Why do English rockers sound American when they sing?

This has always driven me nuts. There are obvious exceptions such as “I’m 'Enry the Eighth” and most anything by the Sex Pistols, but had I not known beforehand, I would never guess that the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or the Who, for example, were British.

Is this a deliberate play for a larger audience, or is their something about the mechanics of singing that tends to wipe out at least the more obvious aspects of accent? I’m not sure the second could be true, as you can definitely hear accents in country-western singing.


There are plenty of English singers who sound VERY English when vocalizing. There are also American singers with thick, regional accents who lose those accents when singing: Jim Nabors doesn’t sound Southern at all, when singing, and the young SInatra didn’t sound “Joisey” when crooning.

In the case of Mick Jagger and Robert Plant (and quite a few other rock singers), the key may be the musicians who influenced them. MOST English, Irish and Scottish rockers grew up listening to American black and/or Southern musicians.

Since Van Morrison grew up listening to Jackie Wilson, Mick Jagger, and Rod Stewart grew up listening to John Lee Hooker (toss in Chuck Berry, Elvis, Little RIchard… you get the idea), you’d wouldn’t expect them to sound Irish, ENglish or Scottish- you’d expect them to sound like the American artists they were emulating.

astorian very good points, all. I guess my next question is, is it deliberate, or is it unconscious mimicry?


I’ve always wondered this too. Epecially singers like Peter Frampton. I think they mimik it.

Because (dare I say it?) … There’s only one way to ROCK!


Oh, Sua dear, I hate to disagree with you, you know, but…

I believe the issue is in the individual singing style of each songs. When ‘rockin’, in general, the tone is louder, more of a shout than a croon, but when it’s a slower tune…

for example, Paul McCartney in “Til there was You”, crooning about “there were berds, in the sky, but I neverrrr sawr them winging, no, I never sawr them at all”, and there’s not a doubt about his accent, a totally different style, than, say “Lady Madonna” where his accent is not as easy to pick out, IMHO.

it’s not that they sound american, as it is that singing forces you to enunciated and articulate differently. I usually don’t sing terminal hard r’s, for instance (“At the Copa, Copacabana, the hottest spot /noth/ of Havana”).

So I think that singing creates it’s own accenty things, and a lot of english-speakers sing with the same accent. In the same genre of music, of course.

Classical operatic singing sounds scads different than good ol’ rock and roll, accent-wise.

A quick archive check on “accent singing” brought up these previous GQ threads on this topic, with some good responses in them (including one from two weeks ago :)):

Yanks and Limeys

Sing with no Accent

Music & Accents

paul mccartney and english accents

What’s the deal with accents?

Do people in England think their singers sound “American”?


I’m gonna have to go with mimicry and song style. The Beatles were imitating Americans when they started out, so they sang with American accents. Then you get folks on the other side like the (fucking) Rembrandts who want to be the Beatles so badly they sing with fake British accents. It’s fun how these things come around.

Then you have pop country music, where the performers are from all over the country, but once they get on the mike, they assume a heavy twannnng. Rap music is similar…whether black or white, and regardless of how they actually speak, I have heard very few rappers that don’t assume at least a slight urban black accent when they rap.

Is it intentional? I’d say it is CONSCIOUS, but not “intentional” in the sense that the performer is thinking “I have to sound English” or “I have to sound American.” The performer grew up listening to and was affected by a certain sound and they sing the way that sounds “right” to them. If the Beatles tried singing in really British accents from the beginning, they probably stopped pretty quick because it sounded wrong to their ears.

By the way…toward the end, did the Beatles really sound all that American? I thought they started finding their own voices and singing a little more British…

Personally, I would never mistake th Beatles or the Stones as Americans – I think the accent is different. In cases where you think it is close, it is surely intentional. If you are a feisty rock wannabe and the Americans don’t adopt you, you risk being adopted by the French.

When Peter Noone sang “I’m 'Enery the Eighth I Yam I Yam” in broad Northumbrian or whatever that was, it’s because that song like other Herman’s Hermits tunes was not originally rock ‘n’ roll, it was an English music hall ditty. Noone came from a theatrical background, where regional British accents are often used. His pop songs were based more on show tunes than on rhythm ‘n’ blues.

Phil Collins was also a thespian before joining Genesis and allowed himself to sound English. For that matter, Peter Gabriel sounded totally English when he sang with Genesis, but for his solo career shifted to a mid-Atlantic voice.

Robert Plant, with his weird voice, wouldn’t sound english even if he tried to sing with an english accent. Likewise with AC\DC. Both lead singers definitely don’t sound Australian. But David Gilmour and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd sound very english when they sing. The last verse of “Time” for instance: Far away, across the feild, the tolling of the iron bell, calls the faithful to their knees, to hear the softly spoken magic spells. Their english accent is very prominent, like most of Pink’s songs. Pink Floyd was influenced by American and English rockers alike and chose to keep their english. Pete Townshend of The Who didn’t have his accent when he sang, so I would guess it all has to do with whether or not they want to keep it.

Could it be that those British artists who made t big first copied US artists and then went over to the US to expand their careers.

Some of them spent as much if not more time in the US than the UK which would tend to reinforce their Americanised sound.

When they do softer numbers you can easily tell they’re from the UK, in fact on many Beatles numbers you can pick out their scouse accent with no trouble.

Most rock music is hugely influenced by r&b, which stems from the fusion of African music with European style folk and country that occurred in America in the late 1800’s. A good brief summary is here: http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=F0BLUES

The Rolling Stones are a fair point, but not too surprising as they started off so heavily influnceed by musicians such as Sonny Boy Williamson, Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters, who they tried hard to emulate. Then there’s the Who, a more mixed case, reflecting their mixed influences, both American (Chuck Berry, James Brown) and British (The Kinks, The Rolling Stones).

As for the Beatles? If you think they sound American, where from America do you say they sound like? I mean, the Scouse accent is ridiculously clear in most all of their songs (think about From Me To You, Hard Day’s Night, Lovely Rita, norwegian wood, elanor rigby, while my guitar gently weeps…)

*Oh, dirty Maggie May
They have taken her away
And she’ll never walk down Lisle Street any more
Oh, the judge he guilty found her
Of robbin’ the homeward bounder
That dirty nogood robbin’ Maggie May

'Twas the part of Liverpüül
They returned me to
Two pound ten a week that was my pay …*

The Beatles sang in such impenetrably thick Scouse on this one, I had no idea what the words were until I found the printed sheet music.