It was a few weeks ago, as I scrolled through my various, carefully curated, rock ’n’ roll Spotify playlists, that I realized I almost exclusively listen to British rock. This was rather striking to me because I would consider myself to be a rock ’n’ roll fanatic and because the genre was originally pioneered by Americans. Though there are some notable exceptions to my unfounded British rock obsession (such as Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, etc.), there is a far larger British influence in the genre to which I find myself gravitating.
But why? Honestly — why?
The British rock invasion of the 1960s, heralded by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, among others, and everything that followed, became one of my favorite music periods by pure quality and coincidence.
There’s something about the soaring guitar solos from Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, and the psychedelic experimental rock vibes of Pink Floyd’s airy lyrics and saxophone riffs that get me every time. The Kinks tell us to “Give the People What They Want” (1981), and the Smiths’ Morissey croons about how heavenly it would be “if a double-decker bus crashes into us.” Maybe it’s the ingenuity that has impressed me so thoroughly.
Elton John needs no introduction, and neither do the Beatles nor David Bowie. Queen and the Rolling Stones have written some of the most unforgettable songs in history, and the Eurythmics’ dance-rock synthetic strings pair perfectly with Annie Lennox’s rich vocals.
I could talk for hours about these artists, but instead I’ll quickly dive into a few of my favorites.
Despite their often satanic messaging, Black Sabbath has produced some of my favorite guitar and bass riffs as pioneers of heavy metal. The warbling bass guitar intro for “N.I.B.” (1970) is an authoritative spotlight for the often-overlooked instrument.
Joy Division’s post-punk style, especially in “She’s Lost Control” (1979), is perfect for head-bopping. Mumford & Sons’ modern folk-rock banjo and guitar melodies joined with Marcus Mumford’s rough voice are simultaneously nostalgic and angsty, as in “I Gave You All” (2009). The current, popular Arctic Monkeys are a refreshing mix of garage and indie rock, exemplified in the successful album "AM" (2013)(of which my favorite song is “I Wanna Be Yours” because “I wanna be your vacuum cleaner” is the best opening lyric to any song ever).
But my all-time favorite is Led Zeppelin, though I must acknowledge controversy about their songwriting and some of their individual behaviors. Jimmy Page is one of my most beloved guitarists (second only to Jimi Hendrix), and the band’s combination of blues and hard rock is only slightly tempered by their massive egos. The lyrical guitar solo in “Achilles Last Stand” (1976) and John Paul Jones’ mandolin in “Going to California” (1971) are exemplary of the band’s talent and versatility.
British rock is, to me, the best. It spans dozens of subgenres within rock ’n’ roll and each is heavy with intricacies.
And more than that, it’s really, really catchy.
So, until next week, happy listening!