Sep 272009

The wisdom of The Hall continues to amaze me. For as many knowledgeable individuals who dazzle with their rock knowledge, it is the collective wisdom of our participants that I find most dazzling.

It is in this spirit that I want to allow for further amazement—not only for the people but by the people. I was going to try to turn this into my own original post, in an attempt to display my deluded sense of having a unique brand of insight and humor, but then I thought better of it. Instead, I’d like to pose this question to the collective wisdom of The Orockle: What if the British Invasion had been thwarted?

What if Chubby Checker and James Darren had led a battalion of ships to turn away The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Hollies, and Freddie and the Dreamers? What would constitute rock ‘n roll from 1964 forward if the British Invasion had failed? Would rock ‘n roll truly have died, as the conventional wisdom of countless rock documentaries assume, or would the void have allowed American country and R&B artists direct access to the riches of what we’ve come to know as Rock Stardom?

As always, when any of us consult The Orockle, the opportunity exists for folks to ask similar questions and receive similar advice. The topic shouldn’t necessarily focus just on my topic.

I look forward to your responses.


  28 Responses to “What if…the British Invasion Had Been Thwarted?”

  1. If Columbus hadn’t discovered America (and he didn’t, did he?) America would have been discovered by someone. If Thomas Edison hadn’t invented the telephone (he did, didn’t he?), somebody else would have. If Mr. Reese hadn’t put peanut butter and chocolate together (did he not?), somebody else would have. Some ideas are just too big not to reach fruition. Case in point, jello wrestling.

    Your main word here is “thwarted,” not “never occurred.” Garage bands still would have gotten ahold of those early Beatles/Stones/Yardbirds records somehow and proceeded to do their thing. Dylan would have eventually plugged in (again, since his folkie move was actually an unplugging of his initial electric music-making). So things might have been pushed back six months or a year, but they would have ensued pretty much the way they did.

    Now if the British Invasion had never occurred, that to me is the more intriguing question. What if skiffle had much longer legs? I still insist the “rock era” would have happened anyway. I mean isn’t it logical to think a “blues revival” would have spun off the “folk revival” that had peeked and was already beginning to die a bit before the Brits invaded? And wasn’t the British invasion as much a product of the American blues records imported to the UK? What if that had never happened? I smell either a chicken or an egg in all of this.

    But a great question. Things would maybe not have been as frenetic and as quickly changing as they were with the Beatles et al, but the music was there waiting to be played and sung by someone, is my thought.

  2. BigSteve

    What if there had been a French Invasion? Maybe we would have worn berets instead of bangs.

  3. I don’t things would’ve been all that different TBH.

    The British Invasion was and is irrelevant to soul, R&B, funk, disco, rap, and hiphop. Utterly irrelevant.

    Looking back: the folk revival was in full swing when the British Invasion happened and while it arguably brought that scene to an end–or at least diverted the attention of American youth from jug bands (if only for moment), you gotta remember that folk music had already produced Bob Dylan. And Highway 61 Revisited was a record that Bob was going to get out of his system eventually. That record owes nothing to the Beatles, Stones, or Chad & Jeremy. Nothing.

    I think the sounds that ended up coming out of California in the 1960s post-invasion (Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Grateful Dead, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Moby Grape, Sir Douglas Quintet) was based in American roots music and would’ve happened with or without the British invasion.

    The one thing I don’t think we’d have is that Beatlesque sound– power pop, britpop and all that. I’m not sure American musicians would’ve made it there on their own.

    Edit: Just realized I’ve merely restated chuckflack’s argument.

  4. mikeydread

    It’s funny to think that The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society happened, it seems, precisely because their own personal British invasion was thwarted. So put a tick in that column.

    A French invasion? I could support that. Serge Gainsbourg was an absolute genius as writer, perfomer, arranger and provocateur. I can’t think of anyone – Brit or Yank – with the smarts he had. But even Serge wasn’t above pilfering from America.

    Perhaps what the Brits brought to America was a similar kind of magpie manner. Borrowing and reshaping influences, a pop sensibility you might say, that has its roots in the art schools. With no particular blues or rock tradition to draw upon, the Brits were free to make stuff up. So perhaps the legacy is not so much in substance but in style.

    Anyway, I love the ‘alternative history’ possibilities of this thread.

  5. Mr. Moderator

    Good answers so far, but some might argue, butcher pete, that soul, R&B, funk, disco, rap, and hiphop are “utterly irrelevant” to the progression of rock ‘n roll. Not really “utterly irrelevant,” but less relevant for the so-called Rockist strain that rock would take.

    Beside the Los Angeles rock production scene, I challenge you to consider whether rock ‘n roll would have grown in terms of production without the influence of the Brits. The San Francisco scene, beside CCR and Sly and the Family Stone, made shoddy-sounding records. This is where I honestly think country artists could have staked their claim for first dibs on any of the sex and drugs offered by young people north of the border. Country music has always had an emphasis on production, and well-produced records usually make it on the radio before crap. To this day, it may be argued that “contemporary country” artists are actually among the biggest, most long-lasting rock stars in business, but they operate in a ghetto that large chunks of the country are barely exposed to.

    And what of Dylan? I agree that electric Dylan was inevitable, but would his platform have been as established without the British Invasion first having reinvigorated the possibilities for “rock ‘n roll stardom?” Would the icon-building Don’t Look Back have been possible? Would Dylan have bothered touring England? Would the presence of the Animals’ organ player (blanking on his name) and Donovan have played into the iconic image of Dylan? Would the story of Dylan throwing up in the limo with Lennon have been reported? I think not. The presence of an English scene wouldn’t have factored into Dylan’s claim on rock’s new era. He would have had to put Gene Pitney in his place. What fun would that have been?

    As for Sir Douglas Quintet, don’t forget that their foot in the door was through aping the conventions of British Invasion bands. Same for The Rascals and other fine US groups of the early ’60s who would have had to fend for themselves in some as-yet-uncreated Look.

  6. Mr. Moderator

    One more thought regarding suggestions of the already established folk revival helping to fill the void: the bands that transitioned from that scene to actual rock ‘n roll riches also did so on the coattails of the British Invasion, no? How would The Byrds and The Lovin’ Spoonful have presented themselves without the influence of moptops? How WHITE would these bands have been? Could they have become rock ‘n roll bands wearing cardigans or whatever? Would white rockers circa 1965 all have looked like The Beach Boys of that period? Could our youth culture have handled that much whiteness?

    On the other hand, some black artists of that era have expressed feeling like they were shoved back into the chitlin’ circuit when the British Invasion hit. Maybe popular music circa 1966 would have become as identified with African American artists as I believe it is today.

  7. alexmagic

    The important distinction is, as chuck points out, the “thwarted” part, as I remain very confident about my no-British invasion alternate history timeline, which you can find linked in the “James Darren” piece above.

    And I think Steve gets to a key point right away about how this thing would have worked: we would have called in the French for support again, only this time instead of some naval firepower, they would have sent over some of their Yé-yé Girls. Serge Gainsbourg or France Gall would have been the Lafayette of this War of Musical Independence.

    In fact, with all due respect to the Mod and his question, I’m less interested in the effects of this alternate historical scenario than pondering how exactly it would have gone down.

    Who would have been the chief architects of the War Against British Musical Aggression? Would there have been some kind of Continental Congress of Checker, Darren, Murray Wilson, Smokey Robinson, Bob Dylan and Doug Sahm? And when would they have decided to officially declare war againt the British? I’m picturing Chubby leading the Kingston Trio, P.J. Proby and Ella Fitzgerald on a desperate suicide mission to assassinate the Beatles live on TV during their first Ed Sullivan appearance.

    Mod, please let me know if I’m taking things too far off course here, and I can take this to another thread.

  8. Well, I’d argue against the possibility of French invasion simply because of the language difference. It’s not a matter of people rejecting a foreign language, so much as the French language being an inappropriate vehicle for our music.

    We inherited the English lyric and ballad tradition and that is the foundation of American popular song. The beat is joined at the hip to the meter and our iambic habits of speech.

    Maybe English is better suited to rock music than other languages simply because our core words are monosyllabic. There are two many syllables in French, Italian, or Spanish that the words required to create a meaningful line mean that the words will be out of step with the beat. And the stresses are all wrong.

    For some reason Elvis Costello comes to mind as someone who tries to jam too much cleverness into a song…the syllables and the length of the lines pile up (along with the ambiguities) and so the lyrics impede(is that the right word?), maybe impair is better, the natural gait of the music. Like he’s saddled up greyhound with a jockey. And I want to tell him “Pump it up/until you can feel it./Pump it up / when you don’t really need it.”

    That’s the great thing about Hank Williams’ songs (and blues songs in general). They are so blunt, so deceptively simple.

    Did you ever see a robin weep /
    When leaves began to die? /
    That means he’s lost the will to live /
    I’m so lonesome I could cry

    Anyway, French is great for chanson française and Spanish for tango… but English the perfect language for the blues.

  9. Mr. Moderator

    Alexmagic, as would be expected by consulting The Orockle, you raise HIGHLY SIGNIFICANT POINTS that are just as valid as anything my meager ponderings could have raised. Please feel free, Townspeople, to move forward with envisioning the War Against British Musical Aggression.

    butcher pete, I’m with you all the way on the importance of the English language to rock ‘n roll!

    Thank You, Orockle, for what You have brought us so far, and thank You for the wisdom that You have yet to reveal.

  10. Hmm.

    I think that rock n roll became whiter because of the British Invasion. That young people who would have otherwise been forced to choose between white bread folk music or Motown, instead went apeshit over the those English moptops.

    I think R&B and soul are very relevant to any discussion of rock n roll. I think that part of the problem is that many young white Americans allowed young white English define blues music for them and how the blues would inform rock music. i.e. all that guitar-hero, hand-of-god, virtuoso crap.

    In short, I think that if the British invasion had never happened rock music would have been blacker. Also, prog rock would’ve never happened.

    Sorry, I’m in a bit of onery mood.

  11. Prog rock.

    We’d have people like Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. John Cale. Jam bands and all that. But Tubular Bells?

    Never in million fucking years. I blame the Beatles.

  12. Punk would have never happened, because The Ramones & Iggy wouldn’t know who NOT to be like.

    Saturday Night Fever would nor have spread, because The Bee Gees wouldn’t have existed.

    Nerds like us would all be sleepin out at Best-Buy for the freshly remastered Dave Clark 5 mono-box.

  13. I think the perfect storm of The Beatles invading America helped bring back an interest in the late 50’s rock and roll / roots music in America and brought it back from certain death. Nobody cared about Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, Little Richard as much as The Beatles did. Nobody gave Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers the respect they deserved.

    I’d like to think that Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison, Sir Douglas, Beach Boys could have done it on their own…

  14. That’s always been my take on it, jungleland. I felt like The Beatles reminded Americans of their roots and why rock was great. It was their reverence to the great roots rocks and R&B that turned us around.

    Would we have been reminded if they hadn’t? I think that’s the fundamental question. I don’t know that The Mighty Chuck would have had any mid-60s success had it not been for The Beatles and The Stones. They certainly upped the ante for Brian Wilson and put him in full “competition mode.” So, would Pet Sounds have existed had it not been for Rubber Soul?


  15. alexmagic

    I have been already been asked several times, off-list, why Smokey Robinson would be on the Rock Continental Congress and not Berry Gordy himself. What I theorize is that Gordy would have been an early casualty of the War Against British Musical Aggresion.

    Specifically, I speculate that Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. (aka “Dave Seville”) would have heard the early Beatles songs and – as he did in our timeline – quickly realized that the ideal follow-up for 1963’s Christmas With The Chipmunks, Volume 2 would be an album of Beatles tribute songs performed by the Chipmunks. So sure would he have been that The Chipmunks Sing The Beatles Hits would be a goldmine, Bagdasarian would have turned his back on the United States by agreeing to lure Gordy into a British ambush with the promise of a potential Chipmunks/Motown project.

    Eager to hear Bagdasarian out on his supposed plans for a lucrative Chipmunks/Contours album that he hoped would keep the original Contours at Motown in 1964, Gordy, Mickey Stevenson, Lamont Dozier and the Hollands would have arrived at Bagdasarian’s studio. There, a guilt-ravaged Seville dressed in a full-sized Alvin sweater, would have tearfully explained that, though he tried it multiple times, he could just never get Motown songs to “sound Chipmunk-y enough” no matter how fast he sped up his voice. Gordy and company, understandably freaked out by Bagdasarian’s strange behavior, would have tried to leave, only to be caught off-guard by Cliff Richard, the Shadows, Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, Matt Monro and The Fourmost. The British Invasion would have landed a major blow to the US musical resistance.

    The result of this massacre would have been Smokey Robinson being sworn in as the new head of Motown, taking his place in the newly-formed Rock Continental Congress.

    In turn, this would lead to the terrible events of February 9, 1964, the night Chubby Checker and His Twistin’ Irregulars succeeded in killing three of the four Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.

  16. 2000 Man

    I think all those swell garage bands and Nuggets acts that got minor hits would have went completely unnoticed. Look at what was going on in the Top 40 before The Beatles – Connie Francis, Leslie Gore, Neil Sedaka – that shit was gonna kill rock n roll forever. We’d still have the surf bands, and you can have them cuz they all sound exactly the same to me, and we’d still have Marvin Gaye. But the stranglehold on the radio was pretty strong, and if The Beatles hadn’t come along and forced radio to play their stuff or lose listeners in droves, it brought back rock n roll.

    All the bands I like so much would just be like guys that mine the Rockabilly genre now. Almost everyone would ignore them. I may not be a big Beatles fan, but I am very thankful for what they did for rock n roll.

  17. If the British Invasion had failed?
    1. The Joe Meek blueprint probably would have taken hold.
    2.Dangermouse would create the ‘Pale Pink’ album, using tracks from The Band and Caravan for inspiration.
    3. Bob Dylan would get Cliff Richard high instead.

  18. hrrundivbakshi

    Oh, I dunno. Seems to me that what the Beatles basically did was mush rock and roll together with tin pan alley/”Pop” music. Both those things are very American; the Brits just beat us to it. I reckon somebody would have got to the same place eventually.

    Now, on the topic of fashion — that’s something else entirely. Because we wouldn’t have seen the invasion of gay Hamburg-by-way-of-Epstein hairstyles, footwear and uniforms. That whole scene (which I think looks boss, don’t get me wrong) just sort of reeks of Euro-style, and was undoubtedly the most un-American component of the invasion. Which is why the Kidz ate it up!

    Anyhow, to summarize:

    Effect on music — minimal
    Effect on fashion — huge

    Yours, etc.,


  19. BigSteve

    Look at the Billboard Top 100 for 1963:

    Sure Blue Velvet is there (and David Lynch is glad it was), but there’s a lot of R&R and R&B there too. I always liked that song Sugar Shack, but I had no idea it was that big a hit.

    So maybe what the British Invasion did was not hasten the inevitable ascendancy of rock’n’rhythm so much as establish the self-contained two-guitars-bass-drums template, which rock/pop music is still wrestling with.

  20. Weird. I was just checking out some random dates on the Billboard Chart site that Big Steve posted and in 1955, two different versions of “The Ballad of Davey Crockett” were on the charts. Bull Hayes’ version was #6 and Fess Parker’s was #22. I’ll bet that makes me the Only Man Standing.

  21. Mr. Moderator

    It’s been a long time since The Beatles and their countrymen “basically” did what they did and, even with their model, there are few American bands to this day that have managed to produce the concise, energetic, almagamations that the British Invasion bands produced in the span of about 3 years – and sold records while they were at it, so please spare me any Jellyfish citations.

  22. hrrundivbakshi

    Oh, come ON, Mod. I know you know how silly that counter-argument is. The Beatles and Co. could only have produced “the concise, energetic, almagamations that the British Invasion bands produced in the span of about 3 years” because they were first to the table. Jellyfish will always suck in comparison because the Brit invaders got to the treasure cache of hooks, grooves, melodies and styles first.

    Don’t get me wrong — the Beatles and Co. were Great. (Duh.) But the notion that only *they* could have been Great; that only *they* could have written songs as good as the songs we love — well, I think that’s ridiculous.

  23. hrrundivbakshi

    Which brings us to an interesting question. Which team are you all on:

    A.) Team “(INSERT GREAT OLD BAND HERE) *Wrote* — or, perhaps *invented* — the music you love”


    B.) Team (INSERT GREAT OLD BAND HERE) *Discovered* — and thus didn’t *invent* — the music you love”

  24. From my vantage point, there’s an obvious answer to this question. If the British invasion had been thwarted they would have gotten into the US through Canada. My family came from Scotland in ’65. Now they watch Monday Night Football. Like “Austin Powers”? That’s how everything would have been, written and performed by a first generation Canuck whose parents were born in Liverpool…

  25. larry

    A failed british invasion may have opened the doors for garage bands, not shut them, as someone suggested earlier. The keggs, the seeds, the original shondells, the monks amped up the gritty r’nb, dance and outsider music of the late 50s/early 60s in a way that may have reinvigorated teen culture without that phony beatlemania. Later in the decade the doors may have opened for an earlier influx of (continental) european rock. English prog would have developed and flourished without the influence of the beat groups.

  26. “A failed british invasion may have opened the doors for garage bands, not shut them, as someone suggested earlier.”

    I disagree.

    The Beatles (and then the rest of the British Invasion) hit America with a 100 Ton force that was all in place. Ed Sulivan + A Hard Day’s Night Movie + Tabloids / Newspaper + personality – The Seeds would never had made a good story in LIFE magazine.

    The success of The Beatles was that there was NOTHING underground about them (except the music). The presentation was 100% mass appeal

  27. trolleyvox

    Clarification: The Bee Gees still would have existed without the British Invasion. Only they would be heavily influenced by the Kingston Trio and Burl Ives. Perhaps Andy Gibb would’ve spearheaded the Buddy Holly revival.

  28. Missed this one, but I think in the future it should be revisited in another thread. Just have to say, Butcherpete, you rock for your comments.


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