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Second British Invasion

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Title: Second British Invasion  
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Subject: New wave music, New Music (music industry), The Police, Billy Idol, 1980s in music
Collection: 1980S in Music, 1980S in the United Kingdom, 1980S in the United States, British Invasion, New Wave Music
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Second British Invasion

The term Second British Invasion refers to music acts from the United Kingdom that became popular in the United States from the summer of 1982[1] into the autumn of 1986,[2] primarily due to the cable music channel MTV. While acts with a wide variety of styles were part of the invasion, it was mainly synthpop and new wave influenced acts that predominated. During the late 1980s, hair metal replaced Second Invasion Acts atop the U.S. charts.[2][3]


  • Background 1
  • The Invasion 2
  • Reaction 3
  • End of the Invasion 4
  • Bibliography 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7


In the late 1970s and early 1980s, music from the United Kingdom was informed by the after effects of the "punk/new wave"[4] revolution. In early 1979 "Sultans of Swing" by Dire Straits[5] and "Roxanne" by The Police cracked the American Top 40, followed by the more modest chart successes of Elvis Costello,[6] Sniff 'n' the Tears,[7] The Pretenders, Gary Numan, and Squeeze. Scripps-Howard news service described this success as an early stage of the invasion.[6]

Music videos, having been a staple of British music television programs for half a decade, had evolved into image conscious short films.[8][9] At the same time, pop and rock music in the United States was undergoing a creative slump due to several factors, including audience fragmentation and the effects of the anti-disco backlash.[8][10] Videos did not exist for most hits by American acts, and those that did were usually taped concert performances.[8][9] When the cable music channel MTV launched on August 1, 1981, it had little choice but to play a large number of music videos from British new wave acts.[8] The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star" was the first music video shown on MTV in the U.S. At first, MTV was only available in small towns and suburbs. To the surprise of the music industry, when MTV became available in a local market, record sales by acts played solely on the channel increased immediately and listeners phoned radio stations requesting to hear them.[8] Also in 1981, Los Angeles radio station KROQ-FM began the Rock of the '80s format, which would make it the most popular station in that city.[9]

More hints of the impending invasion were observed in 1981 on the dance charts. Only seven of the top 30 groups of the dance rock chart Rockpool were of American origin, while later in the year, 12-inch singles by British groups began appearing on the Billboard Disco chart. The trend was particularly strong in Manhattan where import records and the British music press were convenient to obtain and where the New York Rocker warned that “Anglophilia” was hurting U.S. underground acts.[11]

The Invasion

On July 3, 1982, The Human League's "Don't You Want Me" started a three-week reign on top of the Hot 100. The song got considerable boost from MTV airplay and has been described by the Village Voice as "pretty unmistakably the moment the Second British Invasion, spurred by MTV, kicked off".[1] The September 1982 arrival of MTV in the media capitals of New York City and Los Angeles led to widespread positive publicity for the new "video era".[8] By the fall, "I Ran (So Far Away)" by A Flock of Seagulls, the first successful song that owed almost everything to video, had entered the Billboard Top Ten.[9] Duran Duran's glossy videos would come to symbolise the power of MTV.[9] In 1983, Billy Idol became an MTV staple with "White Wedding" and "Eyes Without a Face", and had commercial success with his second album Rebel Yell.[12] Pop rock songs that topped the charts included Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart", John Waite's "Missing You", and Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" (with its stylish video).

New Music became an umbrella term used by the music industry to describe young, mostly British, androgynous, and technologically oriented artists such as Culture Club. Many of the Second Invasion artists started their careers in the punk era and desired to bring change to wider audience, resulting in music that, while having no specific sound, was characterized by a risk-taking spirit within the context of pop music.[9][13] Rock-oriented acts that knew how to use video, such as Def Leppard, Big Country and Simple Minds, became part of the new influx of music from Britain.[6]

Early in 1983 radio consultant The Breakfast Club) was the first of three British acts to provide the theme song for a Brat Pack film, followed by John Parr's Hot 100 #1 charting single "St. Elmo's Fire" (which was eclipsed at the top by Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing") and The Psychedelic Furs "Pretty in Pink".[22]

U.S. radio stations that catered for black audiences also played Second Invasion acts. Music critic [23] Another music journalist, Simon Reynolds, theorized that, just as in the first British Invasion, the use of black American influences by British acts such as Wham!, Eurythmics, Culture Club, and Paul Young helped to spur their success.[9]

Second Invasion acts also branched out to write material for other acts. In a notable example, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits wrote the title song for Tina Turner's Private Dancer.

Following the success of Pink Floyd in the 1970s, other 1970s British progressive rock artists would achieve major chart success in the U.S during the 1980s, such as Genesis, Yes ("Owner of a Lonely Heart" reaching #1), The Alan Parsons Project ("Sirius" would be used as entrance music by various American sports teams, notably the Chicago Bulls[24]).

During the Second British Invasion, established British acts such as Queen, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Phil Collins and Elton John saw their popularity increase.[25] Collins had more top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart during the 1980s than any other artist.[26]


"The guys were so beautiful. Not handsome in the classic "movie star" way, but actually pretty -- lush lips, cheekbones a mile-high, porcelain skin -- and they all knew how to apply make-up better than most women I knew"

All of this activity and the unusually high turnover of artists in the charts caused a sense of upheaval in the United States. Commentators in the mainstream media credited MTV and the British acts with bringing color and energy back to pop music, while rock journalists were generally hostile to the phenomenon because they felt it represented image over content and that the "English haircut bands" had not paid their dues. Great Britain initially embraced what was called "New Pop". However, by 1983, the song "Rip It Up" by Orange Juice and "kill ugly pop stars" graffiti were expressions of both a backlash against the Second Invasion groups and nostalgia for punk.[9] "Instant Club Hit (You'll Dance to Anything)", which became an underground hit for Philadelphia punk group The Dead Milkmen, took a satirical shot at the American subculture that followed British alternative/new wave.[27][28]

"I hear the radio, it's finally gonna play new music you know the british invasion but what about The Minutemen, Flesh Eaters, D.O.A., Big Boys, and the Black Flag were the last american bands to get played on the radio please bring the flag, please bring the flag glitter disco synthesizer, night school all the noble savage drum drum drum"

American Punk Band X from their 1983 song I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
According to music journalist Simon Reynolds, a majority of acts that signed to independent labels in 1984 mined various rock influences and became an alternative to the Second Invasion. Reynolds named The Smiths and R.E.M. as the two most important "alt rock acts" among this group noting that they "were eighties bands only in the sense of being against the eighties".[29]

End of the Invasion

As the 1980s wore on, American rock, heavy metal and pop music acts learned how to market themselves using video and make catchy singles.[9][30] Martin Fry of ABC says that "The reality was that Madonna, Prince and Michael Jackson did it better, bigger and more global than a lot of British acts."[17] From 1983 to 1985, several hair metal acts dented the U.S. charts and received some airplay on MTV, but heavy metal was still seen as a genre limited in popularity to teenage boys.[2] In the spring and summer of 1986, acts associated with the Second Invasion continued to have chart success,[2] with eight records reaching the Hot 100's summit.[31] That fall Bon Jovi's third album Slippery When Wet topped the Billboard 200 and spent eight non-consecutive weeks there,[2] and the leadoff single "You Give Love a Bad Name" displaced The Human League's "Human" atop the Hot 100.[32] Such developments eventually led to decreased visibility of New Music. By 1987, New Music exposure on MTV was limited to the program The New Video Hour.[30] In 1988 British acts had twelve singles topping the chart that year.[33] Over time British acts were less prevalent in the U.S. charts, and on 27 April 2002, for the first time in almost 40 years, the Hot 100 had no British acts at all.[19][34]


  • Cateforis, Theo Are We Not New Wave Modern Pop at the Turn of the 1980s, The University of Michican Press 2011 ISBN 978-0-472-03470-3

See also


  1. ^ a b Molanphy, Chris (2011-07-29). "100 & Single: The Dawning Of The MTV Era And How It Rocket-Fueled The Hot 100 Village Voice July 29, 2011". Retrieved 2013-10-19. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Molanphy, Chris (2012-06-04). "First Worsts: Remembering When Bon Jovi Gave "Hair Metal" A Bad Name Village Voice June 4, 2012". Retrieved 2013-10-19. 
  3. ^  
  4. ^ Pop/Rock » Punk/New Wave. "Punk/New Wave | Significant Albums, Artists and Songs". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-10-19. 
  5. ^ "Dire Straits - Chart history". Billboard. Retrieved 2013-10-19. 
  6. ^ a b c "Culture Club, Police, Duran Duran lead Second Invasion Scripps-Howard News Service printed by The Pittsburgh Press October 31, 1984". Google. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  7. ^ Jason Ankeny (Rovi). "Sniff 'n' the Tears, Music News & Info". Billboard. Retrieved 2013-01-13. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f From Comiskey Park to Thriller: The Effect of “Disco Sucks” on Pop by Steve Greenberg founder and CEO of S-Curve Records 10 July 2009.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Simon Reynolds, Rip It Up and Start Again Postpunk 1978–1984, pp. 340, 342–3.
  10. ^ A. Bennett, Rock and Popular Music: Politics, Policies, Institutions (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 240.
  11. ^ Cateforis p. 53
  12. ^ The Second British Invasion: New Wave now an old ripple". Spokane Chronicle. 29 August 1986
  13. ^ a b Tarnished gold: the record industry revisited" Von R. Serge Denisoff, William L. Schurk p.441. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  14. ^ Billboard Hot 100 16 July 1983: The Police, Eddy Grant, The Kinks, Kajagoogoo, Madness, Duran Duran, Culture Club.
  15. ^ Cateforis p. 54
  16. ^ "Microsoft Word - Chapter Outline.doc" (PDF). Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  17. ^ a b c July 4, 2013, 3:40 PM (2013-07-04). "A look back at 1983: The year of the Second British Invasion CBS July 4, 2013". Retrieved 2013-10-19. 
  18. ^ "Hot 100". Billboard Publications. 1985-05-25. Retrieved 2012-06-22. 
  19. ^ a b "UK acts disappear from US charts". BBC News. 23 April 2002. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  20. ^ Billboard Hot 100 25 May 1985: Wham!, Simple Minds, Tears For Fears, Sade, Murray Head, Billy Ocean, The Power Station, Howard Jones.
  21. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1991). The Billboard Hot 100 Charts: The Eighties (18 May 1985 through 17 August 1985). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research, Inc.  
  22. ^ Janovitz, Bill. Pretty in Pink" - Review""".  
  23. ^ Cateforis P. 51
  24. ^ Something Else! (2014-03-25). "Gimme Five: Alan Parsons Project – The Complete Albums Collection (2014)". Retrieved 2014-05-27. 
  25. ^ "The Second British Invasion How It Really Happened UPI reprinted by Courier News June 8, 1984". 1984-06-08. Retrieved 2013-10-19. 
  26. ^ Anderson, John (7 January 1990). "Pop Notes". Newsday. 
  27. ^ The Dead Milkmen. "All Music The Dead Milkmen". Retrieved 2013-10-19. 
  28. ^ Review by Ned Raggett. "allmusic Bucky Fellini Album review". Retrieved 2013-10-19. 
  29. ^ Simon Reynolds, Rip It Up and Start Again Postpunk 1978–1984, pp. 392–393.
  30. ^ a b Alternative Rock Dave Thompson P81. Google Books. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  31. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1991). The Billboard Hot 100 Charts: The Eighties (3-10 May 1986, 5-26 July 1986, 30 August - 6 September 1986). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research, Inc.  
  32. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1991). The Billboard Hot 100 Charts: The Eighties (22-29 November 1986). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research, Inc.  
  33. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1991). The Billboard Hot 100 Charts: The Eighties (9 January - 24 December 1988). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research, Inc.  
  34. ^ Mark Jenkins (3 May 2002). "The end of the British invasion". Slate. Retrieved 2014-01-23. 
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