The British Invasion: A Musical Pilgrimage


Casey Workman '22

It’s February 7, 1964. The Pan Am Flight 101 has just landed in JFK Airport in New York City, and off the plane comes John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Richard Starkey (better known as Ringo Starr). Upon their arrival, music in America is changed forever.

The Beatles were just the beginning of an incredibly important event in America’s music history, widely known as the British Invasion. Though America had musicians like Elvis Presley, England housed some of the greatest rock bands of all time. As these British boy bands slowly filtered into the interests of America’s youth, the unique blend of pop, rock, and blues took the world by storm. Bands like the Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, the Kinks, and the Animals–to name a few–began to flood into American radio stations, appealing to rebellious teens and bothering their skeptical parents. The music was like they’d never heard before; the bluesy-pop ditties and the rock anthems swept American citizens off their feet, bringing a frenzy of enthusiasm. This newfound love for British entertainment was commonly referred to as Beatlemania, for the Beatles were considered the undisputed leaders of the movement.

Rock and roll was a newer genre at the time anyways, beginning in England with bands such as the Who or musicians like Van Morrison. Rougher, edgier hits were known to come out of London, where the Rolling Stones and the Kinks were from. The most remarkable–yet not as relevant today–was the group Herman’s Hermits. Coming in from Manchester, Herman’s Hermits made their way into the Top 10 list nine times in a row between 1965 and 1966–even the Beatles hadn’t done that yet at this time.  They were best known for their song “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter”, though they aren’t popular in today’s culture.

Of course, history is doomed to repeat itself. Thus, the Second British Invasion occurred in 1983, when the obsession with English culture was referred to as ‘Anglomania.’ With this second invasion came bands like Duran Duran, Culture Club, and the Police. It wasn’t just rock music, though. The eighties were a genre broadly referred to as “new wave”–this covers everything from punk music to dance-y EDM; garage rock to synth pop. Even eclectic type music like Depeche Mode made it to the United States–once again, Britain found tons of fans across the ocean. Paul McCartney once wondered, “Why should we be over there [in America]  making money? What are we going to give them that they don’t already have?” While it was an incredible question, I’m sure that the Beatles are gracious that they made their way to the USA to play some gigs and profit.

Thus, the redcoats were coming. And they kept coming, and surely, they’ll keep on arriving. Why were these British Invasions so monumental? Why did they have such a big impact? While that question can’t exactly be answered, the best way to put it is that even though we got our independence, Americans are still a bunch of Anglophiles.