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Culture Wars

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

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Thu, Jan 26, 2012 at 3:30 AM

click to enlarge 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.

click to enlarge 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

click to enlarge 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

click to enlarge 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

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