I hear the radio is finally gonna play new music
You know, the British Invasion. . . .
But what about the Minutemen, Flesh Eaters,
DOA, Big Boys and the Black Flag?
Will the last American hand to get played on
the radio please bring the flag? . . .
Glitter-disco-synthesizer night school.
All this noble savage drum, drum, drum . . .
—”I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts,” X
A revolution in sound and style — lying somewhere between artful ingenuity and pure pop fun — has taken root in this country over the past year and a half. Much like the first great explosion of pop culture upon mass consciousness, which commenced with the Beatles’ arrival in America in February 1964, the primary impetus for all this has been emanating from the far side of the Atlantic. We are, as X gripes so loudly, in the throes of the second British Invasion.
This last statement sounds like hype but became a certifiable matter of public record on July 16th, 1983, upon which date no fewer than 18 singles of British origin charted in the American Top Forty, topping the previous high of fourteen, set on June 18th, 1965. There are now more British records on the U.S. charts than at any other time in pop history. Leading the charge has been that strange animal variously called ”New Wave” and ”new music” — the one, you will recall, they all said would never make it. In mid-July, six of Billboard‘s Top Ten records were British, and five came from relative upstarts: the Police (whose ”Every Breath You Take” topped the charts for weeks), Kajagoogoo, Madness, Duran Duran and Culture Club. The sixth U.K. act, by the way, was the Kinks, who were also present back in the 1965 charts with ”Tired of Waiting for You.”
The question is, why is it happening all over again, nearly 20 years down the road? ”For whatever psychological reason,” ventures one record-industry insider, ”there is a very vocal and influential Anglophile rock audience that salivates to hits from abroad.” And for whatever reasons of design and serendipity, the past 18 months have witnessed more new bands breaking into the music scene than in the previous five years. The redcoats are coming. And coming.
Thinking back to the first British Invasion, which occurred roughly from the years 1964 to 1966, one tends to forget that Britain had not, prior to that time, been a principal exporter of pop culture. America had given Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly to the world, not to mention Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters and a legacy of rhythm & blues that was the bedrock upon which rock & roll was built. Britain, by contrast, appeared to be an outpost of uptight civility, ”a primitive backwater,” wrote Nicholas Schaffner in The British Invasion, that had ”only one radio and TV network — government-owned and commercial-free — and only one fast-food chain, appropriately called Wimpy’s.”
No surprise, then, that a nervous Paul McCartney was heard to wonder aloud, aboard the very plane that would soon set the Beatles down upon U.S. soil for the first time, that America had ”always had everything. Why should we be over there making money? What are we going to give them that they don’t already have?”
Similar thoughts must have passed through the minds of the Police — the first British New Wave act to break through in America on a grand scale, and possibly the biggest band in the world — as they flew Freddie Laker’s low-budget Skytrain from London to New York on October 8th, 1978. Toting their instruments as carry-on baggage, the group was about to embark on their maiden tour of the States. There were, however, no screaming hordes to greet them on the tarmac at JFK, as there had been when the Beatles landed there 14 and a half years earlier. Rather, the three Police and one roadie piled into a van and piloted themselves about the East Coast for a round of sparsely attended gigs at small clubs. It was not Ten Days That Shook the World, but manager Miles Copeland, brother of drummer Stewart, had a cocky faith in the band and felt the time was right for something new to take hold here.