Why the Sun Should Never Set on the British Empire, Part I: Rock Bands

I am not a fighter. I am nothing like, say, Brad Pitt in Snatch. I cannot fight, nor do I wish too. But if I were a fighter, I would fight anyone who would disagree with the following statement:

All the best bands are British.

Oh, do you disagree? Look here, then, my shirt’s coming off right now! Intimidating tattoos clearly visible, cigarette dangling from corner of mouth, bare-knuckles up and ready.

Because seriously, all the best bands are British.

image: fasterlouder.com.au

image: fasterlouder.com.au

Here are the top five of all time. And this is a fact.

1) The Beatles

2) The Rolling Stones

3) Led Zeppelin

4) The Who

5) Pink Floyd

Look, I know you don’t agree. I don’t even necessarily agree. I’ve never much liked The Rolling Stones or The Who, for example. But these five are the best of all time. And here is why.

  • They’ve been around in some form since the beginning of Rock Time, which is to say, the early-to-mid 1960s.
  • They are still around now in some form, and still perform live occasionally (The Beatles excepted, though even Paul and Ringo reunite every so often). That’s 50 years people. That’s half a century. For as a long as there has been Rock Music, these bands have been doing it.
  • Their songs are still featured on radio stations, at ballgames, in movies, and on tv shows. Movies have been made by them, about them, featuring them. Movies people still watch, rent, buy.
  • Each of them has more than one album that is widely regarded as a masterpiece of the rock genre.
  • Most of them have played a Super Bowl. The rest have refused the offer but filled other arenas in this decade, fifty years later.

In short, they are ubiquitous.

Yes, One Direction is ubiquitous, too. I know. They have been for months. When they have been for fifty years, we’ll consider them for something.

Don’t misunderstand. There’s certainly a place for the American band, as well. They come to your town. They help you party down. Metallica, The Eagles, Aerosmith, The Doors, The Grateful Dead, Lynyrd Skynryd. Them’s ‘Merican! And them’s about the biggest names we have to throw up against those monsters from England, aren’t they? They are just not on the same playing field as those other blokes, are they? No, they really aren’t.

What’s interesting is there’s even a second tier of British rock where can be found lesser known but still ubiquitous folk who are pre-eminent in their sub-genres. These are bands that weren’t there at the beginning of Rock Time and may or may not still be around now, but definitely exude gravitas. Queen. Black Sabbath. Iron Maiden. Judas Priest. The Cure. The Clash. Australia can compete at this level with AC/DC, but that’s about it. Canada has Rush, and that’s about it. America has who? Megadeth maybe? Boston? Maybe. But there is no American equivalent for Queen, The Cure, or The Clash.

And remember, this is not about whether any one of us personally likes these bands. This is about their Place In History. Their Status. Their Gravitas.

Now if you want to talk solo artists, that’s different. The Brits can’t touch the likes of Elvis, Springsteen, or Dylan. Maybe they could trot out Elton John. Maybe. But America has always been about individual success, hasn’t it? The kid who comes from nothing and makes something of himself. That’s all well and good, but not as interesting as a group of kids finding the sculpture within the stone.

I realize I just lost most of you, so let me explain. Michelangelo once said, or at least I once read that he once said, that he didn’t “sculpt” anything. He just chipped away at the stone to uncover the sculpture that was already inside, waiting to come out.


image: us.fotolog.com/oboogie/20651613/

That’s what the Great British Rock Bands did. Some of The Beatles songs have the feeling of not having been “written,” but having always been there, waiting to be recorded. A ten year old hearing them for the first time in 2014 can feel the same way about them as a ten year old did in 1984, or 1964. They are not a reflection of the time, like Justin Beiber. Or even Dylan or Springsteen. They are part of the space-time continuum. They resonate in our bones because they are wrought of the same stuff. Pink Floyd & Led Zeppelin, too. Can you listen to “The Great Gig in the Sky” or “When the Levee Breaks” and imagine them better or different? No. Because they were always there.

When it comes to rock, The British. Dominate.

Rock on, friends. Rock. On.

19 thoughts on “Why the Sun Should Never Set on the British Empire, Part I: Rock Bands

  1. The Beach Boys would be among the top tier of American bands, yes. Where would you rank them among the others? Pearl Jam has something too. Where do they fall? If we are considering the Gary Cherone Van Halen, I don’t think we should!


  2. I agree wholeheartedly. All the very best bands are British. prog rock belongs to the British. Punk belongs to the British. All those great Madchester scene bands (the smiths, the inspiral carpets, James, the Stone roses…)
    1990s Britpop ruled the alternative scene.
    Not to say that all America has is country music and rap/hip-hop (because there is some Great American music) but lately that’s what it really seems like. Except for all the hipster stuff still coming out of the Pacific Northwest – I love all of that stuff.


    • Thanks so much for visiting. I agree with all that you said. I love a lot of American Bands – Metallica, Wilco, and The Flaming Lips, are three of my favorites. The Seattle scene of the 90s was great, the LA metal bands of the 80s, the Southern Rock bands. But none of these seem to have the same stature.


  3. In the end its all personal preference, everyone’s top 5 is somewhat biased just based on personal preferences. At one point the music went down the drain, and it just started being pure psychedelics .


  4. Cream and King crimson were british too. Whereas Jimi hendrix was from America. It’s really interesting how individual success seems to dominate group success in America. The doors became Jim Morrison and Nirvana became Kurt Cobain.


    • Yeah, good point on The Doors and Nirvana being overshadowed by their own frontmen. Drives home the point even more.

      Although Clapton may be better known as Clapton than as a member of Cream now.

      Thanks for digging deep and turning up this old post and commenting on it. Made my day!


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