11 Apr 2014 09:40am

Six of the best: musical rivalries

As the UK celebrates 20 years of Britpop, thoughts automatically turn to one of the genres greatest legacies, the rivalry between Manchester band Oasis and their London counterparts, Blur. From media-fuelled slanging matches, to attempted poisonings and shootings, we list six of the most famous musical rivalries over the centuries


In August 1995 Blur brought the release of their single 'Country House' forward a week to vie for the number one spot against arch rivals Oasis’s “Roll with It”.

The decision was said to be in retaliation to an exchange of headline-grabbing snipes that culminated in outspoken Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher declaring of his opposite numbers, “I hate that Alex and Damon, I hope they catch Aids and die.”

Sparking what became known as the Battle of Britpop, the heavyweights had finally come head to head. The London band came out on top in commercial terms, with Blur selling 274,000 copies to Oasis's 216,000

But the rivalry between Blur and Oasis was about more than just singles sales. Fuelled by a tabloid media baying for blood and - of course - an outspoken Gallagher only too willing to entertain them, supporters of the two bands drew battles lines around issues of class and the North-South divide.



As legend goes, the rivalry between Italian composer Salieri and his Austrian contemporary Mozart ran so deep that Salieri poisoned his nemesis out of jealousy.

Though this theory has largely been discredited, the rivalry is a compelling enough story to be the centre of a number of works of art, including Pushkin’s ‘little tragedy’, Mozart and Salieri and the 1984 film Amadeus.

In the 1780s while Mozart was living and working in Vienna, an exchange of letters with his father accused “cabals” of Italians, led by Salieri, of actively putting obstacles in the way of Mozart’s career.



Graduating out of the conservatoire of American teen-pop, Disney’s light entertainment kid’s TV programme The Mickey Mouse Club, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera burst onto the teen-music scene in the late nineties.

They released singles within a year of each other and at the age of 16 quickly became two of the most recognisable faces and voices in the world. The media jumped on an inevitable rivalry, speculating wildly about battles over men, weight-loss and, almost as an after thought, music.

In 2003, both singers appeared on stage at the MTV Video Music Awards with fellow female pop star Madonna. A staged kiss between the three artists hit the headlines, and more bickering between Britney and Christina followed.



Almost 27 years ago the serene setting of the Vancouver Jazz festival was the scene of the genre’s most infamous spat. Wynton Marsalis was disparaging of Miles Davis’ move into the more popular music of the time, which he saw as a bastardisation of jazz by one its legends. Davis saw Marsalis as a young pretender trying to take his crown, and the tension bubbled up onto the festival stage. It was, however, remembered differently by the two protagonists.

From Davis’ autobiography, “All of a sudden I feel this presence coming up on me, this body movement, and I see that the crowd is kind of wanting to cheer or gasp….Then Wynton whispers in my ear - and I’m still trying to play - ‘They told me to come up here.'  I said, "Get the fuck off the stage!" ’”

Marsalis’ version runs like this: “I went on his bandstand to address some disparaging statements he was making about me publicly. I felt I should address them publicly with my horn. I don’t know who this mysterious ‘they’ was that he claims told me to go up there. I told me to go up there.”

Whichever account you choose to believe, the feud lasted until Davis’ death in 1991.



This rivalry has the ignominious distinction of being the only to produce truly dire consequences. In the space of six months hip hop’s two biggest stars were slain in what was portrayed at the time as the culmination of the simmering east coast/west coast rap rivalry.

California native Tupac Shakur with his larger than life personally and prolific output was at the top of his game, selling millions of records as gangster rap began to take hold in the suburban bedrooms of America. The loquacious Brooklyn-born Christopher Wallace AKA Biggie Smalls was his east coast rival on the cusp of similar superstardom. The murders of the former friends remain unsolved.

Nick Broomfield’s 2002 investigative documentary ‘Biggie and Tupac’ however, laid the blame squarely at the feet of Suge Knight, owner of Death Row Records. In the film an ex-LAPD detective alleges Knight orchestrated the Tupac murder to clear debts and then conspired to kill Smalls to divert attention from himself in Tupac's murder.



For a time in the early 90s the plaid shirt wearing music world revolved around the rainy costal city of Seattle. Pearl Jam and Nirvana headed the explosion of grunge, a reaction to the mainstream hair metal music of the late 80s. Despite being part of the same movement, as their success grew from local bars to Japanese stadiums friction between the bands began to grow.

Pearl Jam's debut album 'Ten' was released soon after Nirvana's breakthrough 'Nevermind'. Many accused the Pearl Jam of being bandwagon jumpers; with Kurt Cobain saying the band were "pioneering a corporate, alternative and cock-rock fusion”.

The two groups made peace before Cobain took his own life,  the 20th anniversary of which was marked this month.

Ellie Clayton and Raymond Doherty


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