Go to the NEW FORUM
Help sort out this squabble I've been having with a few people of late - who has the better music scene at present - US or UK(or somewhere else)?
Throughout history,which country do you think produced the best music?
I don't think that squabble is sort-out-able, but maybe some perspective would help.
I've only kept up with pop music superficially since about 1995, so I can't help you with the current state of things.
However, historically (and I assume you're not including Handel, Arthur Sullivan, or Britten on the UK side), most of the genres celebrated on this site have their roots in African-American music--gospel, jazz, blues...and, to a lesser extent, country music, which is clearly American--although of course, all these genres (like most things American) ultimately go back to African and European traditions.
To look at it another way, of the top 100 artists on this site, by my quick count, 59 of the acts are American and 32 are British. However, if a 2-to-1 margin seems decisive, remember than the US is FIVE times more populous than the UK, so the UK does better per capita.
(Tally for other countries: Canada 3, Australia 2, and Germany, Iceland, Ireland and Jamaica have 1 each.)
I don't like generalizations, but it seems reasonably safe to say that most of the important genres of 20th-century popular music evolved in America, but (some) were tweaked and refined and made cool in the British Isles. But again, I think the question of which country has produced "better" music is unanswerable.
I remember looking at the number of artists at AM per capita some time ago, and I think the top 3 looked like this:
(Note that Jamaica has reached this top position without a single critics list from themselves!)
I think that's an accurate ranking of productivity of good popular music, from a historical perspective - but not of the present. To my knowledge, neither Jamaica or UK have a lot interesting to offer in the 00s, although NME and the other British mags try their hardest to make us believe that they are still alive and well.
Not sure who's best, but the most hyped scene at the moment must be the Canadian.
Yeah that was my argument - that most genres originated in the US. But I also think US is better on the current music scene. UK seem to overhype things when they aren't actually all as good as they think.
You make a good point, JK, but I think the question of "scenes" is mostly about how pop music is publicized in the UK as opposed to the US. My very sketchy layman's understanding of it:
-In the US, the legwork to publicize acts is largely carried out by record companies. While they have some incentive to market directly to consumers, it has usually been more effective just to get new stuff on the radio...top 40 or top 100 charts being very effective advertising.
(The upside of this is that bands don't have to waste too much energy promoting themselves and can focus instead on recording and touring. The downside, apart from well-attested corruption in the US record industry, is an industry with an aversion to risk and mass production of music that's catchy but bland.)
-In the UK, however, especially since so many of the radio stations are government-owned, that strategy (record companies marketing to radio stations) doesn't work as well. So, the work of promoting acts is largely carried out by the music press--for this reason, NME and Q are MUCH more powerful in the UK than Rolling Stone and Spin are here.
(The upside of this is that it's possible for really strange stuff to become widely known if the right journalists like it; the downside is that, since the work of publicity is done by journalists with little direct financial interest in the acts they promote, it sometimes seems like every single new band is heralded as the next Next Beatles, whether they're any good or not...specific examples are left as an exercise for the reader.)
Of course, the marketing of new bands has become a lot more complicated by the internet (hello, Arctic Monkeys) and niche marketing, and the music bidness is struggling to adapt...blah blah blah. But the old marketing models are still in place, and they still go a long way to explaining how a "music scene" emerges on either side of the Atlantic.
right now USA. definitely.
The UK has been well ahead of the US ever since the '60s.
In the '60s not only did the UK boast The Beatles and The Rolling Stones (#1 and #2 respectively, as this site tells it), we also boasted The Who, The Kinks and - of course - the early works of Pink Floyd, David Bowie and Led Zeppelin.
The '70s was really no contest with the UK boasting - as touched upon - David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. We boasted both the best of glam (T. Rex, Roxy Music) and punk (The Clash, Sex Pistols). Not to mention Lennon and McCartney continued to make great music, albeit not together. And personally, I'm also fond of Queen. :-)
In the '80s, the UK boasted The Smiths, U2, Joy Division, New Order and The Stone Roses. If that doesn't impressive enough, consider their main US competition - Prince and Michael Jackson! Hah!
The '90s were an incredibly vibrant time for the UK - boasting Radiohead, Blur, Oasis, Pulp, The Verve, the Manic Street Preachers, The Chemical Brothers, Primal Scream and the list goes on. :-) The US, in contrast, were proud of such patchy and unreliable acts as the Smashing Pumpkins, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam. No contest. :-D
As for the '00s, the UK is live and well, with Franz Ferdinand and Radiohead blazing ahead, and less well-sung talents like The Beta Band and the Super Furry Animals making brilliant music under-the-radar.
I don't think American music really has the same standards, really. It seems to me like an American band (say: Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day) is more than happy to write perhaps a dozen genuinely great songs spread out over the course of their careers, churning out mostly straight-up by-the-numbers rawk for 80% of their material. Whereas a British band aims to write a dozen genuinely great songs every time they release an album.
Not all succeed, but I think the two nations do have different standards.
You are conveniently forgetting Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley and Bruce Springsteen?
I'm not claiming the US boasts no great artists. The States has plenty of great music to be proud of. Just not as much as the UK.
Alright, lets take a look at it objectively then.
50s top 5 on AM:
1 Elvis Presley
2 Miles Davis
3 Chuck Berry
4 Buddy Holly & The Crickets
5 Frank Sinatra
1 The Beatles
2 The Rolling Stones
3 Bob Dylan
4 Jimi Hendrix
5 The Beach Boys
2 from the UK and 3 from the US.
1 David Bowie
2 The Rolling Stones
3 Stevie Wonder
4 Bob Marley and The Wailers
5 The Clash
With 3 from the UK, 1 from the US and 1 from Jamaica, the UK appears to be overtaking the US.
2 The Smiths
5 Bruce Springsteen
3 US and 2 UK, so once again the US has the most artists in the top 5.
Again, 3 from the US and 2 from the UK. I'm starting to see a pattern here.
1 The White Stripes
3 Franz Ferdinand
5 The Strokes
Not over yet, but so far there's 4 from the US and 1 from the UK.
I quickly scanned top 10s, but they say pretty much the same.
It seems like this pretty much goes against what you're saying. Don't get me wrong, I like music from the UK just as much as from US, but it's just a fact.
Of course the US has more inhabitants than the UK, but that's not really the point here.
It's not exactly "just a fact" as you put it, Pomtidom. ;-) I see the lists, but they don't convince me anything is any "better" than I deemed it yesterday.
In my humble opinion, Prince even making the top five of the '80s is ridiculous, as is The Stone Roses not making it.
Beck is incredibly over-rated, and could be axed for any number of British acts.
But as I said before, it's about standards. And also about the way American critics are often only really concerned with American music - of course the lists are gonna be such a close call when the UK albums get through predominantly on the strength of UK critics alone.
Or something like that. You know what I mean?
Yeah, I understand. But you're basing it on your own taste mostly, while I'm looking at a lot of tastes from critics. :P
Wholly agree on Beck by the way, horrible horrible.
But the tastes of "a lot of critics" are crooked, y'know? For instance:
Rolling Stone, the US publication, proclaimed the following albums to be the ten finest of last year:
-Bob Dylan - Modern Times
-Red Hot Chili Peppers - Stadium Arcadium
-Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
-TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
-Ghostface Killah - Fiscscale
-Cat Power - The Greatest
-Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury
-The Hold Steady - Boys And Girls In America
-Mastodon - Blood Mountain
-Tom Waits - Orphans: BBB
You'll notice this top ten is composed 100% of US artists. Now to take a peak at what Q, the UK publication, considered the ten best albums of the same year:
10) Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere
09) Scissor Sisters – Ta-Dah
0 Kasabian – Empire
07) Bob Dylan – Modern Times
06) Keane – Under The Iron Sea
05) The Killers – Sam's Town
04) Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Stadium Arcadium
03) Razorlight – s/t
02) Muse Black Holes and Revelations
01) Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
As I'm sure you've noticed, this list doesn't show the same nationalistic bias evidenced in the American list - instead it's a 50/50 split - five American albums, five British albums.
Ergo, knowing that this site does a fine job of balancing lists from both countries (and others, of course), the inherent bias (or perhaps, ignorance) of American critics will result in the music of the USA being generally over-rated.
That British bands managed to storm 40% of most of the decades lists you posted (or a thwopping 80% in the '70s) in spite of all this, suggests the UK boasts a very strong, nay - unquenchable - music scene indeed.
So Q managed to include two countries in their top 10. Very impressive!
I find it interesting - most of the great solo artists come from US but most of the great bands come from UK.
twister, no one in their right minds would put The Stone Roses,who released one album in the 80s,ahead of Prince who released a string of classics - a musical genius.
Prince's so-called "string of classics" would look pretty silly next to the canon of Dylan, Bowie or The Beatles. That is to say: an actual string of classics.
Prince is superior to The Stone Roses in only one way: quantity. But hey, if that's what you're looking for...
Respected critic Robert Christgau on the Stone Roses' debut:
"These Britindie pheenoms are overhyped for sure, so there's a temptation to blow them off. What do they do that the Byrds and the Buffalo Springfield weren't doing better in 1967? And that a hundred Amerindie bands don't do just as well now? But they aren't all press clips--they're postmodern English, filtering folk-rock romanticism through Joy Division and Jesus and Mary Chain hyperromanticism. Though they have their moments as songwriters--"Bye Bye Badman" always stops me, and "I Want To Be Adored" sums them up--their music is about sound, fingers lingering over the strings and so forth. And in the end they're surprisingly "eclectic." Not all that good at it, but eclectic"
And yep - I'd put Prince's run of albums up with those other artists
Wow! I had avoided this thread before as I feared it would turn into a silly exercise in mudslinging. It was brought to my attention in another thread due to my Prince fanaticism, and I am indeed shocked to see Prince given such an unroyal treatment. I'll be the first to say that taste is subjective, and I realize I'm not going to change anyone's mind, but I really feel Prince's string of albums from 1980-1988 is unmatched in modern music. As a disclaimer, I will note that I am no fan of the Beatles or Dylan, but I am informed enough and fan enough of both Bowie and Stevie Wonder that I can make a valid comparison there. Bowie's monumental 70-80 string and Stevie Wonder's socially conscious 72-76 string are both amazingly powerful and awe-inspiring, but neither boasts the diversity or the "jack-of-all-trades" splendor of Prince's immaculate run. That a 5'3", skinny, shy, biracial kid from Minneapolis could loom so large over a decade is just astonishing. I'll offer my defense of Prince's 80-88 material in parts, as this is going to take awhile.
1980: Dirty Mind- Prior to this, Prince had been seen as little more than a disco artist popular with teenagers. But when the concept album of Dirty Mind and its unification libidinous call to everyone regardless of race, age, sexuality or religion (see "Uptown"'s vision of Utopia), Prince emerged as an artist to watch. That it was his funkiest album to date in spite of its stripped-down, rock/punk aesthetic is testimony to its breadth. Songs like "Sister" and "Head" remain as outlandishly dirty as they come, but the album comes off as innocent as a teenage boy first discovering his dad's porn stash. Held within these hungry 33 minutes is the birth of a genius realizing his powers.
1981: Controversy- Dirty Mind had shocked just about everyone, radio included. The safe move would have been to recoil and record another pop-friendly album and tuck away those bikini briefs. At this critical juncture, Prince instead decided to fly the proverbial middle finger to the industry with the politically-driven ("Ronnie Talk to Russia", "Annie Christian", equally horny ("Do Me, Baby", "Jack U Off") and equally hungry Controversy, anchored by the monstrous, thumping title track, Prince's first masterpiece. "Controversy" documents Prince's reaction to the outrage over the content of his music. Playing with and defying America's insistence to pidgeonhole and segregate artists (we were only a year or so removed from the racist and homophobic undertones of the "Disco Sucks" movement), Prince ups the ante and pisses off the religious right as well with the juxtaposition of the affirmation of his love of God with his scandalous ethos of "People call me rude, I wish we all were nude, I wish there was no black and white I wish there were no rules". Add that delectable chicken scratch funk and that throbbing, pulsing synth bass, and a classic was born. I've heard stories of preachers carrying this album around and playing the title track for church members to showcase how "evil" the music industry had become, all the while actually introducing some future fans to his music. The fervor bubbled into every other song on the album, so much so that he could hardly keep up with himself in the frenzied "Sexuality" and the effervescent "Private Joy". While this is no What's Going On or Songs in the Key of Life in terms of the political potency, Controversy nonetheless is an immensely interesting, entertaining and important chapter in Prince's meteoric rise to prominence.
1982: 1999- Warning: My love of this album knows no bounds. I truly believe it to be the greatest album ever and its 70 minutes and 36 minutes have become infused in my DNA. 1999 is almost singly responsible for my unquenchable thirst for music. Having now established a reputation among the music elite as an incredibly talented shock artist, Prince decided he needed to both court and challenge the mainstream. With 1999 he would become a true megastar, and its legacy is written all over music today. 1982 was a busy year for Prince, as in addition to his own material, he recorded and released albums for The Time and Vanity 6, as well as recording enough material of his own for 6 albums worth of material. This amazing pace would last throughout the decade, but it begins here.
As for the album itself, it was a very risky move to tackle a double album format after the critical success but relative commercial failure of the previous two albums. Nevertheless, the material on 1999 was so strong that even Warner Bros. would not edit it. The first side of the first LP assured Prince's place among the pop elite forever. The triple punch of "1999", "Little Red Corvette" and "Delirious" was so infectious, so infused with hooks and so irresistible, that it did not matter that the remaining 8 songs departed heavily- it proved a commerical hit. The title track is an absolute behemoth of funk. The Minneapolis sound that he was nurturing reached full blossom here with the unbelievably innovative use of the Linn Drum machine, the sythesized glory that forbodes the future and those nasty guitar licks that go straight for the hips. Prince's venture into metaphors has never been so pertinent, as his urges to "party" at the inevitable demise of the world underlie a message of spiritual preparation for Judgment Day. "Little Red Corvette" revamps the old "car = sex" motif in a way that only Prince could manage. The thinly velied references to used condoms and the girl's ass and assets did not detract from its commercial appeal, and it has become a true rock 'n roll classic. "Delirious", meanwhile, sees Prince continuing the car motif while venturing into rockabilly territory. Nevertheless, he dresses it up in his custom sound with the squealing synths, funky rhythms and percussion, delivering a song that again masks a giant erection in pure pop artifice. That he managed to include a line like "Girl you gotta take me for a little ride, up and down, in and out around your lake" into a top 10 hit, IN 1983, is sublime. Thereafter, he was free to meander into darker, more experimental territory.
The remainder of 1999 is where things get really interesting, as Prince offers us a cerebral and primitive glimpse into his psyche. A sequence of long, skeletal songs follows, and Prince's ability to say and do so much using such a minimal palate is what keeps me coming back. The sacrilege of "Controversy" is drawfed by the fourth single, "Let's Pretend We're Married", whose lines are perhaps the most notorious of his career. Even Prince knows his insistence of loving God here is pretty unbelievable after announcing that he sincerely wants to fuck the taste out of your mouth, admitting to probably being crazy. "DMSR" provides another anthem for Prince with his chants of "dance, music, sex, romance" set to the most danceable music on an album full of danceable music. "Automatic" is a gleeful sonic voyage through darkly libidinous territory. Every measure is calculated and every beat is methodical. And those moans at the end of a synth frenzy are downright lascivious. The video that accompanies it is no less notorious and no less fascinating, with Prince the subject of bondage to Lisa and Jill. With the sonic paradox of "Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)," a song literally being torn apart by the opposing forces of order in the form of the computerized synth and turbulence in the passion of Prince's guttural screams and the beat which is systematically chaotic, Prince was clearly functioning on a new level with this album, not just personally, but in music as a whole. Its cold malfunction reflects the effects of heartbreak at the hands of someone still idealized. "Bitch, you think you're special? So do I" pretty much sums it up. Meanwhile, the mountainous funk of "Lady Cab Driver" sees Prince divulging his turmoil to an anonymous female cab driver, an obvious reference to the political "Annie Christian" on Controversy. Seeking refuge from the world, Prince finds a haven in the taxi with his driver and the coupling commences with squeals and heels and emotional devotions of each thrust to such various subjects as his insecurities, politics, God, and brilliantly, "love without sex". To top it off, "All the Critics Love U in New York" is the album's funkiest and most peculiar track. A noodling synth bass coupled with more electronic chugging aiding an already delicious rhythm sets the stage for Prince to parlay his humor in lazy, seemingly disinterested rants about critics, hippies and cops busting somebody masturbating.
Elsewhere, the anthemic "Free" offers a precursor to the splendor of "Purple Rain", with Prince including a disarming political ballad clamoring for freedom in the midst of an album packed with everything under the sun. With unabashedly beautiful pianos, a sweeping chorus, passionate vocals and electrifying guitars, it set a template for ballads that Prince kept for several albums. The other ballad, the closing "International Lover", is more traditional for Prince in its almost satirical seduction. While the song works in its literal meaning, it also works as the closer of the album, as Prince has fulfilled his plea to take us around the world with such a sprawling album, all of it first-class, baby.
The album is the ultimate triumph of underdogs everywhere: an absolutely enormous opus that is testimony to the case of Prince's unrelenting genius. It is also so spectacular with the knowledge that it is the work of one man and one man alone. Sure, he credits a few people on the album, but only because he was trying to launch the Revolution brand. This is 100% Prince functioning at unbelievable heights. I carry this album with me everywhere I go- plane trips, in the car, you name it. It helped convert me from a casual music listener to someone deeply interested in the underpinnings and mechanics of music, and it is a journey that I have enjoyed thoroughly ever since.
Next installment: Prince unleashes his multimedia juggernaut, and then freaks out.
I couldn't finish reading that whole post so tell me, do they live happily ever after?
Ever thought of writing a Prince biography, Moonbeam?
Midaso, that would be a huge undertaking! I'd probably be more interested in assessing his music than broadening the scope to a biography, but it would be fun.
I know Mr. Moonbeam from Prince.org, where we’re both members. He’s been there much longer and is a much bigger fan than I am: I’m well accustomed to his extremely well articulated enthusiasm, though I don’t share it myself these days. I basically fell off the Prince wagon in ’95 after the Gold Experience, which was one overlong and mediocre album too many for myself. Nevertheless, Prince deserves his rank as one of the all-time greats. In his ‘80s prime he delivered at least three (four if you’re feeling generous) bona fide great albums (1999, PR and SOTT, with Dirty Mind sitting on the fence between greatness and mere very good-ness). With all due respect to the Stone Roses, whose fine debut album I liked quite a lot at one time, I can’t believe they deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the kid – they simply don’t have anywhere close to the same breadth of achievement.
However, I ultimately would rate definitely rank Prince well below the pure elite of the modern era (Dylan, Wonder, Beatles) because even at his peak he was incredibly erratic – capable of swinging from the focused genius of Purple Rain and Sign O’ the Times to the undistinguished wooly-headedness of Around the World in a Day and Lovesexy. Post-SOTT, he has been incredibly frustrating, a smattering of worthy songs drowned in a sea of hit-chasing, genre-hopping, and bad career choices. I don’t know if I can think of another artist who has squandered such incredible talent on such mediocrity. He's basically betrayed his own potential in my opinion - what he's given us has been wonderful, but it's so much less than what could have been.
As for the US/UK debate, my opinions are pretty much aligned with schleuse – ultimately most of what we listen to for pop music these days is American in its recent lineage, so regardless of an artist’s country of origin, they’re playing American music. Personally, I’ve liked artists from all corners, but most of my favourites have been American.
Damo! I'm happy to see you chime in here, even if I don't agree with your assessment to some degree. I think The Gold Experience is a top-notch album, his best out of 1989-2007. Also, I think Around the World in a Day and particularly Lovesexy are stunning documents in the Prince saga, well worthy of praise.
Hello sir! Hope everything is going well for you in Australia these days. I almost booked a flight to Minneapolis for the Prince concert this coming weekend, by the way - I talked myself out of it though - told myself that I'm allegedly an adult, and probably too old to be traipsing across the continent to see a pop concert.
I'm probably harsher in criticism of Prince's albums than I am of any other performer, but that's just because I do think he's truly one of the greats and as such I think he deserves to be held to a higher standard.
I will definitely say that Lovesexy is one of the loopiest and most unique albums a major artist has ever given us - I'm just not that sure that it's any good.
I'm doing quite well! I've got your package pretty much ready to go! As for the urge to see Prince, I can understand it. I've done some crazy things for concerts myself- none of which I have regretted!
I understand the concept of holding Prince up to a different standard. This makes albums in his second tier more prone to be criticized, where if released by nearly any other artist, they would be lauded. However, I place Lovesexy firmly within the upper echelon of the Prince canon- second only to 1999. It is wildly adventurous and loopy as you say, but I also think it trumpets its brilliance for everyone to hear!
My choice among US or UK would be... Sweden !
This country produces some of the most great artists of these latest years : Dungen, Jens Lekman, El Perro Del Mar, Peter Bjorn & John, The Cardigans, The Concretes, The Merrymakers, Loney Dear, I'm From Barcelona, Mando Diao, Peter Von Poehl, and many others...
Bowie's monumental 70-80 string neither boasts the diversity or the "jack-of-all-trades" splendor of Prince's immaculate run.
OK, I'm really not here to 'troll' or pick fights, but that statement's laugh-out-loud funny! Between 1970 and 1980 you'd be hard-pushed to find a style Bowie didn't either tackle, or help innovate! He tackled, soul, rock, pop, folk, a dab of the new romantics, wrote ballads, anthems and some of the most unique and ambitious songs in musical history (think "Station To Station" or "Sweet Thing"). Not to mention, with Low he's pretty much the man most responsible for putting synth-pop on the map!
Whereas Prince - and I really don't hate Prince, I enjoy Prince about as much as the next man (Emancipation actually made my top 20 of 1996 list, which I'll be posting in a fortnight when I get back home from holiday), but he pretty much stuck to his stock in trade of funky, synthy, sexually-charged pop-songs.
If you gave a non-fan a Greatest Hits, he would struggle to tell you which tracks came from different albums, or even which was which. You wouldn't get that with the man who gave you everything from "Young Americans" through "Sound And Vision".
...that statement's laugh-out-loud funny!
Twister, there's really no call to say something so antagonistic. Moonbeam's post was, like everything he writes, very well-reasoned and remarkably articulate. And frankly, someone who's argued that the only standard by which Prince is greater than the Stone Roses is quantity ought to be more careful about being derogatory of anyone's opinion. I have no problem with someone arguing a minority position - I'm a Fall fan, so needless to say I do it all the time myself - but you need to realize that yours is a fringe opinion, one that is certainly far more extreme than suggesting that Prince is more versatile than Bowie.
Twister, I'm quite a big Bowie fan myself. He certainly did evolve greatly as an artist, and his progression may have served as a blueprint for Prince's growth as well. I did not mean to imply that Bowie was any less influential than Prince. Bowie is able to inhabit many different characters very convincingly. By "jack of all trades", I meant that Prince is capable of successfully playing many more instruments than Bowie. And while Stevie Wonder plays a bunch of instruments, his output isn't as diverse. The combination of virtuoso musicianship and sonic evolution (you're not listening closely enough if you can't distinguish songs from the various albums) puts Prince's string above the others in my opinion.
I'd certainly put the string of albums by Prince ahead of the Beatles anyway