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February will mark the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' arrival in the U.S., which kicked off the British Invasion era. But as much as 2014 looms as the golden anniversary of the year that changed music, 2013 offered an impressive show of gray U.K. power.
Surviving members of Big Four British Invasion bands – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who and Led Zeppelin – hit these shores to tour in the same year for what might, as Mick Jagger sang, might be the last time.
That's a tribute to vitamins and personal trainers. But it’s even more of a tribute to the enduring power of music that spans generations – and opens wallets: The Stones ($126 million for 23 shows) and Paul McCartney (nearly $70 million for 21 shows) made Billboard’s Top 25 highest grossing tours of 2013 list.
McCartney also put out a new album called "New" amid the release of more Beatles BBC recordings. Ringo Starr, meanwhile, launched a mini-tour that ended in Las Vegas, where he was reunited with a group of fans whose picture he snapped the day the Beatles arrived in New York five decades prior.
The Stones celebrated their 50th anniversary tour in a year Jagger and Keith Richards turned 70. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey reigned over arenas for the 40th anniversary of The Who’s rebellious rock opera "Quadrophenia."
The youngest member of the big four, Robert Plant, turned 65 in August after leading his Shape Shifters on a tour during which he sang more Zeppelin numbers than anytime since the one-off reunion concert with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones in 2007.
The 2013 shows, especially for those of us not old enough to have seen the bands during the first British Invasion wave, offered welcome helpings of classic music that lives not only in recordings but on the lips and fingers of its creators. The tours also served as salutes to those who didn't get to take the musical victory lap in a year that also marked what would have been George Harrison’s 70th birthday.
The victory lap, for some, is a marathon. McCartney plans to tour Europe in 2014. The Stones are headed to Australia, Japan and China, among other places, with Jagger on the verge of becoming a great-grandfather. Townshend and Daltrey recently announced they’ll tour for the last time in 2015, when they’ll both be septuagenarians. Then again, they said much the same during The Who’s first farewell tour in 1982, when they hadn’t hit 40. We’re still hoping against hope for a Zeppelin reunion tour.
We’ll see whether any of the bands who followed in the Beatles boot steps to the US will come together at the post-Grammy salute to the Liverpudlians, to air on the 50th anniversary of John, Paul, George and Ringo’s game-changing first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” McCartney and Starr reportedly are set to participate in the show, re-punching the open-ended ticket to ride that brought the British take on American rock and roll to the US all those years ago.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.