Camaro Rock: The Second British Invasion

Pre-1962, English music is pretty much a desert.

What the British at that time did have in spades is a musical theatre tradition. It was basically a cheeky ridicule of pomp and circumstance and a general satire of English culture. Look no further than Monty Python’s Flying Circus for good examples.

The Beatles were from that musical theatre tradition by way of the Everly Brothers, Motown, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Carl Perkins. The Liverpool lads stood on the top of about a zillion bar bands who murdered — to one degree or another — American music while dodging insults, fluids, and implements hurled at them from the audience.

But by the 1970s, many Brit bands almost sounded more “American” than actual Americans. So much so that if you polled 99.9% of U.S. AC/DC and Pink Floyd record buyers, they’d likely swear that these were American bands. The exception would be the Rolling Stones; they did not go to any great lengths to hide that they were British, but at the same time were almost more “Yank” than Yanks by way of their devotion to the blues.

American blues music reached the starchy Brits in the 50s during the Cold War via the black American soldiers stationed in England and Germany. The black servicemen brought their records, Muddy, Leadbelly, and John Lee Hooker, and a long list of others. And that lit a fire that would eventually become the “British Invasion” of the early 60s.

In his autobiography, Life, Keith Richards was adamant that the early Stones were a blues band. They set out to be the best one in London and would get there by acquiring, dissecting, and learning every Muddy Waters, Little Walter, and Buddy Guy record they could get their hands on.

Then there was skiffle. The skiffle movement was basically British kids learning two chords on the guitar and singing their anemic hearts out on American folk blues. Van Morrison, The Beatles (Ringo especially), Rory Gallagher, and Jimmy Page all have skiffle roots. There’s an infamous video of 13-year-old Page, in 1957, coiffed as if to meet the Queen, playing and singing Momma Don’t Want You to Play No Skiffle No More with his band on the All Your Own TV show.

Thankfully skiffle died out but it helped carve a path towards what would become a second British invasion in the 70s, one less cheeky and cute, and way more muscular. It’s been deemed “Camaro Rock.”

Camaro Rock is defined by the blues scale, but not the 1-4-5 blues form. It uses a heavy backbeat. The guitar hook reigns, the vocal a close second. The hook is the call, the vocal the response. The songs All Right Now by Free and 30 Days In The Hole by Humble Pie are largely considered the first Camaro Rock tunes and define this addicting subgenre.

They combined Honky Tonk Women with a few Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker tricks, put it to a heavier rock drum beat and dispensed with the turnaround as much as possible. The Brits soon after stumbled onto the particular “muscle car” vibe found within Aerosmith, Montrose, Van Halen. Boston, Kansas, Mountain, April Wine, Triumph, and just about every other “smelly bloke” outfit that ruled AOR in the 70s.

When you think of British culture, the last things that come to mind are the open road and massive engine torque. Maybe it’s the dreams we sold them via Westerns, biker, and hot rod films. However they got there, 70s Brit rockers did what they did in the early 60s by turning something from American culture back onto Americans in a fresh (and loud) new way.

All hail, Camaro Rock.

-Sebastian Corbascio

Photo: Steve Marriott of Humble Pie (Dina Regine via Wikimedia Commons)

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6 comments on “Camaro Rock: The Second British Invasion

  1. You make some pretty broad statements here that would benefit from supporting sources. In towns like Liverpool, the American records were as likely to have come from the merchant seamen than Black servicemen, and American pop was a fixture on late night radio Luxembourg. (Philip Norman, 1981.). You suggest, as well, that the Skiffle wave was a significant path to the second British Invasion. I believe you’ve misplaced it, as Lonnie Donegan’s “Rock Island Road” was a hit on the British charts in 1956. That would, of course, suggest a much greater influence on the original British Invasion. I’m most curious, though, where your term Camaro Rock originated, and how All Right Now and 30 Days in the Hole are considered the first Camaro Rock tunes, when they were released two years apart ? To quote Inigo Montoya, regarding the term Camaro Rock, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    • Sebastian Corbascio

      Hi Todd, thanks for reading and thanks for checking in. I actually invented the term Camaro Rock.

      • I’m totally cool with that, Sebastian, thanks for the explanation.

        • Sebastian Corbascio

          Camaro rock is an artistic movement who’s definitions are ahem still being defined. I find it fascinating that the primarily British originators really tapped into the conscience of the America working class so acutely. I also fid it fascinating that, as one guy put it, “AOR is the new baroque classical music.”

  2. Mark Hudson

    Um, where to start? Monty Python formed in 1969 so could not be an example of pre 1962 musical theatre tradition. AC/DC are Australian, not British. I don’t know of anyone who thinks either they or Pink Floyd are American. Not sure that they (Floyd) went to “any great lengths to hide that they were British” as you infer. No “muscle car vibe” that I can detect in the band Kansas. Oh, and we’re NOT starchy! Well… maybe just a bit. 🙂

    • Sebastian Corbascio

      Hi Mark, thanks for reading and thanks for your comments. No, but MP sure was influenced by the English musical theatre tradition. AC/DC are actually Scots, so separatist or not, they are still subjects of the Crown (as far as I understand). Here in the US, as far as we’re concerned Floyd are Americans to a large part of the US population. For a while, we thought Pink Floyd was one guy. Then, sometime in 1987, we matured to the point where we started reading the liner notes; we taught our kids to read the liner notes, and not make the mistakes we made. But if you were yay tall and American in 1983, you pretty much assumed Floyd were yanks. I was referring to the Rolling Stones as not hiding their British identity, not ze Floyd. The rave-up in Carry On My Wayward Son is as muscle car as you can get. Next time you’re in your Prius, tell me you don’t want to slam the gas when Wayward Son comes on the Dad Rock channel! As far as starchy Brits, I feel this sentence is 100 times more offensive: “The skiffle movement was basically British kids learning two chords on the guitar and singing their anemic hearts out on American folk blues.” (You should see what they DIDN’T let me put in.) Anyway, thanks for hangin’ and don’t forget to Keep O Truckin’.

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