About 180 years after George Washington sent King George III packing, American teens welcomed a less formally dressed British Invasion with open arms — and wallets. Since then, the fortunes of English musicians on American airwaves have waxed and waned — an Oasis here, an Amy Winehouse there — but Adele’s blockbuster return has the Yanks Union Jack-ed up once again.
England’s Newest Hit Makers
In the April 4, 1964, issue of Billboard, the article “Redcoats Revisiting” covered a “flood of Anglo product” as The Searchers, The Dave Clark Five and others occupied 19 spots on the Billboard Hot 100. Some Americans were less than chuffed: “Everyone’s tired of The Beatles,” moaned another piece in that same issue, “except the listening and buying public.” Billboard was more excited about another group’s stateside debut, calling The Rolling Stones “a hot GB group that proves how deep the R&B roots have gone over there.”
Second (New) Wave
When British new wave acts like Duran Duran and Culture Club began scoring hits in the ’80s, The Kinks’ “Come Dancing” joined four other Brit hits in the top 10 of the Hot 100: “Since [they] figured so prominently in the first British invasion of 1964-65, it’s fitting that they’re also a part of the current British influx,” noted the July 9, 1983, Billboard. The invasion was fought in the letters section, where a reader complained on June 11 that the embrace of British music was becoming “a bore.” On July 23, another reader returned fire, saying those knocking the U.K. scene “must be music directors at major AOR stations in the U.S. That’s how narrow-sighted they are.”
Spice World Domination
“Brit music is on its headiest roll since the ’60s,” declared the Feb. 22, 1997, issue of Billboard, “displaying a level of confidence and creativity that makes its doldrums of the early ’90s a distant memory.” The invaders’ shock troops were the Spice Girls, whose “Wannabe” began a four-week run at No. 1 on the Hot 100 that issue. A March 8 album review hailed their debut, but said “their greatest challenge will be to parlay their 15 minutes into an enduring appeal.” By December, Spice was the year’s best-selling album in the United States, with 5.3 million copies sold.
Set Fire to the Charts
When Billboard put Adele on the cover of its Feb. 5, 2011, issue, she was a star but not yet an icon. “The American market is a world of niches, and Adele didn’t fit perfectly in any of them — certainly not at radio,” said Columbia’s then-chairman Steve Barnett. “We knew people had to experience her, so we took an old-fashioned approach. She had to go out and play.” People must have liked what they heard: Her album 21 included three No. 1 songs and topped the Billboard 200 for 24 weeks; her next album broke *NSYNC’s record for single-week U.S. album sales. When Adele invades, American ears are willing to give up their independence.