“The British Invasion” – Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda?

No question, when we talk about 60’s music our focus and “Ground Zero” always turns to “The British Invasion” ! At one point in the mid Sixties statistics indicate that nearly every other record in “The Top 40” was performed by a resident from The United Kingdom. However dear reader, we have a question for your consideration….Would there or could there have been a “British Invasion” if John had never met Paul and they never formed The Beatles? In the late 50’s a burgeoning music scene was growing exponentially with “Skiffle” music taking root and taking hold of every youth in the U.K. Skiffle music was a kind of mix of jazz, country and jug band, played on the most rudimentary instruments, one or two stringed guitars wash boards, you get the drill and it required very little skill. In fact, as the 50’s came to an end it was estimated that there were as many as 30,000 to 50,000 Skiffle bands in The United Kingdom ! Many of course attempted to record but the records only got attention, if any, in the band’s home town, Skiffle didn’t travel well to say the least. However, you may recall a record called “Rock Island Line” by Lonnie Donnegan? The poster child for Skiffle and perhaps the only record from the Genre to get play in the U.S. But as the 60’s arrived Skiffle music and it’s players matured and a new “Beat” sound ( completely influenced by American Rock n Roll ) took over

Hundreds and hundreds of new artists began appearing in several urban centers around the U.K. Primarily Birmingham, Manchester, London and of course…..Liverpool! Where John, Paul, George and Ringo were one of over an estimated  350 new bands looking for work ! Along with other locals like The Searchers, Gerry and The Pacemakers and Cilla Black. ALL by the way managed by Brian Epstein. A similar scene was playing out in London where every night every club was sold out and London’s “swinging” youth rocked out to the very young Rolling Stones, Spencer Davis ( featuring a 15-year-old Stevie Winwood ) The Yardbirds, Dusty Springfield, Dave Clark Five and Moody Blues, while up in Manchester you could hear Graham Nash with The Hollies, Peter Noone with Herman’s Hermits and the wacky Freddie and The Dreamers. All getting a little traction in their hometown yet none of them ever dreaming they would conquer America. In the U.S, we heard little about these artist and their music. The only English Exports we were aware of was Cliff Richard, in the U.K.  he was known as “The English Elvis” Although he had the looks and a decent enough voice,for Americans, there was nothing about Cliff that remotely resembled The King ! His slick pop songs only widened the musical gap between The U.S. And The U.K.Cliff struggled for acceptance in America but it never happened. The fact is prior to the British Invasion ,only two English recordings made it to the American top spot…. “Stranger on the Shore by Mr. Ackerman Bilk, an instrumental, and “Telstar” by The Tornados, yet another instrumental ! Reminding us of the quote from George Bernard Shaw “The U.S.A. and Great Britton, two great countries divided by a common language”…..Think about it !

The British Invasion quickly spoke loud and clear to that division, and somehow they did it without that odd sounding accent. The U.K. Was rich with talent and music was percolating in every corner of every city, town or hamlet. In retrospect it seems simply inevitable, the British Invasion would have to happen with or without The Beatles ! BUT WE SAY NO WAY ! Without The Beatles, there would never be “A British Invasion. We all agree on the incredible talent pool languishing within her Majesty’s gates, but between “The Old Garde” thinking in the U.K. And the “We know everything” thinking in the U.S. The “Invasion” needed a catalyst, something so original, yet so familiar! Something undeniable and worthy. Something to get and keep our attention across the pond and not on American Bandstand

We aren’t going to go any deeper on The Fab Four, you’ve been there, you already know it all, and we simply don’t have the time or space to tell their story once again !  Our  point is…..”No Beatles, no British Invasion. However, we further believe you’d still be enjoying all your favorite English artists, only with slight variations. ( reader alert, blasphemous commentary coming ) We believe if the Beatles never came together only Paul is a “sure thing” in achieving “Superstar” status….his overall affable attitude, musicality, classic songwriting sense, musicianship, incredible vocals, stage presence and good looks makes Paul undeniable ! Lesser so with John mainly due to John’s anger and attitude, for us John also comes up a bit short on versatility. John would always be the creative focus for any band and could have enjoyed a successful solo career, but nothing like the heights McCartney would hit !  George would be well-regarded as an original and dynamic  guitarist / songwriter. But it’s hard to imagine George having a solo career if he’d never been a Beatle ! Same goes for Ringo, he’d be a most “Sought after drum player with several credits on his résumé but regular folks wouldn’t know his name!

If The Stones never caught on we believe we’d still own records that feature Mick and Keith, their “perfect fit as songwriters collaborators  and performers, as well as their bond and ambition would drive them on together…Somehow !

Only Blues/Rock Junkies would be listening to the Yardbirds, and without support and success in the U.S. It’s likely there would never have been a “Led Zeppelin, but Clapton would be…..Well, CLAPTON ! Eric may be the only British Invader whose career track would be exactly the same….With or without a British Invasion !

The same could be said for Peter Asher from Peter and Gordon. After his successful run with Gordon Waller Peter turned his energies to his ability as a manager and producer, remaining active, involved and meaningful…

AND….Dusty Springield, In 1964 the English press already named her “The Greatest Blue Eye’d Soul singer in the world. In the same week The Beatles debuted on Ed Sullivan, Dustys first single “I Only Want To Be With You” was shooting up the U.S. Charts ! Dusty’s soulful voiced would have shined on America no matter what !

Lastly, for the Freddie’s and the Hermans and the other drummers, bass players and keyboardist  who populated The British Invasion but never got  their ” Close Up” on The Ed Sullivan Show, many are still working doing reunion tours and special British Invasion appearances. If you want to see them, they’re out there especially in America !


But, before you rush out…. WHAT DO YOU THINK ?  COULD THERE HAVE BEEN A BRITISH INVASION IF THE BEATLES NEVER CAME TOGETHER  ?……….And of course any further thoughts you may have !

Yeah, Yeah, YEAH !


  1. Here’s why The British Invasion would never have happened without The Beatles.
    Before 1964 no British rock n’ roll star (including their biggest, Cliff Richard) every made a dent in the US market (and this includes The Beatles, who had several singles released in the US. on Veejay, Swan, etc and basically did nothing}.
    There was similar mania for Cliff in the UK but it never translated to the US. Remember The Beatles were turned down by every British record company, including EMI (and initially even by EMI’s Parlophone subsidiary!). The reason The Stones got signed was because Dick Rowe was still reeling from rejecting The Beatles and he asked George Harrison who he should sign so he wouldn’t make the same mistake again.
    So The Stones probably wouldn’t have been signed and all the other British Invasion acts as well. They all only were signed because of the labels wanting to cash in on the, heretofore, unheard of success of The Beatles. Sure, The Stones, Kinks, DC 5, etc might have existed but they would have been local or national acts just the same way there was no German, French, Italian, Spanish, etc Invasion because those countries had no Beatles.
    The sad fact too, is that many of the British Invasion bands may never have even existed because many formed because of the demand for British bands after the invasion.
    It’s another topic, but The Beatles had so much more effect on pop culture that just the music. They changed the way we looked, dressed, spoke and felt. They invented stadium concerts and changed the whole way live music was presented. They changed the whole touring delivery system as well as the business of music with performers writing their own material, and (eventually) having their own publishing companies, merchandising, changing royalty rates, recording techniques, production, etc.
    It also made being a rock musician an actual job. Before The Beatles pop and rock were just seen as a “phase” before you grew up and went “legit”. That was the path for Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Bobby Rydell, Connie Francis, etc, etc, (and the same in the UK with Cliff Richard, Helen Shapiro, etc)

    So what would have happened with no British Invasion?
    Probably The Beach Boys-led surf music phase would have lasted another year until the bubbling under folk scene morphed into folk rock and then The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Mamas & Papas progression would have come into play followed by the San Francisco sound of Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver, Grateful Dead, etc and then on into psychedelia.

  2. As I read your presentation and the very astounding, existential and intriguing argument you are proposing, my consciousness continued to flash hundreds of images of myself — placed in that time 60 years ago — feeling and experiencing an immense mind numbing reality that thousands and thousands of individual [sometimes seemingly unconnected but in reality quite “interdependent” events] had to align precisely in our universe for the Beatles to even have existed at all.
    Without subjecting anyone to my metaphysical and quantum visions I will say that I personally needed and wholly welcomed this conjunction of separate but united historical events to occur!!! I WONDER: “WHERE WOULD I BE??? JUST WHERE WOULD WE ALL BE WITHOUT THESE EVENTS LINING UP???”
    John, George, Paul and Ringo were destined as was all of history lining up just as it was to be!!!
    thanx “Shoe”
    —-the wood

  3. Rick, for those of us (cough) of a certain age, you might know Lonnie Donnegan as the singer of “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor On The Bedpost Overnight?”

    • Hey Steve,
      I am one of those (cough) ” Of a certain age” and I absolutely loved “Does your chewing gum ”
      Of course I had to try it one night, BUT my mom found it and didn’t quite see the same level of humor in it !
      “Did you catch it on your tonsils and you heave it left and right”?…..A classic bit of lyric writing !
      Thanx Steve for that great memory!

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