The British Invasion and American Counterattack

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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 review series.

Originally published February 7, 2014

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 chose to return to “roots music,” conceding the battle for musical supremacy to the redcoats.

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

The Zombies – Odessey and Oracle

The Byrds – Greatest Hits

The Lovin’ Spoonful –  Greatest Hits

The Best of the Monkees

3 responses

  1. Hmm. Well, it’s all just talk and fun, but positing a musical battle between the US and the UK, and then eliminating from the western side of the ocean the Afro-Americans is sort of stacking the deck, no? Also, I know by the 70s folks really, really thought that rock and soul or ‘Black Music” were different things you could separate out — weird retrospective segregation, because in 1963-65 that was harder to do.

    It might be an interesting frame, but it’d also be artificially unfair for me to say something like: “Well, if you eliminate from the English invasion scene the groups that covered multiple American songwriters’ songs, the dearth of native UK songwriting that can stand apart of American influences is laid bare for all to see.”

    Well, now on to enjoy catching up on your takes on this era that I haven’t read yet. I enjoy the observations that aren’t based on hearing this music contemporaneously!

    1. Thank you! I think I used the more accurate comparison: rock bands vs. rock bands. Motown, Atlantic and Stax were clearly the American strengths during that period, both in terms of quality and chart consistency. As for the dearth of UK native songwriting, this “battle” did not include The Beatles, Stones or Kinks, who covered American songwriters and gave us a lot of great originals.

  2. Yes, obviously unfair/intentionally provocative to throw out Kinks, Stones, Beatles just because they covered US tunes, but of course they (and the “lesser” UK bands you included in this rundown) were saturated with US influences. There was some specific genius added, sure, but even early Ray Davies wasn’t yet trying to come up with something English specific, but rather to come up with passible versions of US (disproportionally Afro-American) music.

    So, to a large degree this was a classic “prophets without honor in their own country” situation. Sixties Americans were highly receptive to young, good looking white guys with charming accents presenting their own country’s music back to them.

    There’s another factor too. Someone in a comment here presented part of it well: many intelligent US musicians didn’t want to “sell out” to become commercially successful, UK musicians by and large were eager to put their all into achieving popular sucess and rewards. There’s another part of this, particularly important before the later 60s: there were few middleclass and/or post-secondary school educated US rock bands/band-leaders/front-persons white or Black. My experience and understanding was that there were few rock bands in colleges/universities,* that the musicians in such places up until the later 60s were more likely interested in folk music.** Ditto the early 60s US bohemian scenes. Over in the UK there were those with stints in “art school” and they had the advantageous aftermath of the falling off Trad Jazz scene the UK to supply bassists, drummers, and horn players with real skills, while young white US bands often picked their drummers for their looks. (Not just the Monkees: Love, The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane all picked drummers like you’d cast a modeling gig).

    (Generalized) result: 60s UK bands could pull off a groove so much better than the hastily organized American (white) bands made up of ex-folkies and good looking “you’ll play drums” and “you suck at guitar, so you’ll play bass” guys.

    You weren’t alive then to examine those cultural differences, but your BS and pelvic rotation detectors feel those differences accurately when you listen to this era’s records!

    But there’s another side and gender to this: if you compared UK and American women, the American woman musicians/composers/singers completely overshadow the UK contingent. It’s not even close.

    *I’m not suggesting one needs a college education to rock. I’m just suggesting that the mixture of a few “I’ve brushed up against some high culture/avant garde ideas” folks (even in the management/publicity side) into the mix adds an appeal to American culture’s gatekeepers.

    **Yes, there were American jazz fans in bohemian and college subcultures then too, it wasn’t all folkies. But unlike folk music, few of the young white Americans were PLAYING jazz for the obvious reasons that other countrymen were so good at it. Over in the UK, young musicians didn’t need to share a stage with Monk/Miles/Brubeck/MJQ/Coltrane/Bill Evans/Cannonball Adderly etc to play Jazz.

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