Beloved UK pop/rock acts that never caught on in the US... and vice versa

Both had some success in the states in the early 80s. April Wine in particular had a lot of success on rock stations with the Nature of the Beast album.

I don’t know about the rest of the US, but The Cure were huge in Southern California. In 1989, they sold out Dodger Stadium, which seats 56000 for ball games and even more for concerts when there are additional seats on the field. Came back 3 years later in 1992 and played the even bigger Rose Bowl.

How about Pulp? I got the impression they were big in the UK, at least at the time of Different Class. I liked them, but they seem to be pretty unknown in the US. I think more Americans have heard William Shatner’s cover of Common People than the original (or any other Pulp song)

That’s funny as I only just recently (as in about two weeks ago) discovered the cover, probably over in the covers thread. Otherwise, I’ve only known Pulp’s original. Did the Shatner version actually get a lot of airplay over here in the US? That said, I don’t remember hearing Pulp much at all here in the States at the time. Of the Brit Pop scene, it seems only Oasis really made serious traction, with Blur a distant second, popularity-wise (I suspect “Song #2” is the only song of theirs most Americans can name and, well, they won’t actually be able to name it beyond “the Woo hoo!” song.) Pulp and Suede were more relegated to college radio stations and dorm rooms.

Are you me? I adore Level 42, living in the UK from '81 to '86. World Machine was massive, they were produced by Verdine White from Earth, Wind and Fire… and SAY was a megahit. After that… crickets. My theory is that American A&R had no idea how to market them. They were too White for R&B radio, and too Black for AOR/pop stations. I carry a torch for Level 42 and they’ve gone through lineup changes, but did a number of great albums that were unheard in America.

I am among the biggest a-ha fans in America (says me). People forget that “The Sun Always Shines on TV” from their debut album was a top 20 single, so technically they’re a two-hit wonder. When Don Everly died, I pulled out a-ha’s version of “Crying in the Rain,” which is achingly beautiful. I will also note that they did the James Bond song for “The Living Daylights” that got a little airplay on MTV (summer of 1988, I watched MTV for a chance to see the video). Their last original album was 2017, I think, and they did an Unplugged album in 2019.

Gives me an opportunity to share Morten Harket’s appearance on the UK Masked Singer. These wallys couldn’t figure him out, even with him singing an acoustic version of “Take on Me.” His OWN SONG.

Ok, my original contributions. BigDfromLA and I are not the same person.

I would say XTC fit this. Active from 1977 to the mid 90s, and a chart presence in the UK until the 80s. Hugh Padgham perfected the “gated drum” sound on XTC’s records and put it in full effect on Phil Collins’ 80s albums. “Dear God” from Skylarking was XTC’s biggest US hit, a reluctant B-side that was added to the album. The following album, Oranges and Lemons, did produce two minor hits in the US, “Mayor of Simpleton” and “King for a Day,” and the following album Nonsuch had “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” which was on MTV a bit. But only musos and Anglophiles know XTC. Truth be told, XTC was always a step out of the times in the UK as well, and probably sabotaged their own success (Andy Partridge’s crippling stage fright stopped them touring in the 80s, and they had a career-defying lawsuit with Virgin that stopped them from recording for a good number of years).

Simple Minds definitely had a monster hit with “Don’t You Forget About Me,” which was not their song, and not representative of their oeuvre. I know they had success with Sparkle in the Rain and a few singles but they were much bigger in the UK.

The Oasis/Blur rivalry had no traction in the US. Oasis had success with “Wonderwall,” and of course Blur had “Song 2.” Blur are so quintessentially English I can see why they never cottoned on in America, especially the “Life” series of albums. Their later, lo-fi output got them airplay in the US. And of course Damon Albarn had success with Gorillaz.

Craig David was huge in the UK but did nothing here. And Mark Morrison had a massive US hit with “Return of the Mack” but was never heard of again in America.

Oh - Stormzy. Legendary UK grime artist and activist. Never heard of in America.

I’m listening to Prefab Sprout’s album “Steve McQueen” (which came out in the US under the title “Two Wheels Good”), and I thought that this band also is a good candidate for this thread. Surely a beloved UK pop band with some big hits (also on the continent) that went nowhere in the US. And man, they were good!. Paddy McAloon is a pop genius.

I am tempted to ask why Black Lace’s “Agadoo” never made it over here.

Right, I’ll get me coat

I’m pretty sure I never heard of XTC until Oranges and Lemons came out, but since then, I’ve seen, heard, and heard of them plenty of different places, so that I’d never consider them unknown (though perhaps underrated or underappreciated) in the US.

XTC-wise, I remember “Making Plans for Nigel” and “Generals and Majors” getting a lot of airplay on the rock and “new wave” stations while I was in high school. But other than those two, “Dear God” and “Mayor of Simpleton” (their only song that charted in the US), they didn’t get a lot of attention stateside. I do remember in my junior year of high school KROQ-FM repeatedly announcing the very sudden cancellation of the Hollywood Palladium show and the rest of the tour. The show was cancelled less than 10 hours before start time. That was the last stage in Partridge’s mental breakdown.

Grime hasn’t caught on in the U.S. except among critics and anglophiles, I feel. Which is a shame, IMHO the best hip-hop of the last fifteen years has almost all come from the UK, from Dizzee Rascal, The Streets, Stormzy, Rizzle Kicks, Nadia Rose, Lady Sovereign, Bugzy Malone…I’m not the biggest hip-hop fan, though I loved the likes of Public Enemy and Ice-T when I was in high school. Most American rap sounds alike to me these days and nothing much grabs my ear. But stick a Brixton accent on it…

I really enjoyed four albums by Level 42 from the 80’s…Standing In The Light from 1983, World Machine from 1985, Running In The Family from 1987 and Staring At The Sun from 1988. SITL was the album recorded in L.A. and produced by Verdine White and Larry Dunn from EWF. I think this was my favorite album of the four even though there were no big “hit” singles. Tracks 5-9 to end the album are spectacular. The production from White and Dunn was outstanding…enhancing the Level 42 sound without encorporating EWF elements (save for an incredible sax solo by Andrew Woolfolk of EWF on the excellent song, “A Pharoah’s Dream (Of Endless Time)”. Interesting that the World Machine album and the rest that followed were self produced by the band, along with unofficial fifth member Wally Badarou. Interestingly, Badarou was the keyboard player on the massive 1979 hit by M, “Pop Muzik”.

What was great about Level 42 and especially those albums is that every song had quality. You could play them beginning to end and hear all great music. So many musical acts create albums with one or two quality songs, with the rest being uninspired, forgettable fodder. Not Level 42. When SATS was released in '88, there was a new guitarist and drummer to replace the Gould brothers who left the band. I was pleasantly surprised that the musical quality of that fourth album did not decline, at least in that first record with the new members. Boon Gould actually contributed lyrics to most of the songs of that new record.

Yeah, I definitely remember hearing “Dear God” on the alt-rock stations, but, otherwise, XTC didn’t really hit my conscience until much later. I was vaguely aware of a band called XTC, but I just, for whatever reason, thought they were a metal band, or something, probably confusing them with Extreme. It wasn’t until the late 90s that I really got to know them through a friend. These days, that alt rock station will play all the songs you mentioned plus a song I consider a, if not the, perfect pop song: “Senses Working Overtime.”

On the assumption that Three Dog Night were beloved, this band accumulated eighteen top twenty hits in the US (including 3 at #1) between 1969 and 1974.

In the UK they had two - Mama Told Me Not To Come (#3) and Joy To The World (#24).

I’ve kinda skimmed the thread, and most entries seem to be UK acts. Now, I’m not in the UK, but Euro charts tend to have quite a bit overlapping, so I’ll throw in some American acts that I think didn’t get much traction here:
Grand Funk
Hootie and the Blowfish
REO Speedwagon

Add a lot of country acts that, as I understand it, do to their ubiquitous in media, permeated the consciousness of many Americans, even non fans of country. And since country is a bit on the fringe over here, not many will know of e.g. Garth Brooks .

ETA: Cue Dopers showing how these artists charted here and there. The fact remains, mentioning any of those bands to an average person in the right age group, will not a get recognition.

Interestingly, Asia was actually an English group; all four of the original members (Steve Howe, John Wetton, Geoff Downes, and Carl Palmer) were English, and had previously been in other English bands (Yes, King Crimson and U.K., The Buggles, and ELP, respectively).

Indeed. Also, Phil Gould played on “Pop Muzik” as well! And thank you for giving the respect to Staring at the Sun which is one of my favorite albums PERIOD, and definitely up there among the Level 42 discography. While Phil Gould (drums) and Boon Gould (guitar) left the band, they were involved in the writing (as you state, at least Boon was), and their replacements, Gary Husband and Alan Murphy, were truly prodigious talents. (I’d also loop in Dominic Miller, who jammed with the band that eventually became Level 42 - he just stopped showing up one day. He played on Staring at the Sun as well.)

While the songs on SATS aren’t as strong as the ones on World Machine and Running in the Family, there are terrific songs - “Heaven in My Hands,” “Tracie,” the title track, “Take a Look,” and “Man” (which is a bonkers song, their Bohemian Rhapsody - three songs in one). Alan Murphy, in particular, was an amazing addition, and it’s a true tragedy that he only was able to contribute to that one album and a few b-sides as he died of AIDS-related complications in 1989. Murphy’s distinctive guitar was a defining sound in British pop - Kate Bush, Go West, Nick Heyward, Mike + the Mechanics. Gone too soon.

The post-Murphy album Guaranteed was also wonderful, as they replaced Murphy with the incomparable Alan Holdsworth. I’m reminded of how Johnny Hates Jazz and Wang Chung had US hits, and I can hear “Guaranteed” and “Overtime” from that album very much in the vein of those bands.

I think Polydor, and then RCA completely botched marketing the band in America. There’s a video/documentary called Fait Accompli, which is covering the interregnum between Running in the Family and Staring at the Sun. There’s a moment with the record execs that is Spinal Tap cringeworthy when they’re trying to label the band, including having a sexy woman draped on the band members during a photoshoot… they were not pin-up pop idols.

They had “Ballroom Blitz”, but they also had “Action”, “Fox On The Run”, and a few other big hits.

Saga has been perennially popular in Canada for decades, as has Jane Siberry, but neither have made much of a splash in the U.S. except for Saga having a couple of minor hits in the early 1980s.

Ry Cooder has also enjoyed worldwide popularity, except in the United States.

My favorite British band from the 80s was The Toy Dolls. They were definitely obscure in the states. Maybe if the radio station you listened to played the dead Kennedys and the Cure, you might of heard Nellie the Elephant.

But I don’t think they were ever that big in Britain either.

Some others. I left the UK in 1986, and Curiosity Killed the Cat were massive in Britain but made absolutely no impact in America. (I don’t think it was a loss, to be honest.)

Now in reverse, how about a British band that was huge in America but didn’t bother the charts in the UK? I would nominate The Outfield, whose song “Your Love” is known by every 80s fan and did well in the mid 80s (top ten album and single), but never charted as far as I know in Britain.

As a blast from the past, Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield was number 1 in the UK for a year. In the US I think the single might have charted thanks to it being the theme music for the Exorcist. His followup, Hegest Ridge, hit #1 also (not as long) but I never heard any of it played here.
35 years ago his albums were hard to find here. In Madrid a run of the mill record store had tons. And there were very few Americans on the Mike mailing list that I was on around 1990. A lot more Germans.

Well, now we’re all stuck with Drake.