In America, everybody wanted to be Elvis. In Europe everybody wanted to be the Beatles.
Since Elvis started singing Heartbreak Hotel, Hollywood realized that one “Artist” was easier to push around than a whole band. I mean seriously, have you ever heard band mates fighting amongst each other? Who needs that? As a result the U.S. has spawned so many solo artists starting with Elvis and well…… I think it really ended back in the 90s with Bryan Adams. I can’t comment on the auto tuned industry that exists today.
Because Colonel Tom Parker was afraid of flying, Elvis never toured England but Buddy Holly and the Crickets did which inspired bands like Tony Sheridan and four inspired lads from Liverpool. The “Crickets” became the blue print for European Bands in the 60s. The British invasion consisted of primarily “Bands”. From the Beatles, The Stones, The Dave Clark Five and The Who, to the lesser yet prolific bands like The Animals, Herman’s Hermits, The under-rated “Kinks”, Gary and the Pace Makers, The Yardbirds, Deep Purple and the list of European 60 groups goes on.
In the 70s, Europe really kicked into gear and gave us the band all bands tried to copy; Led Zeppelin. The “group” paradigm would continue with bands like Foghat and Bad Company. The Faces hit the scene in the 70s, then with the departure of Rod Stewart who came to America to start HIS solo career, and Ron Wood going to the Rolling stones, the Faces would call it quits. Ten Years after became one of first European bands that would do an extensive tour of the U.S. playing cities from New York to L.A. and places in between like Stockton, California.
Another European band that would emerge in the 70s that would eventually go on to become arguably the greatest Rock Band of all-time were known during the 70s as one hit wonders in America with their single: “Killer Queen”.
VARIATIONS OF ROCK
In the late 70s, the English were amongst the first to pick up where the Beatles (Who broke up in 1970) left off and explored experimental Rock which broke away from the standard blues format of Rock was transformed in several different directions. Progressive Rock was an attempt by mainly English Artist to make rock music legit by playing rock songs in “Movements”. Perhaps the best example of this was the band YES.
By the end of the 70s an American solo artist had started a rebellious form of music in New York. Iggy Pop who had cult success gave birth not only to a new sound called “Punk” but perhaps one of the greatest if not the greatest punk band of all time, The Ramones. The Ramones were too misunderstood for A.M. radio in America but bands in Europe picked up on the punk scene and kicked out bands like the Clash and the Sex Pistols. Even Queen put out a punk album with their first mega hit “Tie your mother down”. I’m not sure who was first to coin the term “New Wave”, but this was an attempt to make punk music sound like “Pop” music. A good example would be a majority of the 80s bands that came out of Europe. The 80s was when a new generation tried to co-opt Rock. The American band “The Stray Cats” made it big in Europe by taking rockabilly and giving it a punk sound which you can hear in their first hit “Stray Cat Strut”. New Wave was a more palatable version of Punk. It was punk that was Radio friendly.
AMERICAN SOLO ARTISTS
Most of the Artists that became big solo artists in America were the skeletonized talent of bands that fell apart. With the exception of folk artist like James Taylor, John Denver and John Sebastian, The Evil A&R people in Hollywood would sign the leader of a band and use studio musicians under hire to put out albums for Artists “like” Ritchie Valens. The Stone Ponies were raped of their lead singer, “Linda Ronstadt”. Crazy Horse was torn apart when Columbia signed Neil Young. This practice was not unusual. Even original bands would just cut to the chase and the main talent would be the name of the band. Artists like the late Ronnie Montrose became the band “Montrose”. His singer and co-writer Sammy Hagar would go off on his own solo career. Carlos Santana had his own band called Santana, you get the picture. If we go way back, Rock and Roll was not only personified but kick started by solo artists like Little Richard and Chuck Berry.
America has had success with Bands, many of whom broke up to pursue solo careers only to fail and reform. Most of the solo artist get the band back together for one common REA$ON. The Eagles are a great example of an American band that withstood the temptations of solo careers. America seems to be a place where new genres are discovered.
Grunge bands in Seattle put out a sound that Europe didn’t even try to comprehend. The movement died in 1994 when Kurt Cobain, perhaps the father of Grunge committed suicide.
Finally, The metal bands. The head bangers. I think America has a slight edge on that market. Metal is a “Band” Genre. One could argue that England started the genre with Ozzy and Black Sabbath who date back to the late 60s. But a Detroit band was playing a sound the morphed into metal but you have to decide if the band is a solo act or a band and that would be Alice Cooper. On the other hand, nobody can sell out a stadium quicker than Metallica.
Metallica’s biggest European competition came from a garage band that was struggling in East Germany while the Bay Area musicians of Metallica were in luxury L.A. studios. Once the Berlin Wall came down, the world was introduced to Germany’s greatest rock band ever. (No not Nena) but the band Rammstein became large really fast. Oddly, only one American solo artist has been successful in the field of Metal and that would be Rob Zombie.
Perhaps the greatest Rock Band would come out of England/Zanzibar. Queen would be the largest ticket and first to conquer to the world. Their key was re-inventing themselves. Fortunately, as talented as each musician was, they failed miserably as solo artists. Freddie Mercury who will stand alone as one of the greatest voices of Rock music ever had perhaps the worst solo album of all four of them. Together, amazing synergy exploded from the P.A. system. Just watch the Live Aid concert.
The best Solo Artist of all time? It’s a tossup between three Americans. Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley. Chuck Berry is known as the father of Rock and Roll, Little Richard (in my opinion) embodies all that is rock and roll. I think he is the true King of Rock and Roll.
Elvis Presley was everything Hollywood was looking for. He was a conduit for Race music. Just as New Wave made Punk radio friendly, Elvis transcended the race barrier of “Race” Music and called it Rock and Roll. Would we have had bands like Queen, Buddy Holly, The Beatles or Metallica without Elvis?