Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events

Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events

Larry Holzwarth - July 5, 2018

It began with the playing on radio of a recording by a little known (in the United States) band that called themselves The Beatles, in December 1963. Two months later 73 million viewers, estimated to be 45% of those watching television at the time, watched The Beatles perform live on The Ed Sullivan Show. By the summer of 1964 British bands were flooding the record market in the United States, appearing on American stages and television shows to the elation of teenagers across the country. What was first called Beatlemania became the British Invasion, and it went far beyond just music.

Movies such as Alfie, What’s New, Pussycat? and the James Bond series presented British themes and caught the imagination of the American audience. British television series such as The Avengers and Secret Agent (called Danger Man in the UK) gained an audience. The miniskirt, introduced in London by Mary Quant, became popular in the United States, shocking some and delighting others. The British Invasion was driven by American teens and young adults, the baby boomers who had money to spend. Their parents often resisted the influence of British and later imitative American artists, but to little or no avail.

Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events
The Beatles arrive at the recently renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport, February 7, 1964. Library of Congress

Here are ten elements of the British Invasion of the 1960s which had a lasting impact on American society and culture.

Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events
The Dave Clark Five appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, May 22, 1964

The Ed Sullivan Show

In the 1960s The Ed Sullivan Show was a Sunday night ritual in most American homes, and had been since it first aired in 1948. The show was broadcast live from CBS Television’s Studio 50, and a successful appearance on the program, earning praise from host Ed Sullivan, was a guarantee of stardom. The Beatles were not the first rock and roll music act to catapult to stardom on the show, Elvis Presley had done so in 1956, and many other acts had appeared in between. But The Beatles were the first of the British bands to appear on the show, and their appearance in February 1964 was the opening shot of the ensuing British Invasion.

It was Ed Sullivan who was the instigator for the band to appear on his show. Sullivan had personally witnessed the reception given The Beatles at London’s Heathrow airport by their fans, and he approached their manager with an offer for an appearance, a single performance, for an impressive fee. Beatles manager Brian Epstein was more interested in maximum exposure of the band on American television, and offered three appearances on the show, with two performances per show, opening and closing, for a much smaller fee. Epstein was more interested in publicity to sell records than money from a single appearance.

Following the final appearance of The Beatles on the show, its 1965 season premiere, the band continued to provide filmed promotional clips of songs to be broadcast. By then Sullivan’s program was a coveted launching pad for British acts coming to America. The Dave Clark Five – the first British Invasion band to launch a full American tour – made a total of 18 appearances on the program, the most of any of the British groups. The Dave Clark Five had 17 records reach the American Top 40 during the 1960s between 1964 and 1967, five more than they achieved in their native Great Britain, helped by the publicity of their Sullivan appearances.

The Rolling Stones made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in October, 1964. Following their appearance the show’s producers received a barrage of telegrams complaining about the band’s performance, dress, and haircuts. This was in sharp contrast to the screams from the audience which followed the band’s performance, which endured to the point that Sullivan had to repeatedly urge the audience to be quiet so that he could introduce the next act. The Rolling Stones returned to the Sullivan show another five times, with similar results after each.

Ed Sullivan booked other British Invasion acts, including The Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Dusty Springfield, The Searchers, and many more. He also booked numerous contemporary American bands and featured many Motown acts, all in an attempt to attract a younger audience. By the end of the sixties his audience was considerably older than that desired by major advertisers and after the 1971 season The Ed Sullivan Show was summarily canceled, after more than a thousand episodes. The British Invasion was launched on his program and all the major musical acts coming from Britain which appeared on his show credited it with helping them achieve success in the United States.

Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events
Herman’s Hermits appeared in film’s television specials, and variety shows, in demand because of their clean cut image. Wikimedia


By the time of the British Invasion Elvis Presley had established the pattern of making a film in which he acted and performed enough songs to release an album from the soundtrack. On August 7, 1964, The Beatles’ motion picture A Hard Day’s Night was released in the United States. Reviews were mixed, with TIME magazine placing a headline over their review which read “BEATLES BLOW IT”. It made $1.3 million in its first week, equivalent to just under $8 million in 2018. It wasn’t long before a slew of films appeared featuring British Invasion bands. Some were produced to provide publicity for the bands, others actually tried to tell a story.

In 1965, the Dave Clark Five released the film Catch Us If You Can in England, which was titled Having a Wild Weekend in the United States. Unlike the Beatles, who portrayed themselves in their films, the Dave Clark Five instead appeared as a team of stuntmen, who after quitting their jobs and stealing a Jaguar encounter a series of outlandish events. As they do their music plays over the soundtrack. In the UK the film competed with a Brian Epstein vehicle titled Ferry Cross the Mersey which featured appearances and performances of several of the acts from Liverpool which were part of the stable of bands run by the Beatles’ manager.

Herman’s Hermits appeared in the musical film When the Boys Meet the Girls, starring Connie Francis, in 1966, appearing as themselves. They also appeared in Hold On! in which NASA astronauts want to name a Gemini space capsule after the band for good luck. NASA dispatches a scientist to follow the band on tour to learn all he can about them. Upon its release the New York Times commented that it was “occasionally amusing but nonsensical”. A final film by Herman’s Hermits was titled after one of their hits, Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter, and centered on the band on a British tour and an inherited racing greyhound. It too was widely panned.

The films made evident something not easily realized in America, in which all the acts of the invasion were simply British. In Great Britain there were a variety of different sounds arising, the sounds of the Merseyside from Liverpool, or the Tottenham sound as expressed by the Dave Clark Five. Inside jokes and place references known to British audiences were not understood by Americans, who had never heard of a toad in the hole, or knew what the word loo meant. The point of many of the films was to collect several of a band’s most popular songs in one vehicle, supported by a soundtrack album.

Not all of the films made by artists of the British Invasion were poorly made and poorly received by critics. Petula Clark, who regenerated a flagging recording career with the international hit Downtown in 1964, later appeared in two films. Her performance in Finian’s Rainbow with Fred Astaire was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. She also appeared in Goodbye Mr. Chips in 1969 in a performance which was well received by critics. Still, the majority of the films featuring the bands of the British Invasion were simply vehicles to exploit their popularity and make money for the studios.

Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events
Jimmy O’Neill, the host of the ABC television show Shindig! which featured British acts both live and prerecorded. Wikimedia


The British Invasion had a major effect on American television, and not only from the presence of British bands on the variety shows of the time. In 1964 the up to then popular Sing Along with Mitch, hosted by Mitch Miller, was canceled. In addition to being the show’s host, Mitch Miller was a recording artist and record company executive. Miller had been in charge of Artists and Repertoire at Columbia Records when he passed on the Beatles (after previously passing on Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley) which made fortunes for competing labels.

Another show canceled in 1964 was Hootenanny, which had enjoyed brief popularity during the folk music revival which came to an abrupt end with the onset of the British Invasion. To replace Hootenanny its network, ABC, came up with an entirely new show, which it called Shindig! Initially a half-hour program, in its second season it expanded into an hour each week, split into two shows on Thursday and Saturday nights. The program featured the emerging pop and rock music from both the United States and Great Britain, and frequently broadcast taped segments from London, including from the Beatles.

The show was initially successful, despite facing strong competition from other programs it was scheduled against, which included The Jackie Gleason Show and Daniel Boone. Its early success led competing NBC to launch Hullabaloo. The NBC program featured a different performer as host each week, who would sing one of his or her own hits and introduce other acts which offered both live and taped performances of their songs. Some early episodes were produced in London and hosted by Brian Epstein. The Rolling Stones performed on the show, as did the Yardbirds, the Animals, and Marianne Faithful.

Dick Clark’s program was named American Bandstand, but it became another stage for bands of the British Invasion and for their records. New releases were played and rated on the show and many British Invasion bands performed or provided clips to be shown on the program. American Bandstand predated the British Invasion by many years, and lasted many years after the invasion was over, but during its peak years of 1964-66 the music featured on the show was heavily from British bands, since that was what the teens in the audience wanted to hear.

Many of the acts of the British Invasion found welcome on regional talk shows such as The Mike Douglas Show, which originated in Cleveland. The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and others performed on the show, which much later interviewed all of the members of the Beatles other than Paul McCartney following their breakup. Most of the variety programs of the time featured acts of the British Invasion, including Hollywood Palace, in which the show’s host Dean Martin insulted the Rolling Stones while introducing them, and again after their performance.

Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events
Gerry and the Pacemakers, another Liverpool band managed by Brian Epstein, arrive in New York in 1964. Wikimedia

The Mersey Sound

The first sound of the British Invasion to reach American shores was the Mersey sound, named for the Mersey River which flows through Liverpool. The term also applied to the several bands which were managed by Brian Epstein in addition to the Beatles. For the most part the Mersey sound was dominated by guitars, and used strong vocal harmonies in four or five member lineups. The sound developed from American music, including the music of Buddy Holly and the Crickets, which according to John Lennon was the inspiration for the name Beatles. It was combined with another style known as skiffle.

The Beatles success and the high visibility of Brian Epstein in it led to him signing several other Liverpool bands which had some success in Great Britain, but not necessarily in the United States. Gerry and the Pacemakers followed The Beatles to the United States, and had one hit which reached number four on the American charts, Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying, but by 1966 they disbanded. Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas also enjoyed some success early during the British Invasion, appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show and performing songs written for them by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, but by the end of 1965 they had charted their last hit.

The Searchers followed the Beatles path to the United States, appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show in April 1964. It was the high point of their career in the United States. Their album Meet the Searchers reached number 22 in the US, though it was modified from the British version to include their single Needles and Pins, which helped it in the charts. Other Liverpool acts gained modest success in the UK and Europe, but none achieved lasting success in the United States. Cilla Black, also managed by Epstein and supported by the Beatles, was heavily marketed in America prior to her appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. She made just a few additional appearances on American television and at New York’s Plaza Hotel.

By 1966 the Mersey sound, which was also called beat music, was waning. The Beatles were by then writing songs far removed from the sound they developed playing in Liverpool and Hamburg, and they took their audience with them in the new musical direction. While the music sold well in the form of their records, much of it could not be reproduced on stage. The original Mersey sound faded from the scene as the bands abandoned it in favor of other instruments and musical styles. By 1966 both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones had experimented with sitars and other instruments, including in the case of the Stones the recorder, autoharp, dulcimer, and tabla.

The Mersey sound was what launched Beatlemania in England and the reaction to them there led to their immediate acceptance in the United States. The British Invasion was a direct result of the Mersey sound, which was influenced by American music, brought to the port of Liverpool by sailors and immigrants. The British Invasion of 1964 was thus born in, among other places, the Texas honky-tonks where Buddy Holly and others like him learned their craft and developed their style. The British Invasion didn’t so much bring a new sound to America, it returned an old one, albeit in the accents of the communities of Great Britain.

Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events
Brian Epstein, serving as the host of a London segment of the NBC program Hullabaloo on January 8, 1965. NBC

Brian Epstein

Brian Epstein was by all accounts a frequently troubled young man, a reputed homosexual in a time when such behavior was illegal, who had once aspired to be an actor, attending drama classes in London. Albert Finney and Peter O’Toole were both classmates. In the 1950s he took over one of his family’s several businesses, the North End Music Stores (NEMS) shop in Great Charlotte Street in Liverpool. In due course another store was opened in Whitechapel Street, and Epstein was instrumental in making both stores successful.

Epstein was at least vaguely familiar with the Beatles from the many posters around Liverpool and the frequent articles about them in Mersey Beat, a local music newspaper. Epstein heard them perform on November 9, 1961, and was impressed enough to offer to manage them, promising them a record contract. After several weeks of negotiating and in the case of three of the band, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, and Pete Best obtaining parental permission (all were under 21 and thus couldn’t enter into a contract) Epstein and the band signed a five year contract for him to manage the group on January 24, 1962. Before the year was out they agreed to another contract, superseding the first.

It was Brian Epstein who took the band out of the black leather suits which they had favored since their engagements in Hamburg, and it was he who shaped their stage persona. Epstein put the band in matching suits, removed drink and cigarettes from the stage, and taught them to bow after a number in response to the applause. The band resisted the changes but gradually adopted them as they saw the growing success of their appearances. It was the non-threatening image of the band in jackets and ties when they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show which led to their acceptance by many American adults.

Despite his efforts a recording contract was not forthcoming for some time, and when it was finally received it was with the proviso that Pete Best be replaced by another drummer. Producer George Martin refused to use Best in recordings, and it fell to Epstein to tell the popular drummer that he was out of the band. When Ringo Starr replaced him Martin initially had reservations about his drumming as well, but Ringo remained with the band other than on some early recordings. The band’s rocketing success which followed convinced them to have complete faith with their manager, which later proved to be costly in lost royalties.

Without Epstein there likely would not have been a British Invasion, at least not in the manner in which it evolved. Epstein had a stable of Liverpool bands which were sent to America to capitalize on the success of the Beatles, and a direct line to the stage of The Ed Sullivan Show. He made many mistakes and entered into business deals which cost the Beatles a great deal of money, but it was his marketing savvy in terms of how he presented his boys which created the exposure which led to Beatlemania in Great Britain and the British Invasion in the United States. One of his young assistants in the early days was Andrew Loog Olldham, who went on to manage The Rolling Stones, creating an opposite image from the Beatles.

Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events
The Rolling Stones in 1966, performing in Sweden. It took them years to build an audience in the United States equal to their following in Europe. Wikimedia

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones were unquestionably a part of the British Invasion, first touring the United States in 1964, but neither their records nor their performances made much of an impact, other than a negative one. The Stones struggled to create an audience in America, though in England their fans exhibited even greater hysteria than those of the Beatles. Their image was deliberately raunchy. They had once been convinced to appear on stage in matching hounds tooth jackets, but the attempt to clean up their image was a failure. The Beatles appeared on stage as a polished act, the Stones appeared as a grubby, loud, and unkempt gang.

Much of the Stones’ image was contrived, deliberately positioning them as the antithesis of the squeaky clean Beatles and other groups like the Searchers and Herman’s Hermits. Their image was intended to attract the rebellious streak in some youths, and the overt sexuality of the band’s performances was directed at the young girls in the audience. The music they played wasn’t the pop of the Liverpool acts, but American blues, with driving beats and sexually charged lyrics. In New York they created the same chaos which followed them wherever they played in Great Britain, but once in the hinterlands they performed before largely empty venues.

They performed a two week stand at the Texas State Fair, where they were received with mostly disdain, and suffered the catcalls regarding their long hair. In Omaha, Nebraska, Keith Richards had his first encounter with a drawn gun pointed at him, when he refused to pour a Coca-Cola down a toilet. The policemen who ordered him to do so thought the beverage included alcohol, illegal at the venue. While the Beatles often complained that their audience couldn’t hear them through the sounds of their own screams, the Stones found little audience at all. But they kept working, gradually building a following in the United States, with their albums selling well.

Not until 1965, after the Stones unleashed Satisfaction, which was written in a Florida motel room, did the Stones generate the excitement in the United States equal to their British following. It was followed with a string of hit records, sold-out crowds at ever larger venues, television appearances, and more controversy. The Rolling Stones never made a movie to exploit their songs, nor did they have cartoon counterparts and a line of merchandise based on their image. They did record a jingle for a Rice Krispies commercial, their only attempt to exploit their name outside of their records and performances.

Following the impact of the British Invasion the Rolling Stones cemented their enduring image as the bad boys of rock and roll, with drug busts, controversial interviews and performances, and other brushes with the authorities. Before the decade ended one of its original members and the man who gave the band its name, Brian Jones, was fired from the group days before drowning in his swimming pool. The last surviving band from the British Invasion, the Stones were initially one of its least successful in the United States. Even in 1965, the year of their first number one hit in America, Satisfaction, the Stones didn’t sell as many records there as Herman’s Hermits.

Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events
Designer Mary Quant in a minidress, London 1966


Prior to the British Invasion, fashions for both men and women were driven by the needs of the middle aged for the most part. The onslaught of the British acts changed American fashion, and the change affected both sexes. Clothing became brighter in color and patterns, and different materials emerged for clothes. Beatle boots became popular among young men, and go-go boots enjoyed popularity with women. Fashion models became thinner and thinner until one, Lesley Lawson, emerged from London so emaciated in appearance she was known by her nickname – Twiggy. Twiggy popularized the androgynous appearance on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mary Quant introduced the miniskirt, as well as the patterned tights often worn with it in the sixties, in London, with an eye on the youthful girls in the King’s Road in what was being called Swinging London, where the triumphant bands often retired for rest and recreation after another successful foray in the United States. The miniskirt was instantly both popular and controversial in America. Men and women found the skirt to be too revealing. Critics called it obscene. The miniskirt took on the image of rebellious youth, and the bright colors of many, as well as other clothing items, meant young women were no longer limited to dressing like their mothers.

Eyeglasses and sunglasses began to change, mimicking those worn by some of the British artists onstage and in television appearances. Sunglasses lenses became round or oval, with wire frames rather than the traditional horn rims. Another style popularized during the invasion were tiny rectangular lenses, with the lenses themselves purple or blue in color, designed for style rather than function. Belts became wider and buckles larger, as they were in England. The ubiquitous American cardigan sweater, worn by TV dads everywhere, lost popularity to the sleeveless sweater vests and turtleneck sweaters favored by the London crowd.

Where once young American men wore blue jeans and tee shirts, they were replaced with brightly colored shirts with extravagant collars and multi-buttoned cuffs, and trousers which were often widely striped. Zippered half boots replaced loafers. The fashions of London, particularly Carnaby Street, replaced Paris and Milan as the leaders of the industry. Stripes, checks, polka dots, and wavy lines on shirts, blouses, pants, and dresses replaced solid colors, and the bolder the color the better was the rule of the day, for both men and women. Where the look of men’s fashion had tended to present an image dignified and successful, during the British Invasion it shifted to youthful and daring.

The fashion of the British Invasion and Swinging London didn’t last much longer than the invasion itself, with trends in fashion changing at the same time the mood in America changed. The mostly joyous British Invasion with American youth rapidly came up against the realities of the draft and the Vietnam War. The age of the protesters and the hippies emerged, and the Carnaby look vanished. The artists themselves changed appearances as well, the bands of the British Invasion took on more individual appearances, with varying lengths of hair and beard, and many began to adopt American fashions, such as blue jeans and tee shirts.

Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events
George Harrison (seated) Paul McCartney, producer George Martin, and John Lennon in Abbey Road Studios in 1966. Wikimedia

John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Lennon and McCartney became one of the most successful songwriting teams in history during their partnership through the 1960s, though at first they had to fight to get their own songs recorded. Their producer, George Martin, wanted the Beatles to record How Do You Do It, written by Mitch Murray, as their first single, certain that the song was a sure fire hit for the band, which was still relatively unknown outside of Liverpool. The Beatles did record the song, but convinced Martin to let them release Love Me Do instead. When it was time for another single, Martin wanted to return to How Do You Do It but Lennon and McCartney countered with Please Please Me, their first number one hit.

Gerry and the Pacemakers scored a hit with the song rejected by the Beatles, who went on to write more than 180 songs credited to the Lennon-McCartney partnership. While the majority of them were recorded by the Beatles (with some unreleased) the team also wrote songs for other artists who followed them to America and fame. One of the earliest was a song written for the Rolling Stones, completed in an afternoon, entitled I Wanna Be Your Man, which was one of the band’s first hits in England, and later recorded by the Beatles as well, a throwaway album track which was sung by Ringo Starr.

Besides the Rolling Stones, who the Beatles met in London after attending a performance, Lennon and McCartney wrote songs to be recorded by other artists, including bands under the control of Brian Epstein. For Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas they wrote three top ten hits, including the 1963 number one Bad to Me. Peter and Gordon reached number one in 1964 with A World Without Love, written primarily by McCartney, but attributed to the partnership after Lennon rejected the song for recording by the Beatles. Peter was Peter Asher, brother of Jane Asher, who was Paul McCartney’s girlfriend at the time, with Paul living in the Asher home.

Cilla Black had three top forty hits with Lennon and McCartney songs, with Its For You reaching number 7 in 1964. Most of the songs given to other artists were unreleased by the Beatles during the time of the invasion, and were given away after the members of the band, for one reason or another, rejected them. Years after the Beatles dissolved, copies of the songs recorded by the Beatles as demos, or existing as outtakes, were released in one of the band’s several anthology sets. Several other songs were given to other acts which were written by McCartney alone, attributed to an alias on the label.

The Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership reached its peak during the British Invasion, with many later hits written by the pair during the tours of America. By the height of the British Invasion all of the Beatles were living in London, and the diversity of the music they heard there appeared in their own songwriting, lessening the influence of the Mersey beat which had led to their initial success. The Lennon-McCartney partnership became as much a rivalry as it was a team, with both partners attempting to outdo the other in new sounds and styles. Lennon and McCartney’s song catalog became one of the most valuable in the world, and remained so into the twenty-first century.

Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events
Freddie and the Dreamers were another act poised to follow the Beatles’ success in America. Wikimedia

Planning for the invasion

The British Invasion was no accident. It was a cultural event which was carefully calculated, with advance planning on both sides of the Atlantic, spearheaded by the success of the Beatles. When American disk jockeys began playing the Beatles records a campaign to promote the band began, supported by merchandise which included bumper stickers which announced “The Beatles Are Coming”, in a cadence reminiscent of Paul Revere. Campaign buttons advertised Ringo for President, and novelty items such as Beatle wigs appeared in stores. The band was reported on by CBS News (in a report which had been originally scheduled for November 22, 1963, but delayed because of the assassination of President Kennedy) and on the popular Jack Paar Show.

In 1963 a company was set up to handle Beatle merchandising known as Seltaeb. It was one of Brian Epstein’s worst business deals, in which he gave away 90% of the revenue from merchandising the band, leading to a series of lawsuits after the band’s marketing power was revealed. The Beatles name and images appeared on plastic guitars and drum sets, tee shirts (over one million sold in three days in 1964), scarves, coffee mugs, wigs, candy and gum, and even on empty cans which announced on their label that the Beatles had breathed into them. Beatles dolls sold over 500,000 in 1964. By the end of the year Seltaeb had licensed over 150 Beatles items.

Despite the massive sales the Beatles “…never saw a penny out of the merchandising”, according to American attorney Nat Weiss. Though the Beatles lost out on a fortune due to Epstein’s acceptance of a contract with little knowledge of the potential market for Beatles merchandise, they did gain from the boost in publicity which the buying frenzy generated. Epstein did manage to renegotiate the amount due NEMS under the contract, increasing it to 49%, and later sued Seltaeb for improper accounting procedures, but the lawsuits and related court cases ended up costing the Beatles and NEMS $100 million by the time the dust settled.

The value of the publicity generated by the merchandise which appeared even before the Beatles arrived in New York for the first time was evident in the reception they received at the airport, which was attended by reporters from all of the major news outlets, as well as thousands of nearly hysterical fans. The first time Americans saw the Beatles perform live was not onstage as a band, but in a news conference in which they charmed the hardened American press with their wit and antics. The majority of the press and television coverage of them was favorable, leading undoubtedly to an increase in their audience when they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.

During the Beatles first visit to America they performed on Ed Sullivan and in two live concerts in Washington DC and New York’s Carnegie Hall before returning to England. Their first tour of America didn’t occur until late summer, by which time the British Invasion was well underway. The Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and other acts had taken the country by storm, all of which helped sell additional Beatles merchandise and records, and created a fervor for the band to return. The Beatles performed thirty concerts in twenty-three American cities in August, 1964, with ticket sales of over $1 million dollars.

Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events
By the time the Beatles participated in this October 1966 sound survey their days as a performing band were over. Wikimedia

The End of the British Invasion

By the end of 1966 the thrust of the British Invasion had ebbed. New acts continued to come to America from Britain, and a comparable flow of American acts to the UK emerged by the end of 1966. New sounds from California in the United States brought a more equitable distribution of record sales and chart positions. The Mersey sound lost popularity and those bands which were unable to adjust fell by the wayside. Gerry and the Pacemakers disbanded in 1966, though they reformed later as an oldies act. The Searchers kept working but by the end of 1966 they were no longer charting records and they never again reached the peak they achieved during the British Invasion.

The Beatles, who had started it all, quit touring after their American tour in August 1966, and though they continued to provide films of some of their songs on an exclusive basis to The Ed Sullivan Show, they became a studio band. The following year Brian Epstein was found dead in his London home, from an overdose of barbiturates. A London Metropolitan Police detective named Norman Pilcher began a campaign to bust rock stars and other celebrities, and members of the Rolling Stones (Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards), The Beatles, (John Lennon and George Harrison) and several others found themselves arrested, and later experienced visa problems affecting their ability to tour in America.

Fashion changed from the flashiness under the British Invasion to that of the flower power and hippie image which originated on America’s west coast and transferred to England. Tight peg legged trousers were replaced with bell bottomed jeans, and denim jackets, covered with patches and the more tattered the better, became popular. Music, which during the British Invasion was primarily about youthful love, became oriented towards social problems, including the war in Southeast Asia and the civil rights movement. A brief interlude of psychedelia in 1966 and throughout 1967 was replaced by 1968 with songs like the Rolling Stones Street Fighting Man and the Beatles Revolution.

Emulation of British culture was replaced with emulation of student protesters and antiwar demonstrations. America became divided by the war, by the civil rights movement, and by the growing feminist movement. The music of the British Invasion became increasingly dated, and only the bands which evolved, the Beatles, Kinks, Rolling Stones, and others among them, continued to be relevant in the American music scene. The audience which had driven the success of the British bands – young teens – turned to what became known as bubble gum music, fed by performers such as The 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Monkees, The Archies, and Tommy Roe.

Although the British Invasion was short and most of the bands which created it faded into oblivion, their influence on American music and culture was long lasting. The invasion spanned the period between the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the peak of American involvement in the Vietnam War. For most Americans the period of the British Invasion was one of relative peace and prosperity, with newly empowered youths using their buying influence to shape trends in music, films, and fashion in a manner which had never been seen before. Nostalgia for that time is one reason that the music of the time remains popular today.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The British Invasion: From the Beatles to the Stones, the Sixties Belonged to Britain”, by Parke Puterbaugh, Rolling Stone Magazine, July 14, 1988

“All Our Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema”, by Charles Barr, 1986

“Shindig! Tapes Bring 1960s Rock Back to Life”, by David Wharton, The Los Angeles Times, December 14, 1999

“Twist and Shout!: Merseybeat, The Cavern, The Star-Club, and The Beatles”, by Spencer Leigh, 2004

“Brian Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles”, by Ray Coleman, 1989

“Stone Alone: The Story of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Band”, by Bill Wyman, 1997

“Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now”, by Barry Miles, 1998

“John Lennon: The Rolling Stone Interview”, by Jonathan Cott, November 23, 1968

“The Beatles: The Biography”, by Bob Spitz, 2005

“The British Invasion”, by David Kamp, Vanity Fair, November 2002