While it seems in hindsight that the Beatles and the Rolling Stones dominated the Swinging ’60s, many other artists were challenging their supremacy. These included bands from the USA and Europe as well as the UK, which was the center of the youth revolution. What is not known is that some of the following bands even managed to depose the Big Two, at least for a while.
1) The Animals
As the widespread view described it, “Mods” had the Beatles, “Rockers” had the Rolling Stones, and the rest of us had the Animals — “the rest of us” being true rhythm and blues aficionados. These labels were deliberately disparaging. Mods and Rockers, the two main warring groups, were driven by fashion, attitude, and music. Led by Eric Burdon and consisting of musicians like keyboardist Alan Price, the Animals fit into neither group. They were raw, earthy, and soulful, inspired by the blues musicians of the deep South. The Animals’ “We Gotta Get Outta This Place” came to typify the era of anti-Vietnam protests and was adopted by US soldiers as an anthem. The Animals challenged the Big Two so successfully they are still seen as one of the major bands of the ’60s.
2) The Dave Clark Five
The daily newspapers were ecstatic. Glaring headlines declared the day the Beatles died, the end of an era, the demise of the mop tops. Why? The four Liverpudlians’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” had been knocked off the top spot in the charts by a quintet of Londoners. The Dave Clark Five’s catchy hit “Glad All Over” was pure pop made for the dance floor. The Mods still called the pop shots, but their loyalty had shifted to another neatly dressed, co-ordinated bunch of mop tops. Cartoonists happily mocked the fallen kings of the charts. One cartoon showed two young mod girls buying records. “How about the Beatles?” one girl said. “Who are they?” the other responded, holding up a DC5 album. It didn’t last, for after making it to the US and the Ed Sullivan Show, DC5 was caught amidships by the psychedelic wave, which the Beatles caught and crested of course. But it was fun while it lasted.
3) The Walker Brothers
Even the top bands had to bow before the superior vocal talent of Scott Walker. He was more than one-third of the American group that challenged the Big Two; he was a phenomenon. Divinely handsome, with a voice that turned blood to rivers of lava and melted boxes of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk at the back of the hall, Scott and his band of brothers weren’t brothers and their name wasn’t Walker. They came to the UK from the USA in 1965 to try their luck and couldn’t even be said to be challenging the Big Two. They were in a class of their own with more fans, it was said, than the Beatles. But success took its toll on the shy lead singer, once described in an interview as looking like a ball of paper carelessly rolled up and tossed away. He chose to pursue music that was less accessible to his legions of younger fans. Today he is still regarded with awe, arguably the most exceptional voice the ’60s ever produced.
4) The Searchers
A gallant little band that named themselves after their favorite John Wayne movie, the Searchers enjoyed some respectable hits and a loyal fan following. A popular club band on the Liverpool and Hamburg scene, the boys had a chart hit in 1963 with “Sweets for My Sweet,” which knocked the Beatles off the No. 1 chart spot and made the searchers a real challenge to their supremacy. It also set the band standard for sugary pop hits including “Sugar and Spice,” “Needles and Pins,” and the haunting “Don’t Throw Your Love Away.” The protest song “What Have They Done to the Rain” proved a change of pace. The following decades saw ups and downs in the band’s popularity and lineup, but they have continued to tour and play well into the 21st century.
5) The Easybeats
It wasn’t long before Australia came knocking at the door, seeking entry to the elite world of Beatles and Rolling Stones challengers. The Easybeats were British migrants to Australia who met at a hostel in Sydney. The band quickly rose to chart domination in Australia, which the local press soon compared to Beatlemania. In 1966 they headed for the UK and crossed the threshold to being real contenders to challenge the Big Two with a catchy hit called “Friday On My Mind.” Driven mainly by a powerhouse riff that echoed roaring surf and big blue skies, the track was fresh and exciting and became an international hit. But it was a hard act to follow, and ironically, the band’s next gig was support act to the Rolling Stones. The group never quite reached the dizzying heights of fame again, but lead singer Stevie Wright became one of Australia’s most prominent solo artists, and the band became one of Australia’s most influential, setting the standard of music and ambition for others to follow.
6) The Monkees
Initially little more than a Beatles copycat band for US TV audiences, the Monkees were a surprising hit in the UK. Of course, the cockney cuteness of the late Davy Jones helped, as did fond memories of Mickey Dolenz as a child star, but it was the musical ambitions of Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork that pushed them up the charts. These two fought for the band’s right to make and produce their own music, putting out some credible hits and giving Nesmith the necessary airlift to create such hits as “Rio” and “Joanne.” For a band whose whole reason for existence was to challenge the Beatles, the Monkees became a real success story.
7) Los Bravos
One of the most unusual challenges lobbed in from Spain with a cheeky hit called “Black is Black.” The Rolling Stones had produced a song earlier, the title track of their album, Paint It Black. The single was briefly and erroneously labeled “Paint It, Black.” This version was hastily withdrawn after accusations of racism. Los Bravos escaped a similar pounding, not being subject to the vagaries of poor editing. It was catchy, infectious, and made No. 2 in the charts, and for a giddy moment, the Big Two seemed supplanted by a record whose Spanish title was “Negro es Negro.”
8) The Small Faces
The Small Faces were four likely London lads with a penchant for witty song phrasing and more cheek than a Kardashian selfie. A couple of lines from “Lazy Sunday Afternoon” prove the point: “Wouldn’t it be nice to get on with me neighbors, but they make it very clear they’ve got no time for ravers.” This band could out-hallucinate any psychedelic outfit, although it was largely influenced by music hall music. Its members’ combined sense of humor, style, and clever songwriting made the Small Faces more than simple challengers. With a strong following in their own right, the Small Faces were proof positive that even the Big Two weren’t the be-all and end-all of ’60s music.
9) Georgie Fame
If mods and rockers cheered the Big Two, and R&B fans loved the Animals, those who were too classy for any of that pop rubbish lined up at the clubs when Georgie Fame and his band were playing. Georgie Fame was the lean man of cool, fusing R&B, jazz, funk, and nightclub soul together in hits like “Yeh Yeh,” “Get Away,” “Sunny,” and “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde,” his biggest hit, ideally suited to his jazz club aura. Later he teamed up with keyboardist and good friend Alan Price to reform the Blue Flames, moving on to big band work. He is still regarded as one of the finest and most influential artists in British music. Fame and his musical colleagues gave the lie to the myth that ’60s musicians only knew three guitar chords. Of course, they were in demand as session musicians, but they were in demand on the charts as well.
10) The Troggs
One hit from the ’60s that never seems to go away is “Wild Thing.” It was most recently performed by Kit Harrington (otherwise known as Jon Snow) in a Chris Martin and Coldplay Game of Thrones mock musical as “Wildling.” Its powers of endurance are largely due to the relentless driving beat, one of the most effective earworms ever devised. The band responsible for this monster hit was the Troggs, who reasoned that, since the older generation regarded ’60s bands as troglodytes, they may as well officially adopt that name. As cheerfully unkempt as rock stars are supposed to be, the Troggs happily succeeded in outraging everyone over the age of 30 and created what is possibly one of the most beloved vocal riffs of all time: “Wild Thing, I think I love you.”
Hopefully, this list shows that there was much more to ’60s music than the Big Two. There was more variety, more wit, more talent, and much more to love.