T his feature spotlights noteworthy compilations and reissues.
Albums: “The British Invasion: The History of British Rock--Volumes I-IV.” Rhino.
Artists: Kinks, Zombies, Yardbirds, Hollies, Donovan, Cilla Black, Manfred Mann, others.
History: “I like it, I like it!” exulted Gerry Marsden of Gerry & the Pacemakers a quarter of a century ago, sounding a joyful tone over a bouncy “Mersey beat.” That phrase spoke volumes: Marsden might have been singing not only of his girlfriend’s charms, but of his delight--and that of the many other British rockers then following the Beatles onto the American charts--at transcending England’s stark class differences through instant stardom. It was a chorus joined in by millions of American teens, who were open to a sprightly and slightly raucous pick-me-up in the wake of JFK’s assassination. Many of these British invaders sold us back a filtered-down version of American rock and R&B;, but as the late critic Lester Bangs once noted, “This was not quite a replay of Pat Boone rendering Little Richard palatable to a white audience. In even the limpest, wimpiest Liverpudlian retread of an American R&B; oldie, there was at least the promise, the yearning, that both performers and audience might get loose, shake ‘em on down, and run wild in the streets, as we of course eventually did.”
Sound: Anyone who listens to oldies stations like KRTH will recognize most of the 28 tracks from 1964-66 on these four indispensable albums. Prominently absent are the Beatles, Stones, the Who, Animals and Herman’s Hermits, due to rights difficulties. But most of the other significant figures of that era are well represented, from the enduring riff-rock and social commentary of the Kinks (one of the few artists in the genre to have any lasting impact in music) to the wholly innocuous ballads of Chad & Jeremy. Lennon and McCartney are represented in the half-dozen compositions--recorded by Billy J. Kramer and Peter & Gordon--included here. Amid all the delightful pop fluff (“Lady Godiva,” “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”), many significant beginnings can be sensed here--of rock as a wild sexual release (“I’m a Man,” “Wild Thing”), as a social protest force (“Shapes of Things,” “Universal Soldier”), as a more literate story/song form (“Bus Stop”). Every pop fan should have all four of these volumes in the home library.