Oct 252007

I heard a ridiculous (at first blush) assertion on the radio yesterday morning.  A commercial claimed The Eagles were “the greatest American rock ‘n’ roll band of all time.”

Talented players and writers all, no doubt.  But the greatest?  I chewed on it a bit.  I’m pretty sure the answer isn’t The Eagles, but it’s a harder question than you may think.

Move out for a moment and say the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band, period.  In my view, that’s a slam-dunk for The Beatles.  Some other first-tier candidates would be The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, or The Who.  Some credible longshots might be The Yardbirds, Cream, or The Kinks.

English, English, English, English, English, English, English, and English.


Rock ‘n’ roll may have been born in post-World War II America, but it’s pretty clear that our motherland has pasted us handily since at least the mid-’60s.

So who’s our best rock band, Yanks?

A lot depends on your criteria, of course.  I don’t have a formula worked up, but it seems to me that competence, innovation, and cultural impact should be major factors to consider, while longevity might be somewhat less important, but still part of the thinking.

Think on it a bit.  You’ll probably find that when you think of truly excellent rock ‘n’ roll, you land in England an awful lot.  Try to shake that off and think stateside.

If you have thoughts, share them.  I have a nominee in mind that I’ll drop into the discussion, if one develops.

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 Posted by at 6:08 pm

  30 Responses to “The greatest American rock band”

  1. When I think ROCK bands, The Beatles are not what comes to mind. Neither do the Rolling Stones, but perhaps I am a little off.

    American Bands: Journey, Van Halen, KISS. North American: Rush.
    (all of whom were at their peaks during my youth, which is the only period of historical significance here).

    I’m torn between Journey and KISS, but in a battle of cultural influence, I’d have to go with KISS.

  2. Oooh, this is a DANGEROUS question to ask! Friendships have been ruined over this question – fortunes have been lost – lives destroyed.

    While I agree with Seester’s nominees (I’m particularly fond of Rush and Van Halen, myself), I am going to go out on a limb and say that, as far as cultural significance goes, the Eagles AREN’T a bad choice. Hello? Hotel California? I’m Already Gone? Think about it. The fact that Don Henley and Glenn Frey AND Joe Walsh all went on to varyingly successful solo careers speaks to the collective talent of the group.

    I also really LOVE Get Over It. It’s my anthem.

    I also see YOUR point, Bo, in that, as far as ROCKIN’ rock bands go, The Eagles don’t really fit the criteria – they had a lot of not-so-kickin’ songs that did exceedingly well in the charts (Lyin’ Eyes, Take it Easy, Peaceful Easy Feelin’).

    Um – what about Aerosmith? I’ve got to admit that I’m more of a British Rock girl myself – my first, knee-jerk to your question was “DUH! The POLICE!” but, of course, they all talk like the queen.

  3. Yes, Lynyrd Skynyrd belongs in my list.

  4. Bo started this discussion with me yesterday in email, I’ll repost my response to him here as fodder for you all. Let me prefeace that I think rating any “art” is a pretty fruitless endeavor due to the pure subjectivity involved. Anywho… Here’s the email:

    Ok… In what may sound like a lame move here, I’m NOT going to rate or put these bands in any particular order other than alphabetical. Some are here for their influence and some may be here for other reasons (longevity, raw talent, live performance, etc.). I also include various genres calling them all “rock” – punk, southern rock, grunge, you get the point. Also, I could go on and on with this list but it would definitely get into debatable choices. I even put on some bands I don’t particularly like, just because of their level of influence.

    Lastly, I have to admit that I did a web search for such a list because I didn’t want to leave any deserving bands off the list. But, as stated before, I refuse to put them in any order.

    The Allman Brothers
    The Beach Boys
    Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
    Creedence Clearwater Revival
    Dave Matthews Band
    The Doors
    The Eagles
    Fleetwood Mac
    The Grateful Dead
    Guns N’ Roses
    Iggy Pop and the Stooges
    Lynyrd Skynyrd
    The Talking Heads
    Van Halen
    The Ramones
    The Velvet Underground

  5. As I did with Bo I have to ammend the list because I left off an obvious deserving band:

    Pearl Jam

  6. Damn, damn, damn!!!

    Ok, this will be contoversial given the bands mentioned but I consider Hip-Hop as yet another extension of rock so, I must list:


    ‘Nuff from me – shoot my list apart.

  7. ZZ Top

    We need a NCAA playoff.

  8. Interesting insights so far.

    Some of these bands may well cement themselves as iconic in the years to come, but in my view haven’t been around long enough for us to be sure.

    Carey, I know we discussed the broadness of the term “rock” this afternoon, but it isn’t meaninglessly so. Hip-hop may have gotten an injection from rock here and there, but it is its own genre.

  9. Longevity less improtant? MORE important! How about a little love for Cheap Trick! From the city of screws.

  10. I was 17 when the KISS “Destroyer” album came out. It was my first KISS album and I played the hell out it. The earlier KISS albums were great too but they seemed to decline after Destroyer. I think I bought the next two KISS albums after Destroyer but then I lost interest in them. In college my interests were mainly British progressive acts like Jethro Tull and Camel.

    These days my music interests are much more varied and international. I listen to just about anything except for screaming metal type bands. The top ten that I’ve been listening to for the past 6 months are:

    (1) Camera Obscura – Scottish – Pop
    (2) Neko Case – USA – Alt. Country
    (3) Belle and Sebastian – Scottish – Pop
    (4) Delerium – Canada – Electronic
    (5) Arcade Fire – Canada – rock/pop
    (6) Adrian Pierce – Canada – rock/pop
    (7) The Duhks – Canada – folk/country
    (8) Vienna Teng – USA – folk/pop
    (9) Laura Cantrell – USA – Alt. Country
    (10) The New Pornographers – Canada – rock/pop

    All these groups are considered “Indie” acts. I haven’t listed to corporate radio in over a year and I have no idea who the popular Top 40 acts are…and frankly I don’t care. I’m happy exploring and finding new music on my own.

    My top 50 acts break down nationally as this:

    USA – 27; UK – 8; Canada – 8; and one each from Australia, Iceland, Spain, Belgium, Sweden, and France.

  11. So, what does greatest mean? Is it ‘best’? Or perhaps ‘most indicitive of’?

    When I think of best, I look for the most creative artists, those with lasting music, those that make ‘good’ music. If that’s what we’re looking for, then I would probably nominate Dave Matthews above most.

    But really, since when is America about high culture? America is famous for McDonalds and Roller Derby. So, when I think about those artists that most represent America, 3 One-word bands come to mind. That fits too, doesn’t it? One word is easier to market than 3 or 4.

    3) Prince. This guy has been entertaining since ‘Little Red Corvette’. He stated that not only the girls could be sexy. And like another very talented band, Pearl Jam, he found writing popular music a little too easy, trying odd variations that never quite hit.

    2) Madonna. She led the MTV revolution, and taught high school girls that they didn’t have to dress like Pat Benatar any more. Hey, that ripped-lace look was hot.

    3) My top pick isn’t actually American, dang it. But I still think they represent the American ideal and dream better than any other. Where else can hard work and pandering overcome mediocre talent for over 30 years? To find out who they are, just turn on the local rock radio station. What’s on… maybe Zep? Wait for the next song. Ah, there it is.. “For those about to rock, we salute you!” AC/DC has been blasting its G-C-D chords as long as I’ve been listening, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down; nor should it. God Bless America.

  12. Most of my American candidates have been mentioned – Queensryche and Cheap Trick being my personal favs. I’d consider KISS, Heart, Aerosmith and Van Halen as highly influential bands as well. I don’t think you can dismiss Bon Jovi, either, though, in terms of influence…

  13. Bo, how you bait me! Still on my VooDoo Fest high and not off my Echo Project roll yet even…..LOL!

    Hmmm, given where I just came from and who I just saw, I have to throw Rage Against the Machine in the list….I don’t put them at #1, but they definitely meet the criteria – commpetence – check! cultural impact – check! innovation – double check!! And unlike Run DMC you can’t say Tom Morello’s riffs don’t rock! Def worth mentioning….def in my top 10 American Rock Bands of all time, but I wouldn’t say THE Greatest American Rock Band of all time.

    Given your criteria, my vote would have to go to Jerry and the Boys….I really don’t see anyone else even close. I mean, you can put up some valid arguments musically – but I don’t think you can point to another single band that has influenced – heck INVENTED – an entire subculture of Americana. Deadheads…hippies….still today the surviving members of the Dead are almost worshiped by a subsection of society – and a much larger one than you would ever guess! For longevity, cultural impact they def get the prize. For innovation I think they could hold their own with most bands already mentioned, and in their prime they were quite competent muscians….more than even. Yep, love ’em or hate ’em (or feign indifference) the Grateful Dead win this one…..(IMO only of course….)

  14. Q. What did one ‘Deadhead say to the other when the dope ran out?
    A. God, this music sucks…


    Love you, Fonda. You keep me hip. Or feeling that way, anyway.

  15. I’m valuing innovation highly when I think about a lot of these artists, it seems. On that basis I have to reject selections like Bon Jovi out of hand.

    I also think history is important, and there isn’t enough of it for bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Dave Matthews Band. They may be all that and a bucket of chicken, but give it another decade.

    Longevity is important. However influential and important The Velvet Underground, The Doors, The Ramones, and Guns ‘n’ Roses were, they were around for about five minutes. Next.

    “Americanness” is important. Jimi Hendrix was from Seattle, but a bunch of Brits backed him up. Nope.

    Tomboy, Prince tempted me. But I want the question to be about bands, not individuals. While Prince consistently surrounded and surrounds himself with talented musicians, there’s little doubt that he’s the creative engine. He’s definitely more a guy than a band.

    I sympathize with my bud Charles on Cheap Trick, and confess that I can’t fail them on anything except cultural impact. On the plus side, they’ve never broken up, and have only one relatively brief personnel change, long since restored. They’ve been masters of taking only the wheat from their roots, and leaving the chaff. (I wouldn’t appreciate punk at all if it weren’t for what Cheap Trick did for the meaningful part of it on their first few albums, for example.) They’re still doing Grade A rock ‘n’ roll–their latest album Rockford is their best in more than ten years–but hardly anybody knows it.

    As much as I hate to drag popularity into the equation, I do believe it matters. And the bottom line is that Cheap Trick mattered to everybody for only a short time. So it’s not them either.

    Folks who know me even a little bit know who my first musical love is, but I can’t give it to Kiss either. I love the poor-guys-from-the-Big-Apple angle, and I love the synthesis of over-the-top theater and shit-this-is-fun power chord-based anthems. But take what Kiss means when you think of them. They were only THAT for about seven years. They tried to be Bon Jovi in the ’80s, they tried to be Soundgarden in the early ’90s, and from the late ’90s to today they’ve tried…whatever it takes, from coax-whomever-into-the-makeup to “hey, here’s another greatest hits!” A marvelous experience and quintessentially American, but not the best.

    Who’s got competence, innovation, and cultural impact? Who has pleased critics and working stiffs alike? Who opened up new worlds in the studio and had tens of thousands singing along at outdoor parties?

    Who evokes, embodies, and could have only existed in, the United States of America?

    The greatest American rock ‘n’ roll band of all time is The Beach Boys.

  16. Phbllttt. What did one beach boy say to the other when the pina colada wore off? This music sux.

  17. Oops – did I say that out loud?

    Springsteen and the E-street band also created music that could only have existed in America, as well. They have the impact, subculture, longevity, continual reinvention, and, um, Bruce. Booyah~

  18. LOL! I like the Pina Colada joke….ahem…
    The Beach Boys? OK, I will grant that muscially they WERE more innventive than most people will give them credit for (esp with Pet Sounds….their MOST innovative recording….) and the line-up changes over the years counts heavliy against them in the longevity dept IMO…..
    But I guess what I don’t get most of all is….What Cultural Impact? The Beach Boys may have SYMBOLIZED something about America….something that already exisited….but I don’t really see that they impacted culture much at all. They were about as mainstream as you could get. Musically, not a bad choice. But nah….can’t go with the Greatest American Rock Band. Maybe I’m not hip anymore – LOL!

  19. It wasn’t difficult to predict the lack of agreement on a single favorite that would be ubiquitous… I’m really glad I only threw out a list and didn’t rate them.

    Charles and Bo, Cheap Trick got left off my list via incompetence. I love Cheap Trick. As did ZZ Top.

    Since everyone else put a stake in the ground (then moved it and staked out new ground), I’ll say my favorite band of mention are Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., and The Talking Heads.

    Finally, with all these great American acts mentioned, I’m still reminded that the greatest bands of all time are all British. With a bit of personal favoritism here, there is a compelling argument that “Dark Side of the Moon” is the most influential rock album ever made, of course Pink Floyd is named after two AMERICAN blues artists. I declare an American victory! <sigh>

  20. One last volley for this side of the big pond…

    When asked who influenced the making of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Dark Side of the Moon”, prominenet members of The Beatles and Pink Floyd have mentioned that Brian Wilson changed everything with “Pet Sounds”.

  21. Ohhh…if we are going with Pink Floyd as the Greatest Rock Band Ever I am soooo there : )
    Dark Side of the Moon…(tho I think Wish You Were Here is actually “musically” better….”Shine On You Crazy Diamond” has to be one of THE best songs EVER recorded…..)
    Sorry…..I digress….LOL!

  22. […] month, a pal of mine, Bo, started a thread on the Greatest American Rock Band. After setting us all up – toying with us like a cat playing with its prey – he surprised me with […]

  23. Bearing in Mind that the subject is Greatest American ROCK BAND:
    ZZ Top

    Eagles are really Cali Country and Country flavoured Rock
    Heart is pretty awesome entry that deserves mention
    Stray Cats anyone?

    * The Rolling Stones are obviously not a candidate for this discussion…but did Saintseester say The Stones don’t come to mind when they thing of Rock and Roll?…..yikes….not tying to be argumentative but have you ever actually heard a Stones recording because……? Maybe you should check out ummmmm let me think a second…. no I don’t even need a second……how about ANY ROLLING STONES ALBUM!
    Seaside Jimmy

  24. Wow, great topic from 2 years ago! I’d have to say the The Allman Brothers Band. The criteria? Hardest working, intensity of emotional output, influence on past and current musicians, and most ass-kicking rock and roll lifestyle.

  25. For what it’s worth, I’d call is a toss-up between, Van Halen, Aerosmith, and Kiss.

    Even though I lke Van Halen the best out of the three, I might give the nod to Aerosmith for longevity in terms of keeping the lineup together the longest.

  26. Bo. I don’t see anyone mentioning Credence Clearwater Revival. The band sold over 26 million records and were huge in the late 60s. The music of my youth in retrospect has not aged as well. I love Cheap Trick and believe they were much more influintial in modern music than most of their peers. In comparison, Journey, Styx and their ilk seems more like throwaway “ear candy”. Not much substance.

  27. Hey Robby! Good to “see” you here.

    CCR got one mention above, albeit a brief one. That’s an eminently defensible pick.

    I hear you on Journey, Styx, &c. I still enjoy it once in a while, but my affection for it has waned far more than I would have thought possible.

    Cheap Trick has done some absolutely killer stuff, and they remain a hard-working, money’s-worth live band. Their influence is doubtless.

    I’ll tell ya, I’m not real sure what to make of their latest album, though.


    THE BEACH BOYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    The only band who gave us some GOOD VIBRATIONs.

  29. By the original criteria, I think Pearl Jam are a strong contender. Eddie Vedder is an iconoclast, and the band has been creating relevant music for 20 years. Their overall catalog of work stands toe to toe with that of any American band. And if you’ve seen one of their shows lately, you can tell they’re probably going to be at it for quite a while. They are the best touring big-show band on the planet at the moment.

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