10 British Classic Rock acts that made it big in the USA

9 February 2024, 09:00

Big in the USA: The Beatles touch down in New York, February 1964; Freddie Mercury gives Inglewood, California a show in 1977; Led Zeppelin refuel their private jet in Hawaii; and Elton John plays Dodger Stadium in 1975.
Big in the USA: The Beatles touch down in New York, February 1964; Freddie Mercury gives Inglewood, California a show in 1977; Led Zeppelin refuel their private jet in Hawaii; and Elton John plays Dodger Stadium in 1975. Picture: Brian McLaughlin/Michael Ochs Archives/Robert Knight Archive/Redferns/Chris Walter/WireImage/CBS via Getty Images

60 years after The Beatles arrived in America and started the British Invasion, which Classic Rock acts from this side of the Atlantic have made it big in the USA?

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When The Beatles touched down at John F. Kennedy airport on Friday 7th February 1964, it was the start of what would become known as "The British Invasion".

Despite not being the first British band to get a Number 1 hit in the US - that was The Tornados, whose Telstar had hit the top in 1962 - but success for our artists on the other side of the pond was sporadic and fleeting.

The Beatles opened the door for British music in the States and their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday 9th February was one of the most-watched television programmed in history, with an estimated 73 million people tuning in.

Here are some of the other great Brits that have found fame and fortune in the US of A...

  1. The Who

    The Who's show at the Pontiac Metropolitan Stadium in December 1975 saw them play to 75,000 people in one night, earning them over half a million dollars... and their record sales aren't to be sniffed at, either. With over 100 million albums sold in the US, their 1971 classic Who's Next has been certified triple Platinum in the US, while Tommy, Who Are You and the ear-shredding Love At Leeds are all double-Platinum sellers.

    Biggest American hit: I Can See For Miles

    The Who 'I Can See For Miles' 1967

  2. Fleetwood Mac

    This transatlantic band started life as a group of earnest blues-worshippers in London... but after relocating to the States at the turn of the 1970s, they enlisted Californian Lindsey Buckingham and Arizonian Stevie Nicks to become one of the biggest bands in the USA, with a score of over 100 million albums sold. The landmark 1977 album Rumours has sold an estimated 21 milliion copies, while its predecessor, their 1975 self-titled LP has done a respectable 7 million.

    Biggest American hit: Dreams

    Fleetwood Mac - Dreams (Official Music Video) [4K Remaster]

  3. Deep Purple

    More than 250,000 people attended the Ontario Motor Speedway on 6th April 1974 for a double-header of Deep Purple and Emerson Lake & Palmer, setting a record for the highest paying audience to date. The band, who formed in London in 1967 around Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore, have sold over 100 million albums in the States, the biggest of which is 1972's Machine Head, which resides in over 2 millon homes on that side of the Atlantic.

    Biggest American hit: Smoke On The Water

    Deep Purple - Smoke on the Water (Audio)

  4. The Rolling Stones

    The Stones made their first trip to the USA in June 1964 and they've been a fixture for six full decades, with North American dates lined up for Summer 2024. They've had eight US Number 1 singles and nine Number 1 albums, with over 200 million LPs sold - the biggest of which is the 1971 Hot Rocks compilation, which has been certified 12 times Platinum. On its heels is 1978's Some Girls, which has sold half that amount in the States.

    Biggest American hit: Paint It, Black

    The Rolling Stones - Paint It, Black (Official Lyric Video)

  5. Pink Floyd

    The Floyd epitomised the stadium rock band in the Unites States during the 70s. On the 1975 Wish You Were Here tour, the band performed seven nights at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena to just under 75,000 people in total, taking in over $1.1 million - which is approximately $6.1 million today. The Roger Waters-less line-up played two nights at Cleveland Stadium in September 1987 to over 128,000 people, which earnd the band $2.5 million at the time. Out of their 200 million American album sales, The Wall has been responsible for 23 million copies (11.5m per disc!), while Dark Side Of The Moon has sold over 15 million copies - and that's a single disc.

    Biggest American hit: Another Brick In The Wall

    Pink Floyd - Another Brick In The Wall, Part Two (Official Music Video)

  6. Queen

    As the Bohemian Rhapsody film demonstrated, an tour supporting Mott The Hoople across the USA put the British band on America's radar early on, and Queen have now sold over 200 million albums in the country. The Game tour of 1980 saw the band play three nights at New York's Madison Square Garden to 50,000 people earning them somehwere in the region of $500k, while the 1980 single Another One Bites The Dust has been certified five times Platinum Stateside.

    Biggest American hit: Another One Bites The Dust

    Queen - Another One Bites the Dust (Official Video)

  7. David Bowie

    This Brixton-born lad later made New York City his home and over his long career sold over 200 million albums sold in the States. His 80s albums Let's Dance and Tonight were both certified Platinum across the Atlantic, while the Queen collab Under Pressure sold over four million copies. Meanwhile, Bowie's Glass Spider tour of 1987 grossed over $86 million (nearly $200 million in today's money).

    Biggest American hit: Fame

    David Bowie | Fame | Live on the Cher Show | 18 September 1975

  8. Led Zeppelin

    The Beatles defined British success in the States for the 60s, while Led Zep redefined it for the 70s. Their largest show on American shores was probably the Pontiac Silverdome show in 1977, in front of 76,000 fans and they've sold over 200 million albums in the country. Led Zep IV has been certified 24 times Platinum (probably because teenagers were ruining their copies playing them backwards in search of subliminal messages or something), while Physical Graffiti has sold over 16 million copies.

    Biggest American hit: Whole Lotta Love

    Led Zeppelin - Whole Lotta Love (Official Music Video)

  9. Elton John

    In two famous concerts in October 1975, Elton became the first artist to perform at Dodger Stadium since The Beatles had appeared there back in 1966. He appeared over two nights for over 100,000 making them the largest shows ever performed by a solo artist to date.

    Elton's Stateside sales are also impressive, with over 300 million albums sold and 20 Billboard Number 1 singles. His 1974 Greatest Hits collection has been cetrified 17 times Platinum in the US and his remake of Candle In The Wind in 1997 for the late Princess Diana has been certified 11 times Platinum.

    In the 21st Century, Elton's Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour has brought in over $939 million, with 6 million tickets sold - making it second only to Taylor Swift's Eras Tour as the highest-grossing series of shows in history.

    Biggest American hit: Candle In The Wind 1997

    Candle In The Wind 1997

  10. The Beatles

    The undisputed champions of British musical success Stateside are the Fab Four. Since I Want To Hold Your Hand made Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1964, they've had 20 singles top the American charts, sold over 500 million albums in the US and continued to break records across the years.

    The 1968 double "White Album" was one of the fastest selling LPs in the country's history and has since been certified 24 times Platinum by the RIAA (12 million for each disc!), while Abbey Road has been awarded 12 times Platinum and Sgt Pepper 11 times. Even the single Hey Jude is estimated to have sold 4 million copies.

    Promoter Sid Bernstein, who masterminded their performing career in the States said, "Over 55,000 people saw the Beatles at Shea Stadium [in 1965]. We took $304,000, the greatest gross ever in the history of show business."

    Biggest American hit: Hey Jude

    The Beatles - Hey Jude