The 10 biggest British Invasion artists of the 1960s, ranked

25 March 2024, 17:15

The greatest British Invasion artists
The greatest British Invasion artists. Picture: Alamy

By Tom Eames

The British Invasion was a remarkable musical phenomenon that took place in the mid-1960s.

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During this period, British rock artists made an unforgettable mark on the American music scene, dominating the charts and captivating audiences across the Atlantic.

There's no official defined time when the British Invasion took place, but at its peak, it was between the start of 1964 and the end of 1967.

There were artists who had hits in the US before this time, such as Cliff Richard and the Tornados. And of course, there were other successful times for British acts such as the glam rock era of the early 1970s and the New Romantics of the early '80s.

But who were the biggest artists of the first British Invasion?

Just missing out: The Hollies, Dusty Springfield, Bee Gees, Donovan, The Searchers, Tom Jones, The Zombies, Freddie and the Dreamers, Manfred Mann, The Tremeloes, The Walker Brothers, Spencer Davis Group, Lulu, Procol Harum, The Troggs, The Moody Blues, The Who, The Mindbenders, Billy J Kramer.

(Note: Hits stated below are from 1964 to 1967 in the US Billboard Hot 100 chart).

  1. The Yardbirds

    The Yardbirds in 1966
    The Yardbirds in 1966. Picture: Getty

    US top 20 hits: 5

    The Yardbirds were best known for their inventive conversion of rhythm and blues into rock. Their lineup included three influential rock guitarists: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page.

    The Yardbirds’ hit songs, such as 'Shapes of Things' and 'Happenings Ten Years Time Ago', resonated with audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.

    Interestingly, they achieved more success in the United States than in their home country. Their journey from blues to psychedelia eventually paved the way for Jimmy Page’s legendary role in Led Zeppelin.

  2. Gerry and the Pacemakers

    Gerry and the Pacemakers
    Gerry and the Pacemakers. Picture: Getty

    US Top 20 hits: 5

    Gerry and the Pacemakers, the beat group prominent in the Merseybeat scene, hailed from Liverpool, just like the Beatles. Managed by Brian Epstein and recorded by George Martin, they played a crucial role in popularizing the Merseybeat sound during the wider British beat boom of the mid-1960s.

    Their early successes alongside the Beatles were instrumental in launching this musical revolution.

    In North America, they also enjoyed success as part of the British Invasion, with hits like 'Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying' and 'How Do You Do It' making waves in the US.

  3. The Kinks

    The Kinks
    The Kinks. Picture: Getty

    US Top 20 hits: 5

    The Kinks achieved remarkable success on both sides of the Atlantic. In America, they secured five Top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

    Despite their enduring impact, The Kinks faced challenges in the US. Their notorious offstage behaviour led to a four-year ban from touring in America, severely hampering their career. However, their influence remains impressive, and their music continues to resonate with audiences worldwide.

  4. Petula Clark

    Petula Clark
    Petula Clark. Picture: Getty

    US Top 20 hits: 8

    Petula Clark's career spans an impressive 81 years, making her the longest-serving British entertainer. Her journey began during World War II as a child performer on the radio, and her chart success began in the 1950s.

    However, it was in the mid-1960s that Clark’s star truly shone in the United States. Collaborating with songwriters Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent, she delivered a string of upbeat singles that defined her career.

    Hits like 'Downtown' (which topped the US charts), 'I Know a Place', and 'My Love' solidified her status as a pop icon. She earned the title of 'the First Lady of the British Invasion'.

  5. Peter and Gordon

    Peter And Gordon
    Peter And Gordon. Picture: Getty

    US Top 20 hits: 8

    Peter and Gordon made waves in the 1960s with their melodic tunes. Comprising Peter Asher and Gordon Waller, they skyrocketed to international fame in 1964 with their debut single, the million-selling hit 'A World Without Love'.

    Riding the British Invasion wave, they followed up with more chart-toppers in America, including 'I Go to Pieces', 'Lady Godiva', 'Woman', 'True Love Ways', and 'Nobody I Know'.

  6. The Animals

    The Animals
    The Animals. Picture: Getty

    US Top 20 hits: 9

    The Animals formed in Newcastle upon Tyne during the early 1960s. Led by their deep-voiced frontman, Eric Burdon, they became known for their gritty, bluesy sound.

    Their signature hit, 'The House of the Rising Sun', soared to transatlantic number-one status. Hits like 'We Gotta Get Out of This Place', 'It’s My Life', and 'Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood' further solidified their success.

    Despite personnel changes and business challenges, The Animals achieved commercial triumph, especially when Burdon reassembled the band as Eric Burdon and the Animals.

  7. The Rolling Stones

    Rolling Stones
    Rolling Stones. Picture: Getty

    US Top 20 hits: 12

    Obviously, the Stones would be higher on this list if taking into account their entire career!

    They embarked on their conquest of America in the mid-1960s. Contrary to popular belief, they weren’t the first British act to invade the US music scene. The Beatles and The Dave Clark 5 had already scored hits there.

    However, on June 5, 1964, The Rolling Stones played their first US gig in San Bernardino, California. Their arrival was met with excitement and curiosity, as fans and airport staff mistook them for the Beatles.

    Over the next few years, the Stones achieved massive success, with hits like '(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction', 'Paint It, Black', and 'Ruby Tuesday' dominating the Billboard charts.

  8. The Dave Clark Five

    Photo of Mike SMITH and Lenny DAVIDSON and Denis PAYTON and DAVE CLARK FIVE and Dave CLARK and Rick HUXLEY
    Photo of Mike SMITH and Lenny DAVIDSON and Denis PAYTON and DAVE CLARK FIVE and Dave CLARK and Rick HUXLEY. Picture: Getty

    US Top 20 hits: 13

    The Dave Clark Five, also known as the DC5, formed in 1958 in Tottenham, London. Drummer Dave Clark served as the group’s leader, producer, and co-songwriter.

    Their breakthrough came in January 1964 with the UK top-ten single 'Glad All Over', which knocked the Beatles’ 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' off the UK Singles Chart’s top spot.

    In the United States, they achieved even greater success, topping the charts in December 1965 with their cover of Bobby Day’s 'Over and Over'. Between 1964 and 1967, they released 17 top-40 hits in the US. Their impact during the British Invasion was significant, and they remain a memorable part of rock history.

  9. Herman's Hermits

    Hermin's Hermits
    Hermin's Hermits. Picture: Getty

    US Top 20 hits: 14

    Herman’s Hermits formed in 1963 in Manchester, and gained international fame during the British Invasion.

    Fronted by singer Peter Noone, they became known for their jaunty beat sound and Noone’s cheeky vocal style. Their transatlantic hits in the UK and America included chart-toppers like 'Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter' and 'I’m Henry VIII, I Am'.

    Between March and August 1965, they spent 24 consecutive weeks in the Top Ten of Billboard’s Hot 100 with five singles. Despite not topping the UK charts again, their success in America was remarkable, making them one of the era’s most successful acts alongside the Beatles.

  10. The Beatles

    The Beatles
    The Beatles. Picture: Getty

    US Top 20 hits: 25

    There was only ever one winner!

    The Beatles ignited a musical revolution in America during the mid-1960s. Their arrival on US soil in February 1964 marked the onset of Beatlemania. Despite initial scepticism, the Fab Four – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr – conquered hearts and charts alike.

    Their single 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' skyrocketed to Number One on Cashbox, selling a quarter-million copies within days. The Beatles’ debut album, Meet the Beatles!, also topped Billboard’s albums list.

    Their infectious melodies, harmonies, and mop-top haircuts captivated American youth.

    Over three years, they dominated the top 20 charts, with 25 hits and 18 No. 1 singles. Their impact was seismic, reshaping music and culture, and their legacy endures as a timeless phenomenon.