British Invasion of the 1960s

The Beatles

The British Invasion of the 1960s would change popular music, fashion and even society forever. It remains arguably the most important movement in musical history, and its impact lives on in nearly every genre of music today. The musicians who were part of the British Invasion are still among the best known and best selling musicians ever, and they continue to be discovered by new generations.

The British Invasion of the 1960s - What Is It?

In discussions of music history, it is a widely held believe that the music that should be classified as "1960s music" cannot be identified strictly in terms of release date. The music that was being made at the very start of the 1960s really had much more in common with the rock'n'roll music from the 1950s. It stands in stark contrast to the music that defines the era. Further, music experts tend to agree that the end of 60s music did not really come until around 1972.

What does this have to do with the British Invasion? The British Invasion is used as the "start date" for what is considered 1960s music. Although technically the British were already coming, the "start date" for the British invasion of the 1960s is often given as February 9, 1964.

February 9, 1964: Enter The Beatles

2/9/1964 is a date that any music fanatic has burned into their brain. This is the day that The Beatles made their legendary appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. Even Elvis in the 1950s had never seen anything like the anticipation surrounding The Beatles' first visit to America. From the iconic image of The Beatles deplaning on American soil for the first time to the performance itself, this event was life changing for music and the music industry. Over 50,000 requested tickets for the Ed Sullivan show that night - the theater only had 703 seats. Of people watching TV that night, 75 percent of them were tuned in to watch The Beatles perform. That was 73 million people watching them perform five songs.

The response was overwhelming. The public went crazy for everything Beatles related, from mop top haircuts to skinny ties and pipe leg black suits. The Beatles would go on to perform on the Ed Sullivan nine times. Fun fact - The Beatles' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show - the one that kicked off the British Invasion - was actually not a live performance at all. It was pre-recorded. The first live performance didn't come until February 23.

The British Invasion in Full Swing

Record label executives stood up and took notice of the reaction to The Beatles, and a musical revolution was born. The floodgates opened up, and British acts began filling up the U.S. music charts and airwaves. The fashion sense of these British acts also influenced American fashion. London was crowned capital of the fashion and music universe during this time, and American musicians spent a lot time emulating their British counterparts. Some of the best known acts to come out of the British Invasion include:

  • The Rolling Stones
    The Rolling Stones
  • Petula Clark
  • Dusty Springfield
  • Dave Clark Five
  • The Kinks
  • The Animals
  • The Hollies
  • The Zombies

Until the tides changed and protest music, psychedelic and folk music became more popular, Motown was really the only challenger to British acts' dominance of the U.S. charts in the 1960s. The one American band that successfully emulated some of the British Invasion acts' styles, while developing their own, distinctly American sound, was The Beach Boys. Although successful at the time, The Beach Boys were not completely appreciated for their role in 1960s music until much later. You can learn more about The Beach Boys' career in our Beach Boys profile.

Important British Invasion Places and Things

Every musical movement has its defining places and images. These are some central themes in the British Invasion of the 1960s:

  • The Cavern Club - Liverpool club where several British acts cut their teeth
  • Liverpool - Home to The Beatles and birthplace of the Merseybeat sound that influenced many British bands.
  • Skiffle - A music style that blends folk, jazz and country. Its origins are in the U.S., but British Invasion bands revived it and were heavily influenced by it.
  • Carnaby Street - London street filled with fashion designers and nightclubs - became famous as the center of music and counterculture in the 1960s.
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