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by Justin Farrar

November 13, 2013

British Invasion 101

by Justin Farrar  |  November 13, 2013

British Invasion 101 is more than an introductory playlist; it is a time machine zapping listeners back to the mid-'60s, when an armada of bands and artists from the United Kingdom -- some destined to be classic, others forgettable -- conquered the United States. Bringing with it a universe of exotic sounds and fashion, the invasion was something the country desperately craved. "Consider the time," wrote the late rock critic Lester Bangs in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. "America -- perhaps young America in particular -- had just lost a president [John F. Kennedy] who had seemed a godlike embodiment of national ideals, who had been a youth-cult superstar himself. We were down. We needed a shot of cultural speed, something high, fast, loud and superficial to fill the gap: we needed a fling after the wake."

At the heart of that fling were five key bands: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who and the now criminally underrated Yardbirds. Together, they radically remade rock 'n' roll between the years 1963 and '67. Yet even the British Invasion's second-tier acts proved to be formidable. The most advanced pop song of 1964 wasn't "I Want to Hold Your Hand" or even "A Hard Day's Night," but rather The Zombies' brooding masterpiece "She's Not There." And right behind that was The Animals' reworking of the folk-blues standard "The House of the Rising Sun," a funereal epic that single-handedly unleashed heavy metal bombast (beating out The Troggs' caveman clubbing of "Wild Thing" by nearly two years).

Now, one of the more humorous aspects of the British Invasion (one our playlist gladly captures) is the number of artists erroneously considered part of the movement. The most egregious examples emerged from Australia. When the Bee Gees, The Easybeats and The Seekers first achieved international success, they were assumed to be British. Teenagers -- apparently surrendering all critical faculties during the fad -- were incapable of distinguishing the accents. Something similar happened to The Walker Brothers: Though American-born, they were regularly referred to as Brits during their string of English-sounding hits in 1965 and '66. Then again, these acts probably didn't mind their mistaken identities. After all, who in the mid-'60s didn't want to be British?

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