Monday, August 01, 2005

debate me baby one more time.

On another board, we've been discussing the best rock band of all time. I posited "Spinal Tap" but only semi-in jest. I didn't come up with the list of finalists, merely used the most frequently mentioned ones. Post follows as below:

The Best Rock Band can be proven scientifically. Simply list the major factors of Being A Rock Star, and proceed from there.

Or, maybe I've been watching "Rockstar - INXS" too much.

The categories are:

A) Career Longetivity and Productivity
B) Critical and Consumer Acclaim
C) Stage Performances
D) Drug Abuse
E) Turn towards Eastern musical and religious influences
F) Band member fight with life-threatening disease or early death.
G) Progeny in the rock world.
H) Midwestern State Fair Factor
I) Tribute Bands

Let's take the most mentioned bands, and plug them into the Rank-O-Matic - the Beatles, the Who, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, U2, The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Barenaked Ladies, Dave Matthews Band and REM.

A - Longetivity and Productivity

The Beatles - From the 60s through the 70s, Meet the Beatles, Abbey Road, Hey Jude, White Album, Sgt. Peppers, Plus, each band member made good solo albums - Paul McCartney and Wings were really, really good.
The Who - Tommy alone is all this band needs.
Led Zep - Albums so cool, they're listed in Roman Numerals like Super Bowls - plus Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti. Very productive ten years. T
The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main Street, Tattoo You, Beggars' Banquet and they've been recording together for 40 years. They've got the longetivity part down pat
U2 - Boy. War. Joshua Tree. Achtung Baby. 20+ years recording together. No line up changes.
The Beach Boys - Little Deuce Coupe and California Girls changed to the highly-influential Pet Sounds. Even came back from the grave with Kokomo. Try to resist that songs' power. Aruba, Jamaica, ooh, I wanna take you to Bahamas, Montego, baby why don't we go down to Kokomo...
Pink Floyd - The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon and the best album art.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - A rock tornado - didn't last long, but recorded some great albums really, really quickly.
Barenaked Ladies - They've been together for over 15 years, and it doesn't seem possible. Gordon, Born on a Pirate Ship, Maroon, Stunt - good stuff. I pretend that Postcards with Chimpanzee's song never existed.
Dave Matthews Band - They peaked really early - Under the Table and Dreaming is a must-own for most people under the age of 40 - and Ants Marching still gets feet tapping.
REM - If only the Reagan Years lasted for them, as they kicked out some good albums, like Reckoning, Life's Rich Pageant and Document, plus Fables of the Reconstruction. Sadly, once Bush the Elder came to office, they went and made Shiny Happy People, possibly my least favorite song until that damned BNL Chimpanzee song.

B - Critical and Consumer Acclaim

All of these bands have sold well, but, the Beatles only had one #1 album while they were producing albums. They had sustain, but never turned it up to 11.
Barenaked Ladies' "Gordon" is one of the best-selling albums in Canada. Selling over a million copies of anything in a country with less than 30 million people is amazing.
Pink Floyd - Wasn't Dark Side of the Moon on the Billboard Charts for 15 years or something? Amazing!
The Beach Boys' Smile was supposed to be released after Pet Sounds but the success of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's and Brian Wilson's complete looniness shelved the project for over thirty years. Of the few people who heard the studio tapes back then, it was regarded as the most technologically advanced album in terms of techniques, use of many layers of sound, and, even sampling!

C - Stage Performances

While I can certainly see a debate between the Beatles, the Who, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, U2, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Black Sabbath, and even Barenaked Ladies as the Best Rock Band to See Live, I really can't see where REM merits discussion because they weren't great live. Influential - yes. Between "Radio Free Europe" and albums like Murmur, they definitely brought in a lo-fi, DYI sound that later propelled bands like Pavement. However, to be a truly great band, you simply have to rock out on stage.
Every great band has to have a defining moment at a concert. To wit - Black Sabbath. Not the greatest rock band, but, they raged on stage.

Beatles - the kids screamed so loud at the Ed Sullivan Show, nobody could hear the music.
The Who - Smashing guitars to the point of hearing loss
Led Zeppelin - 3, 4 hour concerts and people STILL wanted more Zep
The Beach Boys - Getting banned by James Watt from the 4th of July concert in DC is pretty funny
The Rolling Stones - They've been touring since the `60s and are still a must-see
U2 - One of the few bands to still rock as they enter middle age.
Pink Floyd - Originators of multimedia experiences at concerts. They did laser shows before they became dumb laser shows.
DMB - They have followed in the Grateful Dead's tradition of jam band shows quite well. No real trascendental moment, but good concert recordings. Maybe their take of "All Along The Watchtower" would classify if it had gotten more support.
Jimi Hendrix - Woodstock. Star Spangled Banner. Fin.
Black Sabbath - biting a bat's head off at a concert in Des Moines is legendary.
BNL - A rumour of a free show brought over a quarter million fans to the streets in Beantown. That's rockin'
REM - was cool when I saw them and Kate from the B-52s came out and sang "Roam" with them.

D - Drug Abuse

It could also be argued that drug abuse is vital to the Total Rockstar Experience. To that end:
The Beatles - "They were so high, they let Ringo sing a couple of songs" - Bill Hicks
the Who - Keith Moon alone is legendary
Led Zeppelin - Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll was pracitcally named after these guys
The Rolling Stones - Keith Richards has become a drug-addled cliche'
U2 - Is Guiness a drug or a foodstuff?
The Beach Boys - Brian Wilson could have taught Elvis things.
Pink Floyd - What ever REALLY happened to Syd Barrett? And, you can't listen to a Pink Floyd album without coughing.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Jimi didn't do drugs. Jimi lived drugs. Allright...
Barenaked Ladies - OK, probably too straight-laced. I'm sure they may have had too many Molson's one night, or ate one too many Tim Horton's donuts. Definite points off.
Dave Matthews Band - Contact highs alone from their shows and Bonaroo would elevate them to epic status. Plus, since nobody's ever really deciphered what the hell Dave is singing, I'm guessing crack would be involved.
REM - Michael Stipe acts like he's on drugs, and has the haircuts to prove it. That's gotta count. The one dude got busted on a flight with some dope. Not in a Led Zep class, but not too innocent.
Honorable mentions go out to Motley Crue and the Doors and Cypress Hill, purely for their sheer devotion to partying.

E - Turn Towards Eastern Musical Influences:

the Beatles - Check. Practically invented this.
the Who - not unless the Japanese used electric guitars 500 years ago, no.
Led Zeppelin - some influence, mostly on the album cuts
The Rolling Stones - pretty much steered clear of it musically. Maybe used a sitar a few times, never OD'd on it.
U2 - Dancehalls in Hungary are technically east of the UK, and that Pop album had a lot of dance music on it...
The Beach Boys - Ravi! Ravi! Ravi!
Pink Floyd - A bit, yeah, sure. Not oppressively, though.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Some chimes and woodwinds, sure.
Barenaked Ladies - Two of the guys are Jewish. Israel is east of Canada. Sure, I'll count it.
Dave Matthews Band - Oh yeah, I'll count Africa for this.
REM - Not much musically, but they have some very Eastern influences in their lifestyles.

F - Band member fight with life-threatening disease or early death.

the Beatles - Two are gone, two are alive. John Lennon is still missed.
the Who - Keith Moon = Gone
Led Zeppelin - John Bonham = Gone
The Rolling Stones - mostly alive, how, we'll never know.
U2 - Alive and Kicking
The Beach Boys - Brian Wilson might as well have been dead for years.
Pink Floyd - Living, but Barrett scares me.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Gone
Barenaked Ladies - Kevin Hearn survived a scary bout with leukemia. If the band survives that Chimpanzee song, it'll be a miracle.
Dave Matthews Band - Alive. No known scares. Points off.
REM - brain tumor definitely counts.

G - Progeny in the rock world.

The Beatles - every pop band from England. Keane, Travis, Coldplay, Radiohead, The Wonder Stuff, XTC, etc...
The Who - Any kid who played the guitar wished they could do the windmill. Queen, Styx, Kiss - all used the Who's bombast and sense of style.
Led Zeppelin - The same kids who tried to windmill tried Stairway to Heaven - White Stripes to Motley Crue to Metallica.
The Rolling Stones - Liz Phair to David Bowie to the Replacements.
U2 - Coldplay, The Alarm, Simple Minds
The Beach Boys - Cheap Trick played the guitar part, and all those damned boy bands picked up the four part vocal harmony
Pink Floyd - Radiohead. Grandaddy. Garbageland.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Lenny Kravitz is a prime example, as is any band formed after a guitarist - Will Sexton to Robert Cray and Living Color all worship the man.
Barenaked Ladies - Moxy Fruvous, Arrogant Worms.
Dave Matthews Band - they have bands who are contemporaries, like Big Head Todd and Widespread Panic. Maybe Carbon Leaf? Jason Mraz has mentioned him as an influence.
REM - Pavement. Nirvana. The Replacements. Any band I played when I was a deejay in the `90s.

H - Midwestern State Fair Factor

If an aging band plays in any of the Midwestern State Fairs - Iowa, Nebraska, Indiana, Kansas - they can't be considered the best rock band ever. They just can't. Nothing is more pathetic than hearing a bunch of fifty year old fat dudes trying to rock out. I love Buffett, but, he's eliminated, too.

This eliminates Bachman Turner Overdrive, The Allman Brothers, Skynrd, Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon and Chicago, plus countless others.

the Beatles - Broke up before it could happen
the Who - Well, this category eliminates one contender...
Led Zeppelin - This would eliminate Led Zep, who played the Wisconsin State Fair, but that was back in 1969, when they were just starting out. That show probably rocked.
The Rolling Stones - San Antonio State Fair (funny, I thought that was a town) back in 1964. Doesn't count.
U2 - Puh-leeeze
The Beach Boys - Bum bum bum, another one bites the dust.
Pink Floyd - Played in Louisiana's State Fair back in the day. Doesn't count, either.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Died too soon to be washed up and playing that circuit.
Barenaked Ladies - I could totally envision them doing that one day, except it wouldn't be Iowa or Nebraska, but Manitoba and the Northwest Territories.
Dave Matthews Band - Adios. But, they're not washed up yet. So, this may not count.
REM - Not yet, but I wouldn't be surprised...

I - Tribute Bands!

You can't be a legendary rock band without a tribute band, or three!
the Beatles - Apple, Beatallica, the Fab Faux, Rubber Soul
the Who - Who's Who
Led Zeppelin - Dread Zeppelin, Led Zepagain
The Rolling Stones - Satisfaction, Sticky Fingers, The Rollin' Clones, The Stolling Rones...
U2 - Named, appropriately enough, 2U. Unforgettable Fire and Even Better Than the Real Thing. Also, these guys - Clicky!
The Beach Boys - The Sunny Boys and The Beach Toys (worst. name. ever)
Pink Floyd - Bricks in the Wall, Comfortably Numb, Pig Floyd, The Wall and Think Floyd
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Voodoo Child, Purple Haze, FIRE
Barenaked Ladies - Gordon, and, fittingly, the Fully Clothed Gents.
Dave Matthews Band - One Sweet World, The Dreaming Tree, and the perfectly named Dave Matthews Tribute Band
REM - Reckoning, The REM Experience (new

So, when all of these factors are considered, it's obvious that Spinal Tap remains the best band ever...

Seriously, though - if longetivity is rated, bands like Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix can't be counted - they had an incredibly prolific period early on, but later stuff sucked...or, they died. Zep had seven years of rock brilliance (`69 through `76), and then puttered around a few years, and then disappeared. The Doors would be in this level, too - brilliant when they were around, but the magic died in Paris. Dave Matthews and the Barenaked Ladies haven't been around long enough. REMs newest material has been borderline unlistenable, as has been the Stones. Running on reputation and history. The Beach Boys haven't updated their sound, and still do the same tunes they did back in the `60s. Pink Floyd and the Who, while great, were never as popular as Led Zep or the Stones. The Beatles and U2 had a 15 - 20 year recording period of consistently good material, with only a couple of clunkers sparsed between.

So, I'll go with :

1) Beatles - longetivity + brilliance + consitency + good solo projects. Ultratalented individuals.
2) U2 - see above, slightly shorter career, so far. Saving the world one issue at a time.
3) Led Zeppelin - too short a career to be the best, but damned good. Incredible 7 year run.
4) Rolling Stones - long, brilliant career, but a 20 year drought with one so-so hit. Should have retired years ago.

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