How did Britain become the powerhouse of rock music?

December 27, 2018
First Published On: December 27, 2018
by HitBerry Team

From the Beatles to Led Zeppelin, the Who to Queen, and The Rolling Stones to Pink Floyd, Britain is without a shadow of a doubt the powerhouse of Rock. It all started with the British Invasion of the US, which can be traced back to the 60s with the Beatles and the ensuing “Beatlemania” which took the nation by storm and paved the way for other British acts such as The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Animals, The Dave Clark Five and Donovan to tread the same path. The Beatles became the biggest music craze for more than a decade and influenced countless other musicians to follow their path and many modern musicians still cite them as being one of their early inspirations. They spearheaded the movement, and for 40 years British acts would go on to dominate both the US and UK music charts. Many fans still consider them to be the best band of all time.

So, how did Britain become the powerhouse of rock and roll? Let's get right into it.


The Early Origins of Rock

Elvis Presley promoting the film, Jailhouse Rock

During the 1950s American artists such as Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry were at their best, and rock and roll was the most exciting music coming out of the US. It started in the US during the 40s and the 50s where it took inspiration from jazz, rhythm n blues, folk and boogie-woogie. Rock and roll had its roots in African-American heritage, and much of the earliest rock songs were rewrites of traditional blues and jazz songs. The Bill Haley and His Comets song ‘Rock Around The Clock’ is considered to be an important milestone in terms of its wide cultural impact in the US and the world. Chuck Berry‘s 1950 classic ‘Johnny B. Goode’ was even featured in the Back to the Future movie as a major plotline alluding to rock’s origin.

At this point, the UK didn’t really have a growing rock scene or vibrant music scene, but the UK was poised to take inspiration and by the 60s British bands had exploded onto the world stage.

The British Invasion and Beatlemania

The Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison) at USA

In 1964, John F. Kennedy was assassinated eleven weeks prior to the Beatles arrival in the US. There was heightened tension on the back of extended cold war; people were tense and agitated especially teenagers who described their feelings at the time as a sense of dark foreboding and loneliness. Beatles with their optimistic and charming music came at just the right time backed up by broad, all-encompassing marketing through posters, intensive radio play and television appearances. Five million posters were put up all across the country before their Pan-AM plane descended at the JFK airport. Their single, ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ became an instant hit, reaching No.1 in the U.S. charts and for decades to come the Beatles and other British acts would continue to dominate the US charts.

The Beatles were heavily influenced by American blues, rock & roll and the Memphis scene legends like Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan. After the dizzying heights of their success, they, in turn, inspired musicians in the US and the world forever changing the music landscape.

The Age of MTV

MTV Logo

A Second British Invasion happened with the advent of “New music” and the rise of MTV in the mid-eighties. Sixteen of the US Top 40 singles chart were occupied by British acts beating the previous record of 12 Brit singles set in the middle of Beatlemania in 1965. The term “New music” came to be associated with British acts and their music. Bands such as Police, Dire Straits, Duran Duran and the Culture Club led the charge. Hits like, ‘Sultans of Swing’, ‘Roxanne’ and the Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me’ enjoyed the top spot on the Hot 100. During that time British artists like Elton John, David Bowie, Paul McCartney and Queen also enjoyed considerable success. The late eighties saw the rise of glam rock and the end of the invasion.

As “new music” was at a fever pitch in the US, garage bands with alternative rock and heavy metal style were gaining popularity in the underground scene both in the US and the UK. American bands such as Alice In Chains, Nirvana, Van Halen, Pantera, Metallica and Megadeth enjoyed a cult following while the UK with ‘Led Zeppelin,’ ‘Black Sabbath’ and ‘Deep Purple’ became the forefathers of the heavy metal scene. Black Sabbath came out with their self-titled album amidst negative critical reviews but became a commercial success nonetheless. With their second and third albums, critics and fans gravitated towards their sound, it went on to create an entirely new genre.

The new wave of British heavy metal came again on the backs of pioneers of rock’s sub-genre heavy metal, with bands such as Led Zeppelin, Def Leppard and Deep Purple. A blues-rock and jazz-inspired heavy electric guitar riffs, power ballads and technical virtuosity took ahold of music in the 70s. The heavy music stuck a chord with “outsiders” who took issue with the mainstream music at the time and identified with these acts. It encapsulated the essence of rock and its rebellious theme and turned it up to 11.

Third Invasion

Spice Girls (Mel B, Melanie Chrisholm, Emma Bunton, Victoria Beckham and Geri Halliwell)

In the 90s, British acts such as the Spice Girls, Oasis and Robbie Williams spurred another wave of British music in the U.S. and the world at large.

Another wave called “The Third British Invasion” came in the mid to early 2000s with the emergence of British R&B and soul artists such as Amy Winehouse, Estelle, Jessie J, Adele, Jay Sean and Taio Cruz.

So it’s safe to say British acts have been a major influence in not just rock music but music in general in the UK, US and the entire world.