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It can be tough to make it big in America. The history of British music shows just how tough. Mod icons like The Small Faces to Britpop heroes Suede, Blur and Oasis, hugely popular in Europe, failed to find fame across the Atlantic. But it’s not all disappointed record sales and dented egos. Just as Nokia Music looks set to make a big splash in the US, there are British bands that not only hit the big time, but changed American music tastes forever.

1. The Beatles

Officially the band that started the British musical invasion of the U.S. in the 1960s, The Beatles had America in hysterics after their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on the 9th of February, 1964. Perhaps their happy-go-lucky love songs were an escape from Cold War anxieties and the depressive mood after the Kennedy murder, but ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ topped the US charts for seven weeks.

On the 4th of April in the same year, The Beatles had taken over the entire top 5. The group has racked up 177 million in album sales, more than anyone else ever. The sales of Beatles-themed lunchboxes, napkins, wigs and colouring books might well be even higher.

2. The Rolling Stones

The longest running rock band in history, The Rolling Stones arrived on the American scene right on the heels of The Beatles. An exact opposite of the latter’s clean-cut image, The Stones were edgy, rough and unkempt. When they started their first US tour,
a news headline read, “Would You Let Your Daughter Marry a Rolling Stone?”

Their unique musical style, which mixed rhythm and blues with rock and roll, produced them eight number one hits on the US charts, including “Paint It, Black” and “Satisfaction”. In 2008, The Rolling Stones were ranked as the second most successful group in the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

3. The Who

Another frontrunner of the British Invasion in the 1960s, The Who first reached the US Top 10 in 1967 with “I Can See for Miles”. Their concept album “Tommy” (out in 1969 and the first in a series of seven top ten albums in the US), which tells the story of a deaf, dumb and blind boy, is considered the first ever rock opera.


Dubbed the Godfathers of Punk, the band has also influenced the music world with their high energy performances that frequently involved destroying instruments on stage.

4. Led Zeppelin

The British forefathers of heavy metal made The Who’s guitar smashing seem lame. In true rock god style, they’d take apart entire hotel floors… John Bonham even rode a motorbike through the lobby of Chateau Marmont in L.A. Their hard rock tunes, rooted in blues and the mysticism of folk, however, have inspired countless bands from KISS and Black Sabbath to Nirvana, The White Stripes and Coldplay.

Their first album (in 1969) stayed on America’s charts for a jaw-dropping 73 weeks, while “Stairway to Heaven“, their most iconic track, is still the most requested song ever on FM radio.

5. Pink Floyd

The most commercially successful progressive rock band in the world, Pink Floyd not just produced amazing psychedelic music but also set the standard for today’s elaborate gigs. As well as huge cinema screens, their live shows have featured a giant exploding pig and a 12-metre high wall made of cardboard bricks.

One of the best-selling albums ever in the world, “The Dark Side of the Moon” is also the 20th-best-selling album in the United States. Though it held the number one spot on The Billboard 200 for just one week, it has spent a record total of 814 consecutive weeks on that list.

These bands all showed that if you’re innovative, inspiring and downright experimental, you don’t have to be American to rock America. But are their iconic tunes good enough to make your ultimate Cool Britannia playlist? If not, we’d love to hear which Brit bands rock your world.