What was the greatest american band?
July 29, 2005 2:12 PM   Subscribe

ÜbergroupFilter: Coworkers and I were discussing, what make a classic "all-time greatest band in the world" band, ones that were equally musically adept, great songwriting, and inspirational. All the examples we could think of were british; The Stones, The Beatles, Cream etc... What American bands would meet the above criteria?

i KNOW this will spark huge debate and flames...so be nice.
posted by ShawnString to Media & Arts (109 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
By "inspirational" do you mean "influential"?

R.E.M., before Bill Berry left.
posted by arco at 2:17 PM on July 29, 2005


The problem is, hindsight is 20/20, so it takes a good 20-30 years to really judge a band's work as an "all-time great." The Brit Invasion colored a whole lot of American music, so it's hard to get away from them.

If American singer/songwriters fit, then:

Simon & Garfunkel
Springsteen & the E Street Band
Dylan

Actual band-bands?

The Mommas & the Poppas
The Beach Boys
The Doors
Lynyrd Skynyrd
The Allman Brothers

Guys who might make the list in a few more years?

GNR
Nirvana
...
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:23 PM on July 29, 2005


Beach Boys, mebbe? The Raspberries (inspired the whole field of Power Pop). Ramones (the first and last word in punk). Bruce Springsteen (intiated the whole "Bruce Springsteen" craze). The Byrds? The Mothers of Inventions?
posted by shambles at 2:23 PM on July 29, 2005


The Stones, The Beatles, Cream
So the best bands ever are 60's rock-n-roll white boys? In that vein, why not Led Zeppelin?

Further afield, I second R.E.M. And raise you a Velvet Underground.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 2:27 PM on July 29, 2005


Possibly also Gram Parsons-era Byrds.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 2:28 PM on July 29, 2005


When this question comes up, people always say the Eagles. And I always disagree. No 'fence to the Eagles or nothin', cause I naysay most everyone else too. It's just that very little stands up to the Beatles/Stones/Who trinity. Sorry, I'm no help, am I?
posted by jessenoonan at 2:29 PM on July 29, 2005


- Grateful Dead
- Velvet Underground
- Bob Dylan
- The Doors

But yeah, as I look through my own rock collection, it's largely British
- the Who
- Pink Floyd
- Led Zepplin
- Elton John
- David Bowie
- Peter Gabriel
- Elvis Costello
- RadioHead
- King Crimson

On the other hand, in Jazz
- Mile Davis
- John Coltrane
- McCoy Tyner
- Thelonius Monk
- Art Blakey
- Art Pepper
- Bill Evans
- Stan Getz
- Horace Silver
- Pat Methany
- Sonny Sharrock
- Herbie Hancock
posted by doctor_negative at 2:31 PM on July 29, 2005


TMBG.
James McMurtry.
NOFX.
The Offspring.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:31 PM on July 29, 2005


Oh, another one: Creedence Clearwater Revival.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:31 PM on July 29, 2005


I'll definitely second the Beach Boys, R.E.M., and the Velvets. The Ramones were also highly influential, in part precisely because they weren't particularly musically adept (seriously: it's virtually impossible to imagine punk rock without them, on either side of the pond). The beautiful songwriting of Big Star was (is) also quite influential as well, despite their cult status and total lack of success back in the '70s when they first existed.
posted by scody at 2:32 PM on July 29, 2005


I would probably take doctor_negative's approach and pick jazz artists. Seems to me we Americans have been more influential there than anywhere.
posted by danb at 2:34 PM on July 29, 2005


Ramones. Music owes them immeasurably.
posted by zerolives at 2:37 PM on July 29, 2005


I hate to do this, but I've got to object to just about all of robocop is bleeding's choices. The Beach Boys I'll give you: I don't think reasonable people can disagree about that. But the Mammas and The Poppas?!?!? Good god; why didn't you just say Sonny and Cher? The Doors, too, are waaaaay overrated; their songwriting didn't show much flexibility, and I really don't think they've had many imitators. I don't want to dismiss Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers out of hand (at least you didn't say the Eagles), but I think they might be borderline, especially Skynyrd.

I mean, if we're talking all-time greatest, we should be picky.

My contribution: Neal Young, in all his permutations. Long career, extensive songwriting catalog, huge influence, extending all the way down to today's young indie rockers.

All who mention the Velvets are right.

On preview: Oh yeah, I love Creedence. I'm not sure if they belong here, but I'm not going to make any vocal arguments against their inclusion.

On second preview: Picky, people, picky.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:37 PM on July 29, 2005


Shit, Neil Young is Canadian, isn't he? Well, North American, then.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:40 PM on July 29, 2005


And in the continued interest of picking fights: I'm going to say no to R.E.M. They've had a long career, and some impressive songwriting, but where is their influence? Fuckin' Live?

If you want a band with a similar history, but much broader impact, I give you Sonic Youth. If you're interested in the roots of 80s college radio and the 90s "alternative" music breakout, take the Pixies, or maybe the Replacements. R.E.M. are too much in their own little world, I think.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:45 PM on July 29, 2005


good god..musn't leave out "The Band" !
(equally) musically adept: check
great songwriting: check
inspirational: check
posted by The_Auditor at 2:46 PM on July 29, 2005


Duke Ellington?
posted by lilboo at 2:47 PM on July 29, 2005


The last time I discussed this question with someone, we spent more time arguing about just what constitutes an American group, and what constitutes a rock group, than we did about who's the greatest.

The Band? Four Canadians and an Arkansan, if I recall.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience? An American and two Brits, but the American was the principal songwriter and the lead singer, and his name is in the name of the group.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse? The Hendrix situation, except in reverse and with a Canadian. That wasn't supposed to sound dirty.

(An aside: yeah, American jazz artists are dominant, but American blues and hip-hop artists even more so.)
posted by box at 2:48 PM on July 29, 2005


How about The Funk Brothers, Motown's house band? They played in more #1 songs than The Beatles, Elvis Presley, and The Rolling Stones combined.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 2:49 PM on July 29, 2005


Also:

The Wrecking Crew? Booker T and the MG's?
posted by box at 2:50 PM on July 29, 2005


I'll second CCR, The Grateful Dead, REM, Mommas and the Poppas, and (because I know it's true... not because I like it) the Ramones. I'd vote for the Eagles, too... but I can't really see whom they've inspired. They seemed to be the glorious culmination (and end) of a trend, not the beginning.

I think that there should be a hiphop artist in there, owing to hiphop's global influence... but I don't know the genre well enough to say who I should nominate.

Finally, I would nominate Squirrel Nut Zippers. I know it's a little out there, but they've _really_ influenced a lot of people in the alt scene. But I may be stretching.

If we were nominating individuals, I might also nominate Danny Elfman (for his solo work and his work with Oingo), and James Taylor.
posted by silusGROK at 2:55 PM on July 29, 2005


Bands:
The Grateful Dead
Sonic Youth
Ween
Velvet Underground
TMBG
Ramones

Individuals:
Lou Reed
Prince
Michael Jackson
Bob Dylan
posted by schyler523 at 3:16 PM on July 29, 2005


after reading some of these replies i may have come up with my own answer....
KISS.
thoughts?
posted by ShawnString at 3:38 PM on July 29, 2005


Bands:

NWA
Pavement
Sonic Youth
Simon and Garfunkle
The Doors
R.E.M.
Aerosmith (as much as I hate to admit it)
The Ramones
posted by Benway at 3:40 PM on July 29, 2005


You people are all on crack. According to you guys, the all time greatest bands in the history of pop music include:

The Mommas & the Poppas
The Offspring
Squirrel Nut Zippers

wtf?
posted by subclub at 3:42 PM on July 29, 2005


Americans are great at being individuals, not bandmates.

I give you:

Elvis
Johnny Cash
Buddy Holly
Hank Williams

etc.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:43 PM on July 29, 2005


Are you talking about the American rock band experience? The music market is so segmented compared to the 60's that it's really hard, if not impossible, to make a 1:1 comparison.
posted by glyphlet at 3:44 PM on July 29, 2005


I don't have anything interesting to add to this, but including REM in any list is in poor form. Michael Stipe cannot sing. Get over it. Much like Metallica, they have a band with a lead singer than cannot sing.
posted by bh at 3:47 PM on July 29, 2005


A few that haven't gotten any love yet:

Madonna (or is she english now?)
Nine Inch Nails
posted by fatbobsmith at 3:59 PM on July 29, 2005


Cash and CCR.

In addition to being amazing, these two scream American to me.
posted by mullacc at 4:04 PM on July 29, 2005


It makes me both laugh and weep when I see people proclaiming garbage such as "Guns & Roses" and "Nirvana" as great in any sense of the word. I will, however, agree with such American icons as The Beach Boys and KISS.

But I digress.

Everyone here seems to be overlooking one simple word: P-FUNK. One band, two bands, several artists, and even a genre: it all comes down to P-Funk - and George Clinton.
posted by davidmsc at 4:05 PM on July 29, 2005


None of these belong; I don't even think there can be an argument about it:

Nine Inch Nails
The Doors
Aerosmith
R.E.M.
Pavement (give it ten years)
KISS
TMBG
Ween
The Mommas & the Poppas
Danny Elfman (WTF?!)
Squirrel Nut Zippers
The Eagles
James McMurtry
NOFX
The Offspring (WTF?!?!?!)

We're trying to come up with bands on par with the Rolling Stones and the Beatles (I wouldn't have included Cream in the question; maybe the Who). Offspring?!?

Most of the others listed here could be seriously argued against; I'm just going after the most egregious offenders.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:11 PM on July 29, 2005


red hot chili peppers. they're the whole package and then some.
posted by devilsbrigade at 4:22 PM on July 29, 2005


Big Star.
posted by lilnemo at 4:40 PM on July 29, 2005


In the "can't we find a compromise?" department: Fleetwood Mac. The "classic" (mid-'70s-mid-'80s) lineup was 3/5 British, 2/5 American... also amazing if non-flashy musicianship.
posted by 88robots at 4:41 PM on July 29, 2005


If commercial success is any part of the metric, The Eagles must be included.

If by "inspirational," you mean "influenced a lot of other bands," then The Velvet Underground are a shoe-in. Someone (Brain Eno?) once said, "Only about 1000 people ever bought a VU record, but every one of them started a band."

I'd put The Beastie Boys on the list. (You didn't specify "rock band.")

Virtually every whinging, pansy-ass, emo band-of-the-moment owes their existence to Neutral Milk Hotel.
posted by ijoshua at 4:54 PM on July 29, 2005


My friends, I can settle this right now. The greatest American band of all time is Huey Lewis and the News.

Before you laugh or hurl insults, consider that the band scored a number of #1 hits in the 1980s, and the last time I checked held the #2 spot overall for the most #1 hits in that decade. List all the musical acts of the 1980s by how many songs went to #1, and Huey and the guys come in second. Impressive.

Charting so many songs like this shows that they're marketable. They had tons and tons of radio play, wrote some songs for Back to the Future, and then moved away from the pop rock that had served them so well and into some R&B type of material. Now R&B's not so profitable in that it doesn't score the commercial radio play. Still, the band has released a number of solid albums as they changed styles - Small World, Fore Chords and Seven Years Ago, Plan B... all very good albums that are far away from their 80s pop start.

A few months ago the band released a live album, Live At 25, that basically includes songs from their complete catalog, all the way from debut album to their last studio album, Plan B. Even the old songs have changed a little over the years, changing a little here and there to become better balanced. After all these years, Huey Lewis and the News still know how to rock, they still have soul, and they weren't destroyed by fame, drugs, alcohol, or big egos.
posted by Servo5678 at 5:00 PM on July 29, 2005


Virtually every whinging, pansy-ass, emo band-of-the-moment owes their existence to Neutral Milk Hotel.

I don't see that at all. In The Aeroplane Over the Sea will probably be remembered as one of the great pop albums of the 90s and perhaps of all time, but they have nothing to do with any emo bands.

The Beach Boys are the only band I see as a certainty in 2005.

REM has been hugely influential on a lot of bands. I'm not sure whether I'd include them in this category or not.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:06 PM on July 29, 2005


The Meters

And I can't believe no one has said Fugazi (unless I missed it, in which case, oops).
posted by cathodeheart at 5:06 PM on July 29, 2005


Rush.
posted by Kwantsar at 5:09 PM on July 29, 2005


ludwig_van: I am saying that NMH should be on the list, most definitely. On Avery Island gives me a raging hard-on. But I can't hear any of that crap from the likes of The Decemberists, Bright Eyes, etc. and not think, "this is such a half-assed rip-off of NMH!"
posted by ijoshua at 5:12 PM on July 29, 2005


Rush is from Canada.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:13 PM on July 29, 2005


Whoa there Joshua. The Decemberists are a top-notch band who happen to share some aspects of the NMH aeshetic, but they've more than distinguished themselves after three albums. They're not emo, half-assed, or an NMH rip-off.

I'm not a fan of Bright Eyes, but I also don't hear any NMH-ripping-off in his music.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:15 PM on July 29, 2005


The Grateful Dead? I don't know, I'm not a fan, but I'm really grasping at straws here. Does anyone else have the nagging yet sinking feeling that there MUST be some great American band that we're just not thinking of?
posted by peep at 5:17 PM on July 29, 2005


The Traveling Wilburys. Dylan, Petty, Harrison, Orbison, and that Lynne guy. Good stuff.
posted by cog_nate at 5:17 PM on July 29, 2005


Creeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed
posted by cortex at 5:22 PM on July 29, 2005 [1 favorite]


I think there are some good suggestions here and some bad ones. I don't think the question included the number of hits, but I guess it is one way to measure. But if the answer that reasoning concludes is Huey Lewis, then maybe another measure should be used. Huey Lewis and the News, "most marketable" band of the eighties a dubious honor, but still an honor I suppose. Did anyone mention the Talkingheads? I think that The Velvet Underground, gets my nod. As for an argument for Pavement, I would engage in one if mr-roboto can himself come up with an argument rather than a series of disclaimers qualified by themselves.
posted by iwouldificould at 5:22 PM on July 29, 2005


This USA Today column from earlier this month has a top 20, based on reader votes. And the winner is…

Pearl Jam.
posted by ijoshua at 5:25 PM on July 29, 2005


Is it just me, or does Servo5678 sound a little Pat Bateman-ish? I hope he doesn't have to return any videotapes anytime soon.

I've seen lots of good stuff, but you gotta remember that without some of the following individuals, Mick Jagger and Robert Townsend might have been slinging chips instead of rocking out:

Muddy Waters
Robert Johnson
Son House
Willie Dixon
Howlin' Wolf
John Lee Hooker
Link Wray
Buddie Guy
B.B. King
posted by raygun21 at 5:29 PM on July 29, 2005


North American List:
The Grateful Dead
James Brown and the J.B.'s
Bob Marley and the Wailers
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Nirvana

While I can think of a lot of good bands, the question wasn't "name some American bands you like". I mean, I like Modest Mouse, but they couldn't hold a flame to the Beatles or Stones. And for every Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers you can think of, the Brits can counter with a Radiohead or the like. Really, it's no contest.

mr. crash davis probably has it right: Americans are better at solo endeavors.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:30 PM on July 29, 2005


mr_roboto speaks the truth. Some of these suggestions are beyond laughable. The question isn't which bands do you like?, it's which is the greatest American band of all time? Ween?! TMBG?!!? Hell, why not suggest the Shaggs? Or the Lyte Funky Ones?

I don't have any particularly credible answers, but I might as well toss a couple more names in the ring:
Sly & the Family Stone
The Stooges

As far as I'm concerned though, the greatest American band of all time (past, present and future) is actually The Flying Luttenbachers.
posted by nylon at 5:31 PM on July 29, 2005


I'm stunned nobody mentioned Public Enemy yet.
posted by coach_mcguirk at 5:39 PM on July 29, 2005


iwouldificould writes "As for an argument for Pavement, I would engage in one if mr-roboto can himself come up with an argument rather than a series of disclaimers qualified by themselves."

You're saying that Pavement is the American equivalent of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones? And you want me to come up with an argument against that?

Maybe it's just a bad question. I guess I'm not even sure what ShawnString is asking. If he just wants to know the names of some very, very good American bands, then this thread has a lot of those. There are many more still that haven't been mentioned, all musically adept, with great song writing, and influential. If that's all he's looking for, though, I don't know why he couldn't think of any American bands. It seems like he's looking for bands with a major impact on the history of rock 'r' roll, though. Household-name type bands.

Maybe ludwig_van is right; The Beach Boys are the only definite indisputable candidate, especially if we limit ourselves to bands and not solo artists.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:40 PM on July 29, 2005


For those saying the Ramones are critical to punk: where do you place the New York Dolls, or for that matter the MC5, Iggy & the Stooges, and/or the Sonics? (Just curious.)

I gotta say that to me the great lesson of this thread was summed up best by mr_crash_davis; now I'm left wondering to what extent this notion of American auteurism is real or manufactured (who would Buddy Holly have been without the Crickets, or Elvis without Scotty Moore?)
posted by kimota at 5:41 PM on July 29, 2005


I think a lot of people are mistaking this question for "which bands do you like the most?", or "which bands influenced you the most?" or some such thing. That wasn't the question, though I think it must be the reason why a lot of the answers are, um, surprising. I know that I like and have been influenced quite a bit by bands that aren't "musically adept, [have] great songwriting, and inspirational" in the same way that the questioner is presupposing that the beatles, the stones, and cream are. In fact, some of these I've been influenced more by and like more than any of the bands in the original question (hence my skepticism about holding them up as examples of musical adeptness, great songwriting, especially from people who have no objective measure of those two criteria). I'm actually not even convinced that this kind question can be easily asked or answered by people whose lifetime overlapped with the professional careers of any of the bands at issue, including the ones in the original question - I know that my tastes in music are much to bound up in the emotional impact that various bits of music have had on me at various times in my life.

If the Beatles are listened to much 300 years from now, will it really be for any reason other than that they were a huge commercial success at some distant point in the past?
posted by advil at 5:49 PM on July 29, 2005


oh yeah,
- Stevie Wonder
- James Brown
(and a shitload of other motown that I know far too little about).
posted by doctor_negative at 5:53 PM on July 29, 2005


Servo5678 - gotta give it up to you. Mr. Lewis and his news do, indeed, rule.

Hey, it's hip to be square right?
posted by Quartermass at 5:56 PM on July 29, 2005


If the Beatles are listened to much 300 years from now, will it really be for any reason other than that they were a huge commercial success at some distant point in the past?

Yes.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:12 PM on July 29, 2005 [1 favorite]


For those saying the Ramones are critical to punk: where do you place the New York Dolls, or for that matter the MC5, Iggy & the Stooges, and/or the Sonics? (Just curious.)

Oh, I rate those bands as significant and influential too, no question. But in terms of sheer impact, it's hard to overestimate how big a deal the Ramones really were, especially on the English punk movement -- members of both the Clash and the Pistols have said repeatedly that they were genuinely in awe of the Ramones. The Dolls and the Stooges played a big role as proto-punk, no doubt, but given their imprint I think the Ramones do come closest to being an analog to the Beatles of punk.
posted by scody at 6:48 PM on July 29, 2005


You *have* to include James Brown and the JB's, one of the tightest, most intelligently musical bands ever. 70's-era Funkadelic, too. I'd include Buffalo Springfield, Television...and if jazz is included, it's all North Americans in the top 4 tiers, I'd say...
posted by mediareport at 7:55 PM on July 29, 2005


Uh, no I am not saying that Pavement is the American equivalent to The Beatles or the Rolling Stones. I am saying that an argument could be made for them being the greatest american band of all time. An argument could be made for Winger being the greatest American band of all time. I was trying to make a comment about the way people are discussing things here. Advil has said already what I think is important to be considered inn this regard however.
posted by iwouldificould at 8:02 PM on July 29, 2005


Sonic Youth.

OT: there should be a Godwin-analog for any music-related thread that even mentions The Offspring, much less suggests that they're "great", or even listenable. Why not nominate Blink 142, while you're at it?
Kids these days...
posted by signal at 8:25 PM on July 29, 2005


Boston
KISS
posted by alteredcarbon at 8:48 PM on July 29, 2005


KISS: great songwriting? Accomplished, fun songwriting, but great? I don't think so.

musically adept, great songwriting, and inspirational

Two out of three ain't bad: Crowded House. (I know, they're from New Zealand and therefore not American, but they're great.) And you could add The Jam, Squeeze, and The Beautiful South to your list of British bands.

I wouldn't hold out much hope for the Creedence.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:28 PM on July 29, 2005


I'd vote for the Eagles, too... but I can't really see whom they've inspired. They seemed to be the glorious culmination (and end) of a trend, not the beginning.

except that a good deal of country music since sounds a lot like them ... they weren't influencial on rock musicians ... but had a major influence on country
posted by pyramid termite at 9:31 PM on July 29, 2005


Y'all ain't giving the Talking Heads nearly enough credit.
posted by Johnny Assay at 10:38 PM on July 29, 2005


I agree with pyramid termite that the Eagles inspired the rockification of country.

And what about the Byrds?
posted by kirkaracha at 11:26 PM on July 29, 2005


Since no one's mentioned him yet:

Chuck Berry
posted by sellout at 12:53 AM on July 30, 2005


Phish. Whatever you may think of their music, how many other bands were able to get upwards of 100,000 fans into weird, remote corners of the country for outdoor festivals featuring ONLY ONE BAND. They were hands down the most important band of the 90's, and the 90's were hands down the most imporant decade for music outside the 60's. Phish was, in a lot of ways, the net sum of everywhere we'd gotten with music to that point.

... bluegrass, electronica, pyschodelia, classic-ish rock, prog rock, blues, concept, ambiant, accoustic singer-songwriter, funk, jazz... a gazillion quasi-religious fans
posted by trinarian at 1:13 AM on July 30, 2005


How about one of these?:

Allman Brothers
Butterfield Blues Band
Jefferson Airplane
Crosby, Stills and Nash (pre-Young)
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble
The Band (Is Canada really musically separate from the U.S.?)

Who are these "Mommas & the Poppas" people keep arguing about? Could they be an imitation of The Mamas and the Papas?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:16 AM on July 30, 2005


Dead Kennedys
posted by peacay at 6:10 AM on July 30, 2005


Alice Cooper.
Frank Zappa.
posted by sfenders at 8:23 AM on July 30, 2005


None of these belong;

Well, there's room for disagreement. I think The Doors do belong in any list of the greatest, most popular, and most influential rock bands. Aerosmith too, probably. The others aren't even close, except for NiN which is sort of debatable. But come on man, The Doors have to be included.
posted by sfenders at 8:31 AM on July 30, 2005


Johnny Assay, Byrne's Scottish.
posted by scruss at 8:53 AM on July 30, 2005


Shawnstring says the qualifying factors are that a group be musically adept, with great songwriting, and inspirational. And American, and rock. Granted, some of those are open to discussion (both their precise meaning and whether they belong on a list of this kind in the first place), but it's his question, and he didn't say anything about popularity, record sales, critical respect, wide influence or enduring fame. (I've got a bad AskMe problem with not answering the question as asked--and sure, I like the qualifiers I mention better, but that's not the point)

Also: KISS? When you think of musical skill, great songwriting and inspiration, you think of KISS?
posted by box at 8:55 AM on July 30, 2005


People! People!

BANDS! Okay? BANDS! Stop talking about Stevie Wonder or Chuck Berry or Frank Zappa. BANDS!

I think the short list has to go like this:

Beach Boys
Creedence
Talking Heads

Which only demonstrates that were not quite there and aren't going to get there. Especially since all the above bands were really Brian Wilson, John Fogerty and David Byrne -- take them out, no band.

The comparison list is quite stunning. (Wish I could do a table here, but imagine left and right.)

U.S.
Elvis, Dylan, Chuck Berry, Springsteen, Prince, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Hank Williams, Ray Charles

U.K.
Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks, Sex Pistols, Clash, Led Zep, Floyd

All the exceptions -- the above U.S. bands and British individuals like David Bowie -- don't add up to much of a counterargument. It's bands for the U.K. and individuals for the U.S. Extrapolate what you will from that.
posted by argybarg at 9:04 AM on July 30, 2005


Buddy Holly. Chuck Berry. Bo Diddley.

These gentlemen did more for rock and roll than almost every other name on this page.
posted by Eamon at 9:07 AM on July 30, 2005


BANDS! BANDS BANDS BANDS!
posted by argybarg at 9:08 AM on July 30, 2005


My case for Guns N' Roses:

Musically adept: Axl Rose & Slash.
Great songwriting: Civil War, November Rain, Estranged, Don't Cry, ...
Inspirational: 'Welcome to the Jungle' is an anthem.

A close second would be Nirvana.
posted by vjz at 9:11 AM on July 30, 2005


If this isn't "Which bands do you like?" it's certainly not "What's the hippest/most obscure reference you can think of?" either. The question is "What was the greatest American band?" and, by the criteria given, the answer is The Beach Boys.

...and I like a lot of hip, obscure bands. :p
posted by electric_counterpoint at 9:21 AM on July 30, 2005


argybarg: You've missed the Velvets - I [could|would] argue that the Talking Heads wouldn't be around without them, and anyway David Byrne's British.

Also, VU wasn't Lou Reed in the way that the Talking Heads was David Byrne.
posted by electric_counterpoint at 9:24 AM on July 30, 2005


Stop talking about Stevie Wonder or Chuck Berry or Frank Zappa. BANDS!

I'm pretty sure they all had, and were famous for being in, bands. Except maybe Stevie, I dunno. Just because the band happens to be best known by the name of the lead singer doesn't make them any less worthy. Sheesh. You'd have to exclude Hendrix by that standard, and that would be wrong.
posted by sfenders at 9:35 AM on July 30, 2005


Yep. If it's got to be a band, then the answer is The Beach Boys. Pet Sounds is every rock critics favorite album, and yet it's still not overrated.
posted by Eamon at 9:35 AM on July 30, 2005


Stevie had no band -- he frequently played every instrument himself. Chuck Berry had no fixed band and, for much of his career, just had his agent arrange a band out of local musicians for each gig. Frank Zappa had the Mothers of Invention, yes, but they had a constantly rotating personnel. Zappa was very much Zappa. So, no.

I wouldn't exclude Hendrix because The Jimi Hendrix Experience was a band -- although I'd still count Hendrix more as a solo artist. Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding were nice and all, but people went to see Hendrix, with backup.

And yes, electric, I did miss VU. They'd be up there as well.
posted by argybarg at 9:42 AM on July 30, 2005


Look, let's start from the '60s, where we can look for direct analogues. I'm really not wild about the Beach Boys, but they are the American version of the Beatles, going from sappy pop to studio explosion. They make the short list as influential, solid songwriters and popular.
However, they cannot be the Greatest Band of All Time because I don't like them all that much.
(Which is where we hit the fundamental problem with the idea of naming The Greatest Band of All Time: it's pretty subjective, innit?)
For my money, easy arguments could be made for the Temptations and the Supremes, since I think that's where America really shined during the '60s— classic soul. (They're also the first female band to get a mention here).
But I think another problem is that after the '60s, the market fractured and we're looking back from that fractured framework. I could argue for the Stooges or for the Ramones, but that's from looking back now, not from any stance on how they must have seemed then. VU's the same way, and I'd disqualify both them and the Ramones for being fairly hit and miss on record. The best way to enjoy most Ramones songs is with a compilation.
Oh, and I amd surprised that Pavement has been mentioned so often and the Pixies not even once.
(And fuck the Doors, man. The best thing the Doors ever did was give us the Kids In The Hall sketch about the record shop).
posted by klangklangston at 9:56 AM on July 30, 2005


U2.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 9:58 AM on July 30, 2005


(They're not American, but they fit the bill perfectly.)
posted by Count Ziggurat at 9:59 AM on July 30, 2005


I vote for Talking Heads and Public Enemy.

Steely Dan?
posted by DelusionsofGrandeur at 10:57 AM on July 30, 2005 [1 favorite]


And yes, electric, I did miss VU. They'd be up there as well.

Cale's Welsh, though. However that effects this accounting.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:35 AM on July 30, 2005


I'm still laughing about this:

What was the greatest American band?

Rush
posted by fletchmuy at 11:59 AM on July 30, 2005


Elvis was probably at his peak with Moore and Fontana, Dylan with The Band, Prince with the Revolution and Springsteen with the E-Street Band. James Brown worked with a series of brilliant bandleaders (Bobby Byrd, Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Afrika Bambaataa). Maybe Stevie's an exception to the trend, but he's not a rock musician, and ditto for Hank and Ray. With popular music, sometimes it's hard to figure out who to blame. But, even more than that, I think that there's just something in the US that makes individual band members rise/get appointed to solo stardom.
posted by box at 12:18 PM on July 30, 2005


he didn't say anything about popularity, record sales, critical respect, wide influence or enduring fame.

In that case, I vote for The Dead Milkmen.
posted by sfenders at 12:51 PM on July 30, 2005


The Band (Is Canada really musically separate from the U.S.?)

I'm going to breath deeply and try to pretend you didn't really ask that.

Mainstream, popular music in english Canada is increasingly geared towards success in the United States: Avril, Celine, Shania, Sum 41, etc. etc. I'll give you that. But there is a contingent of top-ranked Canadian music that has never really crossed into the United States -- and, to some degree, do not conceive of success in terms of how many units shifted through SoundScan: the Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo, Bruce Cockburn, Gordon Lightfoot, etc.

But there is a large and vibrant musical scene that sells tons of CDs in the Great White North, is musically distinct and does not look south for approval or even recognition: Quebec. I suspect that few have heard of Jean Leloup, les Colocs -- RIP -- Kevin Parent, Diane Dufresne, Plume Latraverse, Gilles Vigneault, Paul Piche, Dan Bigras. (That few Canadians outside Quebec have heard of or heard these artists either speaks volumes about our two solitudes, too.)

Anyway, back to the topic at hand: Using the Band as an example of Canadian music is a bit difficult because all of the members were so deeply in love with American forms of music, particularly the blues and r&b that were a product of the great post-war urban migration and white "country" music (real country music, not the Nashville shit.)

They are my favourite band of all time and I'll go toe-to-toe with anyone, any time, to argue their merits. But I don't think they can be included on this list because of their lack of staying power. Sure, they're still beloved by pop cognoscenti and The Weight is still a great sing-along, but they've slipped out of the popular imagination.
posted by docgonzo at 1:33 PM on July 30, 2005


Oh, and I'll argue that the only list the Beach Boys belong on is "overrated bands beloved of pop nerds and rock critics."

The thing about the Stones and the Beatles is that their music is timeless: Eleanor Rigby or Start me up are still great pop/rock songs. Surfin' USA sounds horribly dated, almost a novelty or fringe track.

IMHO, the Grateful Dead are the ultimate American band -- and I mean ultimate in the 'most developed' sense, not best quality sense -- for two reasons: their seamless integration of all the major types of American popular music: country, blues, jazz, rock, (American) folk, bluegrass and Motown; and because of their unshakeable committment to experimentation and improvisation, making it up as they went along in response to the moment. Doing that, not being overly bound by tradition or authority, I consider to be the fundamental American trait (not just in music.)
posted by docgonzo at 1:42 PM on July 30, 2005


the grateful dead
the velvet underground
the doors
creedence clearwater revival
talking heads
booker t and the mgs
parliament/funkadelic etc
public enemy
steely dan
mercury rev
r e m

i hesitated before putting ccr on this list because john fogarty so dominated this band ... but greatness is greatness ... i don't feel that david byrne dominated the talking heads as much as people think

honorable mentions go to

jefferson airplane
nirvana
beach boys (too many surf songs, and too much garbage in the later years)
byrds
buffalo springfield
allman brothers
tom petty and the heartbreakers
pere ubu
hounddog taylor and the houserockers
television


some comments on other choices ... kiss ... you've got to be kidding ... grand funk railroad were better than them

ramones ... i like them, but they're too monochromatic to be a great band

boston ... gee, why not styx and journey, too?

santana, james brown, dylan, etc etc ... really solo acts so we can't count them as bands

pavement ... i heard their first album ... the drummer was out of time constantly ... sorry, that doesn't work for me

phish ... great musicians ... but their songs don't stick with me

bands from other lands that are great

u2
tragically hip
os mutantes
can
gong
the band

and while we're at it, there's one english band that's been forgotten ... the kinks
posted by pyramid termite at 2:23 PM on July 30, 2005 [1 favorite]


Eleanor Rigby or Start me up are still great pop/rock songs. Surfin' USA sounds horribly dated, almost a novelty or fringe track.

Silly comparison. God Only Knows is better than Yellow Submarine, too, but it's not really instructive to point that out. And The Beach Boys innovated far more than The Rolling Stones ever did.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:42 PM on July 30, 2005


ludwig_van, that's true ... but on the other hand the stones HAD it in '64 ... when you've got it, you don't need to innovate that much
posted by pyramid termite at 3:46 PM on July 30, 2005


The thing about the Stones and the Beatles is that their music is timeless: Eleanor Rigby...

Are you kidding me? Eleanor fucking Rigby?!? Unlistenable. Trite, condescending, musically dull. Just garbage. The absolute nadir for the Beatles, I'd say.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:48 PM on July 30, 2005


pyramid termite said: pavement ... i heard their first album ... the drummer was out of time constantly ... sorry, that doesn't work for me

that's like complaining that ornette coleman was out of key.
posted by cathodeheart at 7:24 PM on July 30, 2005


Eleanor fucking Rigby?!? Unlistenable.

I scoff at you, sir.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:40 PM on July 30, 2005


The lyric is at the level of junior high school poetry. Abysmal.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:02 PM on July 30, 2005


And those insipid strings? How many Bad Ideas in Rock Music have those inspired?
posted by mr_roboto at 10:07 PM on July 30, 2005


pavement ... i heard their first album ... the drummer was out of time constantly ... sorry, that doesn't work for me

well, they did dump him before recording the next album....
posted by sad_otter at 10:52 PM on July 30, 2005


  • Dinosaur Jr. (inspired everyone who admits it or not) (but which leads to)…
  • Todd Rundgren (Nazz, Utopia, countless productions)

    and the US is more known for songwriting teams than for bands…

  • Gershwin & Gershwin
  • Lieber & Stoller
  • Holland, Dozier & Holland
  • I should have checked my attention span before posting, but there is a long list for anyone who wants to look into it.

  • posted by al_fresco at 10:59 PM on July 30, 2005 [1 favorite]


    I'm amazed no one has mentioned the Jackson 5.
    posted by spinifex23 at 11:06 PM on July 30, 2005


    That's because you can't be the best band ever and have a member named Tito.
    posted by klangklangston at 4:57 PM on July 31, 2005 [1 favorite]


    Boy oh boy. More and more I get this feeling that most people have only ever bought albums that they heard on the radio. I hate the radio. The Beach Boys are the radio.
    posted by crapulent at 10:03 AM on August 1, 2005


    I hate the radio. The Beach Boys are the radio.

    Whatever man.
    posted by ludwig_van at 11:49 AM on August 3, 2005


    Sha Na Na were the kings of Woodstock
    You know it's true deep in your heart
    Greasy guys in gold lamae
    If only Hendrix had been so smart
    Pete Townshend wouldn't be so deaf
    If he had followed Sha Na Na's advice
    and played some fifties do-wop songs
    That even your mom would think are nice

    Keith and Janis went away
    But Sha Na Na are here to stay
    I don't care about Joan Baez
    But Sha Na Na can wear my fez

    Sha Na Na were the kings of the sixties
    Deep in your heart you know it's true
    All those lids are Berkley dressed like Bowser
    They didn't like the Stones or the Who
    Sha Na Na didn't need no flower power
    They didn't drive a yellow submarine
    But they were the ones who called the shots
    Yeah, Sha Na na really made the scene
    posted by sfenders at 1:01 PM on August 12, 2005 [1 favorite]


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