This was originally published at essays & effluvia, an early non finance blog I was experimenting with back in December 2003.


Here’s an odd little conversation starter from the office this week: Who is/was the greatest American Rock ‘n Roll band?

Before you answer, understand the masturbatory parameters of this debate:

Rule 1: Only U.S. groups
Thus, we eliminate the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and the rest of the Brits who followed: Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes and Dire Straits, amongst others. You can argue about the order of this list, but it don’t matter — none can apply for the job.

Rule 2: Only bands, not solo artists
That eliminated Bruce Springsteen and a host of other rock stars. (I argued that the E Street Band counts as a band, but I eventually had to acknowledge that they are essentially a backing group).

The three qualifications for our list were:  1) Body of Work; 2) Influence; and 3) Live performance.

My colleague had narrowed his list down to 3 bands: The Eagles, Van Halen and the Beach Boys. I mostly disagreed. My choices were: Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Doors, Steely Dan, Talking Heads and R.E.M. (And though they are not a choice of mine, I can also see how some people would put the Grateful Dead into the mix; The same thought applies to Nirvana, but even less so).

Here are my choices, and then my colleagues (which I mostly challenged):

My nominations for the Greatest American Rock and Roll Band are:

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Consistently one of the most underated bands in U.S. musical history. Hugely influential, tremendous body of work. Where as most Beach Boy songs sound somewhat dated, CCR still sounds fresh and relevant today. Listen to the songs Fortunate Son, Green River or Run through the Jungle. Any of these could be credibly performed by many popular bands today (at least the ones that have chops).


The biggest issue with choosing CCR is that John Fogarty, their singer/songwriter/guitarist has such a substantial body of solo work, its sometimes hard to separate the two. Its also true that CCR was essentially Fogarty, so perhaps they only quasi-qualify as a Band. Upon reflection, I will admit that CCR is specific to a certain era, and while some may find they are somewhat dated  — I think they still rock the house.


The Doors:   You have to include The Doors in this list. They were a quintessential late 60′s/early 70′s band. Their first album makes all kinds of lists: Best albums of the ’60s, best debut album.


Their body of work was abbreviated due to Jim Morrison’s untimely death. Had they gone the distance, or even just another 5 years, they would have been a lock for the top slot. Despite their relatively short run, they still made the short list. But as matter of choice, I base my list on actual performance, not unrealized potential. So put The Doors into the top 5, and move on.


Steely Dan: Precise musicianship and song writing, effortlessly crossing boundaries into pop and jazz. An enormous body of work, known for its depth as well as breadth. One of the great things about Dan is that you can grab any CD of theirs, and play it straight thru. There ain’t much in the way of filler here.


Criticisms: Not the most raucous live bands you’ve ever seen. Too cerebral for some, while others find their work cold or distant. I think they’re great, but then again I like Dread Zeppelin, which some find unlistenable . . .


Talking Heads: Here’s where we start to get religious. You either ‘got’ and loved the T. Heads in the ’80s, or you didn’t, in which case you were probably a disco loving jerk — but lets not start with the name calling so soon, ok?


The Heads were enormously influential on so many bands that followed them. Their layered soundscapes of rythm and percussion still resonate today. Although their earlier work sounds very much tied to the early era of punk (when listened to today), and their latter stylizings are, well, very stylized. “Little Creatures,” which was a fun album when released, comes across a bit corny today. But their middle work reveals a powerful and innovative band: “Fear of Music” and “Remain in Light” are masterpieces; “Speaking In Tongues” still sounds great. The marvelously stripped down “Stop Making Sense” foreshadowed MTV unplugged by nearly a decade.

I understand that the Heads were somewhat inaccessible; its rock and roll, but not what some people think of as pure rock (like CCR); if you think Steely Dan is cerebral, Eno and Byrne drove the Heads intellectually light years ahead of their time. Still, if you’re looking for collaborative American genius, this is it.


R.E.M.: I guess we saved the best for last. An incredibly rich and varied body of work. Groundbreaking; Revitalizing. Just as rock n roll was becoming irrelevant, R.E.M. snatched it back with avengeance. Beautifully constructed melodies and lyrics, driving guitars, a thoughtful presence throughout.



Murmur, Life’s Rich Pageant, Document and Reckoning are a murder’s row of releases.

I can’t find much to dislike about this choice, except some of their lesser, later work; Also, not everyone appreciates the occasional mandolin. Some of the much later albums lack some of the original creative spark.


My colleague’s choices:

The Eagles: A fairly inspired choice which I might have overlooked. Over the course of more than 20 years, they have produced a widely appreciated catalogue of music covering a broad swath of styles, from country to rock. They have also adapted well to a few key line up changes.

Two strikes against them: First, I think of them as more influenced by other bands, rather than influencing others. One would hope that the greatest American Rock n Roll band was ‘inspirational.’


The other strike? I saw the Eagles live, and it was a yawner. Very boring to watch 5 motionless guys spread out across a stage. Hell, Tenacious D puts on a better show. If you can’t light it up live, than you simply cannot be named the “Greatest American Rock and Roll Band.” Period.


Van Halen:  Now, here’s a band that certainly knows how to kick it live (“kick it with a tasty groove” as JB would say).  They have an extensive catalogue, with many great songs.


Very little in the way of criticism of this choice, but here goes: Perhaps they are too well known for their covers, rather than their own work. Non hard core Van Halen fans know their versions of the Kinks “You Really Got Me” and Roy Orbison’s “(Oh) Pretty Woman.” That cuts both ways, and while it kinda takes some of the blush off the rose for some, I don’t have a problem with it; but I do understand the argument that we would prefer the greatest band in the land to be best known for their own body of work. I would certainly choose VH over, say Aerosmith, because of the body of work. But they don’t strike me as THE seminal USA rock n roll band.

Random VH note: I saw them open for Black Sabbath in 1979, and they simply blew Ozzie and friends off the stage. Kick ass performance.


Beach Boys:  There’s no doubt that the Beach Boys were very influential. “Pet Sounds” is widely credited with influencing the Beatles to do a concept album of their own: Sgt. Peppers.


However, they are so narrowly genre specific — “Surf Music” — that its hard to call them fully representative of American Rock ‘n Roll.  You can try making the same argument about Van Halen, but “Hard Rock” is so much broader of a genre than the narrow field the Beach Boys tilled. An interesting choice, but does not make the final cut. Let’s just call them top five, and leave it at that.


Got an opinion on music? Agree or disagreee with these choices? Let me know by submitting a comment below — I’ll waive my usual requirement and even allow anonymous postings . . .

Final thoughts:  There are plenty of other bands one could include on this list, but most fail to make the final cut for a variety of reasons. CSNY were too narrow, Red Hot Chili Peppers, who have a large of body of work are also in the running.


While we are talking about Music, be sure to check out the industry commentary: Music Sales Rise on Aggressive Discounting, Price Competition and an Improving Economy


UPDATE:  March 14, 2004  9:07am
Just came across this September 2003 UK Guardian Unlimited article, “The 40 greatest US bands today” (part I and part II)

The Guardian’s approach doesn’t use our framework –they allow solo acts, which of course changes the entire dynamic. Regardless, its a good read.


UPDATE II: December 24, 2005 11:07am

John Fogerty is back at Fantasy records, his old label. The new owners and Fogerty buried the hatchet, and he released “The Long Road Home: The Ultimate John Fogerty-Creedence Collection.”

Now, you can see the full catalogue of both CCR and  Fogerty. Only problem is, it makes CCR look like a Fogerty backing band!

UPDATE III: January 6, 2013 11:07 am

The original post had 100s of comments — I have no idea how long I am going to keep the essays & effluvia blog, so if I can find a way to port those comments to this discussion I will. (It can be done manually but would take forever)


Category: Friday Night Jazz, Music

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

396 Responses to “Greatest American Rock and Roll Band?”

  1. Ny Stock Guy says:

    I was going to mention The Band, but then realized they’re all Canadian except for Levon.

  2. oldguy says:

    The Turtles. Yes the Turtles. Go back and listen to “She’d Rather Be With Me.” Best Song. Ever. OK, the hating can start now.

  3. sinful mistress says:

    Little Feat
    Velvet Underground
    Talking Heads that order.

    The End

  4. contrabandista13 says:

    However, I do agree.. Grateful Dead and Creedemce, should not be underestimated…… How”s about, ZZ..?

  5. contrabandista13 says:

    And “The Jimmy Hendrix Experience…”

  6. monday says:

    There’s sooo many great bands, it’s hard to judge!
    But among popular rock / aka modern rock bands, I put Blondie and the Cars in there with Talking Heads.

  7. contrabandista13 says:

    Yeah… I almost forgot… Skynyrd, what’s more American than that…?

  8. sistah says:

    Lynyrd (the original), and Doobie Bros.

  9. Petey Wheatstraw says:

    Yes. Little Feat and T-Heads (already chose VU, earlier).

    To whoever asked earlier, yes, I said Kiss. As a teen, I saw Kiss, as openers, blow the doors off some fairly major acts. Blue Oyster Cult used to do the same thing, but they never quite rose to Kiss’s level of popularity.

  10. scottinnj says:

    I would put a good case for Nirvana, acknowledging the short track record. Rock had turned into glam-hair-dreck and they really helped turn it around. I respect them but tend to see The Doors as a bit “of a time and era”.

  11. pmorrisonfl says:

    “While the first Velvet Underground album may have sold only 30,000 copies in its early years, everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band” – Brian Eno

    … but I’d argue that no American band had a greater impact on the sounds of music after them than Sly and the Family Stone, e.g. Stevie Wonder, Prince, Red Hot Chili Peppers… the influence goes on and on and on.

    (I am a huge CCR fan, so I’m only trying to be open-minded here…)

  12. chartist says:

    I knew the skynyrd fans would be heard as this thread wore on…..I’m a yankee and a skynyrd fan….I remember in the 1970s when Freebird was being compared with stairway to heaven…..I think it was mostly because both songs were roughly the same length.

  13. znmeb says:

    1. Bill Haley and the Comets
    2. The Beach Boys
    3. The Supremes
    4. The Grateful Dead
    5. Foo Fighters

  14. pmorrisonfl says:

    Four other bands that could give CCR a run for their money:
    Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
    Lynyrd Skynyrd

  15. rcumming says:

    Already posted but after reading comments i want to give a bump to the Pixies- I forgot about them, they are knocking on the door of top five for sure. And Grateful Dead haters- disassociate all the connotations (tie dies, pot, unshaven armpits) and re listen to the music. After Lennon-McCartney, Jagger- Richards, Garcia- Hunter are the best songwriters that rock and roll has ever had.

  16. rct01 says:

    Don’t agree with any of BR recommendations, not even close. Some suggestions: Pearl Jam, Aerosmith, Mettalica, Lynryd Skyryd, Soundgarden.

  17. Anonymous Coward says:

    How can you not even mention the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd? Shame on you…

  18. Anonymous Coward says:

    Oh yeah, and The Doors? Hello? Is anybody home? Sheesh.

    Charles, both Iggy and the Ramones are punk… can they still be nominated for the Greatest Rock and Roll band?

  19. jlj says:

    interesting to look at the suggestions vs., might add Santana to the list.

  20. spooz says:

    Dunno about Pearl Jam being “derivative” of Husker Du or the Replacements, but those bands lack the impact of PJ and have no artist comparable to Vedder. imo

  21. Anonymous Coward

    The Doors are clearly in contention. The only problem is their catalogue is a bit thin — they lack a long body of work due to Morrison’s early death. Still, one of the best bands ever to come out of the U.S., and another of the 10 bands who are in the top 5. (lol).

    Are the Ramones a better band than the Talking Heads? (I say no). I saw both live, and the Ramones sounded like they were whacked – sloppy, off key, out of it. I thought maybe they were drunk, but that turned out to be their reputation — fair to middling musicians. While the T Heads were a tight ensemble.

    The Allman Brothers are great, but they are too specifically Southern Rock band — they lack a broader appeal; Lynard Skynard is a good — but not great — band. “Freebird” alone does not get you into the top 10.

    People, pay attention: there are only 2 rules: From the U.S., and a Band. Yes is from the U.K., and violate Rule 1 (ineligible). Jerry Lee Lewis is not a band, and violates Rule 2 (ineligible).

    Stick with the program.

  22. Alex A says:

    The Ramones would be offended that you only thought they were kinda on the sloppy side. Apparently, you saw them on a night when they weren’t completely wasted.

    As for the Allman Brothers, I agree. I was just throwing them out as candidates.

  23. DiggidyDan says:

    Thinking about this more now. . . top 10:
    1. Lynyrd Skynyrd
    2. Aerosmith
    4. Doors
    5. G’n’R
    6. Tool
    7. ZZ Top
    8. CCR
    9. Allman Brothers
    10. Black Flag (I wanted to say Green Day but they wouldn’t exist without Black Flag)

    Honorable Mentions: Van Halen, Green Day, SoundGarden, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Eagles, Canned Heat, Byrds, Parlaiment and the Commodores if you consider them rock.

    Obviously a lot of personal taste and experience is involved, and the rules leave of a lot of great bands that were headlined by even greater single musicians.

  24. Conan says:

    Lynyrd Skynyrd
    Blue Oyster Cult

  25. DiggidyDan says:

    RHCP should be in Honorable mentions also, got deleted somehow.

  26. catman says:

    This is a great, diverse thread, but think about some of the outfits you’ve heard either before they hit the bigtime, or bands you walked in on somewhere blowing the roof a place that didnt seat an NFL game. Different list.

  27. DiggidyDan says:

    And BR, as an apparent occasional fan of the Mushrooms and Cheeba, I would suggest you take a long weeke off and enjoy the Tool catalog as you haven’t experienced under any influence. It would be like hearing Hendrix for the first time, haha.

  28. noahmckinnon says:

    Damn Brits.

    I can’t pick one so I’ll add throw my votes behind the Pixies, Hendrix & The Experience, Eagles, Talking Heads, and Nirvana

    Honorable mention to the Allman Bros, Skynard and early incarnations of Metallica, Devo, Red Hot Chili Peppers

  29. normankelley says:

    My candidates are: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Little Feat, Allman Brothers, Parliament Funkadelics, Sly & the Family Stone, Doors, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Grateful Dead, The Band.

  30. noahmckinnon says:

    Jeez. I forgot Velvet Underground as has already been mentioned. Burned out on the Doors long ago. Whenever I go back, I find I’m still burned on them. Not a good sign. btw, is this a record number of comments for one post?

  31. louis says:

    Too hard to narrow down BR
    MC5, Canned Heat, Allman Bros

    Byrd’s , Kiss, Pixies, Chili Peppers, NWA, Sly and the Family, Boston, Devo, Cars, Pere Ubu.

    For pure atmosphere hard to beat the Doors ,Steely, and Janes.

  32. I have to admit that Boston is a major contender — the sticking point is they only had 2 albums (that 3rd one hardly counts) but oh, what monsters those two discs were!

  33. jelyon says:

    Allman Brothers.

    That is all.

  34. freitagfan says:

    I realize nobody will agree but for those I haven’t seen mentioned:
    Lynyrd Skynyrd
    Doobie Brothers (weirdly convoluted)
    Aerosmith (think back to the 70′s and 80′s alone)

    #1 IMO is The Beach Boys. They competed with the Beatles for many years.

  35. darian says:

    No one has mentioned Sonic Youth.

    Consistently amazing records for over 30 years straight, and still going (mostly). More influential to more generations of kids than any of the other bands mentioned. They were more in the rock n’ roll spirit of F*^& the man and his entire machine than all the bands on BRs list put together and doubled. (nothing personal BR)

    REM had a good two or three albums, then just lost it, but I am not sure there was much “it” to lose.

    The Doors? Maybe if I had never hear a punk rock record, I would have been impressed after I turned 12 or 13. They were pretty universally reviled by the critics during their time, and were utter sellouts contrary to what people think.

    CCR? Meh. Limited lifespan. And as BR says, a product of their times that did not translate very well going forward.

    Talking Heads came out of the same(ish) NYC late 70s scene as Sonic Youth, but didn’t last nearly long enough.

    Steely Dan was a POP band, not a rock band. Granted, a good to great pop band for people with half a brain, and occasionally selling their souls at the alter of “musicianship” but pop nonetheless.

    At least someone mentioned Fugazi above. If only they could have lasted longer / had a more consistent output, they could have challenged SY.

  36. Edoc says:

    I’m not fond of Rule #2, because many bands are driven by only one songwriter/visionary (e.g. Dire Straits, The Police, White Stripes, Social Distortion). Do we need to rule out any group which doesn’t have more than one contributing songwriter?

    Also, does rock n’ roll include all forms of rock, including r&b, punk and rockabilly?


    1. NRBQ
    2. Little Feat
    3. The Band (ok, they’re canadian-american)
    4. Mink DeVille
    5. The Ventures
    6. The Blasters
    7. X
    8. Social Distortion

    I’m sure I’m overlooking some.

  37. DiggidyDan says:

    also substitute the Ramones for Black Flag, Wrong drunken memory, Black Flag was the crappy edgy response to the Ramones all shock no music.

  38. Jafo says:

    At the risk of not fitting into ‘Rock & Roll’ how about:
    Simon & Garfunkel
    The Temptations
    The Supremes
    Steve Miller Band
    Crosby Stills & Nash (with and without Young)
    . . . . . (all of the above were Hall of Fame inductees, though not sure about Steve Miller)

  39. DiggidyDan says:

    Steve Miller Band. . . Good one! Forgot about that Trip!

  40. DiggidyDan says:

    Then again, guess it qualifies as Solo artist + Band in name, although clearly many of these groups were more than just the main name!

  41. garenwisner says:

    Follow the money – The Eagles Greatest Hits (The highest selling album before Michael Jackson’s death)

    And for the best two DVD Reuion performances – Eagles – Hell Freezes Over; Eagles Farewell I Tour (Live from Melbourne)

  42. faulkner says:

    Do they to have authored their own songs?

    If not, then hands down it’s The Wrecking Crew.

    They “were” The Beach Boys, The Byrds, and so many others. Go see for yourself.

  43. Eliza says:

    Did Frank Zappa (or The Mothers of Invention) miss the list?

    Or Tower of Power?

    Aw shucks…

  44. slowkarma says:

    Little Feat
    The first fifteen minutes of GNR, before Axl got fat

    I might have listed The Doors, but one time I put on one of their albums sober, and listened to the lyrics.

  45. Frilton Miedman says:

    No one’s mentioned Pantera, interesting.

    Wandering between moody, psychadelic, impassioned & strangely relaxing, you either love them or hate them –

    Segue into a noteworthy artist that won’t qualify (instrumental fusion {rock/jazz}) -
    For those who like “different” rock, Mahavishnu with John Mclaughlin.

    To understand how interesting they were, you have to hear Mclaughlin play acoustical jazz or classical, the man is unquestionably one of the best guitarists in the world, dizzying fast, with or without amps, distortion & effects..

  46. Father Lucifer says:

    Jefferson Airplane
    Crosby Stills Nash & Young

  47. censeo says:

    The Allman Brothers,
    Jefferson Airplane
    The Byrds,
    The Band,
    Little Feat.

  48. slowkarma says:

    And for the guy who thinks Jim Morrison put sex in rock n roll,this:

  49. ToNYC says:

    No one yet got the Moby Grape. 1967 was their year but Jerry Miller who Eric Clapton called the best blues guitar player ever, didn’t get with the contract and label religion right:
    The perfect American music business debacle that ever happened to a seminal band. Jerry is from Tacoma and so was Jimi Hendrix and they played together there. Jerry still plays his Gibson L-5, Beulah, with the Jerry Miller Band including Tiran Porter and Dale Ockerman of the Doobie Brothers and I catch them a couple a times a year. He can be heard right now at still lovin’ life and finding success in the playing.

  50. dyrwolf says:

    Seems like, of all the bands mentioned here, only the Dead have their own sat. radio channel.

    I guess we who listen have been brainwashed.

    My guess is that those who slam the Dead above have listen to only Truckin’ and Touch of Grey. The Garcia/Hunter body of work is unparalleled.

  51. Keith says:

    There have been a lot of great bands listed, but I don’t think the list would be complete without including The Blasters. The songs, the knowledge and respect for the music, the musicianship, the power and emotion, the live shows that are legendary. To me, they are American Rock ‘n Roll at its best.

  52. Angryman1 says:

    No, the Ramones? They influenced many of the lists.

  53. Ivor the Engine Driver says:

    Weren’t the boys from “Mountain” all from the U.S.? Great, great band.

  54. Mort says:

    What about KISS?

  55. bobmitchell says:

    The dude saves the day again-

    The eagles?


    The dude abides.

  56. farfetched says:

    Everyone has done such a good job of listing some great bands. I might disagree with BR on the Eagles. I’m older than he is and lived in So. Cal. so I caught a lot of shows in their first interation with Bernie Leadon. I think I’ve seen just about all listed except Buddy Holly and the Crickets as I’m not quite that old, but as far as influence, they stand head and shoulders above anyone else besides the Beatles who they also influenced. The best live band I ever heard and saw was FZ and the Mothers of Invention. Head and shoulders above everyone else musical talent wise. But man, what a list compiled by TBP readers. As usual some strongly opinionated, but BR knew that would happen because it’s MUSIC which is so personal and individual. Also, since I was around for all of the Beach Boys, they certainly started as pure surf, but I wouldn’t say Pet Sounds is surf any more than Helter Skelter is I want to hold your hand.

    I’m sure we have missed some somewhere, but the criteria seems more “popular” than quality. The Allmans with Duane started an entire regional genre. You can’t list Skynyrd without recognizing the Allmans. Gotta go listen to more music. Later!

  57. Richard W. Kline says:

    The category of ‘Rock and Roll’ through me; that is more specific than ‘the best _rock_ band’ which is what is clearly meant. All of the bands cited in the post have been very good, sold tons, and are much loved. But what are the real criteria for consideration? I would say a) instantly wowed the public in their time, b) top notch musicians across the board, c) crackerjack song writers whose material stands the test of time, and d) kick ass live band who incinerated anybody who took the stage alonside them.

    By those standards, I would go: the Doors, the Band, Velvet Underground, the Allman Brothers, and R.E.M. Honorable mentions to the Grateful Dead and perhaps the Talking Heads. Any of these acts could have their recordings played 200 years from now and they would still floor the listeners because they are just that good. If forced to pick just one I’d go with the Doors; basic blues with intellect, moxie, licks, and the ‘young lion’s’ sensuous voice. R.E.M were maybe as good at their early peak, but their career arc shows what happens if bands really get those ‘five more years.’ The Band were just the _best_ musicians, completely capable on their respective instruments, and all five of them wrote excellent material; how common is that? (Doesn’t happen. I can only compare Miles Davis’ early 60s quintet.) The Underground had everything the Talking Heads did plus consistently a consistently brilliant attacking sound whether hard or slow. The groupd folks seem to consistently overlook are the Allman Brothers. Just blistering good musicians in an electric blues idiom they had at complete command. That, too me, is what has to be there to be a _rock_ group.

    The Eagles aren’t a bad choice; their production was really outstanding, and their material pretty good. They don’t quite have the edge of some of these. Creedance rock out for sure, but any of the bands I mention were better musicians with more enduring material; the Band is just a better choice in the same vein. The Dead were a terrific good time with good time musicians; however, their vibe is a narrow stylistic range, and frankly all their songs sound like a single long jam, if a helluva good one. Van Halen are a stormforce live group, but their material is pop on roids, really not comparable as writers to the rest; no coincidence the songs cited for them were_covers_. Polished as they were, the Beach Boys or the Beatles have never passed muster to me as a ‘rock group’ in either case, exactly because compared to, say, the Allman Brothers we see what a rock group really is. I can see how some advocate for Pearl Jam. They certainly meeet the criteria I set . . . yet their sound always left me cold, I don’t know why. I never really felt they were their own band making their own material with their own sound and guts, unlike Nirvana whom I never really cared for but who were unique and deep into their own one true thing. . . . I can’t think of a single Pearl Jam cut whose title I even know or which would get met up dancing, and I live in Seattle! But they’re all hotshot musicians, give ‘em that. The Jefferson Airplane and the American era of Fleetwood Mac might make it here, but their time was just too short; we never got enough of what those sets had to give, so they’re always just outside the circle of the best.

  58. bobmitchell says:

    Sanatana should also get some mention, as a person and a band.

  59. Richard W. Kline says:

    I’ll give a shout out to those bringing back Zappa and the Mothers. Massively talented musicians who fried the audience every time out. But there is the same problem as the Talking Heads: the Mothers had a very specific kind of composition and way of improvising. The folks that like that have always been mad crazy in love with them . . . but the bulk of the listening public not only didn’t get it but didn’t care too. The Mothers were, to me, a great band using rock instruments rather than a great ‘rock band,’ and that’s exactly the disconnect I suspect. But more power to them for going their own way to do their own thing. FZ didn’t give a lick what we thought or think, and as an artist that’s how it damn well should be.

  60. Radio Head says:

    Fun! How often to you get the urge to post something like: “Yeah, there all pretty good choices.” And they are. Attended morfe Dead concerts but was initiated to California psychedelia by Jefferson Airplane. We had a little college cult for JA which stayed with them right through their truly inspired, one-of-a-kind After Bathing at Baxter’s followed by their split and evolution into Starship with Blows Against the Empire (which is practically sampled by Radiohead for OK Computer!).

    So I like the Byrds, Beach Boys and then the darknes that shades the Doors’ take on Californication. And that’s just my Left Coast favorites.

  61. mthogan says:

    Neil Young and Crazy Horse deserve a mention on any list of great American Rock and Roll Bands. I would argue that Neil Young with Crazy Horse was a true band and not a leader and a bunch of back ups. Neil once said he wanted them thought of as the American Rolling Stones and I think they are. Also, a quibble: the name of the band is Talking Heads, not The Talking Heads. It’s like saying The Van Halen or The Pink Floyd. They even put out an album to explain it: “The Name of This Band is Talking Heads.” Drives me nuts when people put the “The” in there.

  62. Richard W. Kline says:

    Oh and X! —But nobody really knew them outside of LA and their core audience. And that’s a shame. There has been, flat said out, NO better live rock bank in the US, the venue was a nuclear blast sight yet still musical not just sonic booming. You cannot NOT dance when X comes out of the box, and that should be a criteria for best rock band too be it said. But nobody knows therir songs, or plays them at all these days, which is a damn shame. And like the Airplane and Fleetwood they blew up too quickly for us to get what they had to give. . . . If only Pearl Jam had been more like X and less like Guns ‘N’ Roses . . . . Eddie baby, it’s not to late!!

  63. Duff Clarity says:

    “a) instantly wowed the public in their time, b) top notch musicians across the board, c) crackerjack song writers whose material stands the test of time, and d) kick ass live band who incinerated anybody who took the stage alonside them.”

    Other than “stands the test of time” that is a very good description of what the Velvet Underground was not.

  64. Richard W. Kline says:

    As a final comment, I can surely see Sonic Youth and Red Hot Chili Peppers getting into the conversation. They meet the criteria, have been extremely influential, and if not my personal favorites in sound can rock it out. Better choices to me than metal influenced groups like admittedly talented Soundgarten and Pearl Jam: metal is _not_ rock; be warned. It’s its own beast which just uses the same instruments.

    And the MC5 were fantastic live and excellent musicians, but lacked the material to really make an impact on those who didn’t get blown away by them live. Everybody’s seen that picture of the guy in a leather chair with hair and clothes streaming back from the speakers: that’s what being in the audience for the MC5 was _exactly_ like, they reached out and powered into your skull in a smack-like way.

    And Barry, Steely Dan . . . no. Just no. Excellent musicians, sure. A ‘rock band, no.

  65. Richard says:

    Loved most of the suggestions but I was thinking of a band that’s more “American” in that it (still) blends R&R with some of its foundations (Blues for the beat and soul, Jazz for improvisational tendencies), Cajun etc:


    Been around for over 30 years so yes, they’re troopers that have been slogging it out in auditoriums, halls and recording studios with the best of ‘em.

    Effect on other musicians? Incredible with these folks. Admitted fans include Clint Black, Bonnie Bramlet, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Stephan Bruton, String Cheese Incident, Randy Newman, the Bottle Rockets & David Lindley, Allen Toussaint, Taj Mahal, J.D. Souther, and many many more.

    Not familiar with their work? You probably know at least two of their songs. Dixie Chicken (“If you’ll be my dixie chicken) and Willin.

    Though they never quite “broke through” to widespread popularity, they continue to make a mark on the scene.

    Whaddya think?

  66. jenkins says:

    Ok, I’m late to the game….

    Doesn’t anyone own a copy of “double nickels on a dime”? D.Boon was giving shout outs to CCR, theDan and Van Halen back in the mid-eighties.

    Since I have to luxury of looking at most of the lists, I’ll try 5 I didn’t see:
    2. Cheap Trick
    3.The Wipers
    4.the Minutemen
    5.Big Star

    Honorable mentions :the Sonics, New York Dolls, the Modern Lovers, Mudhoney

    Wouldn’t the first 4 Funkadelic records count as rock?

    I enjoy the music posts when they happen here at the BP.
    It’s always interesting to see what people are into. Petey, seeing Kiss as an opening act must have blown your teenage mind!

  67. Dogfish says:

    Perhaps running afoul of the established criteria… yet with the awesome, wide-ranging discussion, the acknowledgement of the importance of influence as a criterion, and the mention of Zappa to jog my memory… I feel that at least an unofficial, honorable mention is in order for Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band.

    G’night all, great thread.

  68. Jeff Thure says:

    No long winded explanations, no arguments, this is the list , period. The TOP 15 ROCK & ROLL AMERICAN BANDS

    15. CCR/ Greatful Dead
    14. Guns & Roses
    13. REM
    12. Pearl Jam
    11. Allman Bros
    10. Red Hot Chili Peppers
    9. The Ramones/
    8. Lynyrd Skynrd
    7. Kiss
    6 ZZ Top
    5. The Doors
    4. Fleetwood Mac
    3. Beach Boys/ Van Halen
    2. Aerosmith
    1. Eagles

  69. Hey Jeff,

    Not a bad list of 15/17; But a few quibbles:

    1. No Talking Heads? No Steely Dan? C’mon !

    2. The Ramones are good drunken fun – but better than either band in #1? (No) And in your top 10 to boot?

    3. I saw the Eagles live, and they were pretty boring, which is why they cannot be #1 for me. Top 20, sure, top 10 maybe, but not #1.

    4. REM as #13 of 15? Top 5 at least

    5. Allman Bros below Skyrnard?

    6. Kiss above Van Halen?

    7. ZZTop above RHCP?

    8. Fleetwood Mac over the Doors? (Puh-leeze!)

    Not a bad start anyway . . .

  70. Greg0658 says:

    when I saw this earlier there was 3 posts .. RWKline go to bed :-) – but I agree on the definition of RockNRoll is very broad – to me it broke the BigBand and County&Western eras – say Buddy Holly & Jerry Lee Lewis .. morphed into many genres

    I was thinking of counting albums – but that is real work – let the # be the decider – then started to wonder about concert tickets and t-shirts as part of the count – not gonna go there now after all these good reminders …. but didn’t see Styx, Kansas, Boston, Pablo Cruise, The Carpenters, Dan Fogelberg (I know – saw solo with backup bands don’t count) not to mention the movies bands John Norman Howard Speedway**
    SteDan has my money too .. as Journey, REO, Steve Miller, Aerosmith, Allmans, Bob Seger, Eagles*, Kiss, ….
    some of them offShore accounts have my friendship too:
    Genesis, Yes, Beatles (together & sep), Rush, Def Leppard, Alan Parsons Proj (had to check on him)

    * (tho did some research about a month ago – my take is they compiled best of singles albums except for The Long Run & that exclusive to WalMart for a month)

    thats it – done – I’m forget’g thousands of dollars of others but – its late for me too

    ** watch closely now kris kristofferson

  71. Tyler says:

    Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, those guys were great, and certainly a band not just a one man show.

    What about ZZTop? they influenced so many artists.

    Chicago, don’t even think about excluding them.

  72. Tyler,

    Still, Bob Seger is a solo artist with a backing band, and definitely not a group.
    If we were to judge Seger a group, they’d still be way down the list behind Springsteen . . .

    On the other hand, ZZ Top is definitely overlooked — a very good call there.

    Chicago, who I’ve seen any times in my misspent youth (tho Chicago hardly qualifies as part of a misspent youth!) is another overlooked group. But since Terry Keith died [suicide], they really lost their chops. Now, they are a fun, edgeless horn ensemble — and barely a rock group.

  73. Jeremy says:

    I am dismayed that a strong case was not made for Aerosmith. They have survived many eras of American music. They have incorporated loads of new fans with their droves of classic fans. they have been around for near 30 years and have continued to release many hits. Plus without Walk this Way *granted Run DMC) had more to do with it) we may not have much of the music we have today.

    Another couple of bands worth honorable mention are KISS they really helped glam explode (not real glam aka the NY Dolls, but the 80′s hair band explosion wouldn’t have happened w/o KISS)

    Bon Jovi is another band only for their ability to maintain a successful career while other big hair bands of the 80′s have struggled just to play small venues. Bon Jovi continues to sell out large stadiums and that is impressive.

    If I had to rate the top American R&R bands of all time I would rank them in the following order from 10-1

    10. The Coral Reefer Band 9Hey I’m a Parrothead and this is my way to stick Jimmy Buffett on the list)
    9. Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers
    8. REM
    7. Metallica
    6. The Grateful Dead
    5. Pearl Jam
    4. Van Halen
    3. The Eagles
    2. The Doors
    1. Aerosmith

  74. Jeremy makes some Interesting points:

    I like the inclusion of Pearl Jam and Allman Bros. But his top 10 includes 11 bands!

    We’ve had long discussions regarding Aerosmith — I personally love “Toys in the Attic” — The general consensus was that Van Halen had a much broader and deeper catalogue . . . Hence, Tyler and Friends, while a unique group of Rock Stars, really couldn’t own the top slot.

    Also, for the same reason that the E Street band isn’t here — We know the Coral Reefer band is really a front for Buffet — so that really is kinda ineligible as a band (it should get knocked off the list ; )

    Personally, I’d swap the Talking Heads for Metallica, and Steely Dan for Skynyrd, who’s career was cut so tragically short. And I’d figure a way to get Creedence Cleearwater Revival (CCR) in there somehow — But hey, that’s simply a matter of personal opinion.

    Choice is what makes a horse race! Thanks for the provocative post!

    PS: Can you honestly say that Bon Jovi is one of the 10 best bands America has produced? (Me neither!)

    They should get bonus points for surviving the Jon Bon Jovi poster!

  75. Jeremy says:

    My list is really only 10 bands (as both you and I know the Coral Reefers don’t count but the Parrothead in me had to include them).

    I can not believe I left off the Talking Heads you are SO RIGHT that they should be in there and I probably left them off more because personally I am not a huge fan but certainly their place within music history is as solid as most any other American band

    I would probably omit either The Allmans or Skynyrd [EDITOR: Allmans are the more infliuential band, so Skynard should go] to make room as 1 southern rock band should be enough.

    As to Bon Jovi..well I am just amazed that while all of the other bands of their genre (Motley Crue, G n R, Poison, Warrant, Slaughter, UKJ, Extreme, etc, etc.,etc.) have gone by the wayside Bon Jovi has not only maintained it’s status as a top draw but also grown in popularity. I rank Aerosmith ahead of Van Halen because even Van Halen in today’s game aren’t really players while Aerosmith is still rocking to sold out stadiums and influencing popular music today. I think the guys in Van Halen are more talented individual musicians but there impact as a whole is not as great. I think a band being able to reinvent itself and continue to succeed throughout differing eras and differening genre’s of music is worthy of a huge boost as to where they would rank. That’s really why Aerosmith is so high and why Bon Jovi made my list.

    As to CCR hmm, well they probably do deserve a spot and maybe I should put my love of Jon Bon and the boys aside and place CCR on the top 10 as I have long held to the believe that EVERYONE on the planet isa CCR fan they just may not realize it.I know for years I LOVED their music and had no idea who the band was. To this day I am never surprised when I am listening to CCR on the radio and hear somebody say “Man I love this song..who sings it?” It seems as if CCR’s music achieved a much greater success then the band ever did. As a band they are always an afterthought but their music is featured on almost anybody’s best of rock and roll albums from Down on the Corner to Proud Mary their music is legendary it is odd that they have never really recieved their just due.

    Anyway I happened upon that website by accident last night while researching some political items and I have to say I have already bookmarked it as a favorite. Don’t know if you run it or who does but it is a great forum for discussion and debate. I look forward to checking in from time to time.

  76. bear_in_mind says:

    I have to take issue with your conceptual framing regarding individuals vs. solo artists.

    There’s virtually no artist who can carry a concert solo, much less “rock”, without a backing group. In fact, the only artists I’ve ever seen perform who could carry off a solo performance as well as they could with a backing band were John Denver and Johnny Cash — but that wasn’t rock.

    So to suggest Springsteen and the E Street Band didn’t constitute a “band” seems totally arbitrary. Can you cite a time when the E Street Band cut an album, or even performed together as the E Street Band, without Bruce? I can’t think of a single instance, despite the fact various members have done side-gigs over the years.

    Anyway… here’s my faves:

    * Blue Oyster Cult (the original heavy metal band — from upstate New York, no less)

    * Montrose (the eponymous ’73 album contains 38 minutes of some of the best, hardest rock found in the galaxy — and that leaves-out his shredding on “Free Ride” and “Frankenstein” with the Edgar Winter Band, not to mention his body of work with Gamma)

    * The Doobie Brothers (prior to Michael McDonald — esp. songs like “China Grove”, “Long Train Runnin’”, “Without You” and “Listen to the Music”)

    * Stevie Ray Vaughn (Stevie and the late, great Randy Rhodes, are two of the best guitarist(s) in our lifetime)

    * Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers (Mike Campbell’s signature guitar riffs are pivotal to the band’s success)

    * Boston (Great merging of tech, guitar and harmonies)

    On the distaff side:
    * Janis Joplin
    * Heart
    * Pat Benatar
    * The Pretenders

    Later generation:
    * Collective Soul
    * Live
    * Green Day
    * Foo Fighters

    By the way, there was a one-off project called “Temple of the Dog” that was populated with various members of what would shortly thereafter become Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Has a number of strong tracks, a few mediocre, but you might wanna give it a spin.

  77. Malachi says:

    British rock bands were so far beyond most US bands. I wonder why.

  78. chromex says:

    Considered as “rock” there was no one better than Iggy and the Stooges and Raw Power. VU and Nico would be a tie or Number 2- although Cale and Nico were not american
    Pixies are Brits, I think.
    Brian Wilson ( really the only Beach Boy along with the wrecking crew, as Dennis was courageous enough to admit and as recordings of eg God Only Knows, with Brian singing all the parts demonstrates) was more of a genius pop composer, bordering on the symphonic, than rock, Definitely the greatest pop composer of the latter 20th century.Pet Sounds was released in 1966, long before the release of Sgt Pepper in 1967. Mcartney is on record as saying that it inspired Pepper. Wilson is on record saying that Pet Sounds was inspired by Rubber Soul. I think the poster above is thinking of Smile, which was never completed in original form.

  79. Marc Brazeau says:

    The best American band ever was X. Nobody wrote as well, no one played as well and no one ever could touch them on sex (“we slept for a week. cinders on the sheets” – “arms like two swords, goldmine where they meet, long fine legs and a treasure chest where they meet”) broken people (“she gets confused flying over the dateline” – “the bartenders eyes are full of pity as he tells her , ‘you’re all alone and its 2:30. All the chairs are on the tables and it’s time to close’ she said, ‘a minute ago they were all starin at me. where the hell did they go?’), rock and roll (“I’ve seen a lot of people with plenty of guts. the say, ‘make my music new & loud & rough!’ give it a beat or give it a twang in a dark sweaty club its the same damn thing. bang bang make the music go bang! brilliant shining and nasty!”) or a sense of culture and history (“honest to goodness the bars weren’t open this morning. they musta been votin’ for a new president or somethin’. do ya have a quarter, I said yes, because i did. the tears have been fallin all over this country in spades. it was better before we voted for what’s his name. this was supposed to be the new world.”)

    The only band that could touch them would be if you considered Bob Dylan and the Nighthawks/the Band a band. The Basement Tapes, Songs from Big Pink and Bob Dylan Live 1966 make a good case.

    The American band that tops the chart in terms of the Best Band at one point in their career/ Worst Band at another career quotient is certainly ZZ Top. Very few American bands touch the brilliance of albums 3-6 and the utterly craptacular 10+. The blow the doors off of Springsteen, Van Halen, and any number of bands for in high genius/cheese-eater quotient. Though the Chili Peppers . . .

    The big monkey wrench questions in my mind is: Are the Beastie Boys a rock band? If the answer is no, then X is the knock down drag out best American Band.

    If you don’t know their work start with Unclogged, a live acoustic album to get a feel for their song writing and then move on to More Fun in the New World and Los Angeles to catch the full steaming, diesel force of American Rock and Roll.

    Honorable mention: Little Feat, Iggy and the Stooges, Concrete Blonde, Steely Dan, Creedence, Skynyrd, Allman Bros. BS and the E Street Band, Husker Du, Talking Heads, Grateful Dead, Nirvana, Soundgarden, the Ramones, the Replacements.

    Marc Brazeau

  80. Mr Dithers says:

    I was dumbfounded that nobody considered X — but then I got all the way down here and found Marc’s post. Seconded.

    Landlord, clean up the mess.

    Mr Dithers

  81. merthulbert says:

    I just stumbled onto this website and I am astounded that not one poster has even mentioned as a possibility for the Greatest American Band ever a little outfit called, The Band. On musicianship, they stack up against anybody. On influence, its difficult to know where to begin. Can you imagine the alt. country movement without them? Clapton said he disbanded Cream after hearing “Music From Big Pink.” The Lowell George-led Little Feat owed a huge debt to Levon, Robbie, Rick, Richard and Garth. There was also this guy named Zimmerman. The Band played lots of different genres [blues, country, New Orleans, funk, soul, Appalachian folk] but it was all identifiably rock n roll. As for live performances, I never saw them personally, but check out “Rock of Ages,” my all-time favorite live record. The Band produced two of the seminal records in rock n roll, “Music from Big Pink” and “The Band.” They also were Dylan’s equal on “The Basement Tapes,” perhaps the greatest testament to the wonderful collage of American music, all coalesced around rock n roll. Finally, although not relevant to this poll, The Band also produced, via Levon, perhaps the best book ever chronicling the life of a rock n roller, “This Wheel’s on Fire.”

    After the Band, I go for the Ramones, REM & CCR.

  82. The Band was (like Rush) actually Canadian! They released some songs as the Canadian Squires

  83. charlie board says:

    The Funk Brothers at Motown, Booker T & The MG’s at Stax, and the Swampers down in Muscle Shoals. All three were American, all three were bands. And between them they played on more hits *and* more influential records than pretty much all the other bands mentioned in this thread combined. I love the vast majority of the bands mentioned thus far…but this has been a ridiculously white discussion. There’s more transcendant rock & roll in the first 30 seconds of “Green Onions” than in the entire Steely Dan catalog.

  84. craig h says:

    the grateful dead for sure. and if you want a free copy of a live show to prove it, email me your address at US address only, i’ll take the first 5 responses

    1. Grateful Dead
    2. Allman Bros
    3. The Ramones
    4. Aerosmith
    4. ZZ Top
    5. Kiss
    6. The Doors
    7. CCR

  85. Mobiledan says:

    Looking at longivity, tour attendance, and impact, I can’t consider any poll that leaves out the Grateful Dead as even being legitimate. I’d put the Dead at number one, but I could accept a poll that had them in the top 5, or maybe even 10, but…not even mentioned? The Dead are a huge part of American culture.

  86. rick says:

    hmm, most of people’s “greatest” bands would make my worst ever list with aerosmith at the very top. god theyre awful.

    but to each his own.

  87. Richard R says:

    How about a mention for Hall and Oates. Great songs, great musicians, sold insane numbers of records. I didn’t pay attention at the time but liked the songs and like them more and more as time goes on. Daryl Hall is still at it with one of the best web produced shows, Live From Daryl’s House – four years of monthly shows with great guest artists of every style. It’s nonsense that they’re not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

    There was one mention of Sly and the Family Stone – best live show in history and influenced everyone.

  88. clarence says:


    I don’t quite see how the E Street band is just “backup” while the “Doors” aren’t: take out Morrison and what’s left?

    Incidentally, why no consideration of Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes? If quality, not popularity, is the criteria, I’d put them up against any group as commercial as Van Halen or Creedence; SJ is true “white blues” music, often as good as Springsteen imvho.

  89. Clarence,

    Each of the Doors made a major contribution:

    Ray Manzarek was a legitimately successful keyboardist, and is well regarded by musicians in general.

    Robby Krieger was also thougt of as a talented and innovative guitarist. Both of them are still touring presently. Both contributed to the Doors overall sound, recordings, and writing.

    I overlooked Southside Johnny, (who I have seen live several times), simply because they lacked the depth of recorded catalogue, and influence over other bands. I relied on 4 factors: Body of work, live performance, musicianship and influence on other bands.

    BTW, if you like Southside Johnny, you should check out the Worms ( — a great bar band from NYC in the late 80s early 90s.

    As to Bruce, it is a completely arbitrary distinction.

  90. Alex A says:

    CCR was an inspired choice. As was REM and the Talking Heads.

    I have a personal fondness for The Replacements but I can’t say that they are “better” than any of the bands you listed. (I know you can’t
    rate bands solely on their influence on others because if you did you would end up with Alex Chilton, the Dolls and Iggy Pop.)

    The Talking Heads are a bit too much of a particular time and place kind of band to rate as an all-time great.

    Steely Dan, although I love them to death, simply aren’t a rock and roll band. At least not in any sense that matters.

    I also must take issue with the Springsteen decision. They are a band. They just happen to have a lead singer/songwriter. So what? The same
    can be said of almost every band on your list.

    How about the Allman Brothers?

    Your most egregious omission is THE RAMONES! If you don’t like them, you don’t like Rock N Roll. Plain and simple.

  91. Alex,

    I agree with everything you wrote except:

    Allman Bros. — too genre specific — ie, Southern Rock. Great band, but not a great RnR band.

    As to the Ramones, they were kinda on the sloppy side.

    I used 4 factors: Body of work, live performance, musicianship and influence on other bands.

    The Ramones are fun, but their body of work is slight, and their live performances, while full of energy, somewhat lacked in musicianship.

  92. Moss says:

    Derick and the Dominoes – Clapton
    Crosby Stills Nash and Young.

    If they had stayed together…

  93. jnkowens says:

    1. Beach Boys
    2. The Doors
    3. The Cars

  94. Orange14 says:

    Going to college in SoCal in the late 60s allowed me to see a lot of the CA-based bands. Kind of moved away from rock after that. Other than Lou Reed who kept the Velvet Underground together I don’t think the rest of the NY based groups were all that inventive or influential. At any rate here are my top five:

    1. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention – just great musicianship in every genre they played and they played them all (Reuben and the Jets is especially nostalgic)
    2. Beach Boys – brought surf rock to its pinnacle
    3. Booker T & the MGs – probably on more recordings than any of us realize as they backed lots of singers
    4. Jefferson Airplane – anyone name a greater lead singer than Grace Slick?
    5. Creedence Clearwater Revival – John Fogarty was just a great vocalist

  95. yenwoda says:

    1. Velvet Underground – great body of work, with a ton of range. They recorded fuzzed-out loud chaos, jams, straight-up rock-n-roll, and gentle melancholy. All very distinctive with superb musicianship, and it’s nearly impossible to overstate their influence. I have no idea how they were live.

    2. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – somewhat southern flavored, but by no means locked into any narrow sub-genre. Amazing songwriting and playing, plus points for longevity without a major decline. Great live, or so I’ve heard. My favorite band to listen to on a long drive.

    3. Pixies – infectious, energetic, well-played tunes. I award them points for musical and lyrical experimentation & influence, and for making better use of the bass guitar than nearly any other band.