The Other Guys: 5 Bands Missing From The British Invasion

Originally published on February 10, 2014 10:59 am

By this day in 1964, a few acts from the U.K. had already cracked the American charts. When the The Beatles made their U.S. television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, the door was symbolically kicked wide open. The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, Herman's Hermits — they all sold millions here. But for whatever reason, a few great British bands from that era did not make the trip across the pond.

Lenny Kaye was a teenager at the time. Best known as the guitarist for the Patti Smith Group, he's also a great collector of rock 'n' roll obscurities, who curated a now-legendary box set of '60's rock music, 1972's Nuggets.

"I was perfectly positioned to be swept up in the hysteria," Kaye says. "The summer before, I'd learned my first chords on the guitar, hoping to be a lonely folk singer in the backyard. And then, all of a sudden, an entirely new role model and aspirational ideal came before me on television."

Kaye spoke with NPR's Arun Rath about five of his favorite Brit bands from the era who simply never made the trans-Atlantic trip. Listen to their conversation at the audio link, and browse the music below.

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Again, if you're just joining us, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

And on this day 50 years ago - oh, you know what happened.


ED SULLIVAN: Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles!


RATH: For three straight Sundays, The Beatles entertained America on "The Ed Sullivan Show." And even though a few acts from the U.K. had already started their assault on our shores, this is now considered the unofficial beginning of the British Invasion.


THE BEATLES: (Singing) And then while I'm away, I'll write home every day...

RATH: The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, Herman's Hermits - they all sold millions here. But for whatever reason, a few great British bands from that era did not make the trip across the pond. We have just the person to fill in those gaps for us. Lenny Kaye is the longtime guitarist for the Patti Smith Group. And in 1972, he curated the now-legendary box set of '60s rock music called "Nuggets." Lenny Kaye's in our New York studios. Welcome.

LENNY KAYE: It's great to be here, and to celebrate the half-century of the English invasion.

RATH: So you were a teenager when this happened, right?

KAYE: I was. I was perfectly positioned to be swept up in the hysteria about a few months before. That summer before, I had learned my first chords on the guitar, hoping to be a lonely folk singer in the backyard. And then all of a sudden, an entire new role model, an aspirational ideal came before me on the television.

RATH: So even though it's almost inconceivable, there were some bands that should have been part of that invasion that just weren't. Where do you want to start?

KAYE: Well, for me, one of my favorite British bands that never got over here were The Shadows.


KAYE: They were originally Cliff Richard's backing band. Cliff Richard was kind of referred to as the English Elvis.

RATH: The thing about this, it's - I've never heard this before today - it sounds familiar to me but it sounds American; like surf guitar, like Dick Dale of The Ventures, something like that.

KAYE: Well, they were very influential. Jorgen Ingmann had the hit with "Apache" here. But for me, I love The Shadows because what they did, they were slightly before the English invasion, but they convinced just about everybody in England that they could play guitar.


KAYE: It was definitely a new sound and a real symbol that the electric guitar, which, of course, was so important to all the British beat groups, was establishing itself as the texture and the instrument of its time.

RATH: OK. I know you want to play us a band called the Big Three, which I'm totally unfamiliar with.


BIG THREE: (Singing) Some other guy now has taken all love away from me. Oh, now, some other guy now...

RATH: What can you tell us about the Big Three?

KAYE: Well, Liverpool was the center of the early years. A lot of the influences came through the seaport from seamen who had been overseas. And they were one of the oldest groups. They started in 1959. In fact, Brian Casser - from the group - was originally in a skiffle band with Bill Wyman, from The Rolling Stones.


BIG THREE: (Singing) ... has taken away my sweet, sweet love, oh now...

RATH: So you used a term I think a lot of people might not be familiar with - skiffle. What is skiffle?

KAYE: Skiffle is essentially folk music that was played on guitars, homemade instruments. The Beatles, actually, were a skiffle band before they took on the Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly mantle. It was kind of a way in which the British bands could acquaint themselves with American roots and folk roots.

RATH: Hmm. So that guitar sound, that kind of groove, that's skiffle.

KAYE: That's skiffle - and the drums. In fact, Johnny Hutchinson, from the Big Three, was The Beatles' first choice to be the drummer before they chose Ringo to replace Pete Best.


RATH: I'm speaking with guitarist and archivist Lenny Kaye about some of the best U.K. bands that missed out on the British Invasion.

KAYE: The next up is a group called The Merseybeats, who were also from Liverpool and were the - one of the earliest beat groups that took over the British charts, in 1963.


THE MERSEYBEATS: (Singing) When the night is cold and my arms want someone to hold, I think of you.

RATH: That's smooth. That's easy to listen to.

KAYE: And probably not the best thing for them. Their records were very pop. It didn't really reflect their harder sound. They would later change their names to The Merseys and do a song in 1966 called "Sorrow," which is quite a British classic. And David Bowie covered that on his "Pin Ups" record.


THE MERSEYS: (Singing) You're acting funny spending all my money. You're out there playing your high-class games. Sorrow...

RATH: Next up, I think you've got a band that's got close ties to The Rolling Stones. But they didn't make a splash here, though.


THE PRETTY THINGS: (Singing) I'm a road runner, honey...

KAYE: Ah, The Pretty Things. The Pretty Things. Phil May was their vocalist. And Dick Taylor, their lead guitarist, actually started out as the bass guitarist for The Rolling Stones. When Brian Jones first came up with the name, he went to art college with Mick and Keith.


THE PRETTY THINGS: (Singing) I'm a road runner, honey, everything...

KAYE: They were really a kind of bedrock R&B band, in the style of The Stones; again, mostly covers because a lot of these bands started by emulating their American inspiration.

RATH: So once again, aside from the accent, that sounds pretty American to me. Was that one of the covers?

KAYE: Yes, that's one of the covers, "Road Runner." I think The Gants had the hit over here. The Pretty Things are also interesting because they're one of the only groups to make the transition to psychedelia from being a British beat group. Their album "S.F. Sorrow" was - is considered one of the first rock operas. It's kind of, you know, trippy. And by, you know, 1968, when it came on, it certainly influenced bands like The Who to take on the sense of a concept album.


KAYE: They never came over here. Probably, they didn't start writing original songs till it was too late. But I've always liked them. They're really roughshod. And you can only imagine them trading licks with The Rolling Stones, at one time or another.

RATH: Lenny, unfortunately, we're about out of time here, which is really unfortunate because ...

KAYE: Wait, I have another 700 groups to go.

RATH: I bet you do.


RATH: Give us one last one, though.

KAYE: Well, my favorite of the performers that didn't come over here is a singer named Chris Farlowe. He was inspired by Lonnie Donegan, the king of the skiffle, but he didn't sound at all like him. His voice was very black, essentially. In a way, he could have been Rod Stewart.


CHRIS FARLOWE: (Singing) They call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday is just as bad...

RATH: Nice. Thanks for turning us onto all this music.

KAYE: It's my pleasure. Come over to my house and I'll - you know, we can go through my record collection anytime you like.

RATH: Well, we're going to do that. That's Patti Smith guitarist and music obsessive Lenny Kaye. If you'd like to hear full songs from these acts, go to our website,


RATH: And for Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Arun Rath. Check out our weekly podcast. Look for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, on iTunes or on the NPR app. You can follow us on Twitter: @nprwatc. We're back next weekend. Until then, thanks for listening, and have a great week.


FARLOWE: (Singing) The eagle flies on a Friday... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.