10 Best British Invasion Bands (not Including The Beatles or The Rolling Stones)
During the early 1960s, American popular music consisted of teen idol pop, folk music, girl groups, rockabilly pop, sweet soul, and surf music. In this context, four young men from Liverpool arrived in early 1964 and took the American music business by storm. By the time the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, their single, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” had already reached the number one spot on the charts on both sides of the Atlantic (something no British band had done before). This incredible band’s success created a fad. For years, young people across the United States had an insatiable appetite for British music. This time period, which completely altered the American music business, became known as the British Invasion. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, and the Who are the most popular acts associated with this era. What other bands flourished during this time?
10 Best British Invasion Bands
- The Searchers
- The Easybeats
- The Zombies
- The Pretty Things
- The Nashville Teens
- The Swinging Blue Jeans
- The Yardbirds
- Gerry and the Pacemakers
- Dave Clark Five
- The Honeycombs
1. The Searchers
The Searchers were originally founded in 1957 by John McNally as a skiffle group. They were one of the top bands on the Liverpool band scene. They signed to Pye Records in the middle of 1963. Their first single was a cover of The Drifters’ “Sweets for My Sweet,” and it was released in August, 1963. The lineup included: John McNally (guitar and vocals), Chris Curtis (drums), Tony Jackson (bass and lead vocals), and Michael Pender (guitar and vocals). The band’s musical style was characterized by strong lead vocals and beautifully arranged harmonies. Their music was built around the sound of a crisply played 12-string guitar. Their songs covered an extensive spectrum of genres, ranging from American r&b, to rock and roll, country, soul, and rockabilly. Some of their top hits include, “Needles and Pins,” “Don’t Throw Your Love Away,” and “Sugar and Spice.” By the beginning of 1966, the group no longer made the charts. However, the Searchers continued playing in clubs and cabarets in Europe until the mid-80s, when Pender and McNally split up.
2. The Easybeats
The origins of the Easybeats go back to Sydney, Australia, where all the members met in the early 1960s. Nonetheless, they were all from Europe. Dick Diamonde and Harry Vanda came from the Netherlands. George Young came from Scotland. Gordon Fleet came from Liverpool, England. It was Gordon who came up with the band’s name and sharp image. The group signed to Albert Productions in late 1964 and, in turn, licensed their releases to EMI’s Parlophone label. The lineup included Stevie Wright on lead vocals, Dick Diamonde on bass, Harry Vanda on guitar, George Young on guitar and Gordon “Snowy” Fleet on drums. Their early songs were primarily penned by Wright sometimes in collaboration with Young. Their early albums were highly derivative of the Liverpool sound with powerful lead vocals. Their debut single was “For My Woman,” and their first top hit in Australia was “She’s So Fine,” but it was only with “Friday on My Mind” that they made the charts in the U.S. as well as the U.K. and Europe. They lost some cohesiveness in their sound as the band members indulged in drugs and other diversions in swinging London. Following a return to Australia for a final tour, the band decided to break up in late 1969.
3. The Zombies
The Zombies were formed in the London suburb of St. Albans in the early 1960s. They won a local contest in which they received an opportunity to record a demo for consideration at major labels. They got a deal with Decca and their debut single, “She’s Not There,” reached number two in the U.S. and made the top 20 in England. The lineup consisted of Colin Blustone on backup vocals, Rod Argent on organ and piano, and Chris White on guitar. Their songs were written by Argent and White. The Zombies musical style was characterized by a great minor melody, unexpected shifts from major to minor keys, and breathy vocals and choral back up harmonies. Throughout 1965 and 1966, the group released a string of intricately arranged singles that failed commercially. Their original compositions and arrangements were perhaps too adventurous for the radio at the time. They recorded only two albums in the 1960s. The group’s last single, “Time of the Season,” was released in 1969 after the Zombies had already disbanded.
4. The Pretty Things
The Pretty Things were formed in 1963 by art students, Dick Taylor and Phil May. Dick Taylor had played with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in a band called Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys, which would later become The Rolling Stones. He left the band to concentrate on art, but decided to return to music with The Pretty Things. The band’s original line up included John Stax on bass, Brian Pendleton on guitar, Viv Prince on drums, and Dick Taylor and Phil May on vocals. They were frequently looked at as the meaner version of The Rolling Stones—they wore long hair and sounded rough. Their best known songs from the 1960s are “Rosalyn,” “Don’t Bring Me Down,” and “Honey I Need.” David Bowie covered both “Rosalyn” and “Don’t Bring Me Down” for his 1973 album Pin Ups. Their self-titled debut album reached number six on the U.K. charts. It was their later album, S.F. Sorrow, that was considered a psychedelic masterpiece by many critics. Pete Townshend was later influenced by S.F. Sorrow to write Tommy for The Who. The band only received marginal success until they broke up in 1976. They occasionally reunite for tours and recordings.
5. The Nashville Teens
The Nashville Teens were formed in 1962 in Weybridge, Surrey. They backed up Jerry Lee Lewis for his album, Jerry Lee Lewis Live at the Star Club. They signed to English Decca in 1964 and released their debut single, “Tobacco Road,” in the summer of the same year. The song was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. During the 1960s, they played with Chuck Berry and other well-known American acts during their British tours. The original line-up included Roger Groom on drums, Michael Dunford on guitar, Pete Shannon on bass, John Hawken on piano, and Art Sharp and Ray Phillips on vocals. Some of their other well-known songs are “The Little Bird,” “Google Eye,” and “Devil in Law.” They appeared in three films in 1965: Go Go Mania, Be My Guest, and Gonks Go Beat. The season four premier of Mad Men features their song, “Tobacco Road.”
6. The Swinging Blue Jeans
The Swinging Blue Jeans were formed in 1957 by singer/guitarist, Ray Ennis as a skiffle sextet called “The Bluegenes (a misspelling of The Blue Jeans)”. In these early days, the band was heavily jazz influenced. The group played in the same venues as The Beatles in Liverpool. A turning point in their career occurred when they performed for the Star Club in Hamburg in late 1962 and were booed off the stage. Because of this, they switched to playing rock & roll and changed their name to “The Blue Jeans.” These changes were so beneficial to their career that it helped them get a recording contract with EMI’s HMV imprint under producer, Walter J. Ridley. At this point, the lineup consisted of Ray Ennis (rhythm guitar and vocals), Les Braid (bass and keyboards), Ralph Ellis (lead guitar), and Norman Kuhlke (drums). Their debut single was “It’s Too Late Now” which made the top 30 in Britain. However, it was only until they released “The Hippy Hippy Shake” that they made the top five in their country and also made the charts across the other side of the Atlantic. Some of their other hits include “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “You’re No Good,” and “Don’t Make Me Over.” The band is still playing, but with only one of its original members.
7. The Yardbirds
The Yardbirds were formed in the early 1960s in the London suburbs as the Metropolis Blues Quartet. In 1963, they replaced the Stones in the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond. During this time the band also started being managed by Giorgio Gomelsky, a former mentor and informal manager for the Rolling Stones. The original line-up consisted of Keith Relf on vocals and harmonica, Paul Samwell-Smith on bass, Jim McCarty on drums, and Chris Dreja and Tony Topham on guitar (the former was soon replaced by Eric Clapton). Initially, the Yardbirds were more devoted to the blues tradition than the Rolling Stones, but, in order to be more commercially successful, they decided to incorporate more pop elements on their third single, “For Your Love." And, indeed, “For Your Love” was their first big hit, reaching number six in the U.S. and number two on the U.K. charts. Nonetheless, Eric Clapton saw this move as selling out, so he left the band and was replaced by Jeff Beck. Similarly, in June, 1966, Samwell-Smith left the band to concentrate on being a producer and was replaced by Jimmy Page. During their time as a band, the Yardbirds branched out into moody, increasingly experimental rock music. Some of their other hits include “Heart Full of Soul,” “Shapes of Things (one of the first psychedelic songs),” and “Over, Under, Sideways, Down.” The group broke up in the summer of 1968, and Jimmy Page formed another band, Led Zeppelin, to fulfill the remaining dates the Yardbirds had booked.
8. Gerry and the Pacemakers
Featuring Gerry Marsden on guitar and lead vocals, his brother Fred Marsden on drums, Les Chadwick on bass, and Arthur Mack on piano (replaced in 1961 by Les Maguire), Gerry and the Pacemakers were formed by Gerry Marsden in the late 1950s. The band worked the same Liverpool/ Hamburg circuit as the Beatles and were just as popular in their early days. Similarly, they were managed by Brian Epstein and began recording for the EMI/Columbia label in early 1963 under the direction of George Martin. Marsden wrote much of the band’s material. Their music was characterized by playful, contagious, and completely lightweight tunes driven by the rhythm guitar and Marsden’s cheerful vocals. They had three consecutive number one hits: “How Do You Do It,” “I Like It,” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Like the Beatles, they starred in their own film, “Ferry Cross the Mersey” which wasn’t nearly as successful as “A Hard Day’s Night.” By 1966 their popularity had declined considerably and the band disbanded in October of the same year.
9. Dave Clark Five
The Dave Clark Five were a quintet from the Tottenham area of London. They had the honor to knock “I Want to Hold Your Hand” off the British charts with “Glad All Over.” With hits such as “Bits and Pieces,” “Because,” and “Over and Over," they reached the top forty seventeen times between 1964 and 1967. They also made more appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show than any other British act, which led some professionals in the music business to predict that they would topple the Beatles. Like the Beatles, they wrote much of their own material. Unlike most acts of the time, the band’s leader, Dave Clark, managed and produced the group. However, by the late 1960s the band proved to be unable to keep up with the changes in the music industry and they disbanded in 1970.
10. The Honeycombs
The Honeycombs were formed in Hackney by guitarist Martin Murray in November of 1963 . He brought along Anne Margot Lantree ("Honey") to play the drums, her brother John Lantree joined on bass, and Alan Ward played lead guitar. And for a lead vocalist, they invited Dennis D'Ell. Their original name was the Sheratons. They managed to get a three-times weekly gig at a pub called the Mild May Tavern, on Balls Pond Road in London's East End. This is where they were spotted by Alan Blaikley. Blaikley and his partner, Ken Howard, had written a song called "Have I the Right" and they were trying to record it. He was impressed with the Sheratons' sound, and by the amount and excitement of people that they attracted. The Sheratons auditioned for producer Joe Meek and he liked both the group and the Blaikley/Howard song. The record was issued on the Pye label—just before the quintet changed its name. "Have I the Right" reached number one in England and number four in the United States. A self-titled album was released in October of 1964. The band generated other hits, such as, "Is It Because," "I Can't Stop," and "That's the Way." After almost a year of international touring and television appearances, Martin Murray quit the group to start another band. He was replaced by Peter Pye. And so the group continued, releasing a few singles and two albums before Meek's death in early 1967, which definitively ended the group.