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So what IS the Greatest American Rock Band?

1

We're far enough into the rock era - and quite possibly beyond it - to begin to be academic about the subject, and cast about for historical perspective.

If there is a Greatest American Rock Band (possibly something like the Great American Novel, where there can be candidates but no universally acclaimed "winner") I think most of us can probably agree it's not the Eagles.


But who is it?

I'd say the Rolling Stones, since other than a brief flirtation with the exotic and psychedelic from from '66 to '68 or so, they've certainly played American-rooted music with as much or more dedication than anyone. And you can't deny their rock & roll authenticity: at what they do there's no one better, and they're good enough to do it - but they've never put much stock in getting better than they need to be (either individually or as an ensemble).

Unfortunately, alas, someone's bound to object that they're...well, not American.


So who do we have - with either anything like the Stones' longevity, or enough impact during a short fertile career to qualify?

Chuck Berry was never a band, never (so far as I know) known for great performances. Jerry Lee, Duane, Little Richard, Bo? Elvis? But which Elvis? All performers for the ages, and timeless in their way - but also of their times, and though (in some cases) they had stable bands for extended periods of time...were they organic rock bands with supple and singular interplay among the members?

The Crickets...but too short lived to be the greatest? The Blue Caps...but ditto.

Beach Boys? Were they rock enough, long enough? I say...maybe not. Someone as little regarded as Paul Revere and the Raiders were a serious rock band under the powdered wigs...but too short-lived, too little influence, not what we think of as a Representative All-American rock & roll band.

So many candidates, so many ways I can think of they won't satisfy the brief in the same way that, say, Zeppelin would for England.

The Allman Bros? Never a greater band...but it really was blues. A Johnny Winter ensemble might come closer to R&R...but still be blues. Jefferson Airplane? That won't fly.

The Dead! Ah, the Dead. But none but deadheads would consider them rock & roll enough. The Band, either behind Dylan or on their own? I sense a maybe... but as great as their influence was, it's faded now.

Where do we turn? The Nuge? He'd qualify, just ask him. But too much Ted, not enough band. Probably likewise for Alice Cooper.

What IS the quintessential American rock & roll band? If only J Geils had stayed rock & roll J Geils and not turned into a cartoon. Nothing rocks much harder than Full House. But that does bring us to some nitty gritty. Mitch Ryder & the Wheels? Bob Seger? Maybe Bob Seger? Rock enough?

Do we think of the MC5? Not really representative, but definitely R&R.

Maybe I'm just not thinking it through, and missing someone blindingly obvious. Did the Byrds last long enough? Buffalo Springfield? Doesn't feel like it. They feel like steps in evolution to something else.

You know what I'm left with? Lynyrd Skynyrd (rural, rock & roll, established a uniquely American genre), Aerosmith (though I'm not personally a fan it's hard to deny the pedigree), TP & the Heartbreakers (authenticity, longevity, southern and universal, and my god the catalog!), and the E-Street Band (notwithstanding anyone's personal opinion of Bruce's ego).

I don't defend any of these choices, nor have strong opinions about any of the candidates I mentioned along the way. I'm just wondering.

To me it's so obvious that Britain has the Stones and Zeppelin - and a formidable array of powerhouses just behind them - and I'm baffled I can't think of similarly representative, inarguable choices for great rock bands from the land that gave birth to the form.

Just throwing the question open to the floor...

2

Not ready to give a definite opinion on this one, but you appear to have overlooked Creedence Clearwater Revival. Some may find them too pop-centric (because they charted very frequently, scoring five (count 'em) #2 songs) to be considered rock. But, that right there was American rock.

And Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers are pretty tough to argue with.

3

Don't we have to have some kind of agreement regarding the standards to be used for determining "greatness?"

Are we able to consider commercial success? Is it the influence that the artist has on subsequent generations?

5

N.R.B.Q. definitely. Every criterion save for commercial success. The Eages--definitely not. Unless you're kidding, and that's a joke at Proteus' expense, in which case, I laugh.

6

This is hard, because when you say "Band" it means you want to see them "all", not just the frontman...

BS/E Street, TP/Heartbreakers are eliminated...

Aerosmith can still show up as originally conceived and do a show...and despite Steven Tyler you want to see the whole crew crank it up...

Those 3 are the only ones with enough longevity... Aerosmith.

7

Creedence, sure. A candidate.

Chart hits here are no impediment - though not the sole standard. Influence, absolutely. But a candidate has to be - or have been - a great live performing act - even if those performances differed materially from recorded work.

But a rock & roll band, y’know. No matter how polished and well-oiled, still a little rough. Takes chances and maybe doesn’t always stick the landing. And captures something essentially American, whatever that means, even if - especially if - it includes a mix of rebellion and belonging, alienation and community, the personal and the universal. Was (or is) the voice of a generation (or two), spoke/speaks personally to millions. Is a cultural touchstone, a common language. Some of their songs are secular anthems.

I mean, someone like the Stones. Hits, yes. But way more than that.

Many of my favorite bands wouldn’t begin to qualify - not because they’re not “good enough,” but because in the most positive way, they’re not “common” enough. They don’t reach all of us.

I’m casting about for band who no-nonsense rock. They’re by no means stupid or pander to the lowest common denominator, but they’re not addressing the over-educated or special interest groups. Bands that speak to everyone in the common language of...dang, man, I don’t know...rock & roll.

Hard to describe, but you know it when you hear it.

8

The Heartbreakers were every bit a band.

Here are some names for you...

ZZ Top...too bluesy? Steely Dan ... too jazzy? Heart? Chicago?

Can we consider the Jimi Hendrix Experience to have been a band?

9

BS/E Street, TP/Heartbreakers are eliminated...

Well, the bands bear their leaders’ names, but I think their membership has been stable long enough, the “sidemen” are well-enough known I’m their own right - and, most importantly, have been integral enough in both writing and performing the material - that those bands do qualify for me. They’re organic units in operation, not a leader with sidemen.

“MJ & The Rolling Stones” would just be a detail of billing (though obviously it wouldn’t fly at this point) - I’d still know I was going to see the STONES.

10

Creedence, sure. A candidate.

Chart hits here are no impediment - though not the sole standard. Influence, absolutely. But a candidate has to be - or have been - a great live performing act - even if those performances differed materially from recorded work.

But a rock & roll band, y’know. No matter how polished and well-oiled, still a little rough. Takes chances and maybe doesn’t always stick the landing. And captures something essentially American, whatever that means, even if - especially if - it includes a mix of rebellion and belonging, alienation and community, the personal and the universal. Was (or is) the voice of a generation (or two), spoke/speaks personally to millions. Is a cultural touchstone, a common language. Some of their songs are secular anthems.

I mean, someone like the Stones. Hits, yes. But way more than that.

Many of my favorite bands wouldn’t begin to qualify - not because they’re not “good enough,” but because in the most positive way, they’re not “common” enough. They don’t reach all of us.

I’m casting about for band who no-nonsense rock. They’re by no means stupid or pander to the lowest common denominator, but they’re not addressing the over-educated or special interest groups. Bands that speak to everyone in the common language of...dang, man, I don’t know...rock & roll.

Hard to describe, but you know it when you hear it.

– Proteus

You are describing Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, ya know.

11

ZZ Top, no objection. Just didn’t think of them.

Steely Dan, a holy name to me. Not so much too jazzy (though that too) as too erudite - and absoLUTEly a couple leaders with acres of sidemen. (Though there was a great touring band through the last 20 years or so, it’s not what anyone means by Steely Dan.)

Heart’s Canadian, no? Still, no objection. On that basis, Guess Who/BTO?

Chicago...eh, horns. A great something band, not rock & roll.

Hendrix...I dunno. 2/3 British, and one third cosmic.

Big Brother with Janis?

Is someone going to drag out Boston, Journey, Foreigner?

12

Soundgarden?

Fugazi?

Alice In Chains?

STP?

Pearl Jam?

Nirvana?

Heart?

The Stooges?

The Raconteurs?

Hüsker Dü?

Soul Asylum?

Dead Kennedys?

The Cars?

X?

What are the parameters again?

Gotta be old, not in their "prime" but still respected in their field?

And I'm not putting Foo Fighters on my list simply because they've been making radio safe garbage for 14 year old girls since their 2nd album.

13

You are describing Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, ya know.

I don’t disagree with that assessment. I suggested it.

But more than BS/E-Street? Or some of the others mentioned?

I’m waiting for more perspectives; my own listening has missed vast swaths of the terrain, especially from the 80s on. Pearl Jam? Nirvana? GnR? There may be cases to be made, even if the bands are not of my generation.

14

This is harder than i thought. Lots of British Bands instantly come to mind, but American Bands,,,?

15

Gotta be old enough to appraise either/or/and a body of work, impact, influence, cultural currency among a critical mass of listeners to whom they’re “important,” an element in the listener’s personal identity.

Where there’s something almost tribal in the fandom. You have the faded T-shirt, remember the concert where you bought it, can’t bring yourself to throw it away even though it no longer fits.

And, I think, the larger and more inter-generational a group they speak to, the more the band “qualifies.” So longevity (of the music, if not the band itself) means something.

And...it’s gotta be a great live rock band.

16

The Doobie Brothers? Three Dog Night? Alabama (they're more rock than country, imho)? I like the idea of Paul Revere and the Raiders simply for the fact that they never got the respect that they were due.

How about the Ventures, the band that launched a million other bands.

17

Well RUSH is Canadian, so they're out.

18

Or the greatest Rock (or any other kind of ) band of all -- the Wrecking Crew.

19

Heart’s Canadian, no? Still, no objection. -- Proteus

No, no. Pacific Northwest. Came from Washington state.

20

I think it's sad trying to exclude Canadian bands from this discussion. Wouldn't you say that's quite petty, given the complex meshing of the US & Canadian cultures - contrary to attempts to deny that existence by some?

Tim mentioned two bands - Guess Who & BTO - that meet [what I believe] is all the criteria required, yet their not eligible??

I suppose by extension, Gord Lightfoot would be excluded from a list of [North] American folk singers?

21

Since „greatest“ is a very personal thing there is no wrong and no right.

For me it’s WILCO.

22

Im voting for Motley Crue,, and Im serious.

Great memorable songs, lots of catchy tunes.Sold over 100 Million records.Excellent Live shows.Longevity , and with all the original members. and Musically,,They were no slouches.

And,, they are from Los Angeles.

24

Hang on a minute, on a Gretsch forum no one mentioned the Stray Cats?

25

If you take into account how many kids still dress up this way for Halloween, and over a hundred million records sold, where would Kiss stand in this conversation?


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