Top 25 British Invasion Acts

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Photo Credit: The Beatles: Credit: Michael Webb/Getty Images

By Steve Palec, ReMIND Magazine

Entering the year 1964 as a 7-year-old in the Midwest, I really didn’t have a good handle on anything cool. If I did, it was an accident. But it was all about to change for the better.

My mother was from London, and in retrospect that was pretty cool. I didn’t know it at the time, since she was just my mom. On Feb. 9, 1964, she made sure I watched The Ed Sullivan Show. Now, most of America did that anyway. But she had a feeling I would enjoy the musical entertainment that evening. Not only was she right, but her foresight also allowed me to witness the single greatest musical transformation of my lifetime. That was day one of the British Invasion. Here we look at the top 25 British acts of all time.

1. THE BEATLES
Their debut on American TV that night technically was not their debut, since they had appeared prior to that. But it was a nuclear coming out … not only in terms of television, but also the impact on music, culture, fashion and attitudes. Simply put, by any definition the Beatles were a force and a phenomenon. Aside from the innovations and chances they took, their strength was the 300-some songs they recorded over their short career. For me personally, the timing was amazing. Just as I was old enough to appreciate music, they chronologically took me (and a few others) on a journey that saw each subsequent album growing musically in sophistication, creativity and impact.

2. THE ROLLING STONES
Some say the antithesis of the sweetness of the Beatles. Steeped in blues, they set the stage for what ultimately would be Led Zeppelin taking blues and making it a youthful industry. And the fact that the Stones are still going is insane.

3. THE WHO
The mop-top attitude of the Beatles was taken a huge step forward by the Mod attitude of The Who. And the concert experience, the concept albums, and the power of Pete Townshend’s writing also made them elite.

4. THE KINKS
“All Day and All of the Night” was made for transistor radios. Maybe the most British in attitude of all the British Invasion bands, it was a reflection of the genius of Ray Davies to write about things that were real (not always acceptable in the early ’60s).

5. THE YARDBIRDS
I already referenced Led Zeppelin, which would not evolve until much later. But it evolved from the growth of Jimmy Page. Page evolved after replacing Jeff Beck in this band. And Beck had replaced Eric Clapton. That’s like Mickey Mantle following Joe DiMaggio, who followed Babe Ruth.

6. THE ANIMALS
Not every part of the British Invasion had to revolve around cuteness. Some of the gritty bands covered their grit with long hair and smiles. Eric Burdon and the Animals didn’t care. They were all about music. And they had some powerful, gritty music.

7. DUSTY SPRINGFIELD
Not only did she prove girls could sing rather than just scream, but she did it with such soul that she recorded a seminal British Invasion album in Memphis.

8. THE DAVE CLARK FIVE
Kind of like U.K.’s Beach Boys. They were actually a soccer team looking to raise money. So they were polished enough to be on Ed Sullivan (a lot) but real enough to be relatable. And they had great songs (although later as a radio DJ for a short time on an oldies station, I resented those 1:50 songs not giving me enough time to get anything else done before the next one).

9. THE HOLLIES
Named after Buddy Holly (as were the Beatles), they also embraced the sound and took it to the next level. Listen to “Carrie Anne” and you can feel the same warmth. And you can thank Graham Nash for adding that harmony into Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in the next decade.

10. HERMAN’S HERMITS
Not only did they have catchy tunes, but they actually once blew away The Who (The Who opened for the Hermits in 1967). Probably because they were ahead of their time and their colleagues in being professional about their music.

11. PETER & GORDON
Peter had the benefit of having a sister who was going out with Paul McCartney. But by managing artists in later years like Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor, he knew what he was doing even back then.

12. PETULA CLARK
Downtown London is as vibrant a downtown as anywhere in the world, and her song “Downtown” not only captured that feel but still holds up today.

13. MANFRED MANN
Kind of like a British Invasion garage band. Infectious.

14. DONOVAN
Hailing from Scotland, Donovan’s impact was not limited to bringing the folk side to louder rock of the time. Some of the session musicians who were recruited to play on his songs went on to become Led Zeppelin (there are those guys again).

15. THE ZOMBIES
Rock ‘n’ roll is a combination of all types of music. Wait, is that some jazz incorporated into the Invasion? Why yes, and we dig it.

16. THE MOODY BLUES
Another band that started in the blues. Actually, their name was originally the M B Five, trying to engage a sponsorship from the M&B Brewery. While “Go Now,” their first hit, didn’t show a lot of their later embracement of classical sounds, they were setting the stage for the later part of the ’60s.

17. THE TROGGS
Just on the basis of “Wild Thing,” which was actually a cover of an American song, they deserve recognition. But also, their bootleg recording of arguing in the studio inspired a scene in the movie This Is Spinal Tap. These guys were a cultural bridge between the U.S. and U.K.

18. THE SPENCER DAVIS GROUP
Steve Winwood was only 14 and sounded like Ray Charles. So when he was a veteran at 16, he was well on his way to creating the complicated music of Traffic and Blind Faith.

19. TOM JONES
Don’t laugh. This Welshman’s singles brought an older audience, and his TV show provided a forum for a number of Invasion acts. And Jimmy Page played guitar on “It’s Not Unusual.”

20. THE SMALL FACES
The big Faces begat Rod Stewart. But in the British Invasion period, they had an awesome, fun sound illustrated by things like “Itchycoo Park.” And some creative studio tricks, too.

21. THEM
Van Morrison is Northern Irish, and technically some may have an issue with including his band as part of the British Invasion. But listen to “Gloria” and stop complaining.

22. ALEXIS KORNER’S BLUES INCORPORATED
This was like working at Google or Facebook. While not well known, this band employed many of the best musicians of the era.

23. LULU
“To Sir With Love” was an amazing song. And it revealed the nicer, more mellow sound of the era while showing the reality of social issues in the movie it came from.

24. CLIFF RICHARD
More of an influence to the aforementioned artists than well known to Americans.

25. MY MOM
After all, I was technically a child of the ’70s. But being British, she made sure I was paying attention. Watching TV that February night, my musical tastes were transformed and I never could have imagined the opportunity to meet and talk to many of the artists on this list. I asked Ringo Starr what his favorite decade was and he told me, “It had to be the ’60s. The music I was making. The band I was in. I was going to think of all the other decades like the ’80s when I met Barbara and had my grandkids. But musically it was the ’60s.” I assume that’s what he said, because all the while I was thinking, ‘WOW I’M TALKING TO ONE OF THE BEATLES.” The TV show on 2/9/64 was in black and white, but the musical transformation was in living color.

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