Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events
Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events

Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events

Larry Holzwarth - July 5, 2018

Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events
Designer Mary Quant in a minidress, London 1966


Prior to the British Invasion, fashions for both men and women were driven by the needs of the middle aged for the most part. The onslaught of the British acts changed American fashion, and the change affected both sexes. Clothing became brighter in color and patterns, and different materials emerged for clothes. Beatle boots became popular among young men, and go-go boots enjoyed popularity with women. Fashion models became thinner and thinner until one, Lesley Lawson, emerged from London so emaciated in appearance she was known by her nickname – Twiggy. Twiggy popularized the androgynous appearance on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mary Quant introduced the miniskirt, as well as the patterned tights often worn with it in the sixties, in London, with an eye on the youthful girls in the King’s Road in what was being called Swinging London, where the triumphant bands often retired for rest and recreation after another successful foray in the United States. The miniskirt was instantly both popular and controversial in America. Men and women found the skirt to be too revealing. Critics called it obscene. The miniskirt took on the image of rebellious youth, and the bright colors of many, as well as other clothing items, meant young women were no longer limited to dressing like their mothers.

Eyeglasses and sunglasses began to change, mimicking those worn by some of the British artists onstage and in television appearances. Sunglasses lenses became round or oval, with wire frames rather than the traditional horn rims. Another style popularized during the invasion were tiny rectangular lenses, with the lenses themselves purple or blue in color, designed for style rather than function. Belts became wider and buckles larger, as they were in England. The ubiquitous American cardigan sweater, worn by TV dads everywhere, lost popularity to the sleeveless sweater vests and turtleneck sweaters favored by the London crowd.

Where once young American men wore blue jeans and tee shirts, they were replaced with brightly colored shirts with extravagant collars and multi-buttoned cuffs, and trousers which were often widely striped. Zippered half boots replaced loafers. The fashions of London, particularly Carnaby Street, replaced Paris and Milan as the leaders of the industry. Stripes, checks, polka dots, and wavy lines on shirts, blouses, pants, and dresses replaced solid colors, and the bolder the color the better was the rule of the day, for both men and women. Where the look of men’s fashion had tended to present an image dignified and successful, during the British Invasion it shifted to youthful and daring.

The fashion of the British Invasion and Swinging London didn’t last much longer than the invasion itself, with trends in fashion changing at the same time the mood in America changed. The mostly joyous British Invasion with American youth rapidly came up against the realities of the draft and the Vietnam War. The age of the protesters and the hippies emerged, and the Carnaby look vanished. The artists themselves changed appearances as well, the bands of the British Invasion took on more individual appearances, with varying lengths of hair and beard, and many began to adopt American fashions, such as blue jeans and tee shirts.

Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events
George Harrison (seated) Paul McCartney, producer George Martin, and John Lennon in Abbey Road Studios in 1966. Wikimedia

John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Lennon and McCartney became one of the most successful songwriting teams in history during their partnership through the 1960s, though at first they had to fight to get their own songs recorded. Their producer, George Martin, wanted the Beatles to record How Do You Do It, written by Mitch Murray, as their first single, certain that the song was a sure fire hit for the band, which was still relatively unknown outside of Liverpool. The Beatles did record the song, but convinced Martin to let them release Love Me Do instead. When it was time for another single, Martin wanted to return to How Do You Do It but Lennon and McCartney countered with Please Please Me, their first number one hit.

Gerry and the Pacemakers scored a hit with the song rejected by the Beatles, who went on to write more than 180 songs credited to the Lennon-McCartney partnership. While the majority of them were recorded by the Beatles (with some unreleased) the team also wrote songs for other artists who followed them to America and fame. One of the earliest was a song written for the Rolling Stones, completed in an afternoon, entitled I Wanna Be Your Man, which was one of the band’s first hits in England, and later recorded by the Beatles as well, a throwaway album track which was sung by Ringo Starr.

Besides the Rolling Stones, who the Beatles met in London after attending a performance, Lennon and McCartney wrote songs to be recorded by other artists, including bands under the control of Brian Epstein. For Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas they wrote three top ten hits, including the 1963 number one Bad to Me. Peter and Gordon reached number one in 1964 with A World Without Love, written primarily by McCartney, but attributed to the partnership after Lennon rejected the song for recording by the Beatles. Peter was Peter Asher, brother of Jane Asher, who was Paul McCartney’s girlfriend at the time, with Paul living in the Asher home.

Cilla Black had three top forty hits with Lennon and McCartney songs, with Its For You reaching number 7 in 1964. Most of the songs given to other artists were unreleased by the Beatles during the time of the invasion, and were given away after the members of the band, for one reason or another, rejected them. Years after the Beatles dissolved, copies of the songs recorded by the Beatles as demos, or existing as outtakes, were released in one of the band’s several anthology sets. Several other songs were given to other acts which were written by McCartney alone, attributed to an alias on the label.

The Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership reached its peak during the British Invasion, with many later hits written by the pair during the tours of America. By the height of the British Invasion all of the Beatles were living in London, and the diversity of the music they heard there appeared in their own songwriting, lessening the influence of the Mersey beat which had led to their initial success. The Lennon-McCartney partnership became as much a rivalry as it was a team, with both partners attempting to outdo the other in new sounds and styles. Lennon and McCartney’s song catalog became one of the most valuable in the world, and remained so into the twenty-first century.

Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events
Freddie and the Dreamers were another act poised to follow the Beatles’ success in America. Wikimedia

Planning for the invasion

The British Invasion was no accident. It was a cultural event which was carefully calculated, with advance planning on both sides of the Atlantic, spearheaded by the success of the Beatles. When American disk jockeys began playing the Beatles records a campaign to promote the band began, supported by merchandise which included bumper stickers which announced “The Beatles Are Coming”, in a cadence reminiscent of Paul Revere. Campaign buttons advertised Ringo for President, and novelty items such as Beatle wigs appeared in stores. The band was reported on by CBS News (in a report which had been originally scheduled for November 22, 1963, but delayed because of the assassination of President Kennedy) and on the popular Jack Paar Show.

In 1963 a company was set up to handle Beatle merchandising known as Seltaeb. It was one of Brian Epstein’s worst business deals, in which he gave away 90% of the revenue from merchandising the band, leading to a series of lawsuits after the band’s marketing power was revealed. The Beatles name and images appeared on plastic guitars and drum sets, tee shirts (over one million sold in three days in 1964), scarves, coffee mugs, wigs, candy and gum, and even on empty cans which announced on their label that the Beatles had breathed into them. Beatles dolls sold over 500,000 in 1964. By the end of the year Seltaeb had licensed over 150 Beatles items.

Despite the massive sales the Beatles “…never saw a penny out of the merchandising”, according to American attorney Nat Weiss. Though the Beatles lost out on a fortune due to Epstein’s acceptance of a contract with little knowledge of the potential market for Beatles merchandise, they did gain from the boost in publicity which the buying frenzy generated. Epstein did manage to renegotiate the amount due NEMS under the contract, increasing it to 49%, and later sued Seltaeb for improper accounting procedures, but the lawsuits and related court cases ended up costing the Beatles and NEMS $100 million by the time the dust settled.

The value of the publicity generated by the merchandise which appeared even before the Beatles arrived in New York for the first time was evident in the reception they received at the airport, which was attended by reporters from all of the major news outlets, as well as thousands of nearly hysterical fans. The first time Americans saw the Beatles perform live was not onstage as a band, but in a news conference in which they charmed the hardened American press with their wit and antics. The majority of the press and television coverage of them was favorable, leading undoubtedly to an increase in their audience when they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.

During the Beatles first visit to America they performed on Ed Sullivan and in two live concerts in Washington DC and New York’s Carnegie Hall before returning to England. Their first tour of America didn’t occur until late summer, by which time the British Invasion was well underway. The Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and other acts had taken the country by storm, all of which helped sell additional Beatles merchandise and records, and created a fervor for the band to return. The Beatles performed thirty concerts in twenty-three American cities in August, 1964, with ticket sales of over $1 million dollars.

Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events
By the time the Beatles participated in this October 1966 sound survey their days as a performing band were over. Wikimedia

The End of the British Invasion

By the end of 1966 the thrust of the British Invasion had ebbed. New acts continued to come to America from Britain, and a comparable flow of American acts to the UK emerged by the end of 1966. New sounds from California in the United States brought a more equitable distribution of record sales and chart positions. The Mersey sound lost popularity and those bands which were unable to adjust fell by the wayside. Gerry and the Pacemakers disbanded in 1966, though they reformed later as an oldies act. The Searchers kept working but by the end of 1966 they were no longer charting records and they never again reached the peak they achieved during the British Invasion.

The Beatles, who had started it all, quit touring after their American tour in August 1966, and though they continued to provide films of some of their songs on an exclusive basis to The Ed Sullivan Show, they became a studio band. The following year Brian Epstein was found dead in his London home, from an overdose of barbiturates. A London Metropolitan Police detective named Norman Pilcher began a campaign to bust rock stars and other celebrities, and members of the Rolling Stones (Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards), The Beatles, (John Lennon and George Harrison) and several others found themselves arrested, and later experienced visa problems affecting their ability to tour in America.

Fashion changed from the flashiness under the British Invasion to that of the flower power and hippie image which originated on America’s west coast and transferred to England. Tight peg legged trousers were replaced with bell bottomed jeans, and denim jackets, covered with patches and the more tattered the better, became popular. Music, which during the British Invasion was primarily about youthful love, became oriented towards social problems, including the war in Southeast Asia and the civil rights movement. A brief interlude of psychedelia in 1966 and throughout 1967 was replaced by 1968 with songs like the Rolling Stones Street Fighting Man and the Beatles Revolution.

Emulation of British culture was replaced with emulation of student protesters and antiwar demonstrations. America became divided by the war, by the civil rights movement, and by the growing feminist movement. The music of the British Invasion became increasingly dated, and only the bands which evolved, the Beatles, Kinks, Rolling Stones, and others among them, continued to be relevant in the American music scene. The audience which had driven the success of the British bands – young teens – turned to what became known as bubble gum music, fed by performers such as The 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Monkees, The Archies, and Tommy Roe.

Although the British Invasion was short and most of the bands which created it faded into oblivion, their influence on American music and culture was long lasting. The invasion spanned the period between the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the peak of American involvement in the Vietnam War. For most Americans the period of the British Invasion was one of relative peace and prosperity, with newly empowered youths using their buying influence to shape trends in music, films, and fashion in a manner which had never been seen before. Nostalgia for that time is one reason that the music of the time remains popular today.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The British Invasion: From the Beatles to the Stones, the Sixties Belonged to Britain”, by Parke Puterbaugh, Rolling Stone Magazine, July 14, 1988

“All Our Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema”, by Charles Barr, 1986

“Shindig! Tapes Bring 1960s Rock Back to Life”, by David Wharton, The Los Angeles Times, December 14, 1999

“Twist and Shout!: Merseybeat, The Cavern, The Star-Club, and The Beatles”, by Spencer Leigh, 2004

“Brian Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles”, by Ray Coleman, 1989

“Stone Alone: The Story of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Band”, by Bill Wyman, 1997

“Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now”, by Barry Miles, 1998

“John Lennon: The Rolling Stone Interview”, by Jonathan Cott, November 23, 1968

“The Beatles: The Biography”, by Bob Spitz, 2005

“The British Invasion”, by David Kamp, Vanity Fair, November 2002