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

I remember first hearing about lady sovereign when she was like 14 and doing concerts in a public park as part of a “kids doing special things” PSA series that ran on cartoon network she wasn’t famous yet and had to bring her own music which she sang/rapped to a mic on a boom box karaoke-style …

and Dizzee rascal I heard a few tracks of on a certain infamous "backyard wrestling game " on the ps2/Xbox

I don’t know how those of us on this side of the pond missed the passion, the glory, the blazing comet in the firmament of British music that was…


The Cure are in no way “one hit wonder” category in the US. You can’t have 5 Gold or Platinum RIAA certified albums in a row from 1985-1996 and not “catch on.” Doing “better on the alternative charts” means that every single they put out is pretty much an automatic add to heavy rotation on alternative radio and some that didn’t even chart initially eventually became classics. I remember watching MTV after school in the late '80s to early '90s and they were all over.

How many bands that “never caught on in the US” played sold out stadiums? 44,000 at Giants stadium, 50,000 at Dodgers Stadium. Robert Smith lamented becoming a “stadium rock band” in the US and did not enjoy it. We might as well have a post about how K-Pop never caught on in the US and BTS are unknown because most grandmas can’t name one of their songs.

True, but these bands got heavy MTV rotation. I certainly felt like I knew them (through MTV, as an American tweener). Not BIG bands, but hardly unknown.

Agree about Two Tone bands in the US. The (English) Beat, for example, played the US Festival and even though they broke up after three albums, they were granted permanent fame for the song “Rotating Head/March of the Swivelheads” which is the tune playing when Ferris Bueller is racing his dad home at the end of the movie. “Save it for Later” is a new wave classic. The post-Beat band with the two vocalists, Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger - General Public - had success with a few singles. Dave did the title track for “She’s Having a Baby,” and the other guys from The Beat found a new singer and eclipsed all of these efforts as Fine Young Cannibals. So one band, three fairly successful spin offs. I suspect most music fans might know The Beat → General Public lineage, but probably not the connection to Fine Young Cannibals.

I think it’s a category mistake to equate “only had one mainstream Number 1” with “never caught on” in that way.

Agreed. If you just went by "mainstream Number 1 ", then I guess Led Zeppelin never caught on in the US either.

I looked it up the last time we had a thread lkke this, and Canadian artists have had just as much success in the U.S. as have UK artists, given our comparative population sizes. If anything Canada punches a little above its weight in terms of international success of its musicians.

However, you do have to dock points for Celine Dion and Justin Beiber.

I would imagine Canadians THINK their acts don’t do well in the States because, of course, they are uniquely in a position to be very aware of what’s popular in the two countries. British fans might not know that Blur never was popular in the USA except for “Song 2.” Canadians know The Tragically Hip was immensely popular in Canada but not in the USA.

In 2020, three of the ten biggest selling acts in the world, and the USA, were Canadians; Drake, The Weeknd, and The Beebs. Big Canadian acts keep popping up all the time, scoring #1 hits; first the Barenaked Ladies will get big, then Nelly Furtado, then a Nickleback or whatever (I may be mixing up the order there but you see what I mean.) Alanis Morrisette was huge. Arcade Fire, Shawn Mendes, it goes on.

Off the top of my head, here are some Canadian acts that made it big internationally:

The Band
The Guess Who
Bachman-Turner Overdrive
Bryan Adams
Leonard Cohen
Joni Mitchell
Neil Young
Gordon Lightfoot
Paul Anka
Sum 41
Billy Talent
Michael Bublé
Avril Levigne
Shania Twain
Alanis Morissette
Sarah McLachlan
Barenaked Ladies
Corey Hart
Justin Beiber
The Weeknd
Celine Dion
Arcade Fire
Tom Cochrane (With and without Red Ryder)
Hank Snow
Nelly Furtado
k.d. Lang
Honeymoon Suite
Crash Test Dummies

I’m sure there are many more. Not bad for a country a tenth the size of the U.S. in population.

So that I may act like a complete nitpicking jerk, it’s actually between one-ninth and one-eighth of the population. 333,310,170 / 38,135,383 = 8.74018152643. That makes it it a little over 11.44% of the population.

I’ve never heard of half of them!

Probably because I’m old.

Or maybe they made it big in the US but not the UK, or are big in a specific scene. TBF even half of it is still a pretty long list. I bet most people in the UK wouldn’t be aware a lot of them are Canadian, too - I’ve even seen Arcade Fire live (at a festival rather than specifically going to see them; they were excellent) and didn’t know they were Canadian.

Paloma Faith has five albums since 2009 that made it to the top ten of the UK charts (inc one #1 and two #2s) and three double-platinum albums with another “only” platinum selling album, plus a couple roles on various seasons of the UK “The Voice” including advisor and judge. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song of hers in the wild in the US though; her top selling album only hit #170 on the US charts and, from a glance at Wikipedia, I don’t think her singles have charted in the US at all. We saw her once in Chicago and she performed at a bar venue to maybe a couple hundred people including a couple who had driven in from Canada that day to see her.

Curiously, given her lack of US popularity, my wife once reported that her local karaoke joint had “every goddamn Paloma Faith song ever written”. She likes Faith but was looking for a Concrete Blonde song to sing and says the most she’s ever seen was “Joey” and “Tomorrow, Wendy” (which strikes me as a hilarious karaoke choice; I can’t even imagine…) and wanted to know why they had a surplus of Paloma Faith tracks. She did sing Faith’s “Upside Down” to which all her friends said “That’s a cute song! I’ve never heard it before, who’s it by?”

Canadian acts tour everywhere, even if they’re selling out Massey Hall at home but playing a tiny club in any other country. But they do amass fans. I was in London in 2019, seeing the Waterboys at the Roundhouse, and I found myself chatting to two lovely women from Northern Ireland. When I told them I was Canadian, one said “Oh, there’s a band I love from Canada…what’s their name? They do that song that goes ‘could have been the Willie Nelson…’” and before she even finished I said “Tragicially Hip! The song’s called ‘Bobcaygeon.’” She hadn’t heard that Gord Downie had passed away, the news of which stunned her. I remember as well that the night The Hip were playing their final concert, Pearl Jam were on tour in the States, and Eddie Vedder took time during the show that night to sing the praises of Gord and the band. The Tragically Hip were rock royalty here, and thought they never topped the charts overseas, they did manage to inspire fans around the world.

Always loved this video from when the Hip’s final concert was broadcast across Canada and there were viewing parties everywhere. The country was singing, loving and crying all at once. The Tragically Hip's last song rings out across Canada - YouTube

Just an aside: I love it when acts that are huge in foreign countries play a US tour in small clubs or theaters. I’ve had so many memorable experiences.

Bell X1 is (was?) HUGE in Ireland (3 of their albums released between 2005 and 2016 were #1 on the Irish charts) and also found success UK-wide but not so much here in the U.S.

A few years ago I saw them at a local venue that seats 400. It was less than a quarter full. They put on an awesome show.

Here you go.

You’re welcome.

Likely - I’ve heard of virtually all of them, but from my US days.

I saw Oasis in 1995 at the Liberty Lunch in Austin. It’s a small venue and I think there were around 50-75 people at the show. The album hit #1 in the UK in September 1994, and “Live Forever” was on rotation on MTV. It was somewhat surreal that these guys were getting all this buzz, but it was like watching your buddies play at a frat party. I will say that the brothers Gallagher had the front and attitude befitting a Madison Square Garden show!

They were booked to play my fresher’s fair at uni in London in 1994 and didn’t turn up. Didn’t even tell the organisers, just didn’t show up, so there was no replacement band. Guess they’d decided they were already too big for a fresher’s fair, but I never forgave them for really putting a damper on the first big social event of uni.

Also, they were pretty shit.