British Invasion Songwriting

September 10, 2007 at 3:46 pm 2 comments

The “British Invasion”, which began in 1963 and which was led and dominated by the Beatles, coincided with my musical awakening at the age of eleven. While I had certainly listened to lots of music before that time (my father had been a successful pianist and teacher), the arrival of the Beatles and other bands like the Dave Clark Five, the Searchers, Hermans Hermits, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Freddie and the Dreamers, etc., was an enormous event in my life. It is why I took up the guitar. The hits came fast and furious back then, with new singles and albums released at a dizzying pace. While much of what we listened to fell well short of the pinnacle of Western music, there were some remarkably well-written songs mixed in.

The work of Lennon/McCartney requires no particular elaboration. Their work is universally recognized as among the best songs ever written. There are, however, some other less acclaimed British Invasion songs that charted very well in the 60’s and also merit additional listening.

For this chapter in my Vintage Instrumentals Project, I chose three:

  1. Ferry Cross the Mersey (written by Gerry Marsden and a hit for Gerry and the Pacemakers
  2. Because (written by Dave Clark and a hit for the Dave Clark Five)
  3. Bad to Me (actually written by Lennon/McCartney but a hit for Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas)

Here are links to listen to my arrangements:

Ferry Cross the Mersey Stream Mp3
Because Stream Mp3
Bad to Me Stream Mp3

In 1962, Gerry and the Pacemakers were signed by manager Brian Epstein as his second group after the Beatles, and made their name with ballads like Ferry Cross the Mersey and Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying. Gerry Marsden, who is still an active musician (see website) wrote those love ballads.

I was convinced that Ferry Cross the Mersey warranted my attention after hearing Pat Metheny cover it on his CD One Quiet Night. If Pat thinks it worth his time, I certainly am going to have a look.

This song grabs you right from the outset, with a lovely two-chord progression that is not typical for a pop song of this era:

Ferry Cross the Mersey

While the song is firmly in the key of “C”, the Gmi7 introduces the note Bb — which is outside of the key — as well as the gentle dissonance of the minor 7th. It is, in fact, harmonic interest which all of these songs have in common.

Unlike many of the British Invasion groups, the Dave Clark Five was not from Liverpool, but the London area. Their hit Glad All Over replaced I Want to Hold Your Hand on the UK charts in January of 1964. For much of 1964 and 65, The DC5 were the Beatles’ biggest competition.

Their hit Because, also from 1964 also displays some harmonic content not commonly found in this type of material:


The chromatic melodic movement from D – D# – E – D# shown here in the introduction is carried through much of the song, and the dominant with raised 5th (D7#5) is used frequently throughout the song.

Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas were another band signed by the Beatles manager, Brian Epstein. One of their minor claims to fame is that they released songs written by Lennon/McCartney that the Beatles themselves never released. Bad to Me is one of those.

There are two separate instances that are harmonically interesting, and like the song Because, they involve an “altered” chord and chromatic movement. Towards the end of the “A” section, the dominant seventh is given more tension by raising the fifth. This can be seen in the second bar of the example – the F double sharp. The turnaround to the “B” section is also relatively sophisticated.

Bad To Me 1

In the example below, note the chromatic movement from G# – G – F# and the fairly advanced chords/voicings that appear in the final two bars:

Bad to Me 2

Coming next: Instrumental Surf Music.

Entry filed under: Guitar, Music, Oldies, Vintage Instrumentals.

Ghost Riders in the Sky Surf Rock/Guitar Instrumentals Part 1 – The Ventures

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jonathan  |  September 11, 2007 at 8:05 am

    Thanks, Richard
    I really appreciate the harmonic analysis.
    I think there is software available to put the standard notation into tab for the challenged musicians. LOL

  • 2. shufflocity  |  September 11, 2007 at 8:19 am

    I think the software I use (Musicator) can do this, but it tends to do the simplest translation and often doesn’t indicate how I actually play something. In this case I wasn’t really trying to transcribe what I play so much as show the harmony clearly. Thanks for commenting.


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