Introduction: Historians often refer to the British Invasion. Make no mistake about it, the information reported here isn’t new or groundbreaking to radio veterans of the mid-sixties. This article pertains to my personal observations from my teen years as a resident of a border town in the NW Corner of Washington state. I was into Top-40 radio and had both ears glued to the radio when that new generation of British youth invaded the US in the mid-1960s. What follows are my recollections of the era.
Rumblings: Skiffle and Merseybeat
For anyone too young to remember, at the time of the British Invasion, just about everything from the United Kingdom — starting with music and ranging from movies to chic fashion — was popular in the United States and Canada. The Invasion was gradual, not instantaneous. Earlier, in the mid-1950s, skiffle bands were a fad in England. Skiffle by definition is much like American jug band music. Many Brits were digging skiffle, including future guitar legend Jimmy Page. In his youth he played in a skiffle band. By the early sixties, the more direct precursor to the British Invasion was building up steam: Merseybeat (that Beatles’ kinda sound) was being invented around Liverpool and it was also popular with clubbers in Hamburg, Germany. In retrospect, these musical rumblings from across the Atlantic Ocean were warning signs of the impending British Invasion.
Joe Meek’s Telstar
British Invasion compilation albums remain popular.Just prior to the British Invasion, music from across the pond landed on US soil in a big way. Most noticeably, Joe Meek — a sad and tragic character — composed the instrumental Telstar. He recruited a club band, called the Tornadoes, to record it. With clever editing and liberal use of spacey sound effects, Meek’s creation became an international hit. The record took off like the satellite it was named after. Telstar was the first British record to reach #1 on the US Hot 100. It also peaked at #1 in Canada and at #1 in fourteen other countries. Sixty years later, old timers in the city where I live, Bellingham, WA, still speak of the local commotion when a KPUG deejay named Mike Forney played Telstar over and over again one November night in 1962. Read that story HERE.
The British Invasion Was Upon Us (1964-’67)
The British Invasion years had some big winners. Everybody who was into pop and rock music at the time soon knew of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Dave Clark Five, the Animals, the Searchers, Herman’s Hermits, Freddie & the Dreamers, Manfred Man, Peter and Gordon, Chad & Jeremy, the Kinks, the Hollies, Them, the Spencer Davis Group, the Yardbirds, the Who, the Troggs, the Small Faces, the Zombies, Donovan, Tom Jones and ladies such as Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield and Lulu. That short list left out some of the players, but it is a good start.
It’s true that in the mid-sixties almost everything British was a hot commodity in the US. In fact, some US and Canadian recording artists and radio deejays claimed ties to the UK — even if they didn’t have any. The mere hint of being an import from England generated positive media attention. The irony is the roots of those hip sounds coming from Britain, in the early skiffle music craze of the late 1950s and early ’60s, could be traced back to American soul, blues and rock & roll. A few of the American musicians most admired (and imitated) by the British youth leading the Invasion were Bo Didley, Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Joe Turner, and B.B. King.
Different Cuts for Different Folks
As a 1960s’ teenager with a transistor radio, and an interest in Top-40 music, I learned that many of the British Invasion records released in North America were not the same cuts (selections) as what had been released in the UK.
That reality applied to singles and albums. For example, tracks on Rubber Soul and Revolver albums were different: On the US releases several of the Beatles’ songs were omitted. The hit Nowhere Man and the popular Drive My Car were missing from the US version of Rubber Soul. The US release of Revolver was three tracks shy of the British album. (In time the lost Beatles’ songs found their way onto the US album Yesterday and Today, which was not promoted or sold in the UK.
As far as hit singles, not so subtle differences even applied to releases from the giants: the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. In early ’63, the first time Please Please Me was released in the US, it charted at WLS in Chicago, but not nationally. In the UK, the record topped the chart. Re-released in early 1964, when the Beatles were no longer unknowns in the US (and with a new B-side, From Me To You instead of Ask Me Why), Please Please Me reached #3 in Billboard. It might have gone higher, but the top spots were occupied by I Want To Hold Your Hand and She Loves You. In another instance, a very early Rolling Stones #1 hit in the UK, released in autumn 1964, was the blues tune Little Red Rooster. Big in England maybe; however, stateside it failed to chart. American youth ate up the British sound, but either our tastes were not in sync with what was going on in Britain OR the edicts and choices of recording industry executives were the deciding factor as to which records we heard. Then, of course, there were radio programmers making decisions too.
Pacific NW Border Town
Since I lived in a border town, radio signals from nearby Vancouver BC boomed in like local stations. In most parts of Bellingham and Whatcom County we had better reception from Canadian stations than from stations in the larger American market of Seattle.
This all took place before FM radio had any market share. I listened to AM radio — KPUG-Bellingham and, when I could get the signal, KJR-Seattle. From the north I regularly heard CKLG and CFUN out of Vancouver. Canada has closer ties to the queen than we do. Therefore, on Canadian stations, I heard a number of hits from England that were overlooked in the US.
Below are TV performance videos of three songs that were big hits in the UK. They were played in Canada, but remained obscure in the states. Not one of the releases cracked the Top 50 in the US. Probably most readers will recognize two of the bands, but maybe not the third one. Of the tunes themselves, I’d venture to guess that many readers will have no familiarity with any of the three. There are many similar examples of hits and non-hits, but these three I remember.
First up is a record that Dick Clark pushed on his Where The Action Is weekday show. The song spent 12 weeks on the UK chart and it peaked at #1. Keep On Running, released year end 1965, was the fourth hit in the UK for the Spencer Davis Group. I heard it on CKLG, but not on American radio. It did chart in the US, stalling at #76 in March 1966. The Spencer Davis Group’s first big hit in the US was Gimme Some Lovin’, released in December ’66. By the way, lyrics on the US version of Gimme Some Lovin’ were slightly different than the words on the earlier UK release. (Click twice on the start button, first time to get to Vimeo and second time to start the video once you’re on Vimeo.)
This next song, and the band that recorded it, are pretty obscure in the US, although Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich had several hits in Britain. In late 1965, Bend It peaked at #2 in the UK and it hung around the Brit chart for 12 weeks. Again, despite Dick Clark’s best efforts, Bend It didn’t get beyond chart position #110 in the US. The single received very little airplay in the US. Me, Myself and I heard it out of Vancouver. The record’s obvious sexual innuendo, emphasized in the video by the lead singer’s finger gestures, led to controversy and I’ve read that this performance video was banned by some media outlets.
The last song example, by the ever popular band the Who, was played a lot in Vancouver. In the UK it spent 12 weeks floating around the chart, rising all the way to #2 in Sept. 1966. I’m A Boy was the Who’s sixth hit in the UK. In the US it did nothing, you’ll find no trace of it on the national charts. The Who did some strange stuff, like Happy Jack and Magic Bus. But I’m A Boy might take the cake for unusual for the era. I admit that to a 13-year-old kid it was just a rock song with loud guitars, a driving beat and good harmonies. In hindsight, its theme was obviously sexual and involved gender confusion. The lyrics went, “I’m a boy, I’m a boy, but my ma won’t admit it” and so on. Those words went right over this kid’s head back in 1966. It was all Greek to me. And that is the end of this nostalgic story from the NW Corner!
I’m A Boy – the Who
If you’d like to read more about vintage broadcasters in the NW Corner of Washington state, and Vancouver radio legend, Red Robinson, click on the names below:
Gary Burleigh Shannon
Bob O’Neil & Marc Taylor
18 thoughts on “British Invasion (Memories From The NW Corner)”
Miniskirts, go go boots, sideburns, just an exciting period to be a teen or in my case, a pre-teen.
Mike….I have great memories of the era. Of course, with Vietnam and protests it was not idyllic. But I was still too young to pay attention to all that.
Thinking back to those days I remember how different it was. In Bellingham, other than KVOS 12 and Channel 2 in Vancouver, you had to have a fancy roof top antenna system, probably with a rotar to get Seattle stations. One day the neighborhood found there was massive interference and hash on their TV’s. So someone called the FCC and they sent an engineer from the Seattle office who drove around the neighborhood. He had a direction finding device like they used to find pirate stations. Anyway, they tracked it to an electrically faulty heating pad at an elderly lady’s house two doors away from our house. I just cannot imagine that kind of FCC involvement these days. With nearly 30 years in broadcasting as chief engineer I saw the FCC twice…not that I wanted to see more of them. One time, as a pissed off commercial broadcaster, I reported a pirate FM that was covering most of Bellingham. They located it and shut it down. That was around 1995 but the effort was hardly in the category of chasing errant heating pads in a residential neighborhood.
Steven, wasn’t there a young radio enthusiast in your neighborhood that actually had a small radio station in his closet in the early 60?
Tom….you are revealing dark secrets. When I mentioned in comments the FCC using the directional equipment to track pirate radio stations I neglected to say I had my own…bedroom not closet. But it was probably 3 or 4 years after the nuclear heating pad. One day my mom said there was a car outside that reminded her of the FCC vehicle. I turned off my transmitter. You on the other hand got to play on real radio stations in your teen years. Lucky stiff…although the most fun I ever had in radio was my little pirate station. After things are normal again we should do lunch again.
Haven’t been “home” for a long time. That will probably change this summer and lunch for sure.
The statute of limitations has probably run out on that other thing.
Tom…since you are ex law enforcement, I guess I trust you on that statute of limitations. Just did an article on John Christopher Kowsky. Releasing tomorrow. Trying to figure how his timing fit with yours. He was at Sehome, 69 graduate and at KPUG 68ish until he graduated. As for the radio station, here at the link is a photo of what I built as the control board and turntables etc. I got better at wiring and hiding wires once I was actually an engineer. But it worked pretty well.
Ah! the good ol’ days. I still have the concord cassette recorder. Cassettes were fairly new – introduced in September 1963.
Do you have more pics?
A few but not very many
1969 early 70. Tria then Greg Collins were the PD’s
Tria had been there long enough that it was kind of a big deal when they got a new PD. As I recall Tria went to KGMI.
The heating pad was causing interference! I can imagine the conversation the neighbors heard crashing Channel 12. Against the background of a snowy screen comes “Oh Henry, get it off me. I am getting too hot. I think my back gave out. You ol’ coot!”
Actually the heating pad was in the house of a very eccentric elderly woman. She was crabby with kids. Several times a week she went to the corner grocery and bought several cans of Friskies cat food. For the record, she did not have cat nor dog. When a neighbor inquired she simply said “delicious.”
Did every child’s neighborhood have an old crank like that? I think so. Our neighborhood had ‘Old Lady Davis’, the witch. Television interference was a big problem back in the day. From the spark of a car’s engine to a CB radio antenna on the side of a neighbor’s house, there were umpteen causes for trouble. Add to that the lousy signal from Channel 13, even in parts of Tacoma and you had good reason to use the fine tuning knob. Getting the tv fine tuning just right was like trying to pull in KOB/Albuquerque at night on your radio.
But, on the subject of the British Invasion, I would like to hear a debate on which culture influenced the other more. Sure, the Beatles and Stones were huge, but what did the British get from America that had a lasting musical influence? Buddy Holly & The Big Bopper, Sinatra and the Big Bands, like Glenn Miller. Kenny Baker and Ted Heath, British bands, had nothing on Miller and Goodman. Roy Orbison, Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, Harry Nilsson.
I lived about 5 blocks from the ch.13 tower and I would get it,s shadow on ch,s 11 and 9. I would watch Breakman Bill and see Doc Watson,s shadow from 13.
Jason…good points. It might have been an equally important melding of sounds. Like later Marley and reggae were fledgling rockers in Jamaica trying to duplicate the Memphis sound. I believe that a big part of the British Invasion mystique is it was a sign that Britain could come back and be important again. The invasion began about 20 years after WW2 and the UK had been left alive but very depleted and weak on the world stage. Suddenly they were back as a cultural force when The Beatles and the other superstars appeared.
I really enjoyed your mentioning Mr. Meek, and his rather different tune Telstar…He actually invented some sort of weird sounding, basic synthesizer effect that really seemed appropriate for the theme of the tune…Also, his voice can be heard, singing along to the final stanzas of the song!…So unusual….I love that tune!..There was a real buzz in the culture, concerning the “Space Race” and it’s new technology. His musical tribute to that was just spot on.
Ed….Telstar never fails but to bring back memories when I hear it.