Rock Debate: UK vs. US

Which side of the Atlantic do you prefer in rock and metal domain?

Ultimate Guitar

When it comes to rock domain, UK and the US are unarguably the two countries that have shaped not only the entire genre, but the whole rock culture and movement. Each had its own impact and areas it excelled in, but which one do you think is more important? We'll make a rundown of the impacts each country had in several key areas and leave it for you to to be the judge.


British Invasion and the Early Years of Rock

During the '60s, the Brits made their infamous invasion and for a while dominated the rock world. In the early '60, UK had The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who as arguably the three greatest rock bands of all time, but then topped it all off with such class acts as The Kinks, The Animals, The Yardbirds, The Zombies and more. On the other side of Atlantic, US had only a handful of iconic representatives to back off the British, most notably Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys and The Byrds. But as the '60s rolled on, more artists began emerging, giving US a much needed backup. Specifically, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa proved that the US still has a lot to demonstrate, but the UK didn't exactly fall behind, not by a long shot. They now had Cream, Fleetwood Mac, Ten Years After, Moody Blues, Procol Harum and several other worthy figures to carry on the fight.


When it comes to prog movement as a whole, the British might seem to be a clear winner. After all, when your roster of prog rock bands includes Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Yes, Jethro Tull, Genesis, Gentle Giant, Emerson, Lake & Parker and others, you're kind of a shoo-in. But on the other hand, US had a major role in prog revival since the late '80s and the early '90s. Dream Theater, Symphony X, Tool, Mastodon, The Mars Volta, Periphery, Coheed And Cambria and many others garnered massive fanbases and in many ways keep the prog spirit alive these days.


The punk genre originated in the UK, so it doesn't come as much of a surprise that most of its iconic acts, such as the Sex Pistols and The Clash, are UK-based. Of course, there's the Ramones, but it's still fairly clear that the victory belongs to the Brits. If we were to spice it up with the new wave movement, UK would still emerge victorious - although Talking Heads are definitely one of the all time greats, The Police, Joy Division and The Cure are more than enough to do the trick for the UK.

Hard Rock

This one is very debatable, as it most definitely comes down to personal taste. So the Brits definitely kicked off the genre and stretched it to the heaviness limit where metal was born, but the US scene is definitely going strong as well. It might be best just to sum it up with a list of bands, and you make your own judgement. So the UK has Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Queen, Uriah Heep, Status Quo, Def Leppard, Whitesnake, as well as metal forefathers Black Sabbath, Motorhead and Judas Priest. On the other hand, US has Guns N' Roses, Aerosmith, Heart, Van Halen, Grand Funk Railroad, Stone Temple Pilots, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, KISS, Skid Row and others. So which side are you on?


The Roots

When it comes to the beginnings of rock genre and some of the proto-rock heroes, one could easily argue that the States take the cake. Blues originated in the US and so did rock 'n' roll, so if it's about who started it, which it isn't of course, US emerges as the clear winner. Whether it's the singing, guitar playing or just overall vibe and rock 'n' roll attitude, guys like Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Muddy Waters, Little Richard, Bill Haley and of course Elvis set the bar and entered the uncharted waters for generations to explore.


This one's actually highly debatable due to UK's crucial role in the very emergence of metal. Not only did the initial traces of metal appear in the work of British acts (although you could argue that the very first metal riff was the work of a US band Iron Butterfly and their "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" tune), but the ultimate metal greats such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Venom and Saxon, the genre's first definite representatives, were also British. However, many argue that US perfected metal, and if you look at the contributions from the likes of Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Dio, Testament and many others, metal clearly thrived in the US. And it's not only that, but several other notable subgenres. US gave birth to death metal and nu metal, and if we add the predominant position of prog metal US bands, it's somewhat clear that US wins the race. You could still say it's all fairly arguable though.


Grunge is a pure American product that never really spawned many bands outside of US, or even Seattle area for that matter. Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, Melvins and others shaped the scene that exploded in the early '90s, giving US a clear advantage.

Southern Rock/Blues Rock

Another US brand to level it all out. You could say that while UK dominated the hard rock domain in the early to mid-'70s, US made their response with southern rock. Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers Band and others made a serious impact on the guitar world, fusing rock and blues in a unique manner. So that about wraps it up, although there are is of course an infinite number of nuances that might affect your preferences here. But in general, which side are you on? And also, since we're a guitar site, do you prefer your axemen from the US or UK. Let us know in the comments.

103 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Shouldn't Metal be on the Pro UK side, Black Sabbath were the first popular Heavy Metal band and that continued through the 70's and then the New Wave of British Heavy Metal started in the late 70's/early 80's, Metal didn't really catch on in America until the mid 80's with thrash and glam. Also, am I the only one that doesn't think that grunge is a genre of music, it was a word given to a scene or movement, the "Big 4" of grunge share absolutely nothing in common. They all sound completely different.
    Also, the term metal, I believe, came from the fact that most of the early metal bands in the U.K worked in steel factories, it's Tony Iommi lost his fingers.
    I remember reading that it came from Born To Be Wild ("Heavy metal thunder"), I might be wrong though.
    The name has more than one source. It's a confluence of all the things you cited: the lyric from Born To Be Wild, the industrial nature of Birmingham, the fact that metal is denser than rock. All these things meant the name worked and therefore stuck.
    Let's remember though that it isn't about who started it, but rather who excelled at it more. Black Sabbath did to some extend give birth to metal, but technically speaking I don't consider them to be a metal band, neither does Iommi, they're more of a hard/heavy rock band. Sure it took a while for the US to catch on, but I believe they took it further, and I think the US is more important in the history of metal, with genres such as Thrash and Death being born from there. I also think the UK should have been the clear winner for hard rock, Zepplin and Queen kinda takes the cake. All IMO.
    If we are talking early metal, the early proto-metal 60s/70s stuff out of America (Blue Cheer, Vanilla Fudge, Cactus, etc) was way higher quality than the stuff coming out of the UK at the time. Also you can't forget the early 70s stuff like Pentagram. And if you want to talk "proper" metal, this really was occurring late 70s/early 80s, and this was basically the cheesy piss-water NWOBHM bands in the UK and the early thrash, doom, and death bands in the US, which were, again, higher quality, and did far more to progress the genre. There really wasn't anything of any real excitement in the UK until the mid 80s when you started to get the early grindcore bands like Napalm Death, but by then in the US death metal really had began to flesh out. Continuing to the 90s, we had the early brutal and technical subgenres of death metal really come into their own in US, which were far beyond almost anything to come out of the UK metal wise around that time. Also the 90s saw the formation of sludge and stoner metal, which, with the exception of Electric Wizard and Iron Monkey, was pretty much an entirely US thing. Of course, we can't ignore like glam metal which was really the one time that metal was ever truly commercially successful on a wide scale. And then you had US black metal, US power metal, nu metal, metalcore, deathcore, industrial metal, progressive metal, etc which are all far more present in the US than in the UK. Simply put, the sheer quantity and diversity of US metal bands far exceeds that of the UK (and any other country for that matter).
    + The first consistently metal album was British, which was in the late 60s
    Iron Butterfly were an American heavy band that came a year earlier but weren't consistently metal.
    Not to mention that many if not all American Metal Bands were inspired, even if it was just indirectly, by Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Rainbow(which helped Ronnie James Dio[R.I.P.] turn into a household name)
    Metal originated in the U.K it was more popular in the U.S, but it was invented in the U.K.
    At the time of writing this (obviously replies to posts will go above this) I'm actually amazed at how civil the discussion has been. I was certain upon opening this, that it was a flame war waiting to happen. And now we play the waiting game...
    For your consideration: I would like to point out the inaccuracy of you post on punk. the Sex Pistols would never have existed if not for McLaren seeing Richard Hell perform in Televison (pre-Voidoids), and the Clash, while one of the greatest things to ever happen to music are largely based on Rock Steady music (of the Carribean, and somewhat in the South East US). The fact is that the New York scene is where punk took root, with Television, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Patti Smith, the New York Dolls. . . and then to further lay claim to punk being a product of the US, watch the documentary, "A Band Called Death," the first punk band was recorded in 1974 (one year prior to Television and Patti Smith, and two years prior to the fabrication of the Sex Pistols) in Detroit Michigan. . . and then you have proto-punk firmly planted in the US too, e.g. Iggy Pop and the Stooges.
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    UK wins 100%. The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Sex Pistols, Led Zeppelin. Even with such an incomplete list, UK wins
    Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Saxon...
    Beach Boys, Nirvana, Chuck Berry, Jack White, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Guns n Roses, Lamb of God, Pantera, Motley Crue? There's plenty of names to go around.
    Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Johnny Cash(yes, he counts), Woody Guthrie (if you want to go super proto), the Melvins, the Cramps, the Distillers, Jefferson Airplane, the Dead Milkmen, Mojo Nixon, the fact that a fair number of those Brits moved to the US, Death (the all black punk band), Television, Richard Hell, Patti Smith, and I can keep going.
    I'm a Metallica fan but I'm pro-UK in this debate. The band's main influences... Diamond Head, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath all came from the UK.
    Honestly UK loses almost 100%. All the genres where the US wins, it clearly wins by a landslide, and everywhere that the UK wins, it's really either just by a hair.
    this guys obviously american, just putting genres in that are exclusively US. what about Britpop, gonna include that? Madchester? Shoegaze? Garage Revival?
    Britpop?! are you seriously going to tell me that you enjoy Pulp? William Shatner and Ben Folds made "Common People" an entirely better song.
    Britpop isn't a homogeneous movement though. The Verve, Oasis, Blur and Elastica sound nothing like Pulp. I'd say that Britpop was in the UK what Grunge was in the US. That being said... I love Pulp, fook you.
    I'd say Oasis is the most annoying thing to come out of the UK, but we all know that that title goes to the Exploited, who are also the worst thing to happen to music.
    I would not have a problem with The Exploited if they weren't nazi arseholes tbh.
    Shoegaze is definitely a big one. I'd even say it's the last big popular advancement in influencing guitar sounds we'll see until running signals through computers becomes more common.
    I don't think either one was more important. Unless of course you want to go back to blues which is obviously a core foundation of rock, then it seems pretty clear which was more important. However, I think overall they are equal. Also, lemmyisgod97 makes a good point, Metal should be on the pro UK side (imo).
    For straight up rock, you can't beat the UK. Led Zep, the WHO, Rolling Stones, Queen, Deep Purple, Motorhead, Whitesnake, Rainbow (mostly English), Thin Lizzy, Status Quo, Thunder, Foreigner (3 UK, 3US), The Cult, The Darkness, Def Leppard, ELO, Free, Bad Company, the Yardbirds, UFO... there is no denying that English rock bands shaped the face of modern music as we know it. America has had it's big bands- The Big 4 and Nirvana, along with the grunge movement as a whole and a lot of thrash and death metal as well- but they can't compete with the class of English rock. England dominates in prog, with the likes of ELP, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Genesis, Marillion, Yes, Jethro Tull, King Crimson; they are the undisputed greats of the genre. What a lot of people forget is that while the US has made metal commercially viable, the UK has had an enormous impact in it. Obviously, the likes of Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Saxon, Judas Priest, and Motorhead have inspired hundreds of bands, but there's more to it than that. There's UK thrash- Onslaught, Sabbat, and Blitzkrieg. The band even more people forget about are Skyclad, one of the pioneers of folk metal. Without them, you wouldn't have all your Korpiklaanis and Tyrs. You've got Venom leadng the way for black metal, Carcass and Napalm Death at the forefront of grindcore, Bolt Thrower setting standards in death metal, and the likes of Cathedral, Witchfinder General, and Paradise Lost standing as some of the leading bands in doom. With Fields of the Nephilim as one of the most prominent goth bands, English music has really paved the way and set the standards in a LOT of rock subgenres. Don't get me wrong- I love American metal and rock, and will be the first to admit that the likes of Aerosmith, Guns 'n' Roses, Bon Jovi, Ratt, Motley Crue, etc are all brilliant- but remember, Slash grew up in England
    Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, Motorhead, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Black Sabbath, Beatles, Genesis, King Crimson, The WHO, Queen, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden. All the classic stuff evolved from UK!
    Naw man, Television and Patti Smith for punk, I'll give you Motor Head, a whole unimaginably long list of US artists in the 40s and 50s (Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, and Link Wray just to name a few). . . and the UK can keep Prog. . . actually, give it to the Cezch Republic. Waka waka!
    1900-1960, the US. Jazz, blues and rock'n'roll was the best music out there at the time. 1960-1990, the UK. Sex Pistols, Maiden, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath etc. In that era the UK's music scene was, IMO, much more creative and interesting than the one in US, although some good US bands were around at the time too. 1990- , back to the US. As modern metal started evolving, the US got ahead again, with bands like Machine Head, Slipknot, Trivium, Pantera etc. So to a conclusion, by time, the US has dominated, by influence on music coming later, I'd say UK. Even the most influential US musician (except Elvis), were influenced by some british band first.
    Actually, can we just admit that the Sex Pistols were the prefabricated attempt to copy Television by McLaren ,and that they were, really, kind of terrible.
    Hard to really compare the 2. I think the UK kept older styles of rock in the mainstream for longer than the US but both have had their share of history in contributions to the genre being part of the western world. Of course it emerged in the US due to immigration and preexisting black traditions but afterwards influences were just constantly tossed across the Atlantic. Also not even getting into regional stuff. Different areas have different flavors of rock at the front of their scenes.
    I mean, the article itself points to the US as the originators of rock. The British Invasion sound really had little relation to what rock started as (looking at arrtists like Fats Domino, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, etc.). . . so, not, the Brits really didn't do anything for the older styles of rock. . . if we were to credit somebody keeping old rock alive, then we'd have to throw Japan in the mix due to their obsession with rockabilly.
    It really depends on the decade. Before 1960, USA all the way. 60s and 70s--the UK wins by a landslide. 80s--Canada wins, because they had Rush while everyone else had shitty hair metal. 90s--The US wins by a landslide, basically picking up where the UK left off. So the tally is: UK: 2 US: 2 Canada: Rush
    Us Aussies gave yis all AC/DC and Airbourne, as well as King Parrot, Thy Art Is Murder and Parkway Drive, among others!
    Australia gave us Destroyer 666 too. A band that sounds so much like European death metal that they all left Australia and moved to Europe. lol
    Without Elvis, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins etc there would be no Beatles. If the Beatles don't exist, you never get Black Sabbath. So the US of A wins.
    And if Britain didn't exist, the USA wouldn't. So the UK wins. Saying 'if something didn't exist' is total bullshit.
    I suppose if the British hadn't brought over slaves to the colonies there would not be rock and roll either...
    Joy Division punk? wave at least. Perhaps it's fair to say that the US gave Britain the blues,(1-0) who then repackaged it back to the US as blues rock (1-1). After that it's anyone's game.....G&R were every bit as good as the Faces, for instance ....speaking as an Englishman, it reminds me of films...US has the money to make the big budget smashes, but UK has the ever-so-slight subltelty. In rock perhaps it is the same. But vive le difference.
    actually I remember reading that the ramones influenced the clash and sex pistols
    Nero Galon
    Not really sure about The Sex Pistols influence, I thought they were in the same situation as Black Sabbath i.e they just did their own thing without influences, however The Clash were definitely inspired by The Sex Pistols. Its documented many times by the band
    There was one article I read where Sid Vicious would play one of the Ramones' songs (I think it was Blitzkrieg Bop) from late at night to early in the morning. Wouldn't call that an influence though.
    I think the clue is in their manager Malcolm McLaren. Before setting up The Sex Pistols, he did a little work in America and with a band called New York Dolls in particular. Notice the similarities between this and the Sex Pistols:
    Also, The Sex Pistols referenced the song "Sealed with a Kiss" by The New York Dolls in their song "New York".
    Actually that was in reference to the entirety of the New York scene, most male punk musicians at the time in NY were paying for their music through male prostitution (Richard Hell, "I Dreamed that I was a Very Clean Tramp). . . but more to the point, the New York Dolls, Television, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Patti Smith, and let's not forget Death, punk belongs to the US!
    Began in the US but in my personal opinion the UK pulled it off better. Musically, visually, and in their actions.
    I'm going to stick with UK, mainly because of the 80s/90s scene. Britpop, madchester, post-punk (although post-punk was also pretty strong in the US, the bands who paved the way for it were british - Gang of Four, The Fall, The Cure, Joy Division, PIL...), shoegaze and all that stuff.
    Actually, I'd add britpop, madchester and shoegaze as pro-UK and country rock and no wave as pro-US. But I'm too lazy to write a new article about this...
    I think both were super important. I have favorites on both sides of the Atlantic. It's almost like Rock united both sides of the pond :-D
    The next rock/metal debate should be a comparison of different European countries (Scandinavian countries, Germany etc.).
    Most of the big blues artists such as bb king and buddy guy are only as popular as they are now and their music still listened to, as as a result of the early UK rock groups such as the stones the beatles the animals and the blues movement in the UK that they came from. Nearly all of the famous blues acts have at some point said that they got a far warmer and bigger reception in the UK than in the US with many coming over to record and tour because the US blues circuit was incredibly hard.
    Guys, let's be honest. There are rocks in both the US and in the UK, but originally they came from space. I think it safe to say space has the best rock.
    I think UK wins... even though they were, somehow, copying US rock... In the other hand current UK's rock sucks big time, you might find a couple of good rock and roll bands in the US
    Why would either be more important? This article simplifies a lot of things far more than is really reasonable to reach a balanced conclusion; the fact is that both countries have contributed a huge amount, and, especially on the metal front, a lot of the more recent interesting bands have been from neither (mostly mainland Europe in my experience).
    Death Metal originated in Florida and Thrash originated in California and New York/New Jersey.
    The big 4 were all from America. Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax.
    "The Big Four" you are referring to is the big four of thrash metal, not the big four of heavy metal. If it was the big four of heavy metal, I think Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath would be there, both from the UK. Thrash metal was a thing that happened in the USA so of course the big four of thrash is from the USA.
    How about Justin Beiber vs One Direction?
    U.S. Wins for sure. Zeppelin got a ton of ideas from American bluesman, Chuck Berry started and owned Rock n' Roll, along with Elvis. 2000's is a clear win for the U.S. with The White Stripes for garage and blues revival along with the Black Keys. 90's is a clear win with Nirvana, Kyuss, Guns N' Roses, Pearl Jam etc. Metal is a clear win with Metallica, DIO, Megadeth, etc. The only one I can think that the U.K. owns in is punk and having birthed Metal with Sabbath.
    The ideas go back and forth though. If ideas are a qualifier as much as popularity, then you'll have to thank Brit bands like Killing Joke and Motorhead for all your yankee Thrash Metal. You'll have to thank British psychedelic bands and Brit punk bands for your grunge and stoner rock. American bands are certainly more popular examples, but Britain is still responsible for the styles those bands play. It works both ways, so really no one side can be declared 'better'.
    Really the Clash, the Subhumans, UK Subs, Discharge, and Amebix are all the UK has going for them with punk. . . they didn't actually even invent it.
    Didn't invent, did define it. That's why I'm talking about a back and forth, neither country can truly lay claim to any genre, they're all too interdependant. Also there are totally more good punk bands than that in the UK, nice namedrops though.
    the CBGB alumni really defined a lot of punk too though, without those bands the LA scene wouldn't have come about, and without those a lot of the heavier/grtiiter bands of the UK would not be (crust, d-beat, anarcho-punk bands, then the US came up with some astounding artists in those fields too.
    Both were cool at some point, but Europe's been where it's at for Rock and Metal for the last twenty years. Scandinavia has been more influential than the UK or the US over the last couple of decades, and other European countries such as France and Poland are starting to get in on the act too. America and the UK have atleast had Funk Metal, Groove, Stoner and Sludge, admitedly more thanks to the US than the UK, though of course the UK influence in these genres is obvious. However Europe has done much more to shape Rock, Punk and Metal in recent years, the domination of EngLang countries is near an end.
    UK definitely gets more credit for the origins of metal, but USA wins as metal starts to branch out.
    Both are so freaking close it's not even funny. I love all the bands. This article fails to mention that the United States blues from black culture influenced all early metal and rock.
    I spoke too soon. How did I miss that part of your article!?! haha. My bad!
    Death metal is from Florida. Thrash is from San Fransisco, Hardcore is from NY. Blues s from the Mississippi delta.
    Heartland Rock should be added to the Pro-US side and Metal given to UK. What would American rock be without, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger.
    deduct a point for Bruce Springsteen, he's yours worst artist ever, the guy can,t sing, and thats from his own mouth. no one mentioned Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, Cream Dire Straits, Marillion, Camel Traffic, Wishbone Ash
    I think that many UK rock icons have more legend surrounding them. We all know that the likes of Ozzy and Lemmy are never going to die