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Deathmatch: Which Is Better, Pub Rock or Garage Rock?

Dr. Feelgood
Dr. Feelgood

[Editor's note: Deathmatch pairs two artists who have something in common, and determines who is better. It's a concept we sort-of ripped off from MTV, except that instead of claymation it's the printed word!]

Every couple of years, garage rock rears its head again, whack-a-mole-style. Garage per se isn't the problem, but rather kitschy blues rock. Hello Black Keys! On the other hand, there's pub rock, a key component of British proto-punk. British R&B made even more rough, grimy and dangerous, it includes bands like Ducks Deluxe, Dr. Feelgood and The Count Bishops.

They forged the network of clubs and pubs that later made punk possible, while also providing a template for the attitude. Before The Sex Pistols, The Adverts and The Damned, the British pub rock scene boasted raunchy riffs, bad attitudes and missing teeth. And so, for this deathmatch we have five separate match-ups, garage rock vs. pub rock for the crown of White Boy Blues champion.

The Black Keys
The Black Keys

The Black Keys Vs. The Count Bishops

The Count Bishops were as punk as R&B gets. They made a cover of "I Want Candy" seem positively grimy. Check out their take on "Wang Dang Doodle" and "Somebody's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight." More bonus points? They actually had a member named "Johnny Guitar."

The Black Keys were great in that one scene in Ghost World where they played their alter ego "Blueshammer."

Point: Pub rock

Left Lane Cruiser
Left Lane Cruiser

Left Lane Cruiser vs. Dr. Feelgood

I first heard Dr. Feelgood's "Milk and Alchol" on a compilation called The Best Punk Album In the World... Ever. The album didn't live up to its name, but I was definitely curious about pub rock thing. Frontman Lee Brilleaux's dirty white suit was ten times more threatening than Johnny Rotten's subversive couture fashion. Guitarist Wilko Johnson was ten times the wild man Sid Vicious ever was, and perhaps the best white pretender to the throne of Robert Johnson. These guys looked like a bunch of criminals and sounded like a prison riot.

The first time I heard Left Lane Cruiser I thought, "Are they joking around? They're like some kind of hipster version of Government Mule."

Point: Pub rock

Ducks Deluxe
Ducks Deluxe

Radio Moscow vs. Ducks Deluxe

Ducks Deluxe are a hard-driving band with a silly name. Imagine the bastard child of Bob Dylan and Lou Read bleating over amped-up Chuck Berry riffs. Perhaps the most "pub rock" of all pub rock bands, The Ducks did everything from gritty proto-punk ("Coast To Coast") to lazy country ballads ("West Texas Trucking Board"). Emblematic of the entire pub rock movement, Ducks Deluxe just couldn't get it together long enough to matter much.

Regarding Radio Moscow: In the words of Howlin' Wolf, "Why don't you take them wah-wahs and all that other shit and go throw it off in the lake -- on your way to the barber shop?"

Point: Pub rock

Soledad BrothersEXPAND
Soledad Brothers

Soledad Brothers vs. Lew Lewis Reformer

How many of these new jack white boy blues punk bands have a harp player, let alone one who went to jail for armed robbery? Answer: None. Lew Lewis Reformer featured the one and only Lew Lewis, the most dangerous man in pub rock. I'll put "Mr. Bartender" or "Do Just What You Want" up against anything to come out of the post-White Stripes attempt to suck the life out of blues.

Soledad Brothers are named after some dudes who went to prison. That's kind of cool, I guess. Or it's just a pretty lame attempt at cultural appropriation from a band already making their living at it. Sorry, guys; even a million dollars in plastic surgery won't make you black.

Point: Pub rock

The Inmates
The Inmates

Black Diamond Heavies vs. The Inmates

The Inmates took their inspiration not from John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells and Little Richard but from first-wave American garage punk bands like The Music Machine, The Standells and The Shadows of Knight. Their hard-edged brand of R&B makes it hard not to try pass off stomping on the ground with all your might as dancing.

Here's a hint regarding a gruff R&B voice, Black Diamond Heavies: If you force it, it's never going to work.

Point: Pub rock

Conclusion: Pub Rock is the Last Bastion of Hipster-Free Existence

The North American hipster has made a career out of "rediscovering" old forms of music and turning them into ironic twee shit. Yet, no one in the flannel shirt brigade has yet to tackle pub rock. Why not? Because pub rock is too aggressively real and authentic. The stylized ironic detachment of nouveau garage blues comes across in every lick and every "oooooooalllllrightnow." It has all the energy and vitality of roadkill. The undisputed champ of white boy blues? Pub rock, of course.