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The British Invasion: From the Beatles to the Stones, The Sixties Belonged to Britain

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The provinces beyond London stoked the R&B furnace with such powerhouse acts as the Animals (from Newcastle-upon-Tyne), the Spencer Davis Group and the Moody Blues (both from Birmingham). Yes, the Moody Blues. Back in 1965, they could pound it out with the best of them. Exhibit A is the piano-thumping beat ballad "Go Now," with its beseeching vocal from Denny Laine (later of Paul McCartney's band Wings). The key talent in the Spencer Davis Group was sixteen-year-old lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Steve Winwood. His soulful pipes carried "I'm a Man" and "Gimme Some Lovin' " into the Top Ten in early 1967 and set the stage for his tenure as leader of Traffic and, eventually, as a solo superstar.

Gruff and earthy, Eric Burdon of the Animals sang about hard times in a powerful growl that made him sound decades wiser than his age. On the back of the Animals' first American LP, he listed his favorite color as "brown-black" — a claim that's obvious in his stylistic debt to a host of American rhythm & blues artists. With organist Alan Price supplying jazzy counterpoint, the Animals vaulted to Number One in September 1964 with "House of the Rising Sun," a four-minute-plus ode to a New Orleans brothel. Closer in spirit to the Stones than to the Beatles, the Animals issued some of the more desperate pleas of the day in "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" and "It's My Life."

The city of Manchester contributed a disproportionate share of pop hitmakers to the British cause. Herman's Hermits, the Hollies, Freddie and the Dreamers and Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders all claimed a piece of the U.S. charts. Fronted by doe-eyed Peter Noone, a former child actor, the Hermits recorded an impressive string of pop and music-hall-flavored tunes set to a Mersey beat. "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter" was their best-known song, but they cracked the Top Ten nine times in a row between 1965 and 1966 — a feat that even the Beatles couldn't claim.

The Hollies served up the best vocal harmonies of the era and outlasted many of their U.K. colleagues; they earned their biggest hit in 1972 with "Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress)." Freddie and the Dreamers were the clowns of the British Invasion. Horn-rimmed beatnik Freddie Garrity and his bumptious, balding band mates devised the most ludicrous novelty dance of all: a flapping free-for-all called the Freddie. It did not catch on. They did, however, leave behind one big hit, "I'm Telling You Now." As for Wayne Fontana, his biggest hit was the catchy pop rocker "Game of Love." It was part 2 of what the Billboard Book of Number One Hits called the "Mancunian hat trick" — three chart toppers in a row from Manchester. This unusual alignment occurred in late April and early May of 1965, with "I'm Telling You Now," "Game of Love" and "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter."

The statistical high-water mark of the British Invasion fell only a month later, on June 18th, 1965. On that date, no fewer than fourteen records of British origin occupied the U.S. Top Forty. It was a record that stood until July 16th, 1983, when the second British Invasion — led by Duran Duran, Culture Club and the Police — landed eighteen hits on the chart. Ironically, during that historic week in the summer of 1965, the top seven positions all belonged to American acts. Herman's Hermits ("Wonderful World") and the Beatles ("Ticket to Ride") nailed down Number Nine and Number Ten, respectively, while the rest of the British entries were scattered among the middle and lower reaches of the chart.

The Beatles continued to reign supreme in the second half of the Sixties, although the British Invasion, in the sense the term is commonly understood, had pretty much run its course by 1967. It was still the Beatles everyone tried to emulate or top, though the music, the audience and the rules of the game had changed markedly. The simmering down of Beatlemania after 1965 reflected the group's loss of appetite for celebrity more than any waning of interest on the part of the public. With the release of Rubber Soul (December 1965) and Revolver (August 1966) and their decision to stop touring (they performed their last concert in San Francisco on August 29th, 1966), the Beatles moved into another phase. They were turning inward, and their music was greeted not with screams but with a more mature appreciation of the new places the Beatles were taking their audience.

"It sort of turned out all right," George Harrison said of the Beatles' decade, with monumental understatement, at the 1988 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame awards ceremony. "And still a lot bigger than we expected."

This is a story from the July 14, 1988 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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