Music/Popular Culture

Coming soon – Tournament of Rock II: The Legends; nominate your choice for greatest band of all time

Our inaugural Tournament of Rock will conclude here in a couple weeks with the crowning of either Paul Steel, Asobi Seksu or Rose Hill Drive. ToR I featured a wide range of bands, including many that our readers didn’t know before the contest.

Tournament of Rock II: The Legends, on the other hand, will ask our readers to crown the greatest band of all time. Dr. Booth and I have been hard at work pulling together the participants, seeding them, and kicking around all kinds of format options. But we want to make sure that we don’t exclude anybody deserving.

ToR II will include 96 bands and solo artists, and you can rest assured that we’ve included all the big names. It’s possible we’ve overlooked someone, however, and if we have, you can make sure we get them into the game. What we’d like you to do is use the comment space below to nominate your favorites.

A brief note about where we’re drawing the lines. First, this is the Tournament of Rock, so this contest won’t include our favorite R&B artists (we love Stevie Wonder and The Temptations and Sam Cooke, etc., but we’re saving them for a future ToR&B).

Second, we have to pick an arbitrary starting point, so we’re going to begin right around the time of the Brit Invasion. We love Buddy Holly and Elvis, but aren’t including them in this particular battle royale.

Third, we’re also focusing on bands that had at least some measure of popular success. We all have our own critical favorites who nobody has ever heard of, but have opted to concentrate this particular showdown on acts that are well-known by the listening public.

And finally, we’re excluding a lot of bands on the basis that “it’s too soon to tell.” These are contemporary bands who we believe are among the best alive at the present time, but who have not yet established themselves as all-time greats. This list includes bands like The Killers and Franz Ferdinand, for instance, as well as someone like Death Cab for Cutie. There are contemporary bands that we think have hit the mark, of course.

So, with this in mind, let us know who you want to make sure we include.

64 replies »

  1. I nominate ‘Bonesparkle and the Tempestuous Tridents’ — a helluva band. 😉

  2. Cat Stevens (not a band I know)
    Bob Marley & The Wailers
    Fleetwood Mac
    The Eagles
    Dr Hook
    Depeche Mode
    Spandau Ballet
    Human League

    …and loads more that I am sure will be in there.

  3. You know most of who I’d suggest. But what about bands like Velvet Underground? I’m not sure you could say they had “popular success.”

  4. I’m trying to think of bands that I know won’t win but might be closer to the edge of the spectrum. The Cars, Queen, CSN&Y, CCR…does mamas and the papas count or are they too folk? Rush, Bowie, Cream, Byrds, Steppenwolf, Janis Joplin, Tool, Tom Petty, Metallica, Heart, John Mellencamp, Van Halen, Yes, Santana, Warren Zevon, Elton John, Jefferson Airplane, REM…

  5. Mike: most of your recs are already in. VU may be, as well, although they’re really fringe on the popularity meter. We’re going to do a future ToR for The Influencers, and they might be the #1 seed in that one.

    Russ: I’ll see what I can do, although they’re not one that seems ideal for this contest. We want to eventually do an Alternative/90s ToR, which is more where they belong. But since you’re a big deal around here they may get a sponsor’s exemption… 🙂

  6. I have to throw in my alltime favorite:


    and a close second in my book would be

    The Jefferson Airplane.

  7. Frog: I think you’ll be happy with the field. If you love the Dead that much you might quibble with the seedings, but both of these bands have certainly earned their way into the game.

  8. lynard skynard, joe walsh, (clash and ramones more of the punk genre?), metallica, pink floyd, of course stones and beatles. stevie ray vaughn, george thorogood, kiss, allman bros, doobie bros,joe cocker, frank zappa, dr hook… oh I could go on and on and on…

  9. aerosmith, even wacko ted nugent, styx, boston, clapton in any one or all of his incarnations, led zep, acdc, judas priest, genesis…

  10. husker du, the replacements, joe jackson (solo, i know), concrete blonde, social distortion? maybe they’re not “mainstream” enough.

    • P Frog: Interesting – most of your noms are in that “influencers” category I mentioned earlier. I LOVE Mould, especially, but he never came close to real popular success (although Sugar had some alt hits, I guess). The Mats might have an argument. Joe, maybe….

  11. Don’t we already know the winner. Should we just exclude the Beatles and rename it “The greatest band besides the Beatles”. Can’t we already assume the top 10 anyways? Aren’t these lists pretty much the same no matter what publication or website does them? I think it’s a safe bet that the top ten will look like this: Beatles, Stones, Zep, Jimmi, Janis, Dylan, U2, Bruce, Clapton, Queen. All I got to say is Jack White better not be near this list.

    • D: There’s no doubt that The Fabs are a huge favorite. You won’t be surprised to find that they’re a #1 seed. And if they win, well, that was hardly a stunner. But I do think they’re beatable, maybe. Depends on a lot of factors, including who stops by to vote, but there is one band that I think may have a shot at them.

      I’m not going to name that band right now, but as it turns out they’re not a #1 seed….

      And no, Jack White isn’t among the participants. Even if I thought he was as great as a lot of people seem to – and I don’t – I’d still have him filed as “too early to tell.”

  12. The obvious ones–Beatles, Stones, Kinks, The Who, Byrds, Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Nirvana, Phish, The Rascals, Springsteen, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan & The Band, U2. The less obvious ones–Moby Grape, Family, Small Faces, Little Feat, Dire Straits, Husker Du, Delaney & Bonnie, Jane’s Addiction, Yardbirds (incubator of Clapton, Beck and Page), Blues Project, Velvet Underground (yes, yes, I’m dating myself). And any list like this that contains The Eagles is automatically null and void.

  13. True. I’m all for a Hip-Hop HoF. And if they want to do a dance pop HoF, good for them. But Madonna, whatever you think of her (and I do happen to think she’s very important as an industry force), ain’t rick & roll. And neither is rap.

  14. “What’s the matter with the clothes I’m wearing?
    Can’t you tell that your tie’s too wide?
    Maybe I should buy some old tab collars?
    Welcome back to the age of jive.
    Where have you been hidin’ out lately, honey?
    You can’t dress trashy till you spend a lot of money.
    Everybody’s talkin’ ’bout the new sound
    Funny, but it’s still rock and roll to me”

    hehehe. i couldn’t help it.

  15. Hold on a second, wufnik. You’re saying that Phish should make the list but the Eagles shouldn’t? Not that i’m saying that the Eagles should make the list, nor am i saying that Phish is a terrible band…but Phish is not one of the 96 best rock bands in history.

  16. And just what were you doing in my closet? Trying on the cone bra I bought on ebay? Doc Slammy, I suspect you have issues.

    • I’ll be stunned if the Eagles win, obviously, but if you don’t think they have any business being in the top 100 discussion then that tells me you never listened to their first four records.

      I’ll be appalled if Phish wins, but I have inserted them into the game as a fan favorite entry. The people shall be heard, for better or worse….

  17. Lex–yes, I’m saying Phish is one of the 96 best rock bands in history. This actually doesn’t seem that controversial. Just heard them a couple of weeks ago, at Great Woods in fact, and I realized something–the band is actually very, very good–in terms of musicianship and playing inspired, one of the best–it’s the songs that just aren’t very good. Yes, there are a couple of Eagles songs I can start humming instantly–there aren’t that many Phish songs (Bouncing roudn the room). Still, they put on an inspired concert. Sorry, the Eagles ‘first four records are just boring, although Joe Walsh did liven things up a bit. Isn’t rock criticism fun? I just enjoy being snarky about the Eagles–they make it so easy. Obviously, lots of people like them, and I imagine many even own some of their records. Probably paid good money, too.

  18. Wuf: Arguments of this type are usually arguments about the criteria masquerading as arguments about the bands. Same here. For my money, one of the key criteria for deciding on a great rock band is “the ability to write good songs.” The guys in Phish can certainly play, but I’ve always felt like playing well was pointless if what you were playing wasn’t worth listening to. And I think Phish has actually written a song once in their careers.

    Obviously not everyone sees it this way. However, Phish is in the upcoming ToR, so you’ll get your chance to support them.

  19. As much as it pains me to say it, the Eagles should be in this discussion becasue they actually have one of the top selling albums of all time, although it’s a “greatest hits” album. Love them or hate them, Hotel California is a classic.

    I picked out a few big guys based on the following criteria.

    1)Obviously a rock band (pop, rap, r+b can be done some other time)

    2)The band has to be commercially successful with tours and albums, not just enough to get by. (yes they could have 2 albums, died, or disappear into obscurity and go bankrupt, but at the time they had to be big and still considered great)

    3)They have to have at least one critically acclaimed album, and one that is commercially successful. Or one album that is both.

    4)Their music has to span generations.

    I’ll start in the 80’s since I’m 32 and was alive when these bands made new music that I was old enough to appreciate. I know that with out (x) band there would not have been (y) band, but I don’t care. I’ll let others make the case for the Beatles and Zep etc.

    Not in any order:

    U2: Boy/Joshua Tree, obviously they tour like crazy, easily spans generations and composed what some people think are some of the best songs ever. I can go on, but I’m sure Sam can fill us in.

    AC/DC: Back in Black, tour and sell the crap out of merch, can’t go to a wedding or party without hearing them. Somehow have always been considered cool, even in the 90’s.

    Metallica: Master of Puppets/Metallica, top grossing tours, merch is insane, they are always in the top searches, and guitar tabs. So that means tons of younger guitar players are learning their songs and/or inspired by them. I heard that they have the #2 selling catalog (next to the Beatles) since soundscan was utilized.

    Red Hot Chili Peppers: BSSM/Calinforication, sell out a lot of shows, are always cool, have one of the most unique sounds that can’t be duplicated. They also have the ability to take a perfect song and make up words in the middle of it that make no sense and it’s still considered cool.

    Nirvana: Nevermind/In Utero: Sure they may get a little bump due to a lead singers death, but they were the first commercially successful band playing this type of music. Every kid is learning how to play their stuff, radio plays the hell out of them. Still sell a lot of merch and albums. Will always be considered cool.

    Foo Fighters: The Colour and the Shape: They have always had a solid touring gig, have one of the most popular and sought after front men. (read last months Tape Op, there’s and article that raves about what an awesome session drummer Dave Grohl is) They wrote what could possibly be considered an anthem for my generation “Everlong”. They are still considered cool by all genres of music lovers.

    Some others to consider
    Van Halen
    Bon Jovi (laugh if you must)
    Talking Heads

  20. Dr Stammy–yes, of courrse, I agree–people’s reactions on thee points are always contingent on “the bands,” and reactions can get pretty visceral. Some you l,ike, some you don’t like. I sort of agree with you about Phish–of course they’ve written songs, Just not many memorable ones. Does that make the Eages better becaue they managed to put out a couple that you can’t get out of your head, no matter what? I have no idea. It certainly keeps bar arguements going for a long time, though. Have fun with this.

  21. Ann: Do I LOOK that stupid?

    There are acts that are crossover and fringe cases, and we can talk about those in an inclusive fashion. Madonna is nowhere near that borderline.

  22. D: I’m with you all the way, except I’m not sure I can make the case for Bon Jovi. Convince me if you can and I’ll add them.

  23. Sam: I don’t think I can becasue I think they lack one thing in the rock world, and that’s critical acclaim by their peers. They have tons of commercial success, they have sold tons of albums, crossed generes, have songs that are classics. But I think that they will never get much respect. If you happened to catch 60 minutes this last week they had good story about Jon, very interesting. I never intended them to actually be in there, just trying to think of some of the huge bands in the 80’s/90’s and they were one I thought of.

  24. D: Okay, fair enough. But what would you say if I offered up Rick Springfield? He’s kinda in the same boat, only within power pop circles he has TONS of critical respect. The Dr. Noah Drake thing will haunt him until he dies, but ask anyone in the Pop Underground and you’ll find out that he’s massively respected.

    What would you do with that?

  25. Sam: Not popular enough, doesn’t span generations. Only has one real hit, would be considered a teen idol.

    • D: Well, I can argue all of these points, I guess. I assure you, his popularity spans generations. For proof, go to the show the next time he tours through town and make sure you’re close enough to see the crowd of panty-flingers down front. 🙂

      And he had one monster hit, but he had 21 Top 100 hits, including four Top 10s.

      But yes, his main success was in the 80s. If I get real strict about that criterion, though, we have to start asking questions like “when was the last time Elvis Costello had a hit?” And we have to dismiss Graham Parker, who had significant commercial success early on and then settled into a steady career of critical masterpieces that didn’t sell nearly as much as they should have. Hell, GP has five-star releases 30 years apart. I’m not sure who else you can say that about – Morrison, maybe. John Hiatt, maybe.

      The “teen idol” thing doesn’t work, though. They TRIED to make him a teen idol and it didn’t work. Instead, his success came as an adult and his enduring popularity was with young adult women.

      BUT, remember what I said – massive critical acclaim in the Pop Underground genre.

      No way that Rick gets anywhere near winning, and I doubt he’d get out of the first round. But can I argue him a slot in the top 100? Possibly. I can make the argument the other way, too.

      If Bon Jovi had the same level of critical acclaim, within genre, that RS does I could make an argument for them, too.

      So, how about corp rock giants like Journey and REO Speedwagon?

  26. Oops. I really thought there was some kind of Jim’nSam Grand High Definition of Rock that I just didn’t know about.

    In that case, I’m fine with the Duh Principle.

  27. Oh, there IS one. We just don’t want to fight about it….

    And you have to be at least an 18th level initiate to have that mystery revealed to you.

  28. Sam: To be clear the ones I put at the bottom were ones that I thought just missed out based on my criteria. I’m not saying someone wouldn’t want their success or money, but If I had a choice to form a perfect band and model it after some other band, I would choose the one with the perfect blend of street cred, commercial success, inspiration, and timeless music. I don’t think that RS, Bon Jovi, REO, Journey have all of those.

  29. D: Agreed. Completely. I’m just thinking in terms of the contest, which isn’t really designed to answer any eternal critical questions. The question at this stage isn’t about the diff between RS and The Beatles, it’s more about the diff between RS and, say, Paul Simon.

  30. Really, Phish? Don’t get me wrong. They’re all fine musicians; i saw them 15 times or so – including the Quadrophenia Halloween show – back in the 90’s and i enjoyed every one. I just don’t think that they break the top 96.

    I saw the Dead (w/ Garcia) 35+ times, and while i’d call them the quintessential American music band and a really great live rock band, i wouldn’t have been surprised to have them not included on this list. One of the issues is the available body of work. I could point to era’s, shows, particular examples of songs to exemplify how good they were…but i couldn’t say, “buy this album”. (discounting releases like Dick’s Picks which aren’t really albums) The same goes for Phish.

    Even a band like GNR, who i consider to have produced only one great album, seems more appropriate (to me)…if only because you’ll actually hear that album. Chances are that i won’t hear “Rocket Queen” or “My Michelle” on the radio, but the chances are still higher than hearing a “Samson and Delilah” (c. ’77) or a “Truckin>Other One>NFA>Other One” in my daily life.

    And i’m really “just sayin”, because i A. trust Sam and Jim to put together an interesting bracket and B. realize that you could argue inclusion until the end of time.

  31. Ann:

    “Darrell, I think your view of “generation-spanning” is demonstrably limited.”

    Maybe you didn’t read my post. I started following music in the 80’s, that’s where I started my time line. I stated that “I’ll let others make the case for the Beatles and Zep etc”. I don’t think any of the bands I chose will win, and I could have chosen a bunch of bands in previous decades, but I chose bands that I grew up with, and that I felt were the greatest of their time with respect to the guidelines and some additional criteria. I get to witness young people picking up instruments and playing rock music all the time. The bands I chose all have songs that kids play all the time, so the bands I chose absolutely spanned a generation. Do they play music prior to the 1980’s? Absolutely, but I chose to pick acts that I was alive to witness when music mattered most to me. I could have very well picked all the standards, but why waste the space when I know most of them will already be included.

  32. Ann:

    Perhaps you need to go back and re-read the posts, I think your the one missing things here. Maybe you’re too busy crafting your next big “witty zinger” to actually be paying attention. I can’t wait for the next article when you post “First!”

  33. Lex–I guess I would just say that this all depends on criteria. Well, that’s obvious. Duh. So let me try it this way–what counts for me is (1) songwriting ability, (2) playing ability, (3) longevity (more than one album–any list that put Blind Faith in there would therefore be suspect), (4) an occasional hit (the Dead did have one top-ten hit, as I recall), and (5) influence. This last one is the most problematic, because it may be the hardest to assess. And it tends to favour earlier bands of the 1960s and 1970sd rather than, say, banks of the last decade. Of course, all of these are to some degree problematic, and you can weigh each one differently.. The occasional hit, for example. Would this keep the band that played to more people in history than any other band off the list if they hadn’t had one? Similarly for Phish–how many people have they played to? As opposed to, say The Eagles? OTOH, the Eagles certainly have had more hits than Phish. So you go looking for something else. Of course, these may be the wrong criteria entirely. That’s the point–people are going to have a broad range of criteria, and they can be selective (and not very consistent, as we’ll see). But it’s all fun, and, interestingly, people get quite passionate about all of this. Maybe there’s another way to do this–instead of my proving to you tthat Phish belongs to a list of the 96 greatest rock bands, I ask you to name 96 bands that are better. How’s that? If each decade has only four or five or six great bands, you might get halfway there!

  34. And just to kick up a ruckus, I would throw Journey in there just on the basis of the Junior Walker sax solo in Urgent. Or there should be a separate list only for “great solos”. Or something.

  35. Ann and D: Now, now, you two. Don’t make me lock you in a room with “Hey Mickey” on endless loop.

    Wuf: If we did a greatest solos, we’d need Rafael Ravenscroft’s sax from “Baker Street” and Skink Baxter’s guitar from “Reelin’ in the Years.” But let’s not get started down that road. I will ask a serious question – if you have songwriting as the alpha criterion, how can you even TALK about Phish? That would be like me prioritizing musicianship and then nominating The Sex Pistols.

  36. Ah. Actually, these’ aren’t necessarily in order of importance–my bad. In my own convoluted calculus of these things, these recieve, I suppose, different weightings depending. I guess I assume all these criteria are necessary in varying degrees–none in and of themselves is sufficient, except maybe influence. Greg Allman has written a couple of pretty good songs–but that’s not what we tthink of when The Allman Brothers comes to mind–most of their good stuff was written by someone else. The Mothers of Invention wrote lazy songs, and it would be difficult to actually call them a rock band. But they were definitely a band, of some sort, and had enormous influence. What one does with The Fugs is anyone’s guess–but I would submit they were one of the most influential bands ever. But I would be surprised to see them on the list. Then there’s Manfred Mann, sixties pop guy who put out Somewhere in Afrika in the 1980s, still one of the best albums ever. Does he make the list on the basis of that? Probably not. A perfect album that had practically no impact on anything (although it did have one of the great guitar solos). So it’s a mix of these things. I was never a big fan of the Sex Pistols (Ramones without the humour)–the songs were crap, and the music worse–but we keep talking about them decades later, don’t we? Do they make the list? I’m looking forward to finding out.

  37. It would be irresponsible to leave either the Pistols or Ramones off. Punk is a weird category, though – it really requires you to place musicianship WAY the hell down the list of what matters. A punk fan is, in many ways, the opposite of a Phish fan.

  38. Oh, I agree, they do have to be there. Does that make a Husker Du fan a blend of the two, btw? And of course, they both fulfill the one further thing that I left off my list, by accident– you have to be able to dance to it. (Whoops–here come the angry King Crimson fans, followed by the Dead Can Dance horde.) And perhaps the most important thing of all (as pointed out by Joey Ramone)–your parents should hate it. I don’t know if you can actually make that a criterion, though–it’s just sort of understood, I guess. Drives my daughter crazy when I’m swapping CDs with her boyfriend.

  39. This is all pointless we all know The Beatles are the best that ever where and ever will be!