The arrival of the Beatles in New York City

British Invasion on the United States: 1964 — 1967

The arrival of the Beatles in New York City in 1964 for an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show marked the beginning of what has become commonly known as the “British Invasion.” This period, lasting roughly from 1964 to 1967, was a time when British bands invaded and topped the charts of the American music industry influencing the culture and social behavior of a generation of baby boomers.

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In the decade prior to the 1960s fashion designs were intended to encourage housewives and discourage feminism. Teenagers relied upon their peers and the media to determine their style and the practice of conforming to their elder’s tastes was beginning to evaporate. For instance, hair styles were greatly influenced by the Rockabilly icon Elvis Presley, sleek and gelled back. Nearly half of America’s population was under the age of 18 at the dawn of the 1960s and these norms were shattered with the advent of the British Invasion as fashion, products, music, and attitudes were all significantly influenced by this phenomenon.


At the beginning of the 1960s music was much commercialized and in a state of flux. Many of the most popular musicians such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elvis Presley were no longer recording. After Elvis had joined the army, he had lost much of his early rebelliousness. Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry were rocked by scandals and their careers suffered. Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens had been killed in a plane crash. These rebellious rock and roll idols were being replaced with over produced less talented singers largely promoted because of their physical appearance such as Frankie Avalon, Tab Hunter, and James Darren (Au). In 1964 the country was mourning the death of President John F. Kennedy when the Beatles arrived on the scene to bringing with them a sense of fun and excitement. They also nicely filled a gap in rock and roll music.

Influence of America on the British Invasion

During the first years of the 1960s new sounds were beginning to surface in the U.S., specifically west coast surf music, led by The Beach Boys and folk rock as exemplified by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Phil Ochs. The Beach Boys and Everly Brothers had a strong influence on the harmony styles of the Beatles and other British bands (MacDonald) while the grass roots folk music revival was a continuation of the protest tradition of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. This new generation of folk singers played a major role in setting the tone for future social rebellion while another major influence on British bands were “blues masters” T-Bone Walker, Big Bill Broonzy, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, and Willie Dixon who found themselves more popular in the United Kingdom than in America.

In 1963 a blues infused style of Rock & Roll called “The Beat Boom” hit Britain and manifested itself the following year as the British Invasion. Such future stars as Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Pete Townshend, Jeff Beck and Robert Plant adopted the blues style in combination with other influences from R & B, Country & Western, Rockabilly, and current British trends (“1962 — 66: .The British Invasion”).

From 1964-66, blues-based British rock bands such as The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Animals with lead singer Eric Burdon, The Yardbirds, with a succession of famous lead guitarists including Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, The Spencer Davis Group featuring the teenaged prodigy singer-guitarist Steve Winwood, The Troggs, Them with lead singer Van Morrison, and The Who, rose to popularity both in the United Kingdom and the United States. Ironically, in the process these bands introduced the blues to the teen-idol generation of white Americans (“1962 — 66: American Folk-Rock vs.The British Invasion”).

The Beatles

Arguably the most influential band to emerge from the British Invasion was the Beatles. A generation of American teenage males strove to be like them, while a generation of to be with them. During the sixties, the Beatles not only became a musical phenomenon, they also affected the styles and fashions of the decade and transformed the record industry as well. The group brought about royalties for artists and producers, , and started the pop promo film or what we know today as the music video.

When the Beatles began they started by wearing black suits and a clean cut appearance. However, their attitudes began to change as their music evolved. They wrote their own music, and encouraged other artists, such as the Rolling Stones to do so as well. Many groups imitated their style. The impact of the Beatles on Western culture is incalculable. As musicians, they proved that rock and roll could embrace a limitless variety of harmonies, structures and sounds; virtually every rock experiment has some precedent on Beatle records. The Beatles were also one of the first bands to actually express their feelings on major world issues. They played in the United Kingdom originally and then traveled outside to the United States and other countries such as Mexico, Canada and Japan. This allowed them to spread their influence throughout. They kept their integrity, stood up for what they believe in, and made music for the things they loved (Davis and Pike).

The Rolling Stones

While other British invasion bands such as The Beatles were admired for their positive, happy, yet , The Rolling Stones could be considered the rebellious “anti-Beatles.” The Rolling Stones’ song Satisfaction recorded in May of 1965 became more than just a rock and roll hit, for many it touched a nerve exposing dissatisfaction with the way things were. It was a song that captured the frustrations bubbling up with the younger generation on a number of fronts including the Civil Rights Movement, the Woman’s Movement, and the Vietnam War. The Rolling Stones had been inspired by black musicians and sang freely about sexual subjects. These types of messages were embraced by many young Americans and raised awareness of the social ills of the time.


The British invasion was more important as an event. It was not just about the music. It was more than that. It began as the nation was mourning the death of an American president and lifted the spirits and moods of the youth. The British Invasion was the start of a new revolution promising a time of hope and optimism for change (Bangs).

Once the Beatles landed on the runway of JFK airport in 1964, ascended the ramp and looked out at their new kingdom, the hearts and minds of the throngs of screaming fans were theirs. Their style, presence, and confidence became a drug the world has never stopped taking. The British bands became idols to thousands of teenage baby boomers, influencing their style, and behavior.

Works Cited

“1962 — 66: American Folk-Rock vs.The British Invasion.” State University of New York at Oswego, (ND). Web. 13 May 2013.

Au, Lynda. “The British Invasion: It’s effects and Influences.” Prezi Inc., 14 January 2013. Web. 13 May 2013.

Bangs, Lester. “The British Invasion.” The Rooling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock and Roll, Jim Miller (ed.). New York: Random House, 1980. Print.

Davis, Lina and Crystal Pike.”Cultural Impact.” The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones, 2011. Web. 13 May 2013.

MacDonald, Ian. Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties. New York: Random House, 1997. Print.

Spitz, Bob. The Beatles: The Biography. New York: Little Brown and Company, 2005. Print.

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