Looking back at the history of alternative music, it would appear that nothing is more rock ‘n’ roll than getting into public slanging matches. In what appears an easy way to live up to the cliché of what’s expected by a rockstar, there remains an irresistible charm to an old-fashioned rivalry that never fails fans’ pulses racing, and here we have ten of the most spectacular wars in the history of rock.
On occasion, rivalries can feel forced. An issue that appears as a premeditated attempt to satisfy a craving for attention rather than there actually being any genuine bad blood between the bands. Most of the time, the lack of authenticity is clear as day, and the stunt just ends up being a disaster for everybody involved.
That said, every now and then it is impossible not to get lost in the drama. Even if the disdain for one another has been vastly exaggerated, if the insults are good, we are all getting sucked in. The reasonings for these rock ‘n’ roll rivalries differ wildly. Sometimes, there is genuine entrenched animosity between the two parties involved rather than simply being fun and games searching for a few record sales.
This list covers everything from in-fighting between bands to rivalries about chart sales and pure hatred.
Rock ‘n’ roll’s worst feuds of all time:
Sex Pistols and Green Day
Johnny Rotten is not known for being the most diplomatic of rock stars, and there’s one band in particular that the snarling frontman can’t stand in the slightest; pop punks Green Day. Despite the truly un-punk notion of a cash grab reunion tour, Rotten still made it his duty to ruffle feathers in 1996 and take aim at the new kids on the block.
Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong would naively make a flippant remark in an interview after he was asked about the reunion of Sex Pistols, one in which he reworked the very words of Rotten and said: “I am the anti-Christ/Please buy our merchandise”. Rotten was then asked by an MTV journalist what his band could give a 16-year-old punk fan that Green Day couldn’t, and he eloquently replied: “A big willie”.
He then expanded on his crude joke by claiming: “No, you’ve seen imitators, that’s what you’ve seen,” spat Lydon. “And you settled for that, and you think that that’s what it’s all about, Alfie. Well it ain’t. It’s a little bit more. It’s called content, which is something none of those wanky third-rate outfits have.”
“I heard that Johnny Rotten was running around telling people that we’d ripped him off,” Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong said to SPIN the following year before adding the ultimate putdown. “It’s funny, because if it wasn’t for the Sex Pistols, there may not have been Green Day, but if it wasn’t for Green Day, the Sex Pistols wouldn’t have done their big reunion tour. To each his own.”
Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd
Young first took aim at the Deep South in 1970 on his song ‘Southern Man’, a track which featured on his seminal album After The Gold Rush, the material would upset a large portion of his fans from the region, including the members of Lynyrd Skynrd. Two years on from ‘Southern Man’, Young took another shot at the Deep South when he returned to the same contentious subject on ‘Alabama‘.
Lynryd Skynrd’s Ronnie Van Zant felt forced to stand up for his people, later telling Rolling Stone: “We thought Neil was shooting all the ducks in order to kill one or two. We’re southern rebels, but more than that we know the difference between right and wrong.”
Not only did he speak in the press about the subject, but he also got the hometown pride off his chest in the studio on ‘Sweet Home Alabama’. The anthem even name-checked Shakey when Van Zant proudly sang: “I hope Neil Young will remember, a southern man don’t need him around anyhow.”
Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and David Gilmour have always shared a somewhat dysfunctional partnership. Waters has always been slightly hesitant towards the idea of collaboration and would much rather be the captain of his own ship. Gilmour joined Pink Floyd in 1968, but as the years progressed, the two men were locked in a power struggle as their creative visions collided and, ultimately, Waters left the band in 1985.
To announce his departure, Waters issued a statement to EMI and CBS, invoking the ‘Leaving Member’ clause in his contract, and as the main creative force in the band, he didn’t believe Pink Floyd could continue in his absence. In light of this, Waters started High Court proceedings to formally dissolve Pink Floyd, labelling the group a “spent force creatively”.
Drummer Nick Mason commented in 2018: “It’s a really odd thing in my opinion, but I think the problem is Roger doesn’t really respect David. He feels that writing is everything, and that guitar playing and the singing are something that, I won’t say anyone can do, but that everything should be judged on the writing rather than the playing. I think it rankles with Roger that he made a sort of error in a way that he left the band assuming that without him it would fold.”
Dave Grohl and Courtney Love
Following the death of Kurt Cobain, both Dave Grohl and Courtney Love entered a state of mourning which led to a 15-year feud where they said plentiful things they would grow to regret.
During an appearance on Howard Stern in 1999, the Foo Fighters man said his favourite Hole song was ‘Teenage Whore’ as it was the only one he was sure she wrote. Love ended up starting a legal dispute over unreleased Nirvana music and claimed ‘Nirvana was Kurt Cobain’.
She even claimed Grohl was “sexually obsessed” with Cobain and stated the only reason he recruited Taylor Hawkins as the drummer for the Foo Fighters was that he looked like the late frontman. The Hole singer also accused him of hitting on her and Kurt’s daughter, Frances Bean Cobain.
The two hugged it out in 2014 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when Nirvana were inducted and put the past firmly behind them.
Morrissey and Robert Smith
It all began when Morrissey spoke to The Face in 1984 and was asked provocatively: “If I put you in a room with Robert Smith, Mark E. Smith, and a loaded Smith & Wesson, who would bite the bullet first?”
“I’d line them up so that one bullet would penetrate them simultaneously,” Morrissey retorted. “Robert Smith is a whingebag. It’s rather curious that he began wearing beads at the emergence of the Smiths and had been photographed with flowers. I expect he’s quite supportive of what we do, but I’ve never liked the Cure… not even ‘The Caterpillar.'”
A few years later, Smith responded to Q by saying: “He’s a precious, miserable bastard. He’s all the things people think I am. Morrissey sings the same song every time he opens his mouth. At least I’ve got two songs, ‘The Love Cats’ and ‘Faith.’ If only people knew how easy it is to be in groups like the Smiths.”
In 2018, Smith spoke with The Guardian and admitted that he “never really understood” the feud. Morrissey would later admit that the war of words was one of his few regrets.
Liam and Noel Gallagher
The Mancunian band became Britpop behemoths when the central figures of the group, brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher, took the world by storm with their unique style, unstoppable arrogance and caustic charm. While Noel was the bonafide songwriter in the band, Liam was the mouthpiece, and together they were a force to be reckoned with. So potent, in fact, that when they did begin to turn on one another, as brothers will do, their explosive natures always led to a disaster.
Eventually, the group split in 2009 following “the Paris altercation”, which saw Oasis split for good. At this point, the relationship between both brothers had badly deteriorated that they were now travelling separately, and it had become a lucrative job rather than a vocation, with Noel putting himself through personal turmoil in exchange for a more than handsome pay packet.
“All that being said, we had two gigs left, and I reckon if I’d had got to the end of that tour and I’d had six months off, I would have just forgotten about it, got on with it,” Noel said to Esquire in 2015. “But the straw that broke the camel’s back was the night in Paris, and that was a fight. There’s no hidden darkness.”
Ever since then, studio executives and Liam Gallagher have been calling for an Oasis reunion to shake the country to its core. But the reality of such an event ever taking place feels miles off.
Oasis and Blur
It’s not just each other they hated. The Gallagher brothers and Blur were locked in a rivalry that divided Britain into two. The two bands were more than happy to pour fuel onto the fire. Throwing playful digs at each other in the press, which included Oasis comically dismiss Blur as being “Chas & Dave chimney sweep music”, leading Blur to patronisingly refer to them as “Oasis Quo”.
They battled it out for the top spot with Blur’s ‘Country House’ pipping Oasis’ ‘Roll with It’ to the coveted number one position. Blur rubbed salt into the Manchester band’s wounds when they performed their chart-topping single on Top of the Pops with bassist Alex James wearing an Oasis T-shirt.
“It was ridiculous, really,” Noel Gallagher reflected in 2019. “That whole part of the Britpop thing was so unnecessary. This was gonna be our single from the record then some people from Creation said Blur are putting a single out on that date too, so we decided to put it back a week. Then they called and said they’ve put theirs back a week too.”
Bob Dylan and John Lennon
It’s hard to decipher just who has had a more significant impact on the world of music between Bob Dylan and John Lennon, both of whom held a tremendous amount of influence over a wealth of artists across the last half a century—including each other. While the two artists regularly wrote songs with the other in mind, Dylan came from a place of anger rather than admiration.
Dylan was incensed with how ‘Norwegian Wood’ was so similar to his style that he even parodied it on the track, ‘Fourth Time Around’, which mocked Lennon. When he heard Rubber Soul, Dylan reportedly said: “What is this? It’s me, Bob. [John’s] doing me! Even Sonny & Cher are doing me, but, fucking hell, I invented it.”
He even left Lennon a not-so-subtle message at the end of the track as he knew that his number one fan would undoubtedly study it. The last two lines see him sing, “I never asked for your crutch, Now don’t ask for mine” — which make his thoughts on Lennon hero-worshipping him evidently clear.
Nirvana and Guns’ N’ Roses
When Nirvana rose to prominence with Nevermind in 1991 and became the talk of the musical world, they were quick to make sure they weren’t bundled along with bands like Guns’ N’ Roses, who they viewed as dinosaurs both musically and personally.
“Guns’ N’ Roses was about to do this massive stadium tour with Metallica, and they wanted us to open,” Dave Grohl later recalled. “So Axl had been calling Kurt nonstop. One day we’re walking through an airport, and Kurt says, ‘Fuck. Axl Rose won’t stop calling me.’ I think it represented something bigger. Nirvana didn’t want to turn into Guns N’ Roses.
“So Kurt started talking shit in interviews, and then Axl started talking back. It went back and forth like tenth-grade bullshit,” the Nirvana drummer added.
Verbally, the pair had been jousting for some time, but things then got physical at the MTV Awards in 1992 when Cobain and Nirvana found themselves in the middle of a quarrel with Guns’ N’ Roses in front of the whole music industry. Cobain and Rose simply couldn’t have been any more different.
The Beatles and The Rolling Stones
It wouldn’t be a complete list without an inclusion for The Beatles and The Rolling Stones’ ‘rivalry’. In the sixties, when the world erupted in pop music, and the British invasion seemed endless, there were two bands at the top of the mountain: The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Of course, in the eye’s of the public, there could only ever be one band at the top of the pile, and, of course, this meant that, in the pages of the newspapers of the time at least, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were bitter rivals.
John Lennon didn’t help things by adding fuel to the fire when he remarked, “Every fuckin’ thing we did, Mick does exactly the same — he imitates us,” claimed the Beatle. “And I would like one of you fuckin’ underground people to point it out, you know Satanic Majesties is Pepper; ‘We Love You,’ it’s the most fuckin’ bullshit, that’s ‘All You Need Is Love,'” Lennon scathingly stated.
There is an undeniable truth to his comment. Still, the same could be said for any band which was active around at the same time as The Beatles. Even though Lennon didn’t approve of everything The Stones made, there was no animosity to them as people, and the two groups got on remarkably well behind closed doors.