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Arbitrary but fun Friday:  Great American something

Last summer a local radio station conducted a listener poll to determine the “greatest American rock and roll band.” Because it was a classic-rock station, the leading candidates were the usual Parade of Horribles: the Eagles, the Doors, the Grateful Dead (three different kinds of hideous right there), and of course the various All-Stars of Turgid who named their groups after cities, states, or rivers of Hades.

But when I finished all my retching and kvetching—being, after all, a small-time Insufferable Music Snob—I realized that I didn’t have the faintest idea what “alternative” I would offer.  Part of the problem, I think, is the term “greatest”: it suggests a longevity and/or a ponderousness that eliminates from consideration groups like the Ramones, who had a tremendous impact on American popular music but are really, in retrospect, three-album wonders.  See also Velvet Underground, Television, Modern Lovers, Nirvana.  Well, so maybe X?  Hüsker Dü?  The Replacements?  Can it be true that there were no “great” American bands prior to the late 1970s?  (Musically, btw, I think the best of these bands was X.  Partly that’s because it’s true, and partly it’s because I never completely forgave the Replacements for being such incompetent drunken louts in half their live shows.  At least Hüsker Dü showed up and played like they meant it.) I ask this with all due respect to you Creedence fans out there, but c’mon, CCR is a B plus at best.

And then I began to marvel at how overwhelmingly white this question is.  You might conceivably be able to suggest P-Funk, but the rules seem to forbid suggestions like the Funk Brothers or the incarnations of the James Brown Band that involved Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Jimmy Nolan, Clyde Stubblefield . . . or a medley of people who’ve backed up Prince over the past 25 years. . . .

So I’m turning this one over to you, folks.  Have a fine weekend.  But anyone who says “Grand Funk Railroad” will be banned.  And don’t even think of reviving this summer’s Southern Rock thread, either.

Posted by on 01/20 at 03:09 PM
  1. Not bad, pretty close actually.

    The Meters.

    I have the boot from 91 in Germany
    with the JB Horns. Wonderful.


    Posted by PenGun  on  01/20  at  04:26 PM
  2. Well, obviously I’m tempted to suggest Looking Glass.

    Posted by Gavin M.  on  01/20  at  04:28 PM
  3. And so the Dead are called “hideous.” Love them as I do, I can nevertheless see a certain hideosity, especially after watching parts of The Grateful Dead Movie during a recent episode of “Please Pledge Money” on PBS.

    Is Bob Dylan a band?  If so he wins, no further debate needed.

    Otherwise, I gotta give it to the Talking Heads—King’s Lead Hat!

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  04:32 PM
  4. The first of several possible meanings for ‘Greatest’, from no less an etymological prime source than dictionary.com, is:

    ‘Very large in size’

    Therefore, I can state objectively that the Greatest American Rock and Roll Band is: Meatloaf.

    Thank you.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  04:40 PM
  5. BOC. ‘Nuff said.

    (Blue Oyster Cult, for the less awesome among you.)

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  04:55 PM
  6. Bet y’all have never heard of Glenn Fjörd and the Hoopenskoolers. Nyah.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  04:58 PM
  7. The Replacements might have been the greatest, but then They Might Be Giants mocked them so easily with “We’re the Replacements.” Anyone who’s been mocked by TMBG can’t be all that great.  Nor can a band whose lead singer can’t remember his own lyrics half the time.  On that note, see also Pavement.

    May I submit for consideration, in all seriousness:  Wilco.

    They don’t yet have the longevity that “greatest” suggests, but they almost do if you count the Uncle Tupelo years, and they most certainly will on their own.  And so far they’ve managed to avoid ponderousness (though sometimes they come dangerously close).  Plus, they’re about as American(a) as they come while still rocking.

    (It’s perhaps appropriate that my spam-filter code word is “real.")

    Posted by Dr. Virago  on  01/20  at  05:05 PM
  8. Bob Dylan’s not a band, but The Band was a band, and they were great.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  05:06 PM
  9. A friend used to brag that he knew lots of people who used to be in The Replacements.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  05:07 PM
  10. Not sure why the Velvets don’t count, which is another way of asking, if longevity matters so much here, how long is long enough? If I can’t vote for the Velvets, have Sleater-Kinney been around long enough? If not, can I vote for backups like the E Street Band?

    Posted by Steven Rubio  on  01/20  at  05:12 PM
  11. Sonic Youth?  large band, been around a long time, influential, kinda the rock-style music, etc.

    Depending on how you define rock and roll, you could throw in Talking Heads.

    I’d say Minutemen or Dinosaur Jr. before I’d say the Replacements (and definitely Husker before any of those).

    Posted by Konczal  on  01/20  at  05:18 PM
  12. Tackhead and the Beach Boys both come to mind.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  05:19 PM
  13. Impossible.  First, if you compare our great bands to the Brits, its a rout.  So all US bands are diminished in comparison.  Second, there just aren’t any great bands as most people understand that designation.  I suppose The Band (but aren’t they mostly Canadian?), P-Funk, Prince in the various incarnations might work. But can you imagine such difficulty in coming up with a half dozen great British bands? (Stones, Beatles to start, Squeeze, EC and the Attractions, etc.).  It is hard because there just aren’t any.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  05:23 PM
  14. I’m confused.  Are only classic rock Greatest American Bands (delimiting the period from 1963-1985) being considered here, or general nominations for Greatest American Rock and Roll Band?

    If the former, my nomination is a tie between Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band AND Sly and the Family Stone.  Or The Band.  See?  I don’t know enough about the category to give a definitive answer.

    If the latter, it is the Pixies.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  05:32 PM
  15. dBs (to include the various Stamey and Holsapple projects)

    What the hell, let’s also throw in Mitch Easter, if not for his endurance, then for his influence.

    Uncle Tupelo (and his nephews)

    Gram Parsons (his music sounds lame by today’s standards, but put it in context!)

    Big Star (but not necessarily Alex Chilton, who went through an odd patch between incarnations of his band)

    I’ll have to suck up and say X, also.  At least their first three albums.  Billy Zoom’s my guitar hero!

    And if I can urge you to listen to an American band that is on the cusp of something, be on the lookout for “a fir-ju well,” a band out of Atlanta that plays some great psychedelic-type garage rock without a hint of nostalgia.  And if you get the chance to see them live, don’t pass them up, they put on a great show.  Oh.  And they’re loud.


    Posted by  on  01/20  at  05:34 PM
  16. Pretty hip crowd you’ve got hanging out here, Professor.  Factoring in hipness, innovation, subsequent influence, musicianship, and (even though it’s a naughty word) popularity, I’ll cast my vote to Talking Heads.

    (By the way, my Secret Word is ‘cars’, who were pretty good in their day, but really only had one good album.)

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  05:38 PM
  17. Since most of the best have already been suggested I’ll throw out Fugazi. Just for the heck of it.

    Posted by Bob Davis  on  01/20  at  05:39 PM
  18. It seems surprisingly hard to define “band”. 

    For example, Wilco is mostly a “band”, only because Jeff Tweedy collaborates a lot with whatever his current lineup is.  How does that make him significantly different from Bob Dylan, except Dylan wanted his name out front?  (Oh, and the fact that I can’t fucking stand Dylan.) Which would mean Dylan is just as much of a “band” as Wilco is.

    I’d like to nominate Booker T and the MGs, except they’re so primarily a backing band.

    So, trying to set a tight standard of qualification, I offer these requirements:  signifcantly the same lineup for the whole time; at least three great albums; at least three songs that just about anyone would recognize; significant weirdo fan culture.

    Yo La Tengo comes close, but ask an ten people on the street to sing a Yo La Tengo song.  You could advocate for the Dead, but fuck that.

    Based on those pointless criteria above, I think you have to stick yourself down in the heavy metal ghetto.  I would vote for Motley Crue, based purely on THE DIRT autobiography, but not one of their albums is good all the way through.  Gun’n’ Roses might have come close, except Axl Rose wentr nuts.  Maybe Van Halen, except for the whole Sammy Hagar thing (see Nerf herder on this topic).  So clearly, only one band can rise to the standard of Greatest American Band: 


    (Devil Horns extended.)

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  05:40 PM
  19. The Mothers of Invention.  Frank Zappa (in his many musical incarnations) set the standard for musical invention and commentary.

    Posted by Ereshkigal  on  01/20  at  05:41 PM
  20. It’s either the 13th Floor Elevators or Los Lobos, but I’m not sure which.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  01/20  at  05:45 PM
  21. Yes, The Band was great, and though they may not all have been Canadian, Robbie Robertson was, and he was The Band, at least according to Robbie Robertson, so you could say the band The Band was Canadian. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    And X was great too. Or rather, is, because they’re still playing. Though it’s unlikely they is great right now. But when they were they were.

    So, yes, if Bob Dylan is not a band, then The Beach Boys probably win (we’re still talking pre-late 70’s here). That The Beach Boys gave The Beatles an inferiority complex doesn’t necessarily define greatness, but it can’t be overlooked.

    Posted by Brad  on  01/20  at  05:45 PM
  22. While I have a feeling that this thread may devolve into a “more-obscure-than-thou” thing, it certainly should be interesting. 

    Re wilco, I hereby invoke <a href:"http://www.hamellontrial.com">Hammel on Trial’s</a> Ed Hamell, who once said:  “Anyone whose favorite band is Wilco should really listen to more music.”

    Anyway, I nominate The Who (notwithstanding Roger Daltrey’s objective wankery), The Boss (mainly with his ability to be so many different things to so many different people), and Radiohead.  I don’t necessarily expect much backing up from this crowd on any of those.  I also respectfully submit that this thread not devolve into an argument over Wilco, just because I don’t like them.  Have a nice weekend, everyone.

    Posted by Goldberg  on  01/20  at  05:47 PM
  23. ah, screwed up the hyperlink.  sorry.

    Posted by Goldberg  on  01/20  at  05:48 PM
  24. The Beach Boys (not late incarnation) by far! BTW, can we all observe a moment of silence for the late Wicked Mr. Pickett?

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  05:53 PM
  25. Cripes, PJ, Glenn Fjörd was a joke.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  05:59 PM
  26. 25 posts in and nobody has yet mentioned Neil Young and Crazy Horse?!  (North) American, of course, but still....

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  06:02 PM
  27. The Who was a great rock n roll band.  I would be interested to hear the argument that The Who was a great American band.  dmh’s comment, above, was pretty definitive on this point.  Los Lobos is definitely a great American band.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  06:04 PM
  28. BeauSoleil, laissez les bons temps rouler!

    Or, relaxing the stricture of band, whoever happens to be sitting around with Mac Rebennack, now or then.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  06:07 PM
  29. Charles does a good job pointing my lack of reading comp.  Radiohead, of course, is also not American.  So, let’s revisit.  Springsteen still counts.  Then, hmm, maybe REM, at least b/c of, say, their four best albums, and I’d agree that Talking Heads and Beach Boys deserve mention.  And, if Bob Dylan counts, then we can bring in all manner of singer/songwriter...Townes VZ, e.g.

    Posted by Goldberg  on  01/20  at  06:09 PM
  30. the only suggestion that makes even a lick of sense is THE MINUTEMEN.  “what makes a man start fires” is the greatest rock record of all time, and that includes “double nickels on the dime”. check out the recent documentary “we jam econo” for incontrovertible proof.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  06:09 PM
  31. I’d agree with The Who, but they’re not American, so I think it would kind of suck if they were named “The Great American Band.” Therefore, I submit and/or affirm Blondie, The Meters, and X.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  06:12 PM
  32. While I have a feeling that this thread may devolve into a “more-obscure-than-thou” thing, it certainly should be interesting.

    Jeez, this is what makes these threads so interesting.

    Now we get snobby about music snobbery.

    Just for that, I’d like to nominate The New Mainstreet Singers.


    Posted by  on  01/20  at  06:15 PM
  33. Rich, you make a good point.  What about Spinal Tap?  A fake British band, but made up of four Americans.

    Posted by Goldberg  on  01/20  at  06:17 PM
  34. Commercial success must be a requirement, mustn’t it? (I don’t think I’ve ever written “mustn’t” before; it’s kind of fun.) All the British bands that that are considered great sold tons of records.

    Another requirement--for me, at least--is that I can listen to their songs without laughing. Smiling fondly is allowed, but not laughing.

    Therefore: Beach Boys, Temptations, REM.

    And if Gavin’s Looking Glass is allowed to stand, I’ll throw in Katrina and the Waves.

    Posted by DrDrang  on  01/20  at  06:18 PM
  35. I love the Talking Heads, but I don’t think of them as a rock band.  Thoughts?

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  06:20 PM
  36. Hold on a minute. Ignore my previous comment.


    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  01/20  at  06:21 PM
  37. Talking Heads missed my cut (barely) because they came late to the party and didn’t stay long.

    Posted by DrDrang  on  01/20  at  06:24 PM
  38. The answer is Tom Waits, I dont care what the rules are.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  06:29 PM
  39. Oh my goodness. Here I am 40 miles from Detroit and didn’t even think of Motown until DrDrang mentioned the Temptations. But can they, and (heavy sigh) The Supremes, be considered “bands” as we’re discussing them? Were they simply the Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls of their time, lucky to have Carol Kaye playing bass for them and Dozier, Dozier, Dozier, Dozier, and Dozier writing their songs?

    Oh, and about CCR, Michael. Lately I’ve found a number of live CCR shows on the internets and they kicked ass live. We tend to think of them as pre-Southern Rock southern rock, when they were of the San Francisco scene. Next time you get to Ann Arbor I’ll burn you a CD of some of their Fillmore West shows, and you might upgrade them to A-, greatly enhancing their chances of getting into Law School.

    Posted by Brad  on  01/20  at  06:34 PM
  40. Oh, maybe those indie bands weren’t really so good after all. What about Donny and Marie, the Partridge Family, The Monkees and Paper Lace?

    Posted by Bob Davis  on  01/20  at  06:36 PM
  41. Professor,

    I think we need a few definitions to determine the “greatest American rock and roll band”:
    What is “Great”?
    What is “American”, and can it be revoked by Presidential fiat?
    What is “Rock and Roll”?
    What is a “Band”?
    and finally (drum roll....) how can I start four different flame threads with one post?

    My try:

    Greatness is in the ear of the beholder, or, as the Romans said De gustibus non es disputandum.
    American: Citizen of the United States.
    Rock and Roll: I know it when I hear it, and I hear less and less because I heard it very loudly in my younger days.
    Band: A musical group which relies on more than one member for direction.

    Talking Heads
    Mission of Burma (obligatory obscure reference)
    Patti Smith Group

    I saw the Patti Smith Group about a year ago.  They absolutely kicked ass, grey hair and all.  Mick Jagger shoukld retire in shame.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  06:38 PM
  42. In an alternative, just universe, The Bears would be America’s answer to Britain’s XTC. All hail the power of Bob!

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  06:47 PM
  43. Please don’t dominate the rap, Jack, if you’ve got nothing new (or particularly insightful) to say.  Especially about the “hideous” Grateful Dead.  Talk about wrongheaded (as very much opposed to Deadheaded)!

    Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.

    Ah, I do miss Jerry!

    Wunderlicher Alter
    Soll ich mit dir gehn?
    Willst zu meinen Liedern
    Deiner Leier drehn?


    Posted by  on  01/20  at  06:50 PM
  44. Just to mortify the music snobs in here, I’ll throw Aerosmith into the mix.  Only because no one else has even mentioned them.  And I live in Boston, and it’s compulsory in a lot of the bars that I drink at to have a working knowledge of the band.

    Really though, I like the Sonic Youth suggestion.  And do the Pixies get any credit for longevity now that they’ve “re-united”?

    Yeah, I didn’t think so…

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  06:54 PM
  45. Beach Boys (surf period)
    Beach Boys (Good Vibrations—hugely influential)
    Beach Boys (post-Pet Sounds)
    Byrds (still influential)
    The Upsetters (Little Richard’s backing band)

    B-52’s are the complete package—group songwriting, longevity, great beats, wildly innovative song structure, great melodies.

    And . . . Duke Ellington and his Orchestra.  Definitely qualify as a BAND.  His first summit meeting with Ella Fitzgerald features 5 or 6 songwriters from the band besides himself (most notably Billy Strayhorn, “Take the A Train,” and Juan Tizol, “Caravan").  Longevity, of course.  But are they rock?  Consider:  Duke wrote “Night Train” (and called it “Happy Go Lucky Local,” whoever stole the tune changed the title).  And their 1971 album “Afro-Eurasian Eclipse” (when Duke was 70!) is very rock-influenced, very energetic, very dissonant, very great.  The great “Far East Suite” of 1966 also has a rock tune, “Blue Pepper.” Tremendous.

    Posted by john  on  01/20  at  06:56 PM
  46. One of the interesting things about this question is that so much of the punk (and even more post-punk) aesthetic was about not being the Greatest American anything. 

    It seems sort of silly adding bands like Beat Happening or Pavement to this list, regardless of how one judges their quality, importanc, longevity, etc.

    In addition, there’s a side to me that just hates this kind of question.  I’m perfectly comfortable with calling bands “great,” but the implication that one can find a single, greatest band seems pretty ludicrous on its face.  And, yes, it immediately makes me think of all those top hundred band lists that inevitable end with Eagles, the Dead, the Doors....or top hundred songs in which the inevitable #1 is (or at least used to be) “Born to Run.”

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  07:07 PM
  47. ZZ Top deserves an honorable mention (for having legs--1969).

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  08:34 PM
  48. I vote for Pork Snorkel.

    Posted by Pinko Punko  on  01/20  at  08:35 PM
  49. The greatest American rock and roll band is the Rolling Stones, and yes, I know they’re from Britain.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  09:59 PM
  50. "Can it be true that there were no “great” American bands prior to the late 1970s? “

    Maybe “insufferable music slobs” are simply hiding the fact that there certainly have been no ‘great’ amerikan bands since the early 70’s?  Did Chris really nominate Steppenwolf; at least the 13th Floor Elevators had the requisite acid casualty?  As one of the few who are old enough to actually have bought 45’s in the 50’s, i have experienced nearly every band mentioned above.  From that long and demented (i will admit that part) perspective i find it extraordinarily difficult to identify any single great band.  Maybe this would work better if we broke things down into sub-genres of rock-n-roll (as John and i could argue about Duke versus Glenn)? 

    ps: The Grateful Dead never had a single song in the annual top 100 (disclaimer--yes my 40th anniversary of being a Deadhead is next month); whereas Bobby Sherman had several (nearly as many as CCR), and that ain’t great.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  10:10 PM
  51. I wanted to ask Peter vE if he saw the Patti Smith tour that had Tom Verlaine playing lead???

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  10:13 PM
  52. it’s CCR, and it’s not even close

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  10:55 PM
  53. DLR-era VH.

    Posted by alkali  on  01/20  at  10:55 PM
  54. Did Chris really nominate Steppenwolf

    Hey, in the days before Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States” all we had to use as a pop revisionist American history resource was Steppenwolf’s “Monster” album, and, well, I just think we ought to keep that memory alive.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  01/20  at  11:02 PM
  55. I might have skimmed a few of the comments, but I didn’t see anyone mention the Stooges. Another three-album wonder, I know, but a lot less bubblegummy than the Ramones. And Iggy himself has had a truly improbable amount of longevity.

    And Social Distortion, for all-around greatness, complete with longevity and ponderousness.

    Oddly enough, both of them have very tiny frontmen with sublime overcompensation skills. And serious drug problems behind them. If that isn’t rock’n’roll, what is?

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  11:34 PM
  56. If the Band are four fifths Canadian for the most part their music and songs were about the myths of America.  This brings up another significant candidate, Neil Young and Crazy Horse with one Canadian who is also one of the greatest American song writers.  The velvets did give us more than enough as did Mister Stewart and His Family and the greatest of all LA Bands, the aforementioned X.
    someone should mention the first three albums of the other great LA band, Love.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  11:42 PM
  57. I’m not sure why bubblegummy is a drawback.  I vote for the Ramones. 

    Of course, with her tongue firmly in cheek, the IMS votes for Queen.  Yes, she’s aware they are British.

    Posted by Amanda Marcotte  on  01/21  at  12:34 AM
  58. First off, I’m not too clear on what “rules” were being cited to eliminate James Brown’s band of the late 60s and P-Funk - surely it’s nothing so simple as not allowing blacks to win? But if not that, how does the Jimi Hendrix Experience go 57 comments without mention?

    Come on - Jimi Hendrix, baby! The very greatest, hands down.

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  12:46 AM
  59. surely it’s nothing so simple as not allowing blacks to win?

    I suppose a case could be made that this rule would be what would make the whole discussion definitively American.

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  12:52 AM
  60. Forget Duke and the Beach Boys—the Kingsmen!  One song that gets Congressional hearings, a band coup where the drummer fires the lead singer (!) by having acquired ownership to the band name . . . and it’s a great great song.

    Posted by john  on  01/21  at  12:54 AM
  61. The Talking Head is my vote.  They were around for around ten years - that seems like long enough.  Blondie is a good choice also.

    On the Dead - I just saw them in Festival Express, and they were really pretty good.  And so young. The Band, too.

    Also, I need to go download some Beach Boys from the iTunes store.  Also possible some X and some Ramones.

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  01:05 AM
  62. No one’s mentioned the E Street Band?  Little Steven’s explanation of the band “phone tree” on the Colbert Report a couple days back was a classic in itself.

    Or the Doors?  Yeah, Jim could be a jerk, but what would Apocalypse Now be without The End?

    Posted by tikistitch  on  01/21  at  01:16 AM
  63. I’m not sure why bubblegummy is a drawback.  I vote for the Ramones.

    Oh, it’s not. I love the Ramones. I just thought they’d already been disqualified. Michael’s point about the connotations of “great” and so on. Besides, they weren’t trying to make “great” music anyway.

    Also, I’ll throw in another vote (early and often) for X. _More Fun in the New World_ is just about the perfect album.

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  01:27 AM
  64. Pere Ubu, for almost thirty years of making smart, inventive records on their own terms, dating back to a time when “no label support” meant “go back and get that computer tech degree.”

    Los Lobos, if some commercial success is required.

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  01:43 AM
  65. If this thread were any more full of shit it would be spurting brown sediment out of my CD drive as I read it.  The great American rock and roll band is obviously the Grateful Dead.  If you’re embarassed about that it surely isn’t my problem.

    Second place: a tie between the Byrds and the Velvet Underground.  Honorable mention: The Patti Smith Group.  But the Dead rule, as escorters over the Styx without parallel.

    Is there a more important function of rock and roll?  I think not.

    Posted by Patrick Nielsen Hayden  on  01/21  at  03:17 AM
  66. Hi Michael-
    The SF Chron. had an article this week that made me think of you. It seems like a goldmine of ideas for one of your Friday posts. It should appeal nicely to you and your legion of pop culture music geek/experts readers. (Plus, a post about bought and sold used CD’s opens up the discussion to all genres of music so the thread isn’t quite so “overwhelmingly white”, and more of us may want to play...specifically, me!).

    Anyway, the article’s a really fun read. I’ve tried to paste the link below, but in case it doesn’t work, it’s from the San Francisco Chronicle, Jan.19 ‘06, written by Peter Hartlaub
    for the Pop Culture column.


    Posted by  on  01/21  at  03:58 AM
  67. There are no great American rock bands.  They’re all British.  Just suck it up and deal with it, people.

    Posted by Violet Socks  on  01/21  at  04:12 AM
  68. Since no one has mentioned them yet, I will toss in the Jefferson Airplane/Starship, albeit not in all the incarnations thereof. But since they are the (small c) communists in the group (or, at least Kantner and Balin are grin, maybe they get banned in a liberal blog. Also, the original Allman Brothers (up to Win, Lose, or Draw). But if I gotta vote, I vote for the Dead, or Jimi Hendrix & Friends in their various incarnations. (The Doors, the Beach Boys, the Boss & the E-Street as honorable mentions.) Oh, and no one has mentioned Santana yet.

    I presume the genus here is pop music, so that Benny Goodman and Co., Count Basie and Orch., Duke Ellington & Friends, Armstrong and Friends (in various groupings), the MJQ, Miles Davis & Friends, John Coltrane and Friends, and for that matter Maria Schneider’s Jazz Orchestra, and all them other good folks (Mingus!) are not in contention, despite the attempt to insert the Duke above. Otherwise maybe we keep Jimi Hendrix and disregard the rest. Consider this Medium-Time Snobbery.

    Then we get into Big-Time Snobbery: viz., Theodore Chanler, Charles Ives, Samuel Barber, Ned Rorem, John Woods Duke, George Crumb, William Bolcom, Lori Laitman, Richard Hundley, Lee Hoiby, John Musto, &c. Granted, these are American Art Song composers, not bands, but snobbery is as snobbery does.

    Oh, finally, since they did a version of Purple Haze, dress like rock & rollers, etc.: the Kronos Quartet.

    Posted by Paul Lyon  on  01/21  at  04:24 AM
  69. The Grateful Dead. There isn’t another American band that even comes close. I have never been a big fan of the Dead, so this isn’t a personal choice--it’s just an honest one.

    I would love to cast my vote for the best bands of my generation (Talking Heads, R.E.M., Replacements, Husker Du, Pixies), and of course mainstream bands like the Beach Boys, Aerosmith, the Eagles, Van Halen, and Metallica deserve recognition, but the Dead were a massive American cultural phenomenon whether you loved them or hated them.

    Posted by mat  on  01/21  at  05:09 AM
  70. Jeez, I go out for a night and all hell breaks loose.  The Grateful Dead?  Listen, folks, a “great” “band” has to be able to play music, not just noodle around for half an hour and toss in some embarrassingly off-key harmonies here and there.  Really, folks, when the hallucinogens wear off it’s remarkable how weak that “band” is.  And yes, it was a massive cultural phenomenon.  More’s the pity.

    As for the Talking Heads:  they were almost great.  Four of their first five records are pretty good, and Remain in Light, with the exception of “The Overload” (even beyond turgid), is a work of art.  In retrospect, though, it turns out that they were only great when Eno-fied.  (Eno, by that point, was like BASF:  he didn’t make the music you liked.  He made the music you liked better.)

    I don’t know why I didn’t think of REM.  D’oh.  But I’m willing to consider Wilco . . . and who knows?  Maybe those first three albums are enough to qualify the Ramones.  I mean, it’s not as if there’s a false note on any of them.  And I did wonder about the E Street Band, which led me to wonder more generally about the phenomenon of more-or-less permanent backing bands made up of crack musicians (see James Brown Band, above).  Here’s to the vastly underrated Roy Bittan, folks, and to everything he does on “Backstreets.”

    Posted by Michael  on  01/21  at  09:38 AM
  71. Goldberg, I actually was serious when I said I was open to the argument that The Who is an American band.  Other commenters have raised the issue, at least in passing, of what it means to be an “American band.” (And no, Grand Funk Railroad does NOT define the term!)

    You could take the bands winning the most “votes” here and have a playoff system.  Take each band’s “best” album (OK, that starts a whole ‘nother debate!) and match them up.  For instance, “American Beauty” v. “Pet Sounds” and “Speaking in Tongues” v. “The Wild, the Innocent & The E Street Shuffle.” Would that get us anywhere?  No, but it would be fun.

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  09:44 AM
  72. Did I say “Speaking in Tongues?” Jeez.  I meant “Remain in Light.” I better get another cup of coffee.

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  09:47 AM
  73. Woot? how dare these people call themselves ‘Insufferable Music Snob’. Their license should be revoked.

    Here is one and only acceptable list:

    1. Chuck Berry
    2. Captain Beefheart
    3. Minuteman
    4. Nirvana

    And thankgawd Dylan begun with one man show and his electric guitar playing skill sucks dodo. So he can’t be considered “greatest american band”. Otherwise we would have another 10 weeks of endless blog discussion how Dylan is the greatest rock band ever.

    Say, this Bérubé dude is okay in my book. He mention ‘X’ and ‘Hüsker Dü’. He can’t be that bad.

    (haa haa, just kidding. to be serious, any music that bop my head is good music. Some make me bop harder then others, that’s all. happy weekend peeps.)

    btw. from shameless plug department.

    I started lil’ music blog. It got some semi delicious stuff, but nothing major yet. If you like clickety-fun freebie mp3 on a list. Check my bloggggg.....


    Posted by squashed  on  01/21  at  09:58 AM
  74. Guided by Voices - pop music at it’s finest

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  11:00 AM
  75. It’s impossible for P-Funk not to be the greatest American band.  Musical excellence, lotsa albums, and TONS of influence on what came later--they had it all.  Not even a close call.  James Brown’s bands had all the same things, but because they go by the name “James Brown,” they should be excluded from consideration.

    Posted by dj moonbat  on  01/21  at  12:09 PM
  76. American band I have to cast 2 votes

    Jimi Hendrix Experience


    Hands down Pink Floyd

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  12:34 PM
  77. Quite a fine trap you have set for us here, Dr. Berube. We have fallen right into the categories of “American,” “Rock,” and “Greatest.”
    That said,
    Historically greatest: Half Japanese
    Current greatest: Deerhoof


    Posted by Peter O  on  01/21  at  12:54 PM
  78. MC5

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  12:58 PM
  79. Really, its the MC5. The were the most American and the most Rock and Roll by a huge margin, more than enough to compensate for the obscurity factor.

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  01:41 PM
  80. Thoroughly bogus question I’m pleased to say. If the standard for “great” is Zeppelin, the Stones or the Beatles than there are no “great” American rock bands just as there are no “great” British blues artists. The territory was wide open until the settlers arrived. Then it wasn’t. It has to be something newish and hence wide open in order to allow for “great"-ness.

    But this is better! Thousands of niche players, hundreds of incredible acts / albums and musical miracles as common as good Guinness in NYC (i.e. not, that common but more than enough to do the job).

    So what was the last “great” American band? Public Enemy. So obvious yet so true.

    P.S. If you preview without submitting the word, you cannot post! It doesn’t give you another chance to do it. And when you hit back, your comment is gone. Boo!

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  01:51 PM
  81. This is one of the great paradoxes of rock’n’roll: it is a form that is in many ways defined by the notion that it is created by bands, and it is an American art form, but there are no American rock’n’roll bands that can really compare to our imitators, the Brits.  Our greatest artists in the form-- Chuck Berry, Elvis, Dylan, Hendrix, etc. are all solo acts, sometimes with brilliant backups.  There are great American bands, to be sure: Talking Heads, Beach Boys, Velvets, Ramones, P-Funk, even CCR-- these are worthy contenders, and in some cases I think you could make a case that these bands could stand on the stage with anyone.  But none of them are in a league with the Stones, or Dylan, or the Beatles.  The American artists that are in that room all walk in alone.

    Posted by Bill Altreuter  on  01/21  at  02:22 PM

    Greatest: Current or past popularity counts for nothing. Greatest has to do with quality of output and lasting influence.  It also has to do with quantity of output: it’s okay to say ‘what if’ about Hendrix, but nothing can change the fact that you’ve got a damn narrow slice to go on.

    American:  The reason that Neil Young and The Who are popping up on this thread has to do with Manifest Destiny.  The U.S. thinks it’s all that, and it can’t bear to think that anything good comes from anywhere else.  Sure, the Who is American rock.  Let’s hear it for good old American songs about taking public transportation to go see your girlfriend. American means the red-blooded, red-necked, foot-stomping, stomach-churning U.S.A, and don’t you forget it.

    Speaking of which we come to…

    Rock and roll: Rock and roll is a white male genre.  James Brown—not rock.  EWF—not rock.  Tori Amos—not rock.  Kansas—rock.  Yes, I know: Airplane, Heart, Stevie Nicks.  See Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, Amy Beach.  Rock and roll is a social phenomenon, and it’s got some bias and ownership issues, end of story.

    Now if I could only write, or think, I wouldn’t have painted myself into a corner here.  Also, perhaps a few classes with Michael might help.  But, I will do what the intellectually lazy always do: finesse.

    What we need is a band…

    oops, sorry.

    Band: A band.  No conjunctions.  The E Street band counts, just edit out all the Boss’s vocals.  Yippee.  And no offense to Clarence, who is the man.

    What we need is a band that embraces all these attributes—quality, geography, patriarchy, community—and then subverts them.  What we *need* is a band that’s been around for thirty years, producing music that you know you’ll still be able to listen to and respect in another thirty or a hundred or more, that is unmistakably American in sound, and speaks to truly American issues, like alienation, psychosis and singing along with your old 45s.

    What we need is the Residents.

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  02:23 PM
  83. JDC (12:51pm),

    For Windows based browsers Control-A Control-C (select All, Copy to clipboard) before preview allows one’s words to survive the perfidy of the Internets. (In case of error, restore the connection, Control-V, rock’n’roll.)

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  02:26 PM
  84. Greatest American Rock Band:



    Failing that, I would want to go with backing bands: Prince’s and James Brown’s are friggin great: but because of segregation, they just don’t count as “rock.” The E Street band, on the other hand, is just a boring bar band. If I wanted a great bar band, I’d listen to pre-Brian Johnson AC/DC. Not Aerosmith, certainly.

    Props to CCR and the Meters. Not to X, though. X has far fewer good albums than the Ramones, and if the Ramones don’t count, that eliminates, as MB said, Television, the Stooges, the MC5 (who really aren’t all that great recorded), etc. Fugazi’s probably my favorite band mentioned here, but given that they wouldn’t have existed at all w/out Gang of Four or the Minutemen, I can’t nominate them in good faith. Greatful Dead? Jefferson whatevership? You got to be kidding.

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  02:34 PM
  85. "Really, folks, when the hallucinogens wear off it’s remarkable how weak that “band” is.” Oh Michael, the problem seems so clear to me: you just are too young to have ever gotten the doses of the good “owsley” acid (those hallucinogens never wore off). 

    I do think that there is a thread-thought here though that needs to be a distinguishing characteristic.  The capacity of a band to play live in public over a number of years.  Studio albums just don’t demonstrate the validity of the bands’ capacity to demonstrate greatness.  Thus, i am with Paul Lyon on this, at least in the sense of what makes a great american band.  But since the discourse is on RnR, and that is a huge generalized genre, now more than 50 years old, these sorts of distinctions about greatness are so much mental masturbation.

    btw: isn’t Canada part of America???

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  02:38 PM
  86. I do think that there is a thread-thought here though that needs to be a distinguishing characteristic.  The capacity of a band to play live in public over a number of years.  Studio albums just don’t demonstrate the validity of the bands’ capacity to demonstrate greatness.

    Posted by spyder on 01/21 at 01:38 PM

    But that’s just limping along instead of keep pushing the boundry. might as well play elevator music. At least it’s a atmosphere filler by design.

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  04:03 PM
  87. No, no, you are all wrong.  The greatest American band is the Residents.

    1.  All-American (presumably);
    2.  Been around since Meet the Residents in 1974, still making new music;
    3.  Some of the most non-standard rock albums ever;
    4.  Have done cover versions of American pop music from Williams to Brown to Sousa to Gershwin to 60s pop standards to Elvis, creating an entire alternate universe of freakishly tolerable Americana;
    5.  No one knows who they are or has seen their faces, so they can never get old.

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  04:06 PM
  88. Rock and roll is a white male genre.

    Gosh, I thought those fellas by the names of Little Richard, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry had had something to do with the invention of the genre.

    “Longevity” is a silly criterion to evaluate RnR. It’s like judging linebackers according to elegance.

    I’m no Jim Morrison widow, but mentioning The Doors in the same sentence with the Eagles is the musical equivalent of saying that the American Left is working for Al Qaeda.

    In originality, inventiveness, cultural/musical importance, and influence in what came later, the greatest are the Velvet Underground, hands down.

    Honorable mentions: 1. Talking Heads; 2. Slayer; 3. Pixies; 4. Sly and the Family Stone; 5. Ramones; 6. MC5; 7. The Meters; 8. Dead Kennedys; 9. REM; 10. The Neville Brothers.

    My contribution to the “more-obscure-than-thou” component of the thead is Southern Culture on the Skids.

    Posted by Idelber  on  01/21  at  04:12 PM
  89. Michael said: I don’t know why I didn’t think of REM.

    Because they were once great (up through and including Document) and then got into a slump and then started to bore the pants off of everyone who once remembered their greatness.

    Goldberg said/quoted: “Anyone whose favorite band is Wilco should really listen to more music.”

    Did I say they were my *favorite* band??  OK, well I *do* love Wilco more than a monkey loves public masturbation, but I listen to plenty of music, thank you very much.  Hmph.  Anyway, I agree with all the folks who’ve been saying that the hard part about coming up with a great American band is that the Brits do greatness better, hands down.  So I went with Wilco for a heavy emphasis on *American*—roots rock/Americana, AM rock radio, and the whole Mermaid Avenue project (albeit with a very Brit Billy Bragg).

    Oh, and I would switch my vote to the Beach Boys, but then they’ve embarrassed themselves too much in the last few decades with all the nostalgia tours and that horrible “Kokomo” song, thus stripping themselves of their former greatness.

    And for greatest *underated* American band, how about the Lovin’ Spoonful?  Stop laughing, I’m serious!

    Posted by Dr. Virago  on  01/21  at  04:14 PM
  90. These should be in the top 10:

    The Ramones
    The Smiths
    Velvet Underground
    Zappa and the Mothers
    The Kinks
    Pere Ubu
    Rolling Stones
    The Pixies
    Sonic Youth
    Public Enemy

    Smaller amounts of great music, inside top 50: Gang of Four, Can, Joy Division, Morphine, Mission of Burma, De La Soul, Dirty Three, Wire, Pogues . . .

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  04:21 PM
  91. OK, I suppose that era, plus the “rock&roll” category eliminates The Weavers… But stretching one or both of those criteria, and leaving out the standards (Beatles/Zepplin/Stones) here is my incomplete list in no particular order:

    Springsteen/E Street
    Stevie Wonder(and whomever was backing him up)
    The Roots
    Neil Young/Crazy Horse
    Dire Straits
    Tom Waits

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  04:23 PM
  92. Why not Sleater-Kinney?  Greatest American Band of the last ten years, at a minimum...though I realize the Rock and Roll Band is a rock radio reduction of popular music, ruling out punk ("can’t play their instruments"), black music ("disco sucks"), and most women ("chicks can’t rock") on bogus formalist grounds, and hence the historically accurate answer has to be a buch of white guys with groupies.  My point?  given the impoverished terms of rock radio, rock radio is _right_; accept the paradigm Michael proposes, and you are forced to swallow your own vomit and cry “Aerosmith Roolz!” Save me....

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  05:16 PM
  93. Professor, forgetting REM is one thing. But if you continue to disparage The Dead, I’m afraid we’ll have words. Very Strong Words.

    Glad to see The Minutemen entered the discourse. I’d argue Watt’s Contemplating the Engine Room is the best concept album of all time, but I suppose that’s for another post.

    Has anyone mentioned Modest Mouse yet?

    Posted by Paul  on  01/21  at  06:14 PM
  94. Obviously,

    Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band


    Posted by  on  01/21  at  07:31 PM
  95. Love the picture, Mike!  (Oh, we also need to photoshop in ol’ Dave looking sinister and Blomfeldesque the background, holding an albino ferret.)

    Posted by bellatrys  on  01/21  at  07:49 PM
  96. Bob Seger--sweat and sex, it’s all rock and roll to me

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  08:08 PM
  97. In response to Idelber, re my comment: ‘Rock and roll is a white male genre’…

    What I was getting at was that the stuff we mainly think of as rock (especially looking at what’s getting nominated above) is the music that came out after the white male co-optation of the genre. 

    It was just my take at the moment, and since I was in the mood to make a red-blooded assertion of rockin’ fact, I figured I wouldn’t sweat the details.  This is, after all, a *fun* thread, so I’m not feeling so obliged to much defend my point of view.

    That said, I don’t think I can give you a pass on the linebacker comment (and not just because you hurt my poor little feelings by being so snarky).  Linebacker demands the most flexibility, intuition and poise of all defensive positions—maybe you meant defensive tackle?

    And of course a friendly nod to Rich for his good taste and economical post (would that were me).

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  08:27 PM
  98. No lovin for Chicago?

    Can’t leave out Janis Joplin.

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  09:05 PM
  99. All I can judge it on is who I saw live. I fell asleep as a teenager at a Grateful Dead concert, so no, not for me. I’d like to say David Byrne, but he’s not a band, and neither was Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan as others have pointed out.

    So I’m choosing Jefferson Airplane and even Jefferson Starship while Grace Slick was making a Mama Cass (because of her physical and vocal size) comeback. They had a sense of musicial showmanship that their fellow rock bands seemed to lack for some reason. Oh, and a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young stadium concert was one of the most boring things I’ve ever heard, unless you include Iron Butterfly playing that interminable drum solo one more time in “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida.”

    Probably the greatest single rock band performance I’ve ever heard was The Chamber Brothers fronting for The Doors, singing “Time...” I still remember it.

    Posted by sfmike  on  01/21  at  10:59 PM
  100. "Will the last American band to get played on the radio please raise the flag?”

    I think the longevity thing is an overrated criterion for best - rock ‘n’ roll is a magnet for weirdos, outsiders, and short-timers.  In fact, I could almost argue that the longer a band has been around, the less great it is. 

    I also think that greatness takes a while to be appreciated. Here’s my short list of short duration great american rock bands:

    Velvet Underground
    Black Flag
    Jane’s Addiction

    and props to the guy who likes Half Japanese.

    Posted by architect66  on  01/21  at  11:59 PM
  101. Given the constraints laid out above, I think I might have to cast my vote for NRBQ.  American? Check.  Rockers? Check. Longevity? Check.  Authenticity? Check.  And they’re not even a band I much like, let alone actually listen to.  But they certainly fit the spec.

    If you squint just a bit at the blurry border between “pop” and “rock” the constraints also push forward Cheap Trick.  Or the B-52s.

    Looking at the candidates put forward in the comments above, there’s a fascinating split between “hugely popular” and “not awful”. 

    The “Greatest American Something” has to be a band that doesn’t actually make you change the station when they come on the radio, which lets out most of the arena-rockers.  But the “Greatest American Something” also has to be a band that you might actually _hear_ on the radio.  So, looking at the intersection-set of those two criteria, I think that the Doors, Aerosmith, REM, and the Grateful Dead are still left standing. 

    (And yes, you’re allowed to hate the Dead - just remember that by the standards of the jam bands we’re now left with, the Dead strode among us as gods.)

    Posted by  on  01/22  at  12:44 AM
  102. Byrds.  Don’t you guys remember that poster-sized family tree chart that was around in the 70s?

    Tower of Power is still playing, too.

    Posted by Linkmeister  on  01/22  at  01:21 AM
  103. Since Jon Langford lives in Chicago now, I’d have to say the Mekons, especially with his Waco Bros. showing. Twenty-five brilliant years of sloppy, drunk and driving music, often about its own loser-mythology, limning the connections between vampires and empires. Plus songs about dead astronauts and the flame that killed John Wayne.

    Now that’s American.

    Posted by George  on  01/22  at  02:29 AM
  104. Any definition of “greatest rock band” that excludes the Velvets from contention and includes Husker Du is just so wrong it doesn’t bear thinking about - as someone who owned every Husker Du record. It’s just a completely different level of genre innovation and influence. Once you start attributing greatness to longevity you invariably end up with the Eagles. And that sucks.

    Posted by  on  01/22  at  04:16 AM
  105. New edition, and/or n’sync.
    nuff sed.

    Posted by  on  01/22  at  04:24 AM
  106. Saw the strokes on SNL tonite and they impressed me.
    They’ve grown into a real rock n roll band (drew barrymore and NY fashion scene seemed irrelevant).

    Posted by  on  01/22  at  04:58 AM
  107. lots of great suggestions. but america is about the individual not the “band”. and discounting the category of utterly fantastic studio bands (booker t + MG’s, motown, various atlantic label groups that backed aretha, etc)

    still, nobody has mentioned:
    tom petty and the heartbreakers, if the only song they ever did was “american girl”, it would be enough qualify them as greatest american band.

    honorable mention: GBV, Replacements, Byrds, CCR, Iggy + Stooges, Bruce + E Street Band, The Mice (from Cleveland, obscure yes, but pure genius)

    Posted by a-train  on  01/22  at  11:02 AM
  108. Our supremely-wrongheaded but gracious host is only two and a half years younger than me, so it can’t be the difference between hallucinogens in his day and mine.  Besides, I’m too young to have had any of that Owsley stuff myself.

    No, I guess I’ll just have to live with being in the same category as well-known crusty-sixties-hippie fanciers like this guy.

    Posted by Patrick Nielsen Hayden  on  01/22  at  11:39 AM
  109. It has to be an oversight that Buddy Holly and the Crickets hasn’t been nominated. Of course Buddy Holly and the Crickets (and they were a full band, Holly was the frontman the way Lennon, McCartney and Jagger were frontmen) was the finest American rock and roll band. Who of worth hasn’t been indebted to the Crickets? Who hasn’t taken the honor of covering their songs (and there are a lot more than you think). Who put the idea into young rockers’ heads that you don’t need to be groomed and produced and presented by some some corporate PR office? Who whispered in the heads of Lennon and McCartney, during that first almost suffocated recording session, when things weren’t clicking, that they should suggest to George Martin that they record THEIR songs, not just some pop covers, songs that they improvised just banging out on a pair of guitars, songs they could put THEIR names on (Elvis couldn’t do that)? They didn’t invent the rock guitar sound but they sure reinforced it. (Isn’t the guitar break in Peggy Sue the most perfect guitar solo, and done entirely in chords?) Who showed rockers that you could write sings, sing songs, and actually play the guitar on your own songs, and play it very well too (Martin Scorcese, who used to attend all the rock shows at the Brooklyn Paramount in the 1950’s has remarked on how the sound of the Crickets was something different altogether: loud, rocking, professional. He has said their predecessors at these shows were tame, subdued, safe). Buddy Holly and the Crickets, best American rock and roll band, case closed. Don’t take my word for it; billionaire businessman, who also knows alot about rock’n roll, Paul McCartney: the only song catalog he has bought, other than his own, is that of the Crickets.

    Posted by  on  01/22  at  12:55 PM
  110. Link Wray and his Raymen.  A basic, rude, primal rock ‘n roll hurricane of a band.  Check out the drummer’s hypnotically insistent triplets at the end of “Ace of Spades” while Link is playing the low E string using the tuning key instead of the frets.

    Posted by  on  01/22  at  01:08 PM
  111. The sine qua non of rock’n’roll greatness is fun. When they stop having it, stop delivering it, they bomb. It’s really that simple. Which is not to say easy. It’s like saving the world with comedy. That’s why those who take themselves seriously don’t qualify as great, why the Doors were good, not great; why Cheap Trick, The Cars, B-52’s are great; why NRBQ is great. Why Patti Smith is only near great. The Pretenders are great. Hendrix, of course,is the Greatest by any meaningful measure and several absurd ones. Any outfit that Steve Earle fronts is great. And I can’t believe it took this gang 107 tries to arrive at Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Didn’t you people ever dance? You make me tired....

    Posted by Kalkaino  on  01/22  at  01:12 PM
  112. The Grateful Dead, and hallucinogens aren’t an issue.

    Yes, sometimes their harmonies sometimes went astray, especially when Donna Godchaux was involved. And, yeah, other times as well. I recall one occasion where if they didn’t quite beat “Box of Rain” to death with a stick, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

    And yes, their noodling could lose the plot. I can play you more than a few recordings where, if you can follow the musical conversation, you can hear the rest of the band trying to coax Garcia back down out of guitar space. I don’t see why that’s a problem. You’re always going to get some moments like that in ensemble improvisation.

    I’ve heard The Who perform, and they were undeniably great, but the songs they played sounded just like their recorded versions. The Dead always played a lot closer to the edge of the known universe, more a conversation than a recitation; and if that sometimes led to fluffs and missteps on stage, it also led to moments that were genuinely transcendent, when you were just amazed.

    I’m talking stone cold sober. I have no patience with empty noodling for its own sake. I love off-pitch harmony about as much as I love nails on a chalkboard. And the Dead’s cultural surround was just something I had to put up with in order to hear the band. I was there for the music.

    (By the way: one of the barriers to tracking on the Dead’s improvisations is that you can lose the thread of the conversation if you’re unfamiliar with Aoxomoxoa, same way you can get lost in some jazz improvisations if you can’t spot whatever standard it’s built around. I wouldn’t recommend it otherwise. It’s kind of a wonky album.)

    When I was young and didn’t have access to a lot of recorded music, there was this song I heard three times in two years, always over someone else’s sound system, that made me stop whatever else I was doing and just listen to it. I could never find out what it was. Then one evening at a party, the conversation touched on unidentified songs, and I said “There’s this one I keep hearing, goes something like ‘Come hear Uncle John’s Band’...” My host grinned and started pulling albums out of his cabinet, which was how I finally found out whose song that was. Later on, my friend Fred Haskell taught me that you have to listen to Aoxomoxoa first. I’m forever grateful.

    So it wasn’t the social surround, or drugs, or expectation, or anything else. It was the music that grabbed me. I don’t think I was deluding myself when I thought I heard something extraordinary going on there. And all these years later, I can still get myself a new “Dick’s Picks” recording of one of their live performances and be amazed all over again.

    If I can acknowledge that there must be something going on with Elvis Presley, whose music has never done a thing for me, pray think it possible that Dead fans are hearing something real.

    So there.

    While we’re on the subject: R.E.M., the Beach Boys, the E Street Band, the Patti Smith Group, and the Ramones. Also The Band, Husker Du, and, okay, Talking Heads.

    You know what the problem is? Bands don’t rule. Songs rule. Bands can record a lot of petty stuff, change lineups, get old, just get downright embarrassing; but a great song goes on being great.

    In closing, I’d just like to say: Gene Krupa, on “Sing, Sing, Sing.” Some kind of divine transcendence going on there.

    Posted by Teresa Nielsen Hayden  on  01/22  at  02:28 PM
  113. Greatest American Band: The Stax House Band - Booker T. & the MG’s. The Meters run a close second.

    Greatest American Songwriter: Townes Van Zandt (and as Steve Earle said, “I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and scream it at the top of my lungs.") Yeah, I know--another topic for another day.

    Posted by  on  01/22  at  02:49 PM
  114. Forgot to mention: John Langford, no doubt a fine fellow, but I refuse to think of Dave Langford’s brother as a great American musician.

    Posted by Teresa Nielsen Hayden  on  01/22  at  03:42 PM
  115. Does Fleetwood Mac count as an American band?  Is there any good reason that the Supremes don’t count as a great rock band?  I still think there’s a case for CCR.  However, looking at my list of my 500 favorite songs, I find that REM has seven, Talking Heads has five, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers has four.  If you consider Prince as Prince and the Revolution, he has eight.  If you consider Fleetwood Mac American, they have eight, which arguably they should since all eight were by Nicks and Buckingham.  Simon and Garfunkel, if you consider them a band, have four. Looking at British bands, I find The Beatles has 25, the Rolling Stones 12, the Police 9, the Pet Shop Boys (!) 8, Pink Floyd 6, Roxy Music 6, Led Zeppelin 5, and six groups tied for eighth place with four apiece.  U2 has 17 and Kate Bush has 14.  Oddly enough, my favorite American song of all is “Boys of Summer,” though there are no Eagles songs on this list.

    Posted by  on  01/22  at  05:00 PM
  116. Oh, yes, and what Daniel said about Buddy Holly and the Crickets.  Also, does anyone know if Chuck Berry used a consistent group of sidemen?

    Posted by  on  01/22  at  06:07 PM
  117. I’ll assert seniority in talking about the Dead, having been a Deadhead of sorts since 1967, back when Pigpen was still their blues singer, back when Tom Constanten was still with the group, back when the idea that these guys would all become multimillionaires would have seemed the height of absurdity.  Several posters have adverted to a well known situation without quite bringing it out into the open:  Going to a Dead concert, you never quite knew how it was going to work out.  Basically, without anyone ever admitting it up front, it was Garcia and his backup band, and half the time Garcia, at least, was so goddam fucked up around this pharmaceutical or that that he had only a remote connection to the music.  But when he was sharp, and felt like taking off on one of those endless and endlessly inventive guitar solos, he was completely beyond the boundaries of “rock”, in a creative universe of his own.  If you went to enough concerts, there were enough of those episodes to make up for the times everyone just phoned it in.

    Apropos of the related matter:

    “Greatest American Songwriter: Townes Van Zandt (and as Steve Earle said,
    “I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and scream it
    at the top of my lungs.") Yeah, I know--another topic for another day.”

    The greatest American songwriter (or at least lyricist) is Lorenzo da Ponte (at least to judge from the quality of the finished product.  But that’s completely obvious.


    Posted by  on  01/22  at  07:36 PM
  118. Daniel wrote: It has to be an oversight that Buddy Holly and the Crickets hasn’t been nominated.

    Doh! We have a winner ladies and gentlemen. I can’t believe I didn’t think of Buddy and the Crickets.

    Posted by a-train  on  01/22  at  08:25 PM
  119. And for the “greatest songwriter” ... sorry, although I love Tom Waits, Townes Van Zandt, and dozens of others, Bob Dylan is pretty much untouchable. 

    Some excerpts of a recent Dylan interview (sorry kind of long):

    Does he ever look back at the music he’s written with surprise?

    “I used to. I don’t do that anymore. I don’t know how I got to write those songs. Those early songs were almost magically written,” says Dylan, who quotes from his 1964 classic, “It’s Alright, Ma.”

    “Try to sit down and write something like that. There’s a magic to that, and it’s not Siegfried and Roy kind of magic, you know? It’s a different kind of a penetrating magic. And, you know, I did it. I did it at one time.”

    Does he think he can do it again today? No, says Dylan. “You can’t do something forever,” he says. “I did it once, and I can do other things now. But, I can’t do that.”


    He says that he knew even then that he was destined to become a music legend. “I was heading for the fantastic lights,” he writes. “Destiny was looking right at me and nobody else.”

    What does the word “destiny” mean to Dylan?

    “It’s a feeling you have that you know something about yourself - nobody else does - the picture you have in your mind of what you’re about will come true,” says Dylan. “It’s kind of a thing you kind of have to keep to your own self, because it’s a fragile feeling. And if you put it out there, somebody will kill it. So, it’s best to keep that all inside.”


    So why is he still out there?

    “It goes back to that destiny thing. I mean, I made a bargain with it, you know, long time ago. And I’m holding up my end … to get where I am now,” says Dylan.

    And with whom did he make the bargain? “With the chief commander,” says Dylan, laughing. “In this earth and in the world we can’t see.”

    Posted by a-train  on  01/22  at  08:27 PM
  120. A related question:

    What is the perfect insufferable music snob answer to this challenge?

    Posted by  on  01/22  at  10:39 PM
  121. What is the perfect insufferable music snob answer to this challenge?

    Grand Funk Railroad

    Posted by a-train  on  01/22  at  10:59 PM
  122. American bands did not know when to quit.

    ZZ Top

    were both great band that went awry in the 80s. If they had broken up before going cheesy, their legacies would be much hipper. And dude, if you doubt the ZZ Top choice, then you haven’t listened to their first four albums. They get at least a few votes.

    I vote for NRBQ as the best band most people never heard of. Great band.

    The perfect insufferable music snob answer is any answer you give knowing that no-one else on the board will have heard of it.

    Posted by  on  01/22  at  11:02 PM
  123. As self appointed music snob, I have to outdo everybody in here. It’s easy to talk about ‘what has happened’. Who was the greatest.


    I am topping it now with ‘how the 2006 will sound’ ie. who will be the greatest in 2006.

    haa haa...top that. (of course the chance of me getting it all wrong is...approaching 1:1)

    but, if I get it right. I get the right to declare who is the gratest american band in december. ...(actually, I don’t think anybody really cares. heh)


    01. The Dead Science - Threnody
    02. Guillemots - Made Up Love Song #43
    03. Captain Beefheart - I Love You, You Big Dummy
    04. Cat Power - Islands
    05. Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins - Happy
    06. The Gossip - Listen Up!
    07. Point Juncture, WA - Cardboard Box
    08. The Impossible Shapes - Pan-Ther
    09. Patrick Phelan - Lesser Laws
    10. Women & Children - Headless

    Posted by  on  01/22  at  11:36 PM
  124. What is the perfect insufferable music snob answer to this challenge?</i>

    I’d tell you, but you wouldn’t have heard of them anyway.

    Posted by  on  01/22  at  11:37 PM
  125. Here’s why Wilco, Modest Mouse, GBV, REM, the E Street Band, Sleater-Kinny, and Buddy Holly do not get to make the list:

    No Danger.

    The Talking Heads avoid this verbotentude only by being a bit freaky, even if it’s an art school put on.

    Slayer, the VU, the Stooges, Little Richard, James Brown + Band, Jobraith, the Minutemen, hell, even Husker Du and the Replacements make the list. So does Jerry Lee Lewis. Hell, if we’re going with college rock, Cat Power might even get on this list, although she doesn’t exactly “rock.”

    The Dead do not because so far as I can determine, the Dead--or at least the fans that I’ve met--lack a sense of irony and danger. Is this totally unfair? On the verge of bigotry? Yes.

    Residents don’t count because probably fewer than 100 people in this country have a favorite Residents song. If the Residents get to be on this list, then Mission of Burma, who not only still make good music, play live and have fun, but who also write many memorable songs, get to count.

    And for greatest *underated* American band, how about the Lovin’ Spoonful?

    Not bad. They’re pretty good in What’s Up Tiger Lily. But I’d say the most underated American band is clearly The Flamin Groovies.

    As for our friend who listed the Smiths up there. Er. Did Johnny Marr move to Throgs Neck?


    Props however to NRBQ. But if they make the list, so does Dead Moon.

    Also props for the Link Wray mention.

    Bands don’t rule. Songs rule.

    I can think of counterexamples. The Residents, for instance.

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  12:20 AM
  126. Fugazi’s probably my favorite band mentioned here, but given that they wouldn’t have existed at all w/out Gang of Four or the Minutemen, I can’t nominate them in good faith.

    Let me explain this point a bit further. Fugazi’s self-consciously a derivative band. Some bands transcend that, becoming much better than the groups they initially ripped off (cf Modest Mouse, who, as much as I hate to say it, got to be a lot better than Built to Spill; Guns and Roses ripped off a lot of bands, and in their prime, they were far, far better than any of the original glam hesher groups). Fugazi’s not better than Gang of Four and the Minutemen at their best. So they don’t get to count. 13 Songs is one of the best albums of the 3 year period around when it came out, so they get to be on a list, somewhere: just not an all time list.

    Which brings up point 2. Compare the group/performer to what’s happening musically at the same time. Buddy Holly’s doing his thing while--correct me if I’m wrong, no time to look this up--people like Little Richard and Professor Longhair are doing theirs. Does he even begin to touch the greatness that are these two guys? Would Mr. Holly even be remembered if he weren’t white? No chance in hell. I’m open to counterarguments on this point, but they better be good.

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  12:30 AM
  127. of previous responses, several are great in the sense of being massively influential, whilst never being generally well known to the wider celine dion-listening public [sonic youth, gang of four, sleater-kinney]; several others were great in the sense of popular, but were not particularly innovative [nirvana, the e street band, REM].

    taking “great” to require that the nominated band is/was popular, innovative and influential, the obvious choices all begin with the letter ‘b’: the b52s, blondie, but especially the beach boys.

    also, there’s no plausible definition of “rock and roll” which could encompass public enemy. except maybe that one time with anthrax.

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  02:22 AM
  128. Booker T. & The MGs.  Al Jackson Jr. = Best. Drummer. Ever.

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  03:40 AM
  129. It’s a shame no one’s yet mentioned The Cars.

    I mean, really.

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  03:40 AM
  130. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

    Posted by Dene  on  01/23  at  09:51 AM
  131. "Irony and danger”?  Gracious.  Wake me when you get around to discussing, you know, music.

    Posted by Patrick Nielsen Hayden  on  01/23  at  09:52 AM
  132. PNH: Do you propose we can actually discuss the music itself? There’s innovation, popularity, and influence, which don’t exactly separate the music from its sitz im leben. With ‘danger’ and ‘irony’ I’m at least referring to my own response to the music and to what I value in music.

    E.g., Iggy Pop’s “Repo Man” blew my mind when I heard it and would have frightened the people around me on the bus in 1986 ("I was a teenage dinosaur / stoned and obsolete"). The E Street Band? The Cars? No way, no how.

    At any rate, how many good albums did the Cars have? One and a 1/2?

    Booker T is fantastic when doing Hang ‘em High, Green Onions, Shotgun, etc., but not so hot when doing, say, Soul Man. There’s way more misses than hits in their catalog, I think, and this isn’t the fault of too much ambition, but rather taking the same, very limited, bag of tricks and applying it to situations where it’s worn out its welcome.

    Anyway, I hate to say you’re just Mr. Grumpypants because I’m no fan of the Dead and you are, but c’mon, how is my response any more turgid than “as escorters over the Styx without parallel”?

    If you can suggest a hermeneutic or taxonomy that would get directly at the music, I’m all ears. Unless, of course, you set this h. or t. to “Cocaine.”

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  10:32 AM
  133. One more thing:

    Nitz on the B-52s. Fantastic early on but rapidly devolved into dull self-parody. They’re immortal primarily because of the surf guitar bit in the second half of Rock Lobster, but other than that, I don’t think the albums quite capture the earliest, most exciting versions of the band, when they were doing their shtick with toy instruments.

    Off to teach...quick, any tips on Paradise Lost??

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  10:37 AM
  134. The more I think about it, the more I think, Beach Boys.

    A list of their albums in the ‘60s will suffice.  No matter how you slice it, more great songs than anybody—Dylan, Stones & Beatles included—in a comparable period, at least in the rock era.

    Here are the albums.  All classic.

    Surfin’ Safari
    Surfin’ USA
    Surfer Girl
    Little Deuce Coupe
    Shut Down Vol. 2
    All Summer Long
    Summer Days and Summer Nights
    Pet Sounds
    Smiley Smile
    Wild Honey

    Plus a Christmas album and a live album.

    Dangerous?  Well, they recorded a Charles Manson song on 20/20, so they make it there.  (Never Learn Not To Love, credited to Manson’s friend Dennis Wilson.)

    Innovative?  The first band to self-produce.  Inventors of the pop-rhapsody (or suite) with Good Vibrations.  Inventors of audio-faux-verite, with Party! (a wonderful album).

    A band?  Dennis and Carl wrote songs as well as Brian, and they frequently wrote together, including Mike & Al & Bruce. 

    If you like Beatles or Stones or Dylan or Whomever better, fine; but Beach Boys got the credentials.

    Posted by John  on  01/23  at  01:00 PM
  135. I’d have to nominate:

    The Velvet Underground
    Neil Young and Crazy Horse
    The Grateful Dead
    Talking Heads

    Oh, and by the way, anyone who calls them “The Talking Heads” is not allowed to nominate them.  They put out a record to be clear:  “The Name of This Band is Talking Heads.” It’s like saying “The Wilco.” Sorry to rant, but this is a pet peeve of mine.

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  01:48 PM
  136. Beach Boys qualify for a number of reasons.  Put aside “albums” for the moment, and consider songs-- they have a catalogue that any artist would envy.  Consider influence: you’re doing pretty well when your influence touches the Beatles, wouldn’t you say?  There is a meaningful sense in which the Beach Boys music defines a particular dimension in American culture to this day.

    One of the criteria that I have in considering a band for inclusion on this sort of list is that the band be a band, not merely a frontman with backup.  To me this means that there should be more than one principle somgwriter, or that the songs should be jointly composed.  The Beach Boys barely squeak by here, but they do squeak by.  E Street, for all of the indubitable contributions made by each member, remain a superstar’s backup.

    Oh, and The Who?  It seems to me that of all the great Brit bands, with the possible exception of the Beatles, The Who is the most English.

    Posted by Bill Altreuter  on  01/23  at  01:52 PM
  137. NRBQ??  I remember in college some friends from the Pacific Northwest tried to tell me about this great band they knew.  They placed a record on the turntable, and I heard the following immortally bad lyrics:

    Condo, condo
    Swinging singles
    Eating valium

    Now every band has lyrics of which it should be embarrassed but really, how do you top that?

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  02:29 PM
  138. "lyrics of which it should embarrassed”

    And I have yet one more post about which I should be embarrassed.

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  02:31 PM
  139. Buddy Holly was one of the first to come to mind, but I wasn’t convinced that the Crickets should count. But Daniel is right, and it was a cohesive band. Karl, I have to say, doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. There were a lot of White bands and singers around in the late 50s. The Crickets were not among them. Holly captured the nexus of white and black roots music that is the very definition of rock n roll - he could swing, he could croon, he could pound a beat. Aside from the Sun boys, he’s the only white guy from the 50s that I would put alongside Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley.

    Speaking of whom, Johnnie Johnson was Chuck’s piano player for much of his creative career - I don’t know about the rest of the band, but Johnnie was David Rawlings to Chuck’s Gillian Welch. That said, the more Chuck songs I hear, the more I want to go back to his dozen immortal hits - they really were his best [rock] output, whereas I have yet to hear a Crickets song that isn’t interesting.

    I’m tempted by the Temptations, but it seems implausible to call the Supremes a “band,” and the Tempts shouldn’t get some dispensation just for being 5 guys instead of 3 girls. If you don’t play any instruments, you’re not a band - you’re a chorus.

    Finally, the Kinks were far more English (British? not sure in this context) than the Who, for better or worse.

    Posted by JRoth  on  01/23  at  02:59 PM
  140. Man, what a hamstrung topic.  The Stones, Beatles, Zep, Kinks, Who are all out… Dylan’s songwriting is more important than his rocking… So you get stuck with the Doors, Allman Bros, Dead, Steppenwolf (I love Chris’ reasoning!) etc.  They really define American rock and roll.  X (love, love, love ‘em), Talking Heads (same to me as X - fantastic), etc., are really anti-rock bands, who rocked anyway (or some of the original anti-rockers like MC5 or, on a completely different planet, Zappa).  I think to be true to the topic, the anti-rock crowd, though they be fine, is out.

    Bruce and E-Street - I gotta get this off my chest… I’m a fan of Bruce’s career - really puts out for the crowd, stands up for the “common man,” etc.  But the music… man, has there ever been a bigger pile of vapid licks played with such gusto?

    Unfortunately, the real answer is to change the question to, “who is the foremost American rocker?” And that is Jimi Hendrix—end of story.  Nods to Duane and Stevie Ray, but Jimi personified rock to the core and burst the whole damn thing open at the same time.

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  03:22 PM
  141. Actually, it occurs to me that you should be arguing about who/what is the greatest anti-rock band!  You don’t even need to narrow it down to American, then.

    GO!  And watch me roll my eyes at the first person to say Dinosaur Jr.

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  03:25 PM
  142. I’m open to counterarguments on this point, but they better be good.

    Karl, I have to say, doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.

    I can accept that, with the proviso that you can guide me past the soul-destroying “That’ll Be the Day”: What Buddy Holly rocks as much as Little Richard? Or Bunker Hill? Or Jerry Lee Lewis? Or, hell, Hasil Atkins?

    what is the greatest anti-rock band!

    Teenage Jesus and the Jerks.

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  04:14 PM
  143. The greatest anti-rock band?  Art.  A NYC band in the early ‘80s.

    A noisy guitarist, a metronome, a ranting grating-voiced white poet, a female back-up singer, and a metronome.  I think (hope) they only put out one EP, with the classic cover of Neil Young’s “Ohio,” with new lyrics.

    Pete Townshend the Who are coming
    We’re finally on our own
    This summer I hear the drumming
    11 dead in Ohio

    Posted by John  on  01/23  at  04:22 PM
  144. If Bo Diddley had a band, there would be little to discuss. Talk about rock n roll, rebellion, influence/legacy, and longevity...took us from blues to rock

    Can it really be that we’re stuck with The Dead?  Maybe its true but its tiresome. 

    I think I’ve got to go with Jimmie Hendrix and The Experience…

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  05:53 PM
  145. White Stripes?  Points in their favor:
    -5 LPs so far (would be a stronger case with a couple more, but still)
    -Embrace Americana (the Loretta Lynn connection)
    -Many, many great songs
    -Are appreciated by critics (for the most part) and known by some statistically-significant portion of the population

    Points against:
    -Jack is the band.

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  05:55 PM
  146. At any rate, how many good albums did the Cars have? One and a 1/2?

    Yeah, but no one can match that 1 and 1/2!

    (In case you haven’t noticed, I am kidding.  I like The Cars, but they’re not even on the list of greatest American bands.  There.)

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  06:32 PM
  147. The absence of truly collaborative bands with multiple songwriters and singers might be the major weakness in modern rock n roll. That goes for both sides of the Atlantic.

    With few exceptions it’s difficult the think of any American band that didn’t function as a backup for a front man. Even the bands that don’t bill themselves as somebody and the somebodies are really vehicles for a star performer.

    Talking Heads? It’s really David Byrne.
    Creedence? John Fogerty
    Television? Tom Verlaine.
    The Stooges? Iggy
    Pere Ubu? Dave Thomas and you guys are a bunch of new wave wankers for bringing them up!
    Nirvana? Kurt.
    The Velvet Underground? Lou Reed.
    The NY Dolls? Poindexter.

    The post Brit Invasion California bands actually functioned as bands, but none were great.
    Buffalo Springfield? They were almost a band for 10 seconds.
    Jefferson Airplane?  A couple of good songs before corroding into drug induced stupor.
    The Grateful Dead? Well, they were a band, but they flunk the 3 minute and under rule so they’re disqualified.
    The Beach Boys? Not exactly what I call rock n roll.
    The Byrds worked as a band with contributions from McGuinn and Clark (later Parsons) and they touched greatest, but not on the level of the Beatles or the Stones.

    The only great American band – The Band
    The Band was more of a collaborative effort than Robertson would like to admit and though Robbie got the song writing credits, the music feels like a gumbo. Multiple voices singing lead, distinct vocal harmonies, musicians freely riffing off of each other.
    One other thing about The Band – you can imagine their music existing without the influence of the British invasion, something you can’t say about many other rock n roll bands post 1964.

    Posted by Michaelw  on  01/23  at  06:45 PM
  148. I think I’ve got to go with Jimmie Hendrix and The Experience…

    The Jimi Hendrix Experience was 2/3 British, if you recall.

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  07:12 PM
  149. “Anyway, I hate to say you’re just Mr. Grumpypants because I’m no fan of the Dead and you are, but c’mon, how is my response any more turgid than ‘as escorters over the Styx without parallel’?”

    Pwned!  You’re right.  Good point.

    Posted by Patrick Nielsen Hayden  on  01/23  at  11:12 PM
  150. Willst no-one champeen the Pixies? Fine then, scoundrels-- I nominate Frank Black and his (merry?) band as the winners.

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  01:12 AM
  151. Michaelw,

    Beach Boys not rock and roll? 

    I’d have sympathy with an argument that said, the Beach Boys count more as a vocal group than a band, since session men played on most of their records after the first few.  But not rock and roll? 

    That’s eccentric!

    Posted by John  on  01/24  at  02:10 AM
  152. Little Feat? Credence Clearwater Revival?
    Are these not bands?  Did they not rock?

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  10:13 AM
  153. Winger!

    Ha Ha just kidding. I have to second or third Little Feat. I’ll throw in with the Band too if Canucks are allowed. I immediately thought Talking Heads but also didn’t know if I’d classify them as rock (as opposed to pop or something else undefined).

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  10:29 AM
  154. I guess we can’t count The Band, even though Levon has one of the greatest Americana voices ever.

    And probably not the White Stripes either, although Holy Sweet Koresh does Jack know how to rock or what?  Goddamn!  And Meg’s no Keith Moon, but she got de Stijl.  But duos don’t make a band in my book.

    I forgot to mention the Allman Bros.  They’re right up there with Little Feat and Credence.

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  10:40 AM
  155. The Blasters.
    Semi-obscure. Roots influenced. American as hell.
    Friends/collaborators with Los Lobos and X, the other two candidates.

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  12:36 PM
  156. I was way up front at the first Farm Aid concert and got a good taste of the Blasters.
    After B.B. King, they were probably my favorite act that long, long night. 

    (Neil’s singing of Heart of Gold under a full moon with 80,000 people around me was pretty great too)

    [The very first act that day was an unheard of band called Bon Jovi.  “Who are these dicks?” we all asked.  Some of us are still asking]

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  01:48 PM
  157. This past week’s essay topic was kind of lame, all agreed? It is even pointless to try and build a consensus on the concept of best: if something is best it will be almost universally acknowledged as such, there is no real point in trying to shore up an argument. If I were one of Michael’s undergraduates responding to an end of year survey on how he taught and assigned work for the course I would have to give him a C because of the final assignment, that left we inchoate students grasping and gasping with no hope of traction. For upcoming weeks I propose 2 topics that will focus the mind, ears, soul and passion: 1) Rock bands unjustly denied a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of fame, with objective persuasive reasoning for why they should be in there. I’ll go ahead and suggest one now: Yes. Yes, that’s right, YES. Great band, truly a victim of insufferable snobbery if ever there is one. Second topic: Bands that should not be in the Hall of Fame, should never be anywhere near any Hall of Fame. I’ll suggest one here too: The Ramones. The Ramones suck. A gimmick is an effn’ gimmick. Entirely contrived. Could only appeal to arch teenagers. Stupid leather jackets. Stupid name. Stupid conceit. You wouldn’t expect to see the Monkees in the Hall of Fame, would you? (Maybe you would). And don’t tell me how they represented an authentic New York voice. I have never encountered anything as un-New York as the Ramones, well maybe The New York Dolls or the Velvet Underground. They are a cartoon vision of New York, phony all the way. You want authentic New York rock, I’ll tell ya about New York rock; Rupert Holmes, Barry Manilow, Desmond Child, even Springsteen, demonstrated more, intuitive, understanding of New York (white New York, at least) than any misfits who hang out on the Bowery or the Village. And listening to them, appreciating them would have drawn you into exchange with some interesting milieus, quite distinct from the puerile confusion of CBBG and all that it spawned. There.

    Any other suggestions?

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  03:11 PM
  158. Actually, yes.  I was going to propose Steely Dan.  I disagree with Daniel on the NYC punk scene-- I think you could make the argument that the CBGBs scene saved rock’n’roll-- and for that alone the Ramones and/or Talking Heads, if not the Contortions or Teenage Jesus and the Jerks-- deserve a place on this list.

    Posted by Bill Altreuter  on  01/24  at  05:00 PM
  159. Daniel: harh! Yeah on Yes? Nix on Ramones?

    All I can say if yr throwin yr neck out on the choppin block and hollarin ‘fire away.’

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  09:30 PM
  160. Beach Boys not rock and roll?
    yea it’s an eccentric view, but there is just this Andy Williams quality to the Beach Boys I can’t get past. They were never rockers, though they did record rock n roll songs.

    Posted by michaelw  on  01/25  at  12:04 AM
  161. Who were the guys who sang, “Brandy, you’re a fine girl, what a good wife you would be?”

    Seriously, I’d have to say Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. In 1972 I saw them do a show in a bar in Boston. There were more people in the band than the bar, and it was a great show. They’ve always been great live.

    But the whole concept of greatest band ever is kind of against the spirit of rock. Most bands are lucky to have three good albums in them. If you stay around long enough you get stale and your fans get old. If you’re around long enough to be great then you aren’t.

    Hope I die before I get old. Shit, I’m 55.

    Posted by Bob in Pacifica  on  01/25  at  12:05 AM
  162. Did anyone mention Arthur Lee’s Love? Or Steely Dan? Both bands had great albums, Dan was actually active for a decade. Lee had about three and a half great albums in him.

    As far as someone a ways back dissing on Springsteen’s pipes, the essence of rock is not great vocals. Otherwise, the guys who did “Brandy” would be wearing the crown.

    Posted by Bob in Pacifica  on  01/25  at  12:25 AM
  163. Hey, don’t be dissing the Dead!  If it weren’t for them, nobody outside of moldy tweed-wearing old music snobs would know about Mississipi John Hurt.  And Garcia did some lovely solo work with David Grisman, as well as the stunning live LP Old And In The Way with Vassar Clements and friends. 

    The ‘Mats… they were OK, but too rock-snobby for their own good.  I preferred The Suburbs or even The Wallets (like The Suburbs, but with twice the pretension, three times the drug use, and one-third the talent).  My future husband nearly got tapped to do a bass gig (and develop a heroin habit) with the Wallets, but wisely decided against it.

    Arrrgh.  Now you’ve got me thinking of “Music for Boys”:

    Come on over to our valley, where the boys run free!

    Posted by Phoenix Woman  on  01/25  at  01:05 AM
  164. Who were the guys who sang, “Brandy, you’re a fine girl, what a good wife you would be?”

    That would be The Looking Glass.  And yes, I’m scared that I actually know that.

    Posted by Phoenix Woman  on  01/25  at  01:07 AM
  165. YES. Great band, truly a victim of insufferable snobbery if ever there is one. Second topic: Bands that should not be in the Hall of Fame, should never be anywhere near any Hall of Fame. I’ll suggest one here too: The Ramones. The Ramones suck.

    You know, it’s just weird that so many people with utterly incorrect political opinions also have such lousy musical taste.  It’s like, I used to be a Democrat, but after 9/11 I realized that “Siberian Khatru” really rocks and “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” is insufferably pretentious.  I also realized that objectively pro-Saddam music snobs don’t appreciate the really interesting milieus who know the authentic New York of “The Pina Colada Song.”

    Maybe there is a connection between aesthetics and politics after all.  Hey, does anyone know if Stalin liked beauty?

    And hi, Nick!  Yes, five people have nominated the Pixies, starting with SneakySnu and Marita the Goaltender with the Vividly Rendered Shoulder Injury.

    Posted by Michael  on  01/25  at  03:04 AM
  166. Michael,

    >>....it’s just weird that so many people with utterly incorrect political opinions also have such lousy musical taste…

    The self-parody is intentional, isn’t it? I can’t tell.

    Posted by  on  01/25  at  10:43 AM
  167. Damn straight, Daniel, and I hope I responded in the right spirit.  I mean, when you threw me a Rupert Holmes, I felt the parody pressure, so I went to “Siberian Khatru.” Siberian Khatru indeed.

    Also, the real New York is to be found in the works of Neil Diamond.  Everybody knows that.

    Posted by Michael  on  01/25  at  11:33 AM
  168. Sheesh, what a sorry lot. (btw, re: the last bit, I’m with Daniel; how “pretentious” can apply to a song I’ll never know, but if the good professor’s sense of beauty leans him toward “Sheena is a punk rocker” over “Siberian Khatru”, well, some childhood trauma probably explains that; anyway, Yes isn’t an American band) Unmentioned, but obviously correct, even after 167 posts:

    Posted by ostranenie  on  01/25  at  12:08 PM
  169. For one night in 1993, in the late and lamented Rathskeller in Boston, Moving Targets (the late version, with Jamie Van Bramer on drums), was the Greatest American Rock Band. I forget who else was on the bill later that night, but remember there were fewer than a dozen of us there for the opening act. The Targets ripped the fabric of space and time; playing the absolute fiercest set I’ve ever heard.

    In an arena in Minneapolis, April 21, 1989, Metallica, the Greatest American Rock Band, burned heavy metal right out of my soul. Nothing in my record collection would ever sound the same again. (I’d been following them for years and already thought they were the GARB, but that show was something else.)

    At a Bar Mitzvah in 1980 the DJ starts to spin Back in Black. AC/DC is the Greatest American Rock Band! We wouldn’t learn they were from Australia for another year.

    In 1992, Morphine played a show at Cambridge’s Middle East to celebrate Mark Sandman’s birthday. They debuted “Thursday” that night with an extra verse that didn’t make it onto the record. I don’t think anyone will ever rock out on the triangle the way Dana did that night on “The Saddest Song” (I saw Morphine dozens of time and I never saw Dana reach such heights). They were far and away the Greatest American Rock Band.

    In 1999 Sleater-Kinney was hot - despite “fans” who were there because SK was growing trendy. It was one of the worst bandwagon crowds I’ve ever seen. Sleater-Kinney overcame a slow start and bad, hyper energy to build and build and build and they took us all, music lovers and poseurs alike, to a higher place. No one who was there would question that they were the Greatest American Rock Band.

    At the end of the day, I feel that this needs to be made very, very clear: no British band – not even the sainted Clash, against whom all others are measured (and, yes, found wanting) – has been or ever will be better than X.

    Posted by Martial  on  01/25  at  05:44 PM

    Posted by Outlandish Josh  on  01/25  at  09:49 PM
  171. Yes.  HAH! Yes ain’t fit to do King Crimson’s laundry.  Yeah, pretension happens, but the album Red (among others) rocks.

    Posted by  on  01/26  at  12:00 AM
  172. I was at Woodstock. The first one.

    Posted by Bob in Pacifica  on  01/26  at  12:02 AM
  173. YES. Great band, truly a victim of insufferable snobbery if ever there is one.

    There have been few bands before or since with as much collective musical talent as Yes.  However I still find Jon Anderson’s lyrics either uncomprehensible ("mountains come out of the sky and they stand there") or just plain silly ("A seasoned witch can call you from the depths of your disgrace").  Having said that, the melodies and arrangements could be breath-taking.

    I was surprised it took so long for anyone to mention Little Feat.  The band’s sense of fun overshadowed the fact that these guys were superb musicians ("Waiting for Columbus” is a textbook example of how a band can play tight and still sound loose).

    Steely Dan stopped being a real band after “Pretzel Logic” and became Donald Fagen, Walter Brecker and a bunch of LA studio musicians.

    On the subject of obscure bands, I nominate the Dixie Dregs.

    Posted by  on  02/03  at  01:33 PM
  174. Sorry. You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.
    I am from Zealand and , too, and now am writing in English, please tell me right I wrote the following sentence: “Optima tours offers you hotel accommodation in saint on airtickets.”

    Best regards 8-), Bell.

    Posted by Bell  on  04/04  at  05:47 AM





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