In addition to Harry Potter, fish and chips and afternoon tea, we can thank the UK for giving us great music. There’s a reason why the period between 1963 and 1967 is known as the “British Invasion”. It was then that several British rock musicians began dominating the world music charts like never before.
It’s difficult to imagine what popular culture would look like today without the influence of some of Britain’s greats. Here’s a roundup of five British music artists who have left a powerful mark in music history.
We said goodbye to David Bowie with heavy hearts on 10 January 2016, but we know that his legacy will live on through his other-worldly, haunting music. His artistry will continue to inspire fans to explore uncharted territories and embrace their unique “weirdness”.
The late David Bowie was a British music legend known for being fearlessly experimental with his music, fashion and art. In 1972, he made waves in the glam rock era with his flamboyant and androgynous alter ego, Ziggy Stardust. Most of his songs were centered around the theme of being an outsider.
During his lifetime, the fiercely forward-thinking British music artist sold over 140 million records worldwide. In the UK, he was awarded nine platinum album certifications, and in the U.S., he received five platinum certifications. Bowie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
Bowie’s first No. 1 album to top the UK charts was “Aladdin Sane” (1973). He described the album as “Ziggy goes to America”, and it includes songs he wrote while travelling to and across the U.S. during the earlier part of the Ziggy tour.
Album: “Aladdin Sane”
John Lennon is undoubtedly one of the greatest music icons of all time. He shaped generations with his transcendental music, believing that popular music should do more than just entertain; it should say something meaningful.
Lennon first rose to fame as a co-founder of the Beatles. He and bandmate Paul McCartney penned songs that questioned society’s assumptions and pushed boundaries. The Beatles were the first pop artists to expose Western audiences to world music and the first band to print their song lyrics on an album cover. After the Beatles disbanded in 1970, Lennon went on to pursue a solo career.
In 2008, Rolling Stone ranked Lennon the fifth-greatest singer of all time. He was also posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987, and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice.
“Imagine” is considered to be his most popular solo album. Its title track is proclaimed to be one of Lennon's greatest songs and has become an international anthem for peace. In 2012, “Imagine” was voted 80th on Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”.
In her short lifetime, Amy Winehouse graced the world with her deep, soulful contralto vocals and her eclectic mix of musical genres, including soul, R&B, jazz and pop.
Winehouse was always known for having a rebellious streak. At age 16, she was expelled from the prestigious Sylvia Young Theatre School for “not applying herself” and piercing her nose. But that didn’t stop her from achieving her dreams. She was first discovered when a schoolmate and friend, pop singer Tyler James, passed her demo tape to his label.
She channeled her rebellious rock ’n’ roll spirit into her unapologetically honest music. And though Winehouse was young, her sultry voice sounded mature beyond her years. The BBC has even called her “the pre-eminent vocal talent of her generation”.
Winehouse’s 2006 album, “Back to Black”, led to five 2008 Grammy Awards, tying the then-record for the most wins by a female artist in a single night. She was also the first British female music artist to win five Grammys.
Album: “Back to Black”
Freddie Mercury was the lead vocalist and songwriter for Queen, entrancing the world with his flamboyant stage persona and powerful vocals over a four-octave range. His songwriting was influenced by many genres, including rockabilly, progressive rock, heavy metal, gospel and disco.
Mercury was famous for his theatrical stage presence. Guitarist Brian May noted that Mercury could make “the last person at the back of the furthest stand in a stadium feel that he was connected”.
Queen’s fourth studio album, “A Night at the Opera”, explores a wide range of styles, from ballads and music hall style songs to hard rock numbers. It’s known as Queen’s greatest work, and many say it’s the band’s definitive album. It also includes the band’s most successful single in the UK, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, which became one of the best-selling singles in the UK and worldwide.
Album: “A Night at The Opera”
Robert Plant is best known as the lead singer and lyricist of Led Zeppelin and has been wowing music fans with his impressive vocal range for almost 50 years. He’s regarded as of the greatest singers in rock ’n’ roll history, and was ranked the greatest of all lead singers by Rolling Stone in 2011.
Plant's lyrics are often mystical and philosophical, alluding to events in classical and Norse mythology. He was also influenced by J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”, and the book series actually inspired lyrics in some early Led Zeppelin songs.
Plant is also known for his stage presence, often dancing, jumping, skipping and clapping while decked out in elaborate clothing and jewelry.
Led Zeppelin’s fourth album, “Led Zeppelin IV”, features the track “Stairway to Heaven”, and is considered one of the most influential works in rock music.