1960s British Rock and Pop



As the music of 1960s slides into historical memory, commercial and personal interests are eager to retell the story the way they remember it and how they want it remembered. Who can blame them. The business of music has never been about historical accuracy. "Back in the day," agents routinely invented birthdates for performers to make them appear younger than they were. And the value of the songs lured many into the practice of inventing authorship to benefit someone who could help get the song recorded.
In studying this era, keeping track of "who did what when" becomes fundamentally important. It is one thing to spin stories about the past. It is quite another for us to accept these stories as the only truth. Of course, in popular music, hyperbole and exaggeration were no less commonplace in the 1960s than now. My purpose here is to lay out a framework upon which we might build a better understanding of what happened and to arrive at some conclusions about what it meant (and means).
I first compiled and posted this chronology in 1995 as contextual support for courses on 1960s British rock and pop music, first at Regent's College, London, and subsequently at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. I continue to work on these materials and add references as I research the era, talking with musicians, songwriters, producers, and others as well as re-reading contemporary news accounts. However, this chronology cannot be all-inclusive. I have prioritized some performers and performances and I admit to personal preferences. However, I have attempted to include recordings and events that were commercially and/or historically significant. Clearly, I have sometimes made selections because others selected them for inclusion in their bibliographies, discographies, and histories. I welcome recommendations for additions and corrections.
Various kinds of information are included in this chronology including recordings, performances, and political, social, economic, and biographical information. The first is obviously very important here. I have prioritized original British dates (release and recording dates and dates reflecting chart entry) and include North American release dates for reference. Note that the chart date here (often slightly abbreviated to "chrts") actually reflects the date upon which a publication such as New Musical Express or Record Retailer reports the sales standing. My principle source for chart dates has been Guinness's British Hit Singles compiled by Gambaccini, Rice, and Rice (1995) who have put together a strong reference source for this research. The release dates are more complicated. Sometimes, the precise dates for releases are available in discographies. I have supplemented these with the dates announced in the New Musical Express and Record Retailer. When these dates were unavailable, I have substituted the date upon which a review appears (presuming that the reviewer had an advance copy and actually got around to listening to it in time for the release date). Obviously, I will have some release dates that are a week or two off (usually later than they actually were issued). On the bright side, this does provide an approximation of about when the release took place. In general, British releases in this era took place on Fridays (unlike the US), although Thursday and Saturday releases. The later in the decade, the more variety of dates appear as iconoclastic independent record companies sought to shake up the status quo.
This is not a "British Invasion" chronology and the orientation is British, not American. My attempt here is to present this cultural milieu from a British perspective. Nevertheless, any discussion of this era that neglects the importance of American performers and the American market would miss what the participants clearly understood: America was where the money was. The 200-lb. gorrilla has a presence.
One of the first things you will probably notice is that I have included more than just 1960 to 1969. While the most exciting material is from the decade of the sixties, the people and cultural developments that contributed to this epoch came out of the aftermath of WWII. My own inclination is to focus on the years between 1956 and 1968 with an important dividing point in 1963. This is not to belittle what came before and after, but rather to recognize where the cultural currents pertaining to this great flourishing of pop culture are the strongest. January 1956 marks the beginning of British skiffle. January 1963 is the point at which the Beatles score a number one and the commencement of the Beat era (however one wants to define that). By 1968, the luster was gone from the rose, most notably in the shift away from the 2:30 pop single and towards live performance models.
This site continues to change and I apologize for the inconsistencies between years. Hopefully the changes make the site easier to use.
As a matter of consistency, I use American spellings and punctuation since the courses for which I originally prepared this chronology have largely been for American institutions and students. Information on British culture appears in red print, the top-selling or really important British singles in blue print, and almost everything else in black. I have placed material that relates to American contexts in a grey print. I have also in some strategic cases placed American artists whose recordings figured importantly on British charts in brown print.
Each month also has link to the contents of the New Musical Express as a way to provide a balance to the purely chronological listings.
Chronology Index | Acknowledgements | Sources
This is a living document. I welcome corrections and suggestions.
Gordon Thompson Department of Music  Skidmore College
Copyright © 1995 January 2009, Gordon Thompson