Arguably the most important development in American pop music over the last half-century was the renaissance period known as the British Invasion. Beginning with the initial explosion of Beatlemania and continuing at full strength up until the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, the Brits launched salvo after salvo into the musical mainstream. As massive as the Invasion was, however, history remembers but a handful of dominant groups that had the staying power to survive past the '60s. Granted, the Beatles, Kinks, Who, and Rolling Stones were the most notable acts of the decade, but there were countless one- and two-hit wonders contributing to the popularity of the transatlantic phenomenon. With the release of Hip-O's triple CD retrospective, the importance of the Invasion can be re-examined, as can the hits and misses of its major and minor players.
Chronicling the four-year period between 1963 and 1967, the three discs cut a wide swath across the musical landscape, highlighting everyone from rockers and popsters, to crooners and balladeers. At the very least, the collection evidences the artistic diversity the Invasion engendered, and serves as a reminder of how fast and furious groups were sprouting up and cutting records at the time.
What makes the Hip-O collection worthwhile is the chronological inclusion of varying hits. Beginning with early Invasion notables Billy J. Kramer and Freddie & the Dreamers, the 54 tracks include classic rock/pop staples, (the Kinks' "You Really Got Me", the Hollies' "Bus Stop", and the Zombies' "She's Not There") contrasted with less popular period tracks (the Bachelors' "Diane", Georgie Fame's "Yeh Yeh", and the Fortunes' "You've Got Your Troubles"). It is fascinating to look back at Chad & Jeremy's airy "A Summer Song" sharing space under the Invasion banner with the Who's furious "I Can See for Miles", while polished artists like Donovan and Cat Stevens toiled away alongside ragged garage rockers the Troggs.
With such a deep pool of material to cull from, several well-known songs are featured that are not normally associated with the Invasion proper. Tom Jones's "It's Not Unusual", Procul Harem's "A Whiter Shade of Pale", the Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin" are all recognizable, and all are products of the Invasion's fertile mid-'60s period. Additionally, a handful of commonly overlooked gems are intermixed with decidedly forgettable hits of the moment. The Yardbirds' "Little Games" and the Spencer Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin'" more than make up for the Seekers' "Georgie Girl" and Lulu's "To Sir with Love".
As the British Invasion of the mid-'60s was so broad in scope, no single collection could fully (or fairly) represent the entire period. As could be expected, there are two glaring omissions from the three CDs: the Dave Clark Five and Herman's Hermits. A significant oversight, but one that is sufficiently reconciled by the inclusion of the Animals' stellar rendition of "See See Rider" and the Tremeloes "Here Comes My Baby", the latter being one of the most perfectly crafted pop tunes never to reach legendary status.
To a certain extent, if one considers '70s punk and '80s new wave, the British Invasion reached far beyond 1967. That was the year, however, when Jimi Hendrix crashed the scene, the Beatles went psychedelic, and the Who and Stones became exceedingly aggressive, effectively ending the public interest in tamer pop artists such as the Merseys, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and even Dusty Springfield.
Overall, Hip-O's set provides a solid primer for the Invasion's most prolific period, showcasing a collection of champions, has-beens, and never-wases, all of whom played an integral part in shaping the music of the day. A considerable value music-wise, and an interesting look back at the not-so-distant past...