Here’s the story: The Beatles landed in America early in 1964, bringing with them a new sound that was grounded in the American rock and roll of the mid 1950’s. In the wake of The Beatles and the floodgate they opened, American artists suddenly found their records out of date and they quickly disappeared from the pop music scene. The rock and rollers of the early 1960’s had been vanquished by the British Invasion.
That’s the story. Here’s the reality. The Americans did embrace the Beatles and made them by far the most popular recording artists of the 1960’s. Other British artists found an audience in America that had before ignored records from the UK. But many artists that were scoring hits in 1963 continued to do so after the Beatles. It’s probably true that the British acts took up some space that would have gone to American artists had the “Invasion” not have occurred, but they hardly “replaced” the Americans. American rock and roll did not die with the arrival of The Beatles.
But many American artists who had been popular in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s saw their careers decline with the arrival of the bands from Britain. Chief among those whose career appeared to have deteriorated was the king himself, Elvis Presley. But it could be argued that Presley’s recording success was already declining in 1963. The year before The Beatles arrived, Presley had three top ten records, including #3, “Devil in Disguise” (which happened to be the only American record to reach #1 in the UK in ’63). While Presley’s records weren’t as popular as they once had been, he was still making hit records. In ’64 “The King” had four top twenty records, but none in the top ten and in ’65 four of his releases made the top twenty with “Crying in the Chapel” (which was recorded in 1960) being the only top ten at #3. After 1965, his music career hit bottom. From 1966 to 1968 he would have no top twenty records until “If I Can Dream” reached #12 in 1968. It’s hard to determine that this decline was due to the British influence. It might have happened in spite of the British Invasion, perhaps due more to Presley’s dismal movies during this time and that most of his record releases were from the poor soundtracks of those movies.
Sam Cooke had been one of the most consistent recording artists of the early 1960’s. From 1960 to 1963 he had eleven top twenty records. In 1964 he had three more, but only one in 1965. That would appear to be a decline. But the tragic truth is that Cooke died of a gunshot wound on December 11th, 1964. “Shake” was released posthumously and peaked at #7 on 2/27/65. His lack of recording success after ’65 can hardly be attributed to the British Invasion.
Jan & Dean also seem to disappear not long after the British Invasion. The duo was very popular in 1963 with three top twenty records including their #1, “Surf City.” Their chart success continued in 1964 with four more top twenties, but there were no more after that. Did their sound become obsolete with the arrival of the Mersey beat? Perhaps – they had several releases in 1965, but none made the top twenty. Jan Berry was in a car crash on April 12, 1966 that put him in a coma for several months; he suffered brain damage and he never fully recovered. The injuries, as much as the British Invasion cut Jan & Dean’s career short.
The Crystals were actually several groups that producer Phil Specter shuffled around as he moved his production operations from New York to Los Angeles. In 1963 The Crystals had three top twenty records, including “Da Doo Ron Ron” at #3. But that was the end of their recording success. After the group reformed in LA, Specter turned his attention to a new group, The Ronettes – he would eventually marry lead singer Ronnie Barrett. The Crystals left Specter’s label in 1964 and were signed to United Artists. Original lead singer Barbara Alston and Patsy Wright left the group by the end of that year and after a string of unsuccessful releases, they disbanded in 1967. Management issues and neglect, more than a British Invasion, caused The Crystal’s decline.
But there were many artists that had experienced a high degree of popularity in the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s and scored multiple top twenty hits in 1963, who had their careers abruptly ended in 1964. Many of these were the “teen idols.” Bobby Vee had a string of hits in the 1960’s including a #1, “Take Good Care of My Baby” in 1961. In 1963, he was still reaching the charts with “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” (#3) and “Charms” (#15). But he failed to reach the top forty again until 1967 with “Come Back When You Grow Up Girl” (#3); and then there were no more hits. Bobby Rydell had been on the chart since 1959 and had a #4 hit with “Forget Him” in 1963. His best effort in ’64 was his version of the Lennon/McCartney song, “World Without Love.” It peaked at #50. Rydell had no more top twenty records. Rick Nelson had been on the Billboard chart since 1957, producing 25 top twenty records. But in 1963 he switched from Imperial to the Decca label and produced only one top twenty record, “Fools Rush In” (#12). 1964 was no better with only one hit record, “For You” (#6). He returned to the pop chart in 1972 with “Garden Party” (#6), a reflection on his experience of being rejected by an audience at Madison Square Garden. The dance craze Chubby Checker had ridden to fame in 1961 and 1962 had subsided, but he still managed three top twenty records in 1963, but none in the top ten. “Hooka Tooka” would be his final top twenty (#17) in 1964 until 1986 when he would hook up with The Fat Boys for “The Twist (Yo, Twist)” for a #16 ranking. Dion, Bobby Darin, Johnny Tillotson, Paul Anka, and Neil Sedaka were all major hitmakers in the early 1960s and none of them had a top twenty in 1964 or 1965. The Everly Brothers’ last top twenty record was in 1962, so their career had already declined. Roy Orbison’s 1964 “Pretty Woman” was a #1 hit, but he had no more in the top twenty until 1989 with “You Got It” (#9). The Shirelles had been the most popular of the girl groups since 1960 with six top ten hits including “Foolish Little Girl” (#4) in 1963. They did not have another top forty record. The Orlons put five records in the top twenty in 1962 and 1963, but failed to chart after that.
Female vocalists were in the minority among hitmakers in the years preceding The Beatles, but two had stood out as superstars. Brenda Lee had multiple top ten records every year from 1960 to 1963. She had one top twenty in 1964, “Is It True” (#17) and one in 1965, “Too Many Rivers” (#13). After that, she turned to country music where she would have a string of hits in the 1970’s. Like Brenda Lee, Connie Francis was a consistent presence on the Billboard chart. From 1958 to 1962 she also had multiple top ten hits each year. But in 1963 her career was sliding a bit with just two top twenty records, the highest ranked being the theme to the movie, “Follow the Boys” (#17). That was her final top twenty record.
Some artists from 1963 showed sporadic success in subsequent years. In 1963, Lesley Gore showed that she might be the next great female vocalist of the rock and roll era with three top ten hits, including her debut “It’s My Party” which was a #1 record. She had three more top twenty in 1964 including a #2, “You Don’t Own Me.” There was just one in 1965, “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows” (#13) and one in 1967, “California Nights” (#16). Peter, Paul & Mary rode the popularity of folk music in 1962 and 1963 to four top twenty hits, including two number two entries: “Puff, The Magic Dragon” and “Blowing in the Wind.” From 1964 – 1966 they were missing from the top forty, but returned in 1967 with “I Dig Rock and Roll Music” (#9) which was a parody of contemporary rock music. Their biggest hit came in 1970 when “Leaving On a Jet Plane” reached #1. Gene Pitney’s chart performance actually improved in 1964. Pitney had been placing records in the top twenty since 1961, but the best of his three 1963 entries was “Mecca” at #12. In 1964 he was back in the top ten with “I’m Gonna Be Strong” (#9) and “It Hurts To Be In Love” (#7). In 1965 “Last Chance To Turn Around” reached #13 and after a two year drought, “She’s a Heartbreaker” made it to #16 in 1968. Bobby Vinton was king of the ballads in 1962 and 1963 with five top twenty records, including three number ones. He had another #1 in 1964 with “Mr. Lonely”, “Long Lonely Nights” reached #17 in 1965, and he continued to have at least one top twenty song through 1968. The Drifters had been a successful R&B group in the early 1950’s but were re-organized by George Treadwell and in 1959 began a successful run on the pop charts. They reached #9 in 1963 with “On Broadway” and in 1964 had two more records in the top twenty including “Under the Boardwalk” which reached #4. That was their final top forty record.
One rock and roll star actually experienced a resurgence during The British Invasion. In 1963, Chuck Berry was released from jail and returned to the recording studio. The result was two top twenty hits in 1964: “No Particular Place To Go” (#10) and “You Never Can Tell” (#14). Part of his renewed success might have been due to the respect for his music expressed by some of the groups of the British Invasion and their covers of his songs, most notably The Beatles with “Roll Over Bethoven” and “Rock and Roll Music,” and The Rolling Stones with “Come On” and “Carol.” Berry would have no more top twenty records until the novelty tune, “My Ding-a-ling” became his only #1 in 1972. Among other artists that were actually rejuvenated for a brief time during the British Invasion were Little Anthony & The Imperials, The Lettermen, and Dean Martin.
There is no doubt that in 1964 and the years following there was a substantial increase in the number of British artists who had hit records in the United States. By 1965, many of the American artists who had the most chart success in the early 1960’s were fading from popularity. But how much of this was due to the British Invasion changing the music taste of the American audience and how much was due to other factors is debatable.