Which is better: UK rock music or US rock music?
Continuing our examination of musical genres, the answer to this question, provided at the end of today’s episode, is already known to astute readers familiar with previous Music Historicity columns.
Much like the question of CDs versus vinyl albums, a discussion of rock music and the UK versus the US is likely to generate strong opinions from musicians as well as music enthusiasts.
The list of rock music subgenres is exhaustive. There’s hard rock, classic rock, roots rock, progressive and art rock, indie rock, punk and post-punk rock, heavy metal, grunge, southern rock, blues rock, alternative, rockabilly, new wave, britpop, glam rock, gothic rock, psychedelic and more.
In rock music, some say the British influenced the Americans. Others argue that it was the reverse, depending on the decade and year.
But one fact that cannot be disputed is that “rock ‘n’ roll” – both the music and the term for it – originated in the United States.
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The creation of the term is not attributed to a specific person or date. Rock ‘n’ roll became known through backbeat music and African American styles such as blues, boogie woogie, and others dating back to the 1920s.
It was a few decades later that Muddy Waters wrote his song “The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll”.
In the early 1950s, Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed began using the term for a genre of music that had already seen a 1934 song called “Rock and Roll”, Roy Brown’s 1947 tune “Good Rocking Tonight” and “Rock Me”, by gospel artist Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Once Elvis Presley started making records at Sun Studios in Memphis in 1954, the rock ‘n’ roll craze took off.
Chuck Berry released “Maybelline” in 1955, then appeared in early rock ‘n’ roll films such as “Rock Rock Rock”. The St. Louis native and future Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee had a string of hit songs that propelled him to become known as the “father of rock and roll.”
Until then, the UK scene consisted of music hall dance groups and folk music. Popularized by artists such as Lonnie Donegan, skiffle music took hold, a style influenced by blues and American folk songs.
The influence of rock ‘n’ roll from the United States became even more evident with English artists such as Cliff Richard, who recorded American hit songs such as Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day,” Be-Bop-a-Lula” by Gene Vincent and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On” by Jerry Lee Lewis.
But British music had its effect in the United States thanks to the so-called British invasion. American listeners were familiar with the Beatles, who had their first hit with “Love Me Do” in 1962.
The invasion began once the Fab Four made their first live appearance on American television on The Ed Sullivan Show, in February 1964. Subsequent performers have included Herman’s Hermits, the Kinks, Tom Jones, Donovan, the Hollies and others.
Suffice to say that from then on, the musical influences extend in both directions across the Atlantic. British bands continued to be influenced by American bands, and vice versa.
The group’s success was largely due to managers, record labels, and promotion.
In England, a trio of rock artists, billed as the “crème de la crème”, was the supergroup Cream. It consisted of Eric Clapton, a Yardbirds veteran; bassist Jack Bruce, who had played with Clapton in John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers; and drummer Ginger Baker, who worked with Clapton and Steve Winwood in Blind Faith.
Later, another British supergroup, Led Zeppelin, formed in 1968 with guitarist Jimmy Page, who also played in the Yardbirds.
The American response that year could be found in the emergence of new bands like Iron Butterfly, Sly and the Family Stone and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Similarly, in 1972, Blue Oyster Cult countered British metal band Black Sabbath. The list continues.
There were a few select artists who found equal success on both sides of the Atlantic, such as Jimi Hendrix and Fleetwood Mac, in addition to the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Judas Priest, the aforementioned Beatles and others. .
But which is better, rock music from the US or UK?
Rightly, we should remember that rock music was born from more than these two nations. Let’s not forget that Canada gave us the band Rush (but also, unfortunately, Bryan Adams, just kidding)!
Invariably, rock audiences in each country pay more attention – and money – to musical artists from their own country.
A summary of UK internet blog posts claim that the UK has more successful bands who have written songs with a better mix of styles. He argues that British song solos contain greater complexity, while American song solos tend to be more condensed.
Admitting that he is not from either country, an Australian writer said: “There’s not much difference between British and American music of the same genre. Let’s call it a draw and just enjoy the music.”
I couldn’t agree more. Music is not a competition – it is an art form and is in the ear of the beholder.
Gary Gibula is a SIU alumnus, musician, writer, editor and author of the Music Historicity Columns.