British Invasion (Memories From The NW Corner)

Introduction: Historians often refer to the British Invasion. Make no mistake about it, the information reported here isn’t new or groundbreaking to radio veterans of the mid-sixties. This article pertains to my personal observations from my teen years as a resident of a border town in the NW Corner of Washington state. I was into Top-40 radio and had both ears glued to the radio when that new generation of British youth invaded the US in the mid-1960s. What follows are my recollections of the era.

Rumblings: Skiffle and Merseybeat

For anyone too young to remember, at the time of the British Invasion, just about everything from the United Kingdom — starting with music and ranging from movies to chic fashion — was popular in the United States and Canada. The Invasion was gradual, not instantaneous. Earlier, in the mid-1950s, skiffle bands were a fad in England. Skiffle by definition is much like American jug band music. Many Brits were digging skiffle, including future guitar legend Jimmy Page. In his youth he played in a skiffle band. By the early sixties, the more direct precursor to the British Invasion was building up steam: Merseybeat (that Beatles’ kinda sound) was being invented around Liverpool and it was also popular with clubbers in Hamburg, Germany. In retrospect, these musical rumblings from across the Atlantic Ocean were warning signs of the impending British Invasion.

(L) The skiffle band the Crusaders with 14-year-old Jimmy Page at left; (R) Gerry & the Pacemakers, early Merseybeat hitmakers.

Joe Meek’s Telstar

Joe Meek, the creative brain behind Telstar

British Invasion compilation albums remain popular.Just prior to the British Invasion, music from across the pond landed on US soil in a big way. Most noticeably, Joe Meek — a sad and tragic character — composed the instrumental Telstar. He recruited a club band, called the Tornadoes, to record it. With clever editing and liberal use of spacey sound effects, Meek’s creation became an international hit. The record took off like the satellite it was named after. Telstar was the first British record to reach #1 on the US Hot 100. It also peaked at #1 in Canada and at #1 in fourteen other countries. Sixty years later, old timers in the city where I live, Bellingham, WA, still speak of the local commotion when a KPUG deejay named Mike Forney played Telstar over and over again one November night in 1962. Read that story HERE.

The British Invasion Was Upon Us (1964-’67)

The British Invasion years had some big winners. Everybody who was into pop and rock music at the time soon knew of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Dave Clark Five, the Animals, the Searchers, Herman’s Hermits, Freddie & the Dreamers, Manfred Man, Peter and Gordon, Chad & Jeremy, the Kinks, the Hollies, Them, the Spencer Davis Group, the Yardbirds, the Who, the Troggs, the Small Faces, the Zombies, Donovan, Tom Jones and ladies such as Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield and Lulu. That short list left out some of the players, but it is a good start.

British Invasion compilation albums remain popular.

American Roots

It’s true that in the mid-sixties almost everything British was a hot commodity in the US.  In fact, some US and Canadian recording artists and radio deejays claimed ties to the UK — even if they didn’t have any.  The mere hint of being an import from England generated positive media attention. The irony is the roots of those hip sounds coming from Britain, in the early skiffle music craze of the late 1950s and early ’60s, could be traced back to American soul, blues and rock & roll. A few of the American musicians most admired (and imitated) by the British youth leading the Invasion were Bo Didley, Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Joe Turner, and B.B. King.

The April ’66 Time magazine was the British Invasion issue.

Different Cuts for Different Folks

As a 1960s’ teenager with a transistor radio, and an interest in Top-40 music, I learned that many of the British Invasion records released in North America were not the same cuts (selections) as what had been released in the UK.

That reality applied to singles and albums. For example, tracks on Rubber Soul and Revolver albums were different: On the US releases several of the Beatles’ songs were omitted. The hit Nowhere Man and the popular Drive My Car were missing from the US version of Rubber Soul. The US release of Revolver was three tracks shy of the British album. (In time the lost Beatles’ songs found their way onto the US album Yesterday and Today, which was not promoted or sold in the UK.

As far as hit singles, not so subtle differences even applied to releases from the giants: the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. In early ’63, the first time Please Please Me was released in the US, it charted at WLS in Chicago, but not nationally. In the UK, the record topped the chart. Re-released in early 1964, when the Beatles were no longer unknowns in the US (and with a new B-side, From Me To You instead of Ask Me Why), Please Please Me reached #3 in Billboard. It might have gone higher, but the top spots were occupied by I Want To Hold Your Hand and She Loves You. In another instance, a very early Rolling Stones #1 hit in the UK, released in autumn 1964, was the blues tune Little Red Rooster. Big in England maybe; however, stateside it failed to chart. American youth ate up the British sound, but either our tastes were not in sync with what was going on in Britain OR the edicts and choices of recording industry executives were the deciding factor as to which records we heard. Then, of course, there were radio programmers making decisions too.

(L) When Please Please Me was backed with Ask Me Why, It fizzled in the US. A year later it was a smash, backed with From Me To You. (R) Record sleeve from the Stones’ single Little Red Rooster.

Pacific NW Border Town

Bellingham is closer to Vancouver BC than Seattle

Since I lived in a border town, radio signals from nearby Vancouver BC boomed in like local stations. In most parts of Bellingham and Whatcom County we had better reception from Canadian stations than from stations in the larger American market of Seattle.

NW Corner rockin’ radio in the 1960s

This all took place before FM radio had any market share. I listened to AM radio — KPUG-Bellingham and, when I could get the signal, KJR-Seattle. From the north I regularly heard CKLG and CFUN out of Vancouver. Canada has closer ties to the queen than we do. Therefore, on Canadian stations, I heard a number of hits from England that were overlooked in the US.

Below are TV performance videos of three songs that were big hits in the UK. They were played in Canada, but remained obscure in the states. Not one of the releases cracked the Top 50 in the US. Probably most readers will recognize two of the bands, but maybe not the third one. Of the tunes themselves, I’d venture to guess that many readers will have no familiarity with any of the three. There are many similar examples of hits and non-hits, but these three I remember.

First up is a record that Dick Clark pushed on his Where The Action Is weekday show. The song spent 12 weeks on the UK chart and it peaked at #1. Keep On Running, released year end 1965, was the fourth hit in the UK for the Spencer Davis Group. I heard it on CKLG, but not on American radio. It did chart in the US, stalling at #76 in March 1966. The Spencer Davis Group’s first big hit in the US was Gimme Some Lovin’, released in December ’66. (By the way, lyrics on the US version of Gimme Some Lovin’ were slightly different than the words on the earlier UK release.)

Keep On Running – Spencer Davis Group (early Stevie Winwood)

This next song, and the band that recorded it, are pretty obscure in the US, although Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich had several hits in Britain. In late 1965, Bend It peaked at #2 in the UK and it hung around the Brit chart for 12 weeks.  Again, despite Dick Clark’s best efforts, Bend It didn’t get beyond chart position #110 in the US. The single received very little airplay in the US. Me, Myself and I heard it out of Vancouver. The record’s obvious sexual innuendo, emphasized in the video by the lead singer’s finger gestures, led to controversy and I’ve read that this performance video was banned by some media outlets.

Bend It – Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich

The last song example, by the ever popular band the Who, was played a lot in Vancouver. In the UK it spent 12 weeks floating around the chart, rising all the way to #2 in Sept. 1966. I’m A Boy was the Who’s sixth hit in the UK. In the US it did nothing, you’ll find no trace of it on the national charts. The Who did some strange stuff, like Happy Jack and Magic Bus. But I’m A Boy might take the cake for unusual for the era. I admit that to a 13-year-old kid it was just a rock song with loud guitars, a driving beat and good harmonies. In hindsight, its theme was obviously sexual and involved gender confusion. The lyrics went, “I’m a boy,  I’m a boy, but my ma won’t admit it” and so on. Those words went right over this kid’s head back in 1966. It was all Greek to me. And that is the end of this nostalgic story from the NW Corner!


I’m A Boy – the Who

If you’d like to read more about vintage broadcasters in the NW Corner of Washington state, and Vancouver radio legend, Red Robinson, click on the names below:

Danny Holiday
Gary Burleigh Shannon
Mike Forney
Jay Hamilton
Bob O’Neil & Marc Taylor
Red Robinson

Author: Steven Smith

Presently editor and historical writer with Puget Sound Media in Seattle. Former radio broadcaster and radio station owner, 1970-1999. Journalism and speech communications degrees. I enjoy researching articles and online reporting that allows me to meld together words, audio and video. P.S. I appreciate and encourage reader comments and opinions. View other articles by Steven Smith

18 thoughts on “British Invasion (Memories From The NW Corner)

  1. Jason…good points. It might have been an equally important melding of sounds. Like later Marley and reggae were fledgling rockers in Jamaica trying to duplicate the Memphis sound. I believe that a big part of the British Invasion mystique is it was a sign that Britain could come back and be important again. The invasion began about 20 years after WW2 and the UK had been left alive but very depleted and weak on the world stage. Suddenly they were back as a cultural force when The Beatles and the other superstars appeared.

  2. I really enjoyed your mentioning Mr. Meek, and his rather different tune Telstar…He actually invented some sort of weird sounding, basic synthesizer effect that really seemed appropriate for the theme of the tune…Also, his voice can be heard, singing along to the final stanzas of the song!…So unusual….I love that tune!..There was a real buzz in the culture, concerning the “Space Race” and it’s new technology. His musical tribute to that was just spot on.

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