Some of the loudest, rawest and toughest music of the British Invasion came out of London. A rhythm & blues scene was thriving at a handful of venues under the tutelage of elder statesmen and bandleaders Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies, whose ensembles included such stars-to-be as Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and Charlie Watts (of the Rolling Stones), Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker (of Cream) and Paul Jones (of Manfred Mann). An extended family of electric blues aficionados jammed and gigged at such haunts as the Marquee, the Flamingo, the Crawdaddy and the Ealing Rhythm and Blues Club. Out of the mass of players, a number of important groups took shape, including the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds and the Pretty Things. The last of these never made it in America, though they were influential in their homeland and endured into the Eighties.
After twenty-five years, even with their current status open to conjecture, the Rolling Stones remain the most tangible link to the British Invasion era. They put the raunch back in rock & roll. Unlike the Beatles, the Stones came on unsmiling and without manners — the kind of group parents had every right to feel uneasy about. Whereas Brian Epstein transformed his charges from Teddy boys to teddy bears, manager Andrew Loog Oldham encouraged the Stones' delinquent tendencies.
The Stones got a delayed start in the U.S. They didn't enter the fray in a major way until 1965. After warming up the Top Ten with "Time Is on My Side" and "The Last Time," they delivered a knockout punch with "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Its central riff and basic lyrical thrust were created by guitarist Keith Richards one restless night in a Florida motel room. Recorded in Los Angeles, with Richards' fuzz-cranked guitar blasting like the Stax-Volt horn section, "Satisfaction" remains one of the bedrock songs of the age. From here the Stones turned up the heat with numbers like "Get Off of My Cloud," "19th Nervous Breakdown" and "Paint It Black." The music of the Rolling Stones was an ice-and-fire contrast to the Beatles. Simmering, blunt edged and angry, it set off the Liverpudlians' sunnier pop visions in a way that perfectly caught the spirit of the times.
The Yardbirds, who inherited the Stones' regular spot at London's Crawdaddy Club, used their blues background as a launching pad for a series of experiments in futurist rock. They were the first British Invasion group to be recognized for the instrumental prowess of their guitarists — who were, in order of succession, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. They stretched the boundaries of pop, adding a harpsichord in "For Your Love" and a droning, sitar-style lead in "Heart Full of Soul." But most Yardbirds fans climbed aboard for the "raveups" — extended instrumental breaks that served as showcases for Clapton, Beck and Page.
Whereas the Yardbirds were known for instrumental virtuosity, a couple of other rising London bands — the Kinks and the Who — established themselves through the force of their songwriting. Ray Davies of the Kinks was arguably the most versatile composer to emerge from the Invasion. He was equally capable of driving hard rock ("You Really Got Me") and wry social commentary ("A Well Respected Man"). The Kinks, with Ray's brother, Dave Davies, on frenzied lead guitar, were a familiar sight to viewers of Shindig! and Hullabaloo, two TV variety shows that spread the gospel of British rock in the States.
The Who burst on the scene with an anarchic stage show, which featured the smashing of guitars, drums and amps and an arsenal of angry polemics on modern youth's state of mind. Such classics as "My Generation" and "I Can't Explain" sprang from the pen of Pete Townshend, the group's guitarist and spokesman. Although the Who was enormously influential in swinging London, the band's impact on America was not largely felt until the tail end of the Invasion, with "I Can See for Miles" rising to Number Nine in late 1967. Of course, this was just the beginning for the band, which went on to create such musical landmarks as Tommy and Who's Next.
Manfred Mann (whose "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" was another 1964 chart topper), Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames ("Yeh, Yeh"), the Nashville Teens ("Tobacco Road") and the Paramounts (a hot R&B act that later changed its style and became Procol Harum) kept London jumping to a bluesy beat. From the suburbs came a band called the Zombies, who scored with some artful pop singles ("She's Not There," "Tell Her No") despite their gruesome name. From out of town — all the way from Belfast, Ireland — another ugly-monikered group, Them, made the charts with "Here Comes the Night" and "Mystic Eyes." Them's singer was none other than Van Morrison, whose hit streak continued when he went solo in 1967 with "Brown Eyed Girl." And all the way from the West Coast of the United States came the Walker Brothers, a trio that settled in London and recorded two of the biggest ballads of the British Invasion, "Make It Easy on Yourself' and "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)."
While the Invasion was generally a band-oriented phenomenon, the female artists stood alone and did quite well for themselves. Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield, Marianne Faithfull and Lulu are four of the more recognizable names to dent the charts. Pert, cheerful Pet Clark enjoyed a fifteen-hit reign, crowned by a pair of Number Ones ("Downtown" and "My Love"). Dusty Springfield's cool, soulful voice was familiar to transistor-radio owners via such mid-Sixties mega-hits as "Wishin' and Hopin' " and "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me." Lulu had one of the biggest singles of the decade, "To Sir with Love," which held down the Number One spot for five weeks in 1967. Faithfull, who was Mick Jagger's girlfriend, did well with her torchy recording of the Stones weeper "As Tears Go By"; she was also one of the more celebrated blond presences in swinging London.
Solo males were scarcer in combo-happy Britain. But they had several hits worth noting: the campy "You Turn Me On," by Ian Whitcomb; "Niki Hoeky," by P.J. Proby; and the dreamy space-race ballad "Everyone's Gone to the Moon," by Jonathan King. Then there was Donovan, the Dylanesque folk singer turned psychedelic minstrel, whose "Sunshine Superman" soared to Number One in 1966.
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
MUSIC 9 Classic Devo Videos
OLYMPICS 18 Epic Opening Ceremonies
Picks From Around the Web
blog comments powered by Disqus