A Guide to Mod Music

A guide to the scene that introduced Brits to hard R&B

"About Time!" by the Attack
"About Time!" by the Attack.

The classic Sixties "mod" scene is usually considered a cultural phenomenon, not a musical one, but the original genre did have certain parameters, although it's easier to determine what Mod music was by looking at what it wasn't. First, unlike Merseybeat, which was influenced by skiffle and '50s rock, or the second wave of British Invasion bands focused on traditional American blues (The Animals, The Rolling Stones), Mod was the first true English R&B phenomenon.

The most crucial Mod fixation was on what came to be known as "Tamla/Motown" (the label Motown singles were released on in the UK). The mods, generally more middle-class folk who dressed in a collegiate style and preferred the new R&B to traditional rock, clashed openly in the streets of London with the more working-class "rockers" who wore leather jackets and clung to the obsolete sounds of rockabilly; the war between the two in 1964 was the American public's first introduction to the trend.

The typical Mod song fused the harder, earlier Motown R&B sound with traditional British pop virtues; as a result, the songs were slick, uptempo, yet soulful, featuring hard guitars and drums but also pop harmonies and, typically, sporting a cynical attitude about romance. As the phenomenon died around 1966, the "hard mods" gravitated toward the British garage-psychedelia that would come to be known as Freakbeat; the poppier mods (that is, those who hadn't had the vision to break free from the fad, like the Kinks, Small Faces, and the Who) went full hippie, and the fixation with American R&B turned instead to Jamaican ska and bluebeat. As with so many UK movements, this one came back around -- first in the punk movement, spawning bands like the Jam, and then more recently, complete with a revival of '60s mod clothing and the mod's favorite form of transport, Vespa, and Lambretta scooters!

Also Known As Freakbeat, British Invasion

Examples of Mod Music and Songs:

"The Kids Are Alright," The Who

Guitarist Pete Townshend tribute to the mod scene may be its defining moment, at least as a fad.

"Who'll Be The Next In Line," The Kinks

The Kinks had started as garage-rockers, but they only stayed in the mod scene a brief while before alienating both scenes with gentle chamber-pop.

"All Or Nothing," The Small Faces

The greatest mod band that never translated to America shows how well they mastered that evasive mix of blue-eyed soul and pop jangle.

"Biff Bang Pow," The Creation

An R&B rave-up with a distinct "My Generation" groove but also some excellent Motown harmonies.

"Something Has Hit Me," The Action

A ballad that catches the energy of the scene just as it was starting to descend into drugged-out introspection.

"You've Got What I Want," The Sorrows

Early, raw, tribal mod music with its snarl still intact.

"Snap, Crackle, and Pop," Powder

Taken under Sonny Bono's wing, these guys were supposed to be the next Who, but they never got the chance. They did a great soundalike, though, right down to the manic drums.

"We Don't Know," The Attack

Real maximum R&B from one of the most fondly-remembered mod bands, with a propulsive beat that sounded like a Brit version of James Brown in full boogaloo. 

"When The Night Falls," The Eyes

The band that probably toyed with psych before any other mods -- including the Who.

"Leaving Here," The Birds

Not the Byrds with a y, but a bunch of English blokes (including a young Ron Wood!) taking on every Mod's fave Motown rave.