On February 7, 1964, the Beatles arrived in America, and everything changed. When I say everything, I don’t just mean music. The world was never the same. The societal upheaval was simply unprecedented. The new found freedom the Liverpool quartet inspired would have profound consequences, both positive and negative, for generations to come. And the Beatles were not alone. Behind them marched an army of young British musicians determined to conquer America. This movement of musical troops across our borders became known at the British Invasion.
More than 45 years later, a new DVD series is set to storm these shores again with the first four DVDs in a new British Invasion series. The first four titles are:
Dusty Springfield – Once Upon A Time 1964-1969
Small Faces – All Or Nothing 1965-1968
Gerry & the Pacemakers – It’s Gonna Be Alright 1963-1965
Herman’s Hermits – Listen People 1964-1969
Each DVD traces the arc of the artist’s career, using complete performance video clips, often culled from television appearances. Interspersed among the clips are contemporary interviews with people who contributed to the music, and archival interviews with artists who are no longer with us. For example, the Small Faces disc features 27 complete song performances, in chronological order, by the band. Many of the performances are completely live, or at least feature live vocals over pre-recorded tracks. To tell the band’s story, there are new interviews with surviving members Ian McLagan, Kenney Jones, and original keyboard player Jimmy Winston, and archival interviews with the late Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane. There is no commentary or narration. The music and the interviews tell the story. Each disc also includes bonus performances, extended interviews, and a booklet with an informative essay by a leading music writer.
Whether you’re going to want all the discs depends on your musical taste, but if you purchase the box set, you get a bonus disc with even more performances and interviews. I was primarily interested in the Small Faces, and Dusty Springfield discs, and neither disappointed. In fact, the Small Faces disc was something of a revelation for me. To call them a British Invasion band is not completely accurate, given that they only had one real hit in America (“Itchycoo Park”), and never toured here. No matter, the disc showcases a fantastic band as they moved from the searing r&b that characterized their early records, to the psychedelia that informed their later sound. I’ve always thought that Steve Marriott was one of the greatest vocalist that rock has ever produced, and that notion was only reinforced by watching this disc. By and large, America missed the Small Faces the first time around. This is an excellent opportunity to correct that oversight.
Dusty Springfield was a pop diva before there were pop divas. She was one of the first female artists to record songs that she had written, and though her name was left off the records as a producer, there is widespread agreement that she produced her own records. There are 20 complete performances on the disc. Among them are several taken from Dusty’s appearances at the NME Poll Winners shows at Wembley Arena, and a spectacular duet with Burt Bacharach on his song “A House Is Not A Home.” Bacharach, together with background singers Madeline Bell and Simon Bell, tell Dusty’s story, and a great one it is. She was a perfectionist, in complete control of her performance and her overall career. She chose the songs she would sing, and the musicians to play them. She was also one of the first artists to speak out against apartheid by refusing to perform before segregated audiences in South Africa. For her trouble she was expelled from the country.
While the Small Faces and Dusty Springfield discs are absolutely essential, there are delights to be found on the Herman’s Hermits and Gerry & the Pacemakers discs as well. Not only did both bands have some great songs, but seeing Gerry Marsden in a new interview filmed at the Cavern Club in Liverpool is pretty special, as is the presence of Bill Harry, the publisher of Mersey Beat, the magazine that chronicled the Liverpool music scene. The Hermits disc includes a complete concert filmed for Australian television in 1966, and a wonderful essay by music historian Rob Bowman in the accompanying booklet.
The British Invasion series was produced by David Peck, Phil Galloway, and Tom Gullota for Reelin’ In the Years Productions. The company was also responsible for the Grammy-nominated American Folk Blues Festival series, as well as the Definitive Motown, and Jazz Icons series.
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