Musical Preference: US or UK?

This sounds like a dumb question. It isn't. A few month's ago, after a good night of drinking and "smoking," myself and a friend got into a debate about music. It really wasn't US is better then English music or any sort of that muck. But an exploration as to why non aggressive new music works in the UK and hasn't in the States.

At first he was offended, not because he's a Canadian but because he once was a musician. I suggested that the english scene still thrives with "pop" where US "pop" has diminished to N'sync and Jessica Simpson. In the UK you have so much avaliable that doesn't have an aggressive message. Take Massive Attack and RadioHead as an example. Even hip-hop from the likes of Tricky isn't that aggressive. The lyrics are softer, yet can be taken with the same amount of street cred.

In an earlier thread a person mentioned the Smith's. But you can take it even further...Billy Bragg, The Cure, Depeche Mode..good popish tunes yet not N'sync. Pop is all but dead musically in the states, yet it still thrives in the UK.

And while the UK scene still has aggressive bands like say, The Prodigy, Goldy, and a host of harder rock bands, they still have a nice mix of neutral-pop bands.

I think alot of what was done in the early 60'6 to late 70's was great on both sides but then the UK went one route while the States took another. Some of my favorite bands of all time hail from the US. Janes Addiction, Sublime, Rage Against the Machine. A harder edge. I think back to the 80's and I remember great bands like Gun's N Rose's, Metallica, Motely Crue...while the UK had a mix of that and the Smiths. Then fast forward to the 90's. We had a mix of gangster rap and harder sounding rock from the likes of Janes Addiction, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden...the entire Seattle thing actually.

While the UK went in a different direction again, with Brit-pop like Blur, Radiohead, and Elastica. While still spreading their wings with electronic music from The Chemical Brothers, Massive Attack, Portishead, and The Prodigy.

It just seems to me that after the 70's the North American scene in general went in a single direction be it hip hop or rock. Aggressive. While the british still seem to pull it off without coming across as cheesy.

The only reason I wrote this entire thread was because I've had a few listening to The Allman Brothers Live at The Fillmore. And its become really clear that this was a different time when experimentation was open and applauded.
Lush I think your points are pretty much correct on the surface.
However you are looking at pretty mainstream music I'm sure there is a whole undercurrent of bands in the States doing the type of music you mention.
From the top of my head you could throw in Fountains Of Wayne,Ryan Adams,Sufjan Stevens,Wilco,LCD Soundsystem,Flaming Lips,REM and countless others..... all bands that don't quite fit your theory.
You can continue with the whole Alt-country thing and power pop genres right through to the post-rock experimental sounds of Tortoise and God Speed You Black Emperor.

I think America is just as vibrant as the UK in the genres you mention,you just need to scratch the surface.
I realize your point Ben, my question to you is this though, why is it mainstream in the UK and not in the US?
Lush well it isn't really mainstream-the list of bands I mention are mostly "underground" here in the UK.

The charts now are completely different and there are very noticeable differences between what sells between the two countries;the most noticeable being the dominance of R&B/HipHop in the US charts.Having said that there were always differences in the charts (especially singles)
You need to be aware we sell a lot more cheesy pop and novelty records in the UK.
Another complication is that singles sales are a mere fraction here in the UK with regards what they used to be.
However I would need to see the figures to see if overall there is a higher % of sales in the UK with regards the more experimental music-I rather suspect it's quite similar.

What we do appear to have here in the UK is a much more vibrant music press which may give the UK scene the appearance of it being more eclectic.

What is interesting is that with the recent exception of Coldplay (and before them Radiohead and Bush) very very few British bands have made major sales dents in the US.
The decades before that saw bands with much more success both sides of the Atlantic.

It's an ever changing world the music and one which has saw music develop as part of mass mainstream entertainment.
I live in NYC and I go to London fairly frequently for my job. I spend most of my spare time "soaking in" the atmosphere at the big music retailers (Virgin, Tower, etc.). I feel that the Brits "get it right" when it comes to selling music and in NYC, we have missed the boat entirely. There is a vibe and an aliveness in the UK shops and the US shops feel dead by comparison. 15 years ago, the US shops had a similar vibe to them ... Friday night at Tower would be like a party ... people would congregate at Tower after Thanksgiving and on New Year's Day. Not even close today.

For the most part, the US pop culture takes pride in having attitude and being angry and nowhere is this more evident than in our pop music. And granted the US pop scene goes through its cycles, but I also feel fairly comfortable saying that pop music is also the exclusive property of the young. Most people over 35 or so, don't connect with the pop culture. It's pretty much a "get with it" statement that pop music sends out, not a "how do I include you" invitation. And this is not just felt by the aging rock fans from the 70's ... speak to your lite jazz fans, who were the R&B fans from the 70's.

I agree with Ben that the UK covers the music scene in a more vibrant way ... I would add better, but there is also more mainstream acceptance in the UK, at least on the surface, of more styles of music. Maybe it's a regional or socio-economic thing ... more country in the South ... more R&B in the cities. There's not a lot of crossover though. "No Depression" a magazine that initially covered alt-country (which covers a lot of ground) is hung up, at least editorially, on protest music. "Blender" tried to cover the best in each non-classical genre, but seems hung up on hip-hop/R&B.

What I have not mentioned is the role that economics plays in all this (most of the big music retailers are slowly dying in the US), as well as our addiction to all things video. Most people are glued to the big screen TV at night and not to their stereos. Also, FM radio, as a primary source for the best music in each genre, is pretty much history these days ... so the primary way to hear new music for free is not utilized. Maybe satellite radio will change this, as I find myself listening to radio a lot more these days ... but at $12.95 a month it may be a non-choice for most.

There is a connection in the way that music is presented and sold to the public, that either enrolls people to want to come and get it or stay where they are and listen to what they have always listened to.

Great idea for a thread Lush.

Regards, Rich
rich, even in the uk and europe, the music business is suffering. the british rock 'scene' however is still thriving compared to the u.s. i think the music culture in the u.s. has become more regional. i also think that musicians in the u.k. are more outspoken(with the exception of rap/hip hop) politically and socially than their u.s. counterparts. a sign of the times
Your description of mainstream American music being aggresive is spot on in my opinion. Might it be reflective of an aggresive culture? The calming voices in American music are increasingly obscure.
I'm not sure of everyone's location but in my opinion, you may have a roseir view of UK music, because you are not subjected to a lot of the rubbish we get here, just as I'm sure the vice versa is also true.

Whilst it seems easier with cheap media to ladle the cheese onto a largley expentant population sadly, international distribution tends to sift the wheat from the chaff.

You did miss the British scene of the nineties which was Blur (fairly middle of road) - (Damon Albarn now leads the Gorillaz) vs Oasis (more agressive, but not much), known as battle of the bands which fought for supremecy in the non pop/RnB indy charts.

They largely saved there agression for slanging at each other in the media (deliberately of course).
Blur have been one of the more experimental bands to come out of the UK in a while not unlike Wilco in the way they've taken a core sound and took it strange places.

As for the above synopsis of the UK in the 90's I have to say there was a wee bit more happening than that.
I think the UK AND US mainstream music scenes are both pretty awful. The 60s and 70s produced a lot of fabulous music, and the 90s produced a moderate amount of good stuff on both sides of the atlantic (e.g. Paul Weller in the UK, Natalie Merchant in the US).

Where I think the US is better than the UK is that FM radio stations play a much broader range of music. I think that the commercials in between the music are almost unbearable in the US, but at least a range of music is there. UK FM radio is a complete loss for anything other than talk or classical.

On a recent visit to the UK (my home country, but I live now in Boston MA) I struggled to find ANY decent pop/rock FM radio stations. It seems you get teenage chart hits or dance on every station. I ended up listening to classic FM or Radio 4 during my road trips. Perhaps I'm getting old ?
It seems to me that one can do well in either place, but it is easier in the UK. I think the music scene is tied to the cultural forces at work. I agree with Rar1 about the economics. Further, I see economics tied to politics. The UK usually presents a more human scale, even huge London in comparison to Gotham. I have the sense that the UK is still a nation of shopkeepers and a people of puttering. Eccentrics are encouraged. The UK is more jealously guarding its democracy. Politics in every pub, and music too. We have consentrated our media here for politics, economics and music so that we are crushed by giants telling us what to like. That is why this forum holds our attention year after year. We who care here work harder at it. I am sure we would all rather spend half the time on-line and more in the listening room or singing and playing in our local joint and joints from SF to NYC. We all seem to muddle through.
Aceto I'm not sure I would agree with your analysis about the UK.
I tend to think we've seen some slow but massive cultural changes over the last 25 years especially in politics.
I'm not so sure the UK still fits your description above.

My guess would be there are still wide cultural differences between the UK and US but that a lot of the issues affecting people from political issues to trends on home entertainment,music buying etc. are pretty much similar though the overall differences remain..
In short the trends are similar if the starting points are different.

The world is much smaller,issues are more linked in a global sense and the 'net to some extent has made it one big open market.