Five decades ago, the Beatles landed at New York's JFK airport just as their single "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was exploding all across America. It was a kind of mania not since in America since Elvis Presley a decade earlier, and the success of the Beatles led to a ton of other British bands crossing the Atlantic to dominate America. Within months, the Rolling Stones, Herman's Hermits, the Dave Clark 5 and many other groups were huge in the States. Last week, we asked you to vote for your favorite songs of the British Invasion. Here are the results.
There's no exact end date to the British Invasion, but most rock historians agree that it petered out by 1967. By that point, American rock groups (many from California) had started to blow up, and you no longer needed a British accent to be a rock star. In fact, the failure of the Who to score a gigantic hit with their brilliant 1967 single "I Can See for Miles" may be the very moment it all ended. The song ranks among the Who's very finest work and Townshend was extremely proud of it, fully believing it would hit Number One. When that didn't happen, he began to work on even more ambitious music. His next release was the band's 1969 rock opera, Tommy.
Few bands in rock history kicked off their careers with a better first single than the Zombies. "She's Not There" hit in the summer of 1964, and it shot up the charts all over the world, paving the way for much of the psychedelic music that followed in the coming years. It took the group four years to record something that lived up to its early promise. That was the third LP, Odessey and Oracle. Sadly, the Zombies split shortly after that and never really had a chance to continue their journey. A lineup of the band tours to this day, but it's been an oldies revue for quite some time.
Much like the Zombies, the Kinks had an explosive start to their career. Their third single, "You Really Got Me," is one of the most important songs in rock history, and they followed it up just two months later with "All Day and All of the Night." Sure, it doesn't do much to improve upon the formula of "You Really Got Me," but the song is every bit as good. Nearly every garage rock group that followed (not to mention punk act) owes the Kinks a tremendous debt of gratitude for this material.
The Rolling Stones were on fire by mid-1966. Ever since "Satisfaction" hit the previous summer, they had been churning out hits at a tremendous rate. "Paint It Black" is a little more complex than their previous work, and it features Brian Jones on the sitar, months after George Harrison played the Indian instrument on "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)." The great Jack Nitzsche plays piano on the track. He's gone on to work with Neil Young and score countless movies.
Nobody knows exactly who wrote "The House of the Rising Sun," but it definitely dates back to at least the 18th century. During the folk revival it was recorded by Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and many other acts, but the most famous version was an organ-fueled folk-rock rendition by the Animals in 1964. Lead singer Eric Burdon changed the song's perspective from a female prostitute to a male gambler. Nobody would ever hear the song the same way again.
The first Beatles song many Americans heard was "She Loves You," a tune written written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney while they were on tour with Roy Orbison in early 1963. The deceptively simple song was one of their first huge hits in England, selling just about as fast as the pressing plants could churn them out. The song didn't take off in America, though, until after "I Want to Hold Your Hand" broke big, and many fans went back and bought "She Loves You." Needless to say, the Beatles went on to make plenty more hits – but this one remains their most effortlessly euphoric.
When the Kinks were recording "You Really Got Me" in July of 1964, guitarist Dave Davies didn't like his guitar tone. Out of frustration, he sliced the speaker cone of his guitar amplifier with a razor blade. The result was the famous distortion that forever changed rock & roll. The Who did their best to ape the sound on their first few singles, resulting in "I Can't Explain." Unlike some British Invasion bands that crapped out after a few great songs, the Kinks kept it going for three decades. There are constant rumors of a reunion, but so far nothing has happened.
"My Generation" established Pete Townshend as one of the finest songwriters of his era. "That song was written under pressure," the guitarist told Rolling Stone in 1968. "Someone came to me and said, 'Make a statement, make a statement, make a statement, make a statement, make a statement,' and I’m going 'Oh, okay, okay, okay,' and I get 'My Generation' together very quickly, like in a night – it feels like that. It’s a very blustering kind of blurting thing. A lot of our early records were."
"I Want to Hold Your Hand" was the first Beatles song to break big in America. "I remember when we got the chord that made that song," John Lennon said. "We were in Jane Asher's house, downstairs in the cellar playing on the piano at the same time. And we had, 'Oh you-uu . . . got that something . . .' And Paul hits this chord and I turn to him and say, 'That's it!' I said, 'Do that again!' In those days, we really used to absolutely write like that – both playing into each other's nose. We spent hours and hours and hours . . . We wrote in the back of vans together . . . The cooperation was functional as well as musical." They played the song on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 16th, 1964. About 10,000 rock bands formed the next day.
When the Rolling Stones released "Satisfaction" in the summer of 1965, they went from being just another British rock group to one of the biggest bands in the world. They haven't let go of that title to this day. "People get very blasé about their big hit," Mick Jagger told Rolling Stone in 1995. "It was the song that really made the Rolling Stones. You always need one song. We weren't American, and America was a big thing, and we always wanted to make it here. It was very impressive the way that song and the popularity of the band became a worldwide thing. You know, we went to playing Singapore. The Beatles really opened all that up. But to do that you needed the song; otherwise you were just a picture in the newspaper, and you had these little hits…It's a signature tune, really, rather than a great, classic painting, 'cause it's only like one thing – a kind of signature that everyone knows."