First of a two part series:
At the beginning of January 1964 the top five singles on the Billboard charts were:
1. There, I've Said It Again by Bobby Vinton
2. Louie, Louie by The Kingsmen (for more see Louie Louie Turns 50)
3. Dominique by The Singing Nun
4. Since I Fell For You by Lenny Welch
5. Forget Him by Bobby Rydell
Then, on December 26, 1963, Capitol Records released I Want To Hold Your Hand by The Beatles and everything changed. In this post we'll cover the first half of 1964 and in the next, the second half of the year which saw some big, and interesting, changes in the music coming from across the Atlantic. To the extent we listen to the first British invasion records from early in that year it is mostly because of nostalgia while some of the music from the second half still stands on its own fifty years later.
I Want To Hold Your Hand topped the Billboard charts on February 1 and stayed there for seven weeks to be replaced by She Loves You on March 21 and Can't Buy Me Love on April 4 which held the top spot until Louis Armstrong knocked it off on May 9 with Hello, Dolly!
In March 1964, 60% of all singles sold in the United States were by The Beatles. On April 4 when Can't Buy Me Love became #1, The Beatles had the five of the top selling singles (the others were the first two #1s along with Twist And Shout and Please Please Me) and 13 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, a record that still stands. Over the course of the year, The Beatles topped the charts for twenty weeks with six different singles. It wasn't just the singles with The Beatles; their albums actually had good songs on them, a rarity for that time (see Beatlemania).
The Beatles blew off the doors and a platoon of British artists followed them. The first one after The Beatles to reach the charts was Dusty Springfield with I Only Want To Be With You (a U.K. hit in 1963), followed later in the spring by Wishin' And Hopin' written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David (for more on Burt and Hal see Is Christopher Walken The Burt Bacharach of Acting?).
The first British band, other than The Beatles, to have a hit were The Searchers with Needles And Pins which mixed a rock and folk style (a year later The Byrds would adopt a similar style). The song was written by two interesting American characters; Jack Nitzsche, who worked with Phil Spector, played keyboards on some of the early Rolling Stones records and did the choral arrangement for You Can't Always Get Want You Want and Sonny Bono, yes, the Sonny & Cher guy.
The first British band to challenge The Beatles for supremacy and the first to knock them off the top of the charts back in the U.K. were The Dave Clark Five. They made loud, simple music and Dave Clark on drums made Ringo Starr look like Buddy Rich. THC remembers watching them on Ed Sullivan. Their first two hits were Glad All Over and Bits And Pieces. They had six million selling singles in the U.S. during the year though none topped the charts.
Also in that first wave were The Beatles buddies from Liverpool, Gerry And The Pacemakers who had a smash hit with their ballad Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying.
There were also some oddities like Little Children by Billy J Kramer And The Dakotas which is kind of a creepy song.
Where, you may ask, were the Rolling Stones? They weren't much of anywhere in 1964 as they kept releasing singles and not cracking the top 20 in America. Their first release early in the year was Tell Me. The period when The Beatles and The Stones went head to head only lasted from late 1964 to the beginning of 1967 (for the full story see Beatles/Stones Face Off Parts One and Two).