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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Why there is no great American rock band



The online discussions over the greatest rock'n'roll bands of all time centers on the age-old question of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. Some people who are not baby boomer fossils raise the question of the Who or Led Zeppelin. Jocks preferred the former while druggies preferred the latter.

Black Sabbath, Rush, and AC/DC get listed. Nobody wants to mention Fleetwood Mac because they crossed over into pop. Only the Beatles were allowed to do that. Add U2 and Deep Purple, and you can make a good case for the top 10 rock bands of all time.

And none of them are American.

The great American rock band does not exist. This is not a knock on Metallica, Lynyrd Skynyrd, or ZZ Top. They rocked hard and long. And certainly Aerosmith can make the case for being a top 10 band. The Beach Boys too.

But considering the population of America is three times that of Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom combined, the odds of the USA being shut out of a top 10 are astronomical.

The explanation is we're American.

We have bands. We have good bands. But our best talent stands alone. A singer starts with a band, gets acclaim, and then walks away. Frank Sinatra leaving the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 1943 set the stage for Lou Reed leaving the Velvet Underground three decades later.

A look at the lists of the greatest rock acts ever is dominated at the top by Elvis, Dylan, and Chuck Berry. Americans overwhelm any such list. Being in a band seems to go against American rugged individualism.

Plus there's the money.

Chuck Berry used to go to a town, hire a few musicians for the night, give a concert, and then head for the next town. He was the lion and he wanted the lion's share of the money. Anybody and everybody could play Chuck Berry songs but no one else was Chuck Berry. For the musicians, it was a once in a lifetime experience to play for him.

Little Richard was more traditional. He toured with a backup band. One of his backup guitarists in 1965 was Jimi Hendrix. When fans began noticing Hendrix's hijinks, Little Richard simply had the stage crew stop shining the light on Hendrix. The idea, correctly, was that if he didn't like it, he can get his own band. He did.

The Beatles now are best known for their breakup but the real story was that they lasted as long as they did. You had three of the best singer songwriters of their time and somehow they stayed together for nearly a decade. Heck, they even let their drummer record a song now and then. And he was pretty good at it.

Van Halen had trouble keeping one lead singer. The Beatles had four -- at the same time. That's remarkable.

I don't want to make it sound like the British rockers are inferior because they stay in a band.  Obviously, they do break up, as the Beatles showed. They have stand alone talent. But it does take them a little longer to figure this out. Eric Clapton went through several excellent bands -- Cream, Derek and the Dominoes, and Blind Faith -- before realizing he should just be a solo act. And Black Sabbath firing Ozzy was the best thing that ever happened to him.

The American way is less suited for being in a band. Heck even Michael Jackson left the Jackson 5.

No, the greatest rock band ever -- whoever it is -- is not American. Oh well.

48 comments:

  1. Doobie Brothers, Chicago, Kansas

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    1. Don’t the Eagles still hold the record for HOTEL CALIFORNIA sales? They were out of Texas weren’t they?

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    2. Don Henley is from Texas.

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  2. And Americans have a wide range of tastes. Some like country, some like rock. Others prefer blues or soul. We may not be able to settle on a top ten because we have to vast and great a field.

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  3. What about Asian Murder Hornets?

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    1. Didn't they open for Creepy Joe and the Fingers at the Cow Palace?

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    2. I see how you did that, Ent...

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  4. When writing about Clapton you left out the Yardbirds which he was in before he formed Cream. Jeff Beck was in the Yardbrds as was Jimmy Page after him. Three great guitarists from just one band. - GOC

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    1. Thanks. Yardbird were a seminal group. Led to the Jeff Beck Group and of course, Led Zeppelin

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    2. One can argue Clapton's album with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers was better than any of his other bands' efforts.

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    3. And Keith Relf of the Yardbirds started the first incarnation of the celebrated symphonic Prog Rock group called Renaissance (his sister Jane was the female vocalist). The better known second incarnation featured Annie Haslam, who is still performing.

      TarsTarkas

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  5. Don, you're the best.

    Don't overlook The Stooges.

    And the Ramones.

    HUGELY influential.

    And who influenced Zeppelin and the Stones?

    The Chicago blues greats.

    And Buddy Holly was the Beatles' hero and inspiration.

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  6. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers deserve a mention here.

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    1. If we're heaping acclaim upon American bands, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are Top 5. Sure, the individuals noted by Don are certainly the cream of the crop from a solo aspect. But TP/Heartbreakers made so many truly 'American' sounding songs that, to me, they are THE American band.

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  7. Sting went solo from The Police...As for America; Lynyrd Skynyrd, in their day. ZB

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  8. Grateful Dead, all others are pretenders to the throne. Nobody played 300 nights a year except The Dead. The Working Band.

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    1. And they played for a loooong time. No one or two hour concerts for them.

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    2. Jerry Bear was the hardest working man in rock and roll. If he wasn't touring with the Dead, he was touring with the Jerry Garcia Band.

      Oh, and Heart. Ann and Nancy Wilson set the standard for women rockers.

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  9. Joe and Hunter BidenMay 13, 2020 at 2:38 PM

    Now,, don't forget Beethoven.. I was there, right along side of him, hell,, I even helped him write a couple of the catcher hits he had...

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    1. I can verify that! I was there.

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    2. So was I...dodging bullets the entire time, and happy to do so for my country.

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  10. We Americans have had some great Rock bands, but once a band peaks, or gets hit with deaths or creative differences, they trend toward breaking up. Many spend years to just get noticed, which usually doesn't get counted as part of their longevity.
    There is also the different genres to consider, Southern Rock, Surfer, Punk, Metal, Glam, which can also be short lived trends which peter out after a short hey day.
    Even some "solo" acts, like, for instance Billy Joel, had a steady band for decades. Joan Jet is another.
    The American music industry is also very different than the British counterpart.
    Some of the bands stuck together but had solo careers as well as doing their band gigs. Does that really mean they were together for as long, or that they saw their solo work wasn't quite up to their work with the band?
    There were a lot of one hit wonders out there as well. Good or great bands for at least that one song, maybe quite a few, but didn't get the airplay.
    In the US, we also hold - or at least held a value to individualism, which tended to push bands apart over a shorter period of time.
    I question any rating for bands, anyway, as it is far too subjective to tastes of those voting on "best evah".
    Give me a band that makes great music for however long or short it is together, and I'm happy.

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  11. It is not as simple as you write about. There are many good band still out there, but Disney did a lot in the promotion of garbage, programmed music to destroy the music industry. It is not as simple as having a band anymore. If you are going to make it as a band, you need to really self promote. If you do not, then just bow down and follow the dictates of what is currently in the music industry. Even if you have a band which can produce world class music, you are not going to find a label who is going to give you a nickel to play songs for them or provide money to pay for the engineering of a record or recordings. Doesn't exist. Not like it used to. The powers that be do not want that type of music to be produced. They like precanned talent like what is on the miraculous televised talent search shows to use as their 'talent' pool. They will have a song based on the same four keys, lousy lyrics, most of the song produced electronically, put some hag called Bouncy up on a stage, have him bounce around with him lip singing to a song and call that talent. Do a little digging and research, you will figure it out.

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  12. First comment listed Kansas. Always regretted not catching them live. One of the best concerts I did catch was Zappa with the Mothers of Invention.
    The loudest I ever heard was BTO (I know, they're Canadian). Maybe they're why I have this raging case of tinnitus today.

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  13. Greatest American Rock Bands (includes some bands I don't like but the sales charts say they're great)

    • Beach Boys
    • Boston
    • The Byrds
    • Chicago
    • Crosby, Stills & Nash
    • The Doors
    • The Doobie Brothers
    • The Eagles
    • The Four Tops
    • The Grateful Dead
    • The Mamas and The Papas
    • The Spinners
    • The Temptations
    • Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

    I'm leaving out of that list some groups I really like. I like Kansas. I like Sly and the Family Stone. I like Grand Funk Railroad. And I like Frank Zappa's band, the Mothers of Invention.




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    1. Creedence Clearwater Revival. Springsteen and the E Street Band. Allman brothers. Just to name a few more. This country is just too damn big and too diverse both ethnically and culturally to have one 'best ever' rock band.

      TarsTarkas

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  14. How could I forget Credence Clearwater Revival?

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  15. Maybe its because I am a young boomer but I always thought the Beatles, like Bob Dylan, were overrated as musicians.

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    1. Bob Dylan is overrated because the aficiandos swooned over him because he sounded so raw and 'authentic'. Reminds me of how people in their day swooned over Leadbelly, who I can't stand to listen to. Although Dylan did write good songs, For the most part almost any Dylan cover is better than his version. Tangled up in Blue is one of the exceptions.

      The Beatles may have started out as a boy band, but they were veteran musicians who had been exposed to an enormous variety of music by the time they were discovered. No one but the Beatles could have gotten away with going from 'I want to hold your hand' to 'Strawberry Fields Forever'. Just my opinion.

      TarsTarkas

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  16. The Allman Brothers could have been. Jimi Hendrix and the Experience could have. His teo band mates were brits though.

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  17. Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Elvis, as for Guitar work -Roy Clark.
    As for Rock- the Eagles,led Zepplin, , Chicago (to a point) and one
    Group that was underrated- Paul Revere and the Raiders. going to throw the Beach Boys in there too. As a teen I had dreams of California a '29
    woody with surfboards and a blonde..
    (didn't happen)

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    1. Chicago was great up until 1982 or so but then they became Peter Cetera's glorified backing band.

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  18. Blue Oyster Cult. - Elric

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  19. You are, of course, correct, that the best bands are from the UK. They are Genesis, King Crimson, and Yes.

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  20. Give me The Shaggs or give me death!

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  21. The Doors, of course. Steely Dan not too shabby either, but I'm not sure if Fagen & Becker would really consider themselves to be "rockers", but what do I know?

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    1. They have a name for all the winners in the world.

      I want a name when I lose.

      They call Alabama the Crimson Tide. Call me Deacon Blues.

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  22. What a GREAT blog you have here Don! Loved this post and the comments. I'll just be a fly on the wall.

    The Who!!!!

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  23. The only "good" American rock band left that aren't all 70 years old and out and out leftists is....

    Ween

    Oh, and please allow me to give a special mention to one of the most underrated American rockers ever:

    Alice Cooper

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  24. There are a few overrated American rock bands though with Journey being at the front of the list, IMO. Their early work was good but when Steve Perry became the sole lead singer they went off tangent and started doing songs that sounded like they were from a Hallmark card commercial.

    KISS is another one as well. They sell a lifestyle to their fans and they sell it well. Other than "The Elder" most of their albums have had the same repetitive garbage over and over.

    And lastly is Jimmy Buffet. A complete leftist fake who sells a lifestyle that he himself never lived.

    David Allen Coe was right: Jimmy Buffet don't live in Key West anymore.

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  25. the doors for diverse sounds.

    from riders on the storm, to Spanish caravan. from light my fire, to the end. when the music's over, to Texas radio and the big beat.

    la woman. I see your hair is burning, hills are filled with fire. if they say I never loved you, you know they are a liar.

    Paul never wrote that.

    as one reviewer pointed out, it was never the same having dinner with your parents after hearing "the end."

    the quintessential la band.

    waterman

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  26. Two more underrated American bands:

    DEVO
    Wall of Voodoo
    Flaming Lips (before they took too much acid, starting wearing USSR shirts in concerts, and started recording static noise and calling it music).

    Yoshimo Battles the Pink Robots was one of the best albums of the 2000's, period.

    A really good Christian rock band was Petra. Way ahead of their time in the 70's and 80's. Survivor was more than just Rocky III. UFO was damn good. Listen to UFO 2: Flying and you'll swear you're on acid.

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  27. Buffalo Springfield, the North American Beatles (should've been).
    ---Fred

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