I need to take a break from these special lockdown editions of this series. Locking down these lockdown editions, I thought I would take a slightly off-center look at the British Invasion. This is where I came in. We begin with the Beatles, but the popularity of the Beatles had the effect of uncovering incredible talent in the United Kingdom. My emphasis here with a few exceptions is on the early days of the groups in the hope that interested readers may find something they haven’t heard before to enjoy.
Bob Spitz’s 2005 “biography” of the Beatles provides a detailed account of the relentless work behind the Beatles’ success. Just reading about their work in Hamburg is exhausting. By the time Brian Epstein secured their audition with Parlophone’s George Martin in June 1962, John Lennon had already written “Ask Me Why” in homage to Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. You can hear the Beatles perform it on the Live At the Star-Club recording from their last Hamburg gig. It had become a staple of the Beatles’ live act in the arrangement Martin recorded later that year for their second UK single. Galeazzo Frudua breaks down the three vocal parts here.
My theory of the Beatles is that their brilliant harmony singing put over the Lennon-McCartney songs. You can hear it in “Please Please Me,” the Beatles’ first number one hit in the United Kingdom. You can hear it on “Ask Me Why,” the B side of “Please Please Me.” As they frenetically toured the country, they needed a follow-up. Writing together in the back of the van on their way to a gig, Lennon and McCartney produced “From Me To You.” I think they began to write to their gifts for harmony. When I lived in St. Louis from 1979-1981, by the way, KMOX-FM (I think) played “From Me To You” every Friday morning at 7:20 a.m. I looked forward to it. It got me in the TGIF spirit.
“Hippy Hippy Shake” was a song the Beatles covered as part of their live act. You hear an impressive version of it on the Live at the Star-Club recording. They returned to it for the BBC on September 10, 1963.
When the Beatles hit it big, their success opened the deep vein of Lennon and McCartney’s creativity. They quickly wrote 12 songs to order for A Hard Day’s Night the next year. That was six more than Richard Lester could use in the movie. They had become accomplished songwriters. Just to take one example, “Any Time At All” was omitted from the movie. The rhymes flow. Lennon trades off with McCartney on the vocal. The sentiment is sweet. This is great stuff.
They could even afford to give their lesser songs away. Peter Asher was the younger brother of McCartney’s girl friend Jane. In the early days of the Beatles’ success, Paul lived with the Ashers on Wimpole Street when the Beatles were in London, just down the hall from Peter on the third floor. When Peter secured a recording contract with his friend Gordon Waller, he asked Paul to finish up “World Without Love” so they could include it on their first album. It took McCartney 15 minutes to put the finishing touches on what became a worldwide number one hit. He then wrote “Nobody I Know” as a follow-up to order. He also gave Peter and Gordon “I Don’t Want to See You Again” and “Woman” (below). Paul asked them to credit “Bernard Webb” as the writer on that one. He didn’t want people to think that the songs were hits only because of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting credit.
John Lennon gave away “Bad To Me” to another Liverpool group Brian Epstein managed. The only problem was that group’s singer couldn’t sing. Graham Parker returned to the song on Lost Songs of Lennon and McCartney in 2003.
Paul McCartney gave away “From a Window” to the same group. Let’s go with Graham Parker’s version again.
The Rolling Stones introduced a lot of us to the blues and other great American music. I loved Bobby Troup’s “Route 66” from their first album. So what if Mick appeared to be unfamiliar with Winona?
“It’s All Over Now” was written by Bobby and Shirley Womack. The Stones covered it on their second album, the smartly titled 12 x 5.
And of course the Stones acquainted fans like me with Chuck Berry, as in their version of “Around and Around.”
I wasn’t a huge fan of the Dave Clark Five, but I loved “Because” (below). It was written by Clark and Mike Smith. Peter and Gordon reunited in 2005 in two benefit concerts for Smith. Gordon died in 2009. Peter draws on a video of one of his reunion performances with Gordon to “reunite” on the duet of “Woman” that closes his memory show. It is an emotional highlight.
Ray Davies is the songwriting genius who drove the Kinks. They weren’t like everybody else. Although he originally wrote it for the Animals, Ray’s “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” sounds like something of a personal anthem to me.
The Kinks recorded “Waterloo Sunset” for Something Else in 1967. Ray wasn’t like everybody else. He loved his neighborhood. He was nostalgic for old England. The video has had 10,000,000 views, so it probably doesn’t belong on my tour here this morning, but just in case…
The Kinks recorded Village Green Preservation Society in 1968 and Arthur in 1969, both great albums. They had a major hit with “Lola” in 1970. It can be found on the album Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One, also great from beginning to end. (We’re still waiting for Part Two.) Ray was inspired by the musicians’ union ban on the group in the United States to write “Get Back in Line.”
The next year’s Muswell Hillbillies is another highlight from their catalog. The album opens with “20th Century Man.” Quotable quote: “You keep all your smart modern writers / Give me William Shakespeare.”
I loved the Hollies’ early hits. They had the harmony angle nailed down. “I’m Alive” was written by the American songwriter Clint Ballard. It was a number one hit in the United Kingdom in 1965, but not so much in the United States. It appeared on their 1965 U.S. album Hear! Here!
“Look Through Any Window” was their follow-up single included on the same album. It was written by Charles Silverman and 10CC’s Graham Gouldman. Gouldman has written a few other good songs, including the Hollies’ hit “Bus Stop,” but this lesser known song is terrific.
The Hollies’ label also included “Very Last Day” by Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary on Hear! Here!. If you haven’t heard this before, give it a listen.
Who’s next. What a great rock band. Pete Townshend was the group’s brilliant songwriter. He is tortured. He is deep. He is witty. Let us dial up Townshend’s “Substitute” from the early Who.
The Who Sell Out is a phenomenal album. “I Can’t Reach You” comes from that one. The album went down several different paths, a few of which they left behind.
Who’s Next is one of the all-time great rock albums. It concludes with the monumental “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” “Behind Blue Eyes” is the terrific track that precedes it.
The Zombies were something else. Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone were the group’s presiding spirits Everyone must remember “She’s Not There” (written by Argent) and “Tell Her No” (Argent again) from 1964. You probably haven’t heard the stereo version of “She’s Not There” below.
The Zombies continued to put out superior work. By the time they released Odessey and Oracle in 1967, however, no one was listening. The album had no filler. Among the terrific songs was “Care of Cell 44” (Argent again).
“This Will Be Our Year” (Chris White) was another one.
In fact, the album was full of them. When “Time of the Season” (Argent) was lifted from the album and released as a single, it became a hit in 1969, but the group had broken up. It’s a tough business.