With his fifth book in as many years, its apparent that Hepworth’s mix of opinionated argument underwritten by detailed research topped up with some good natured mocking of his subjects is proving popular. This time, Hep turns sets his sights on the ebb and flow of how British musicians changed American music but in turn how the biggest market in the world changed them.
For serious fans Hepworth’s research may not be breaking any new ground but the fun comes from how he stitches it all together, and focusing on just one artist is an oversubscribed market. Yes, there’s all the stuff we’ve heard before about the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show, how Brian Jones wanted to be called Elmo, but as familiar as this might be, it’s the picture that Hepworth paints around them that makes it an engaging read.
Starting from the premise that British groups gave the US the first real “bands”, replacing all the “Bobbies” that were at the top of the US charts at the time (Vee, Rydell, Vinton, Goldsboro, Darin), he manages to knit this to how The Dave Clark Five’s (leader Dave “untroubled by modesty from an early age”) barrack room stomps were filled the vacuum left by the Fab Four (seven chart singles and 4 LPS in 1964 alone) tapping into a very male predilection for larger than life sounds that would later be repeated by Kiss. “Glad All Over” to “Detroit Rock City” in a few steps. Who else would have come up with that?
Hepworth’s narrative is pinned to a timeline that stretches from the early 60’s to the mid-1980s and his interest shifts as time advances. As the sun set on Chad & Jeremy’s (vanguard of the “Oxford Sound” apparently) US popularity, America starts to get under the skin of British musicians. The Who tour 12 times in 13 years just trying to establish themselves nationally (rather than just the East and West coasts), Graham Nash leaves The Hollies seduced by weed, women and Laurel Canyon, and Nick Lowe’s disastrous jaunt with Brinsley Schwartz leads to the revelation that even with identical gear, they were never going to sound like The Band, because they weren’t as good musicians.
Before long, some have written off the UK (step forward Dave Coverdale and Rod Stewart) in order to be “Big In America” a tag line which goes from denoting admiration to simply saying “sell-out”. By this stage Hepworth maintains UK radio remained all about enthusing it’s audience, in the US it was determined not to do anything to alienate them, with consultants available to help bands find radio friendly keys to record in.
Punk – “profoundly English” – comes along as a saviour, and it’s part of the job description to dismiss the US as barely worth gobbing on whilst secretly gagging to take the next flight to JFK.Nearly all of them tour there anyway (“bands are like sharks, if they don’t keep moving, they die) to little avail. Bob Geldof with the benefit of hindsight “We came in on the back of five hit singles and a number one and though America was going to fall prostrate at our feet. In fact, America didn’t give a fuck about us”.
Hepworth closes with the assertion that the second British invasion occurs in the 1980s led by Culture Club with The Police, Madness, Duran Duran and Kajagoogoo in close pursuit. My guess is that Hep has far less affinity for the music of this era, as there is far less depth of discussion here.
There are a few bands missing in action. The Kinks barely get a mention, perhaps because they were banned from the US for a few years, but otherwise seem obvious candidates for British interest in the US. The Monkees are described as much a successor to Herman’s Hermits as they are The Beatles, but there’s no mention of The Osmonds, Jackson 5, Bay City Rollers or Take That.
But that’s a fairly minor quibble. The book is so packed with anecdotes, facts and opinions that at times it was hard to take it all in. It will make you laugh and could well prompt the occasional shout of “no”! It’s a brisk ride with barely time to catch your breath. Give it a go.
Length of Read:Long
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
Any of his previous books, and a bit of a musical arguement in general.
One thing you’ve learned
The Nashville Teens came from Woking.