What the British Invasion Looked Like From the Catbird Seat
The Dave Clark Five were second only to the Beatles in popularity in 1964 (L-R): Mike Smith, Lenny Davidson, Denis Payton, Rick Huxley and Dave Clark.
Photo courtesy of Rare Bird Books
My British Invasion
By Harold Bronson
Rare Bird Books, 320 pp., $17.95
As co-founder of the Rhino Records label – then and now the finest and deepest reissue label in rock history – Harold Bronson is certainly qualified to tackle this topic. Thankfully, My British Invasion eschews the larger and much-more-covered British Invasion acts and instead focuses on groups like the Zombies, Troggs, Hollies, Kinks, Yardbirds and Dave Clark Five, along with Herman’s Hermits and Manfred Mann.
But in essence, My British Invasion is really two books in one, their narratives snaking in and out of each other with contrasting results.
There’s Bronson’s regaling of his own life as a musician, college label rep, music journalist and fledgling label head. Here his writing comes off as surprisingly listless. These chapters are often just a rattling off of concerts he attended, records he liked and musicians he encountered – often with less-than-thrilling results. His own extended stays in London have a little more juice, but mostly in an observational capacity.
By contrast, his mini-bios of the bands mentioned above, among others, are lively and fact-filled. Often based on his first-person decades-old interviews with said bands (along with current takes and hand-plucked quotes from other sources), they strike just the right balance between fan and journalist.
And his chapters on Dave Clark (who is pretty much a prick), Peter Noone, the Troggs, and Mike
It may seem nitpicky, but the book could have been served by a better proofreader, as a number of musician names are misspelled. And, of course, Manfred Mann had a No. 1 hit in the U.S. with Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light,” not “Spirit In the Night,” as Bronson writes.
And though it would stray a bit from the title, I would have also liked to read more about the machinations of record-company promotions and publicity in the ‘70s — as when Bronson notes that CBS Records produced actual “cigarette” rolling papers featuring Dr. Hook, the Jeff Beck Group, and Delaney and Bonnie to promote new releases.
Overall, the book is an enjoyable visit to bands of an era that haven’t always gotten the journalistic attention that they deserve.
Early on, Bronson notes that the very phrase “British Invasion” was coined to describe not the wave of long-haired boys carrying guitars who crossed the Atlantic to dominate U.S. record charts, but the sheer amount of British-written plays and musicals that made their way to Broadway in the early ‘60s.
There’s no doubt which “Invasion” has had the longest — and most fruitful — artistic impact.
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