In the realm of popular music success is often fleeting. There is the common phenomenon of the “one hit wonder;” there are artists who have a run of several hits over the span of a few years; and there are the rare ones that manage to stretch careers over several decades. While the British Invasion may have hastened the decline of some U.S. artists’ careers, it is a common misperception that The British Invasion chased all the American artists off the pop music charts. In 1964 and 1965, most weeks, most entries on the Billboard top twenty were from American musicians. Of the 390 records that made the top twenty during those two years only 20% were British imports. But when considering the top records, the invasion obviously had an impact. Of the 47 records that made #1, 20 of them were British imports (43%). Of course, it should be noted that nearly half of those (9/20) were Beatles records. The Americans still owned the music charts in the U.S., but rather than having one or two British imports a year, there were at least one or two a week in the top twenty.
Some of the American artists who survived the British Invasion were remnants of The Elvis Era – they had at least one top twenty record prior to The Beatles landing in America. It’s a common error to believe that Elvis Presley’s chart success halted when The Beatles came on the scene. The reality is that Presley’s hit records had diminished in 1963, the first time since he first hit the top of the charts in 1956 that he did not have a #1 record. He failed to reach #1 in either 1964 or 1965, but he still managed to record eight top twenty records. Ironically, his most successful record during this time was “Crying in the Chapel” (#3, 1965) which had actually been recorded in 1960. Also among this remnant group was Little Anthony & The Imperials who had first hit the charts in 1958 with “Tears on My Pillow” – they actually had a resurgence with four top twenty records led by “Goin’ Out of My Head” (#6, 1964). Another 1950’s star that found success during the British Invasion was Dean Martin. The 1950’s crooner had three records in the top twenty including his #1, “Everybody Loves Somebody.” Jan & Dean who had their first hit in 1959 with “Baby Talk,” scored four in the top twenty in 1964. Smokey Robinson’s group, The Miracles had begun their recording success in 1961 and they managed to place three records in the top twenty during 1965. The Impressions had a #4 record with “It’s All Right” in 1963 and would continue with three more top twenty entries in ‘64/’65. Marvin Gaye first charted in 1963 and continued on the charts in ’64 and ’65, contributing 7 top twenty songs, including two as duets with Mary Wells. Bobby Vinton has the distinction of having the song The Beatles knocked out of the #1 spot on Billboard – his “There, I’ve Said It Again” was the first number one of 1964. He would record four more top twenty records in ‘64/’65 including another number one with “Mr. Lonely.” His ballads would continue to chart into the 1970’s. Dionne Warwick’s career began in 1963 with “Don’t Make Me Over” just missing the top twenty (#21) and her chart success was first established in 1964 with three records in the top twenty. Lesley Gore was one of the top artists of 1963, scoring three in the top twenty including a #1, “It’s My Party.” She would have four more top twenty records in ‘64/’65. “You Don’t Own Me,” which reached #2 in 1964 would become a feminist anthem, but she had no more top twenty records after 1965.
The most successful of the Elvis Era’s remnants were two bands, one from the east coast and one from the west coast. They had a lot in common with their British counterparts as, like The Beatles, they wrote their own songs and performed as a band. The east coast group was The Four Seasons, who first hit the chart in late 1962 with two #1 hits, “Sherry” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” The Four Seasons saw continued success in 1963 with “Walk Like a Man” (#1) and “Candy Girl” (#3). In 1964 they had six more top twenty records, including another #1 with “Dawn.” Three more top twenty entries followed in 1965. Their success would continue the rest of the decade and they would return to the #1 spot in 1976 with “December, 1963 (Oh What a Night!).”
The west coast band was The Beach Boys. During ’62 and ’63 The Beach Boys had six top twenty records. In 1964 four Beach Boys songs were in the top twenty, including their first #1, “I Get Around.” 1965 produced three more in the top twenty including another #1, “Help Me Rhonda.” Like The Four Seasons, their success would continue well beyond the British Invasion, scoring two more #1’s, “Good Vibrations” in 1966 and “Kokomo” in 1983.
In addition to these remnants that fought off the British Invasion, the American music scene was producing new stars that successfully competed for the top spot on the Billboard chart and would have continuing careers. Foremost among the new artists that charted in 1964 were the Motown groups of The Supremes, The Temptations, and The Four Tops. The Motown epitome of the girl groups, The Supremes, had their first hit in 1964 with their #1 record, “Where Did Our Love Go.” That was followed by five more number ones before the end of 1965 and six more before the end of the decade. The Temptations had five top twenty records, including their #1, “My Girl” while The Four Tops had four in the top twenty including their #1, “I Can’t Help Myself.” Success would continue for both groups into the 1970’s.
Outside of Motown, Sonny & Cher, Gary Lewis & The Playboys, and Johnny Rivers were the biggest challengers to the British imports. Sonny & Cher had six in the top twenty (including their single entries) with “I Got You Babe” reaching number one. Sonny & Cher would continue to chart for the rest of the decade, and of course, Cher, would go on to a very successful solo career. Johnny Rivers had five in the top twenty in ‘64/’65 with “Memphis” being his best at #2. Rivers would make it to #1 in 1966 with “The Poor Side of Town” and his career would continue into the 1970’s. Gary Lewis & The Playboys were a good example of an American band sounding like the British imports. Their first record, “This Diamond Ring” went to #1 in 1965 and was followed by three more in the top ten, and five more in 1966. Gary Lewis was then drafted and the group never reformed. The Byrds got their start in 1965 with two #1 records that were part of the new folk rock sound. Both “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn, Turn, Turn” were written by Bob Dylan. The Righteous Brothers’ blue-eyed soul sound first landed on the charts in 1965 with four in the top twenty, including a #1, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” Their career would continue in 1966 and they would score another top ten in 1974 with “Rock and Roll Heaven” (#3).
There were some other notable success stories among American artists in 1964 and 1965. Roy Orbison had a string of hit records in the early 1960’s and in 1964 scored his second #1 with “Oh Pretty Woman” which has the distinction of being one of only three American records to reach #1 in the UK in 1964 (his recording of “It’s Over” and The Supremes’ “Baby Love” being the other two). Surprisingly, Orbison didn’t have another top twenty record until “You Got It,” released posthumously, reached #9 in 1989.
Bob Dylan was widely recognized in the early 1960’s as a folk artist and song writer, but pop chart success had eluded him until 1964 when he began performing with an electric guitar. His “Like A Rolling Stone” reached #2 in September of 1964 and “Positively Fourth Street” would make it to #7 in 1965. He would continue to have limited success on the singles charts, but would consistently place albums in the top ten even into the next millennium.
In the fall of 1965 two American groups that illustrate how American artists were building on the new sound the British had brought to America hit the charts. The Turtles recorded the Bob Dylan song, “It Ain’t Me Babe” and it made it to #8. They would place seven more records in the top twenty by the end of the decade including a #1 in 1967, “Happy Together.” The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe in Magic” debuted in September of ’65 and rose to #9. Over the next three years The Spoonful would have eight more in the top twenty and “Summer in the City” would be a #1 in 1967.
There were also “one-hit-wonders” among the American successes of the British Invasion period. Diane Renay’s “Navy Blue” was a #6 record in 1964 but she wouldn’t have another in the top twenty. “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” went to #4 for Gayle Garnett in 1964 and would be her only top forty entry. J. Frank Wilson & The Cavaliers parlayed their English-sounding name into a #2 hit with “Last Kiss” but would not make the top forty again. The Sir Douglas Quintet was a Texas band led by Doug Sahm. Sahm had mostly been playing country music, but when The Beatles hit the U.S., record producer Huey Meaux asked Sahm to grow his hair long and put together a group. He gave them an English sounding name and in 1965 they had a #13 record with “She’s About A Mover” but that would be their only one in the top forty. “Treat Her Right” was a #2 hit for Roy Head, his only chart success. Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” topped the chart in ’65, but was his only top forty record. The Reflections only made the top forty once – “(Just Like) Romeo & Juliet” (#6).
A couple of groups came close to being “one-hit-wonders.” The Beau Brummels were a San Francisco group that also took an English sounding name and Beatles-like hair. Their manager encouraged the assumption that they were British and they had two hit records during the British Invasion: “Laugh Laugh” (#15) and “Just a Little” (#8), both in 1965. The McCoy’s were one step above the “one-hit-wonders” as “Hang on Sloopy” (#1) was followed by “Fever” (#7) in 1965, but then no more top twenty records.
Sometimes the British Invasion of ‘64/’65 is portrayed as a vanquishing of Americans from the top of the charts. While there is no denying the increased success of British imports at this time, American musicians continued to have a high degree of popularity, both formerly established artists and new artists just getting started. Most of these Americans would subsequently fade from popularity as would their British counterparts. But some would endure. American popular music from 1964 onward would continue to have at least a dash of British flavor.