Just watched this latest installment of the BBC 4 show highlighting the British second invasion of America – How Brits Rocked America. I remember this period very well as it was quite an amazing era when it seemed the US charts were dominated in the early 80’s by every British artist you could think of at the time. You can watch the whole programme at the bottom of this blog!
Everyone seemed to reiterate that up to 1977 Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway To Heaven‘ was on every US radio station 24/7. Ironically today US radio has reverted back to the same scenario again. The reason I say this was when I visited Florida back in 2007 all I heard on numerous stations in the car was the song by Snow Patrol entitled ‘Chasing Cars‘.
Back to the actual show which starts off with The Sex Pistols arriving in the United States and basically shook them up a little though they were horrified by the violence associated with them. They just couldn’t understand the reason which motivated our punk scene. Maybe this was due to the fact Britain was going through at the time massive political and financial changes within society. Elvis Costello & The Attractions, The Boomtown Rats and Magazine‘s ill-fated stab at success is particularly worth watching. It boiled down to the US media just couldn’t understand or market them and as a result the US audience were still stuck with AOR music still ruling the airwaves. The vastness of the country was one thing which was apparent in contributing to the lack of success for these and other acts and the effort needed to get a foothold within its market.
Next up were Simple Minds, The Cure and Echo & The Bunnymen who initially failed to set the place alight. They didn’t want to play the US market’s game and thus returned to blighty with tails between their legs. Whereas The Police took a different stance and undertook a vigorous schedule to break America playing venues all over the country. A major fact not highlighted in the show was that they were managed then by American Miles Copeland.
Then something very profound in music happened and everything changed forever – MTV was launched in August 1981. As stated in the show MTV had a major problem when it broadcasted via the cable networks it had very few videos by American artists. This is where the British seized their chance as already in the UK the music video was an essential thing to do and just about every homegrown song had one. One such band who grabbed this opportunity was then a relatively unknown band called A Flock Of Seagulls. In their particular case the band’s success achieved in America first actually helped them replicate it back here in Britain soon afterwards.
Duran Duran crashed the US front rooms with some expensive videos made for the ‘Rio’ album. MTV loved them and more importantly so did the public which then helped propel them to global status. Flamboyant acts such as Culture Club and one time punk Billy Idol also used video to their advantage. What initially deprived them of success in the US became the reason for their popularity. The reason being for this was that the Brits were so radically different to the staple diet of middle of the road American long-haired rock/country bands.
Next up and this part I found very interesting was that the US Hip-Hop music scene looked and digested electronic music from the likes of Gary Numan. One such DJ was Afrika Bambaataa who inadvertently gave the opportunity for New Order to meet up with his producer Arthur Baker and ‘Confusion’ ensued. A few years later Mr Bambaataa would work with John Lydon to create the awesome ‘World Destruction‘ under the guise of Timezone.
The knock on effect was that American artists such as Bruce Springsteen and ZZ Top re-invented themselves by listening and learning from the British. No one took up this gauntlet as much as Michael Jackson who released a succession of eye-catching video’s which harked back to some of the ideas by those early British artists who commanded MTV in it’s infancy. The tide was now turning slowly away from our shores.
But not to be outdone The Cure who had previously failed to light up the States and Depeche Mode started to make great inroads into the charts and still hold great prestige even now. These were bands who enjoyed chart success here but were always regarded as being on the fringe of the mainstream. They were though eclipsed by the Irish band U2 who rode upon this British invasion of America and who would surpass just about everyone.
America did reclaim their own music charts at the tail end of the 80’s when Hip-Hop, Rap and grunge music became their radio’s staple diet. Whilst in Britain we were at the beginning of Brit Pop, which frankly didn’t export too well outside our borders. As a musical document this programme has been a great insight into these heady days. As the programme concludes we’re once more knocking on their door with Adele and Coldplay flying the flag. Brilliant 9/10.