, I think, than Zeppelin) and they need more attention–particularly their catalogue, which seems to me a mess. (I don’t think anyone can cover the incredible guitar work and groove of Over Under Sideways Down.) And Cream (although I wince at some of the excess and bombast) did better things with psychedelic blues than most of the Americans combined.

    Thirdly, because of what was going on at the time, America had a propensity for political / protest / message songs — and most of them are dismal period pieces. Just as I hate message poems or message novels, I hate songs that make overt statements. “I think it’s so groovy now that people are trying to get together” and all that. The songs work well as a soundtrack for a history documentary of the turbulent sixties, but lack much, if any, artistic merit.

    And I just can’t understand the reverence my compatriots pay to Crosby, Stills, and Nash. There is not one song, not one, by them that I even sort of like. It’s as if they took the best moments of the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Hollies and turned it into diarrhea. Except for some music from their first album, The Doors nauseate me. Unlike most people who seem to think whats-his-name was a genius on the keyboards, I find it unlistenable.

    I like the Byrds a lot, but they never created a consistent album, although they came close with Younger than Yesterday if it weren’t for Mind Gardens (I think its called) and My Back Pages. Gene Clark, however, did some wonderful music after he left the Byrds. Actually, a few of his solo albums are far better than anything the Byrds did.

    The Grateful Dead does nothing for me.

    I have a soft spot for some of the renditions of Bacharach done by Warwick and the others, but Hal David is a dismal lyricist.

    With that said, I have a few albums that I love:

    Forever Changes, Love (except for two period piece clunkers)

    Pandemonium Shadow Show, Harry Nilsson. I have a big soft spot for Harry, but he’s very hit and miss. There are some clunkers on this album, but there are also some stellar moments. And his other albums exhibit some great song craft. Of course, if it weren’t for the Beatles, he would have been nothing. And, similar to the inflated reverence granted Abbey Road, I am not as enthused by Nilsson Schmillson, preferring his pre-dude material.

    The Left Banke – they’re Beatles ripoffs, but Walk Away Renee is a pure gem.

    Hendrix. Of course. Are You Experienced is the best thing ever produced with mere two track recording.

    Moby Grape. That one album blows away anything anyone was doing in California at that time, even Surrealistic Pillow, which I also like very much — but I can’t stand the Airplane after that.

    I’m not sure what to do with The Beach Boys, because I can honestly say I don’t know if I like them or not. And that’s weird. There are some songs I do like very much. Caroline No, some of the sequences on the Smile sessions, some lovely moments on Sunflower. I guess the Beach Boys are a group I need to think about some more. I think what always makes me hesitate about them is that they always sound so, well, suburban.

    There are others — but as far as the 60s go, the Brits outdo them all.

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    1. Good morning! I don’t mind serial commenting at all, particularly when it’s as interesting as yours. We have very similar takes on the 60’s; my dad is forever trying to sell me on the value of the San Francisco Sound because he grew up a few blocks from the Haight, but jeez, most of them were simply terrible musicians. Surrealistic Pillow is the only one I love and have reviewed; I have been meaning to do Moby Grape but I have to restrain my anger about how Columbia records over-promoted them and made them look like sellouts (my dad has the full album with all the crap that came with it). I have both Forever Changes and Pandemonium Shadow Show on my to-do list (my very long to-do list), and I’ve always wanted to do The Left Banke, but they simply didn’t do that much. CSN: gag me with a spoon. I’ve done two Yardbirds reviews and absolutely adore them. I’ve done Are You Experienced and I’d like to do one or two more Hendrix albums. I’m also mixed about The Beach Boys, but I think it’s colored by a friendship I had with a Latina in high school. Once I was hanging out at her place and The Beach Boys came on VH1 and her dad went ballistic. He called them a bunch of spoiled rich kids bragging about the new cars he and his friends could never afford and the single bedrooms they had when he had to sleep with five other siblings in the same room. Even if I’d never had that experience, I wouldn’t have liked Pet Sounds, one of the most overrated albums ever. I do wish Brian Wilson had actually finished the Smile sessions, as I think that album might have been their best. In all, I think it was a fascinating period in music history, and yes, you should write about it!

      I really should do the Woodstock album. That would be a challenge on many levels.

      Hope you feel better soon! At least you have Emily to keep you company!

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  3. Thanks! I’m giving Emily a break today – we’ve had a big snowstorm that has shut everything down for the past couple of days, so I’m in a Slaughterhouse Five mood, and going back to my section on Vonnegut for a book I’m working on. It is interesting to write professionally about a work that was seminal in my childhood. My dad gave me the novel when I was 11, and it opened my eyes to the possibilities of literature. I’m lucky I had parents with good taste. They always had Beatles albums stashed around the house. My first vivid memory of music was hearing Eleanor Rigby when I was maybe 3 or 4 years old. It scared the shit out of me, and I ran and hid in a closet. But I remember the fear was exhilarating, and I quickly wanted to hear it again. And again. And again. At the time, though, the album played constantly was Abbey Road. So my second memory with music was hearing “Here Comes the Sun” from the window while playing in the backyard.

    Your review of Abbey Road is refreshing. It has always been a guilty secret of mine with my colleagues that it is, outside of Let it Be, my least favorite album by the Beatles. I understand the recording marvel of the album and the daring sequencing of tracks on side two, but all of the songs–except for, perhaps, “Something,”–are uninspired. Slick, but uninspired. And I don’t like George Harrison’s music! I hate the revisionist work that tries to make Harrison better than he was. To me the best thing he did for the Beatles was to give them just the right restraint with his lead guitar that they needed, including just the right restraint with experimentation, like the acoustics in “It’s Only Love,” “Yes it Is,” “Norwegian Wood,” etc.

    I have not read your piece on the White Album yet, but I’m predicting that you have a similar feeling about it as you do Abbey Road. I’ve always felt the White Album would work better if it were divided into two — one album with the serious and good tracks, and another one, a novelty album for the diehard fans, that they could bring out later–or keep them in a vault for a sort of “The Lost Years” type album. It’s another guilty secret of mine that I can’t listen to most of side three, and I rarely ever listen to or gain pleasure from side four. My favorites are Sgt Pepper and Revolver, with Rubber Soul close behind — despite the fact that I can’t quite wrap my mind around why on earth they would end such a glorious album with the absolutely hideous “Run for Your Life.”

    Well, at a friend’s behest I’m listening to Tim Hardin’s first two albums today – he claims I’d like them. We’ll see.

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  4. If you moved past 1966, the Turtles would show up on the charts and I think they were a significant but quirky piece of the American answer to the British invasion. Not good looking, great senses of humor, little label and horrible management, West Coast but not Hollywood, great voices and good musicians, they moved from surf to folk until they found their 60’s sound. They just didn’t write many of their own songs. Anyway, they made it on both sides of the Atlantic once “Happy Together” broke, and it really is funny how big they got, however briefly, considering how little they had going for them except their talent. I think a review of one of their greatest hits albums might surprise you.

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    1. I’ll put it on my list!

      Like

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