When we think of the 1960s pop music movement known as the British Invasion, The Beatles are usually the first group that comes to mind, followed by other British male rock stars of the era like The Rolling Stones, The Who, Tom Jones, and Cliff Richard. However, there were also a number of female singers who became successful during this trend. While some of these women turned out to be one-hit wonders, others enjoyed lengthy and prominent careers. Here are the 10 most popular female singers of the British Invasion.
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10 Sandie Shaw
Sandie Shaw was one of the top girl singers to come out of the British Invasion, with hits like the frequently covered “Long Live Love” (1965) and her Eurovision Song Contest winning “Puppet on a String” (1967), reportedly “the biggest selling single by a UK-based female artist of all time”
Shaw really had the whole package, a singer/songwriter with a very attractive, stylish appearance and a lovely voice. Known as “the ultimate working-class It Girl,” she had several international hits, including the Burt Bacharach-Hal David ballad “There’s Always Something There to Remind Me” and three # 1 singles in the UK. She also started her own fashion label in 1968.
Cute, perky, and infectiously energetic Lulu is still going strong, planning a UK tour nearly 60 years after the debut of her career-launching track “Shout.” The most memorable song this Scottish singer/actress has recorded is the big international hit To Sir with Love, which was the theme song to the 1967 Sidney Poitier-starring film of the same name, co-starring Lulu herself. Following the film, Lulu quickly became a TV personality with her own show in the UK, Happening for Lulu, and subsequent projects. Her other notable songs include:” Oh Me, Oh My (I’m a Fool for You, Baby)” (1970) and the theme for the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun.
Lulu has also been in the headlines for her personal life, with marriages to Bee Gees member Maurice Gibb (1969–1973) and celebrity hairstylist John Frieda (1977–1991). She also had a brief romance with David Bowie, who produced her popular 1974 cover of his song “The Man Who Sold the World.”
8 Kiki Dee
Although British singer/songwriter Kiki Dee is clearly more than a one-hit wonder, she is probably best remembered for the 1976 pop duet “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart,” which she sang with Elton John. While this song and its memorable video may have been more closely associated with Dee than any of her other recordings, she has had a long and fruitful career which began in the 1960s when she did session work for big stars of the era. Dee’s talent was obvious early on, especially to her peers, but major fame was a long time coming. However, the versatile and soulful sounding Dee was actually the first British artist to sign with Motown’s Tamla Records, joining the label in 1970.
Dee has released many albums and dozens of singles. Her first big hits were “Amoureuse” (1973) and “I Got the Music in Me” (1974). She later re-teamed with Elton John for a popular 1993 cover of Cole Porter’s song “True Love” and has performed in musical theater, even giving an acclaimed performance in the lead role of the West End show Blood Brothers in 1988.
7 The Breakaways
Initially, as members of a girls’ choir in Liverpool, the female vocal group The Breakaways formed in 1962 and featured Vicki Haseman (later Brown), Margot Quantrell, Barbara Moore, and Betty Prescott (replaced by Jean Ryder). They provided backing for a number of Brit Invasion artists, in addition to recording songs of their own. The group did session work for such stars as Lulu, Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, and Cliff Richard. They also toured with American rock stars like Sam Cooke and Little Richard.
The group received ample TV exposure as regulars on the British music show Ready Steady Go and were backing singers for Cilla Black’s series Cilla.
According to Nostalgia Central, “The Breakaways became Britain’s premiere session vocalists throughout the 1960s, also recording a handful of little-known girl group singles.” Their first single on the label Pye Records, titled “That Boy of Mine,” became a minor hit. They continued to do session work for several years but were sometimes uncredited.
Although usually in the shadows, The Breakaways made a significant contribution to the British pop sound of the 1960s and ’70s.
6 Mary Hopkin
After being recommended to Paul McCartney by the fashion model Twiggy, who spotted her winning a televised talent competition, Welsh singer Mary Hopkin became one of the first artists to record material on The Beatles’ own record label, Apple. Although she was still in her teens, the petite ethereal blonde already had experience playing local clubs and had released an album of Welsh-language songs by the time she signed with Apple.
Her debut English language album Postcard (1969) was personally produced by McCartney, and Hopkin became his protégé. Despite some artistic differences, their collaboration was a success. The first single, “Those Were the Days” (1968), not only became a gold record but is Hopkin’s most memorable song. “Goodbye” was also a hit, as were her singles “Que Sera, Sera” (1969) and “Temma Harbour” (1970).
Hopkin went on to represent the UK in the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest, coming in second with the song “Knock Knock, Who’s There’s?” The following year, Apple released her second album, Earth Song, Ocean Song (1971), produced by Hopkin’s husband, Tony Visconti. At this point, she left the music scene in order to focus on raising a family but has continued to record over the years.
5 Cilla Black
A Liverpool native, born Priscilla Maria Veronica White, the singer/TV star known professionally as Cilla Black after a newspaper got her last name wrong, was one of the most prolific British entertainers of the 1960s and beyond. Black, who passed away in 2015, had 19 UK “Top 40” singles (including two #1 hits), released 15 studio albums, and performed in sold-out shows at some of the most impressive venues in the world. Black’s biggest international hits include “You’re My World,” as well as the Lennon-McCartney penned song “It’s For You,” and her cover of Dionne Warwick’s “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
The cheerful, spunky redhead got her start working in local night spots, sometimes as a waitress or coat check girl, other times singing alongside future global stars like The Beatles. It was, in fact, The Beatles’ legendary manager, Brian Epstein, who recognized Black’s potential and took her under his wing, resulting in a rise to stardom.
While most of the top women of the British Invasion hosted TV shows at one time or another, Black really made a career as a TV personality, hosting several series over the years.
In the early 1990s, Cilla Black recorded a duet with fellow British songstress Dusty Springfield. The up-tempo “Heart and Soul,” which was both nostalgic and age-defying, gave a nod to their heyday in the music scene of the 1960s.
4 Christine MacVie
As a lead singer, songwriter, and pianist, Christine MacVie has been a major part of Fleetwood Mac’s success, “becoming a superstar in 1975 as part of the Lindsey Buckingham/Stevie Nicks version of the band,” according to All Music.
The daughter of a concert violinist, MacVie—born Christine Perfect—was preparing herself for a career in visual art, studying sculpture, when she became a bassist in the band Sounds of Blue. After her stint as a member of Chicken Shack in the late 1960s, the smoky alto-voiced singer released her first solo album, married Fleetwood Mac bassist John MacVie, and joined the band herself.
During her first 25 years with Fleetwood Mac, she wrote such popular songs as “Say You Love Me,” “Songbird,” and “You Make Loving Fun.” She also released several solo albums. MacVie left the band in the late 1990s but returned more than 15 years later, recording the 2017 album Lindsey Buckingham, Christine Macvie.
3 Marianne Faithfull
In many ways, the folk/rock icon Marianne Faithfull embodied the spirit of the late 1960s with the combination of her wild, bohemian, rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and her vulnerable, almost childlike image. She was actually little more than a child when, as a cherubic-faced 16-year-old, she was “discovered” by The Rolling Stones’ manager at a party.
Her background—being the daughter of a British spy and Austrian baroness, granddaughter of a sexologist, and enrolled in a convent school at age seven—sounds like it could inspire an amazing song. However, “Faithfull’s career as the crown princess of swinging London was launched with ‘As Tears Go By,’ the first song ever written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards,” according to her website.
For several years Marianne Faithfull was a combination of muse for then-boyfriend Mick Jagger and recording artist in her own right. In 1965 there was a double release of Faithfull’s first two solo albums. Her self-titled debut album is made up of pop songs, while Come My Way is a folk album. It seems appropriate that two such different works were released simultaneously since it’s impossible to stamp one particular genre on her. She has also recorded alternative, blues, and jazz.
In addition to her more than 55 years as a recording artist, Faithfull has also enjoyed a long, notable acting career on both stage and screen.
2 Petula Clark
Of all the female vocalists who thrived during the British Invasion, Petula Clark is one of the most internationally famous. Her long, multi-dimensional career began well before the Swinging Sixties. Clark got her start at the age of 10 during WWII, singing on BBC radio, and quickly became a sensation. Her concert appearances exceeded 500 before she was 12 years old.
Ironically, this child star, who was often referred to as “Britain’s Shirley Temple,” would end up with possibly the most sophisticated sound and image of British Invasion’s female singers. This was partly achieved by recording so many French songs at the urging of her future husband, Frenchman Claude Wolff.
After more than 20 years as a popular entertainer, it turned out the best was yet to come for Petula Clark, who distinguished herself as one of the leading artists of the phenomenal Brit movement, even beating out The Beatles for a Grammy with her 1964 song “Downtown.” Clark’s other big hits of this period include “Don’t Sleep in the Subway,” “I Know a Place,” and “A Sign of the Times.”
In addition to her career as a singer/songwriter, which has spanned decades, Clark is also an accomplished actress with roles in such films as Finian’s Rainbow and the 1968 remake of Goodbye, Mr. Chips as well as staring in numerous stage shows. like the musical Sunset Boulevard.
1 Dusty Springfield
The incomparable Dusty Springfield is remembered as one of the brightest stars to come out of the British Invasion. In the decades following her death in 1999, Springfield’s music is as cherished as ever. Her iconic album Dusty in Memphis was recently ranked #83 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. With her exaggerated beehive and trademark panda eyes, she was visually striking and has been proclaimed one of the all-time greatest British female singers. Her often breathy voice—wistful one moment and sultry the next—was truly distinctive, and she was dubbed the “Queen of Blue-Eyed Soul.”
After performing with her brother Tom in the folk trio The Springfields, she went solo in her mid-twenties, recording many hits, including “I Only Wanna Be with You,” “Son of a Preacher Man,” “The Look of Love,” and “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” According to Writing on Music, Springfield was also “effectively the uncredited producer of many of her records.”
Following her relocation to America in the early 1970s, Springfield struggled in both her personal and professional life but made an impressive comeback in the 1980s when she teamed up with The Pet Shop Boys. She is now widely considered a pop and soul music legend.