The most excellent Brandon Harris asked his followers for musical “must pick one” binary choices. My thoughts (I refuse to pick!):
Johnny Cash or Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson or Prince
Both choices are earthshaking performer vs. musical creator.
MJ delivered two faultless albums and many great songs, but he never made anything so unique as e.g. Anotherloverholeinyohead.
Beatles or Rolling Stones (or anyone)
If you listen to the Beatles’ albums in sequence, around Rubber Soul they unfold wings and soar higher… and keep doing it for five albums. I think musical groups throughout the seventies struggled with “okay they’re on Mount Olympus, what the f*** do we do down here?” Rock even harder, go back to roots, go further with progressive rock, import the jazz they never did to make jazz-rock or jazz-funk, and explore performance they abandoned with glam rock, UFO stage sets, etc.
Duran Duran or Adam and the Ants
Duran Duran made more good songs, but Adam and the Ants were hugely influential in Europe. Duran Duran wanted everyone to become a fan, while Adam and the Ants explicitly made hermetic music for its tribe (“that music’s lost its taste, so try another flavor – Ant music!”, “A new royal family, a wild nobility We are the family … Antpeople are the warriors, Antmusic is the banner”). It encouraged bands to be more niche, more extreme, and many genres bloomed: new romantics, electropop, deep jazz, Northern soul (Dexy’s Midnight Runners), ska …