That is probably the most notable difference. The UK has national radio more than regional (there are regional stations but they are listened to a lot less). So if you get on the playlist on Radio 1 or Virgin Radio you can be number one in a week or two, its very immediate. In documentaries those techno and house guys in the late 80s had no idea they were even being listened to in the UK until someone told them they were in the top 5 and invited on to Top of the Pops with 10 million viewers, they found it all a little surreal. I don’t think it’s a huge difference in listening tastes but more opportunity as basically every current hit pop song in the US seems to be heavily based on late 80s and early 90s house music.
Oasis famously fucked up when doing that circuit of gigs and radio stations in the US by fighting and going home early cancelling a load of dates.
Some like your last example you can’t really answer. Van Halen for example just scraped past being a one hit wonder in the UK, I doubt anyone much could name a song other than “Jump”, I don’t know why when similar sounding bands were really popular.
Nowadays it’s all Youtube and Spotify and I’m too out of touch to know how that’s changed things.
George Harrison’s sister lived in a town near where I grew up. Supposedly, he came to visit her just before the band’s first trip to the US. He played with a band at a VFW and bought his signature Rickenbacker. The small station in town was supposedly the first radio station in the US to play the Beatles.
Van Halen were huge among rock fans in the UK. I could name a dozen songs without trying, and I’m really just a casual fan. As you rightly say, they didn’t get much “mainstream” success – meaning, they only got one song on Top of the Pops – but the specialist, late-night rock radio programmes would play them every week.
Which is another twist to the way national radio playlists worked in the UK. As you rightly say, airplay on Radio 1 was the way to conquer the country, but you really need to be more specific and say daytime airplay. After the kiddies were in bed, Radio 1 wheeled out the “genre” shows, where Tommy Vance or John Peel or whoever played the properly cool stuff that would never bother the charts.
Absolutely they were big with the dedicated rock fans and Tommy Vance would have played them all the time on his rock show. Just as groups of US music fans would know plenty of songs by Pulp, Oasis or Blur - our perfect example here being Robert discussing what he thinks is the best track on The Great Escape.
I’m really discussing the mainstream and chart success all the time. Van Halen with 13 top 20 hits in the US would be played a lot more and have way more exposure there. People in the US know Oasis but not in the same way as with a string of number ones and huge concerts like Knebworth with 125,000 people.
(I did actually write a bit about the ‘daytime’ playlist on Radio 1 but it was too long winded so I deleted it).
By the way that’s still the case now. Peel and Vance have left us but Daniel P Carter does the rock and metal show and Huw Stephens does the new & obscure bands stuff Peel used to.
Nobody will ever beat Tommy Vance for the perfect British radio DJ voice though. That bloke who does the voiceovers on The X-Factor tries his best impersonation but he doesn’t know his music like Tommy did.
Coming back to this, which I think is an important point, I’m reminded of the Trainspotting soundtrack which did a great job of mixing electronic and dance stuff with indie/Britpop acts, and providing the best of both worlds. It could have been a weird mix but ended up capturing the era really well.
(And also thinking of Trainspotting, the success of that movie and a couple of other British films around the time was yet another factor floating around in that cultural moment.)
I think it’s actually always been one of the strengths of British music, the genre mash has historically been very much embraced. Some will enter into the ‘cultural appropriation’ argument but I tend to frown on that.
Back a step earlier the Madchester stuff of 1989/90 was mixing the breakbeats of the club scene with indie music, Paul Oakenfold doing house remixes for The Stone Roses a decade before Madonna thought it would be a good idea (and she’s sharp).
Black Grape were so eclectic that every single took in half a dozen types of music. It’s got punk/indie vocals and guitar, Indian classical sitar, hip hop breakbeats and a rap, house effects, ragga toasting, gospel inspired chorus.
Sean Ryder is a genius on a level I can never understand, I’m not taking the piss with that description. He appears to be a complete fuckwit that struggles to tie his own shoelaces which is why I would use that word as I can’t explain it with any intellectual argument. He put out a record like this that sounds nothing like anything before. It’s as influential as when New Order found electronic music.
That was really a big late 80s through early 00s thing too, as the world got smaller you started seeing people throwing everything into their music, people like Beck, Cibo Matto, Stereolab, Cornershop, Super Furry Animals, lots more. It was a fun time. The Brits were in on injecting the house beats and samples into rock music earlier. There were a few American rock bands that dabbled in it but R&B was a little further ahead of the curve.
This conversation made me want to dig out my old Britpop CDs so I went down to the basement. I still have Elastica but the only Blur I have anymore is Great Escape (Modern Life is Rubbish is the one I was looking for), Stone Roses if they count, plenty of Orb and Underworld. I never liked Oasis.
I do still have all of PJ Harvey’s 90s records, and they’re all still classics. She is one who achieved about the same amount of success on both sides of the pond. I’m sure she has a closet full of Mercury Prizes but she soundtracked a few summers over here. Some of my friends saw her in NYC and Boston last year…I know what they paid for tickets and it lightened their wallets quite a bit.
Hip-hop started with a lot of rock records in the mix and is very much the same but I’d be reluctant to make the Run DMC/Aerosmith as a watershed. Debbie Harry used hip hop on ‘Rapture’ several years earlier.
Genre/culture mix is far from exclusive to the UK, I’d never claim that, but it is more easily embraced I think.
The Mercury Prize shortlist is out. Time to see how old you are:
Lily Allen: No Shame
Arctic Monkeys: Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino
Everything Everything: A Fever Dream
Everything Is Recorded: Everything Is Recorded
Florence + the Machine: High as Hope
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds: Who Built the Moon?
King Krule: The Ooz
Novelist: Novelist Guy
Nadine Shah: Holiday Destination
Jorja Smith: Lost and Found
Sons of Kemet: Your Queen is a Reptile
Wolf Alice: Visions of a Life
I have heard of 7 of those artists, and I own one of those albums (Sons of Kemet).