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).

CCR.jpg

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.

Doors.jpg

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.

steely_dan.jpg

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?

talking_heads.jpg

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.

REM.jpg

 

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.’

Eagles.jpg

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.

VH.jpg

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.

BB.jpg

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. Greg0658 says:

    totally slipped on Chicago (mem jogged above) and after crawling into bed and the slow fall off (radio jogged me – about 10 min WHO is this) .. Foreigner (not sure what side of the pond either)

    that factoid .. imo the best of Rock’N’Roll years were produced as a friendly war of TOP This banter

    and mentioned above over & over but not in my list by mistake (as others) VanHalen (various fronts and solo’d) AND is a TBP shoutout

    damn good david lee roth
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mIP7ySBXBg

  2. polizeros says:

    MC5
    Stooges
    Velvet Underground.

  3. TheAcsMan says:

    This may be the best Financial Blog article and comment thread, ever. I may check on its progress daily

  4. thomas hudson says:

    little feat would certainly be in my list, as well as velvet underground (as the liner notes say in ‘loaded’, not everyone bought this album, but everyone who did started a rock and roll band).

    been reading david byrne’s book ‘how music works’, and listening to each album as he has been discussing it. what a body of work. if the above posters think their work is too new york artsy to be included, you may have only listened to the first few releases. saw them on the stop making sense tour. unbelievable.

    grateful dead. as jerry garcia said, not everyone likes licorice, but the people who do really like licorice. if you are judging them by their studio work and the songs that get played on the radio, then yes, they are average. but they were primarily a live show, and when they were on, they were on. they played
    2, 318 shows, of which over 2000 still are available in some form. that wouldn’t be true if there wasn’t something there. they are also very influential, spurring basically the whole jam band genre (you may not like that genre, but that is a different argument). bill kreutzman is definitely in my list of top 10 drummers (mickey hart, not so much).

    this is a great article that came out about a month ago that i think is a pretty fair assessment of their legacy:
    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/11/26/121126fa_fact_paumgarten

  5. Bob is still unemployed   says:

    re: CCR …

    They are one of my favorites. I think the music holds up well over the years and that it would have been more popular in subsequent years were it not for the quarrel with one of the label owners.

    I think the high quality of the CCR songwriting shows when the songs are played by other artists. For example, an acoustic version of Green River seems to capture the sound and sense of the song. Of course, maybe that echoes the thought that CCR were mostly John Fogerty..

  6. srvbeach21 says:

    This is a conversation I’ve actually had before, and it’s a fun one. What’s so difficult to me is that so many bands that I would consider for “Top 5 Bands” are excluded because they’re not American. Stones, Beatles, Led Zep, Who, Cream, etc are British. The Band is Canadian (except Levon), CSNY is half Canadian and 1/4 British.

    Obviously so much is perspective and taste (and even your definition of rock), but for me the top band was the Allman Brothers, followed by Pearl Jam, although so many great bands have been listed. CCR is a good choice too. I don’t think the genre comment about the Allman’s being more southern rock makes much sense – rock is from the south after all. And a song like “Whippin Post”, or even some of the reworked blues tunes like “One Way Out” or “Stateboro Blues” are more of rock songs than anything Steely Dan, the Talking Heads or the Eagles ever did.

    Also love the shout outs to Booker T and to the Wrecking Crew.

  7. MaximElan says:

    My five: The Byrds, CCR, Sly & the Family Stone, REM, the Eagles

    I can’t stand the Eagles but they’ve sold so many records they’re hard to ignore.

    The Byrds over the Doors (I’m older) because their first five or six albums are stupendous (Abbey Road West IMO, and the Beatles felt the same)

    CCR for obvious reasons, Sly’s band on the merits of those fabulous albums and singles

    REM is as good as anybody else on the list and definitely the most consistent for the longest, well into the 90′s.

  8. Moopheus says:

    In no order: Negativland, Butthole Surfers, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, Dead Kennedys, and the Shaggs.

  9. decaturbob says:

    my top 5 are:

    1 creedence clearwater revival who’s music dominated the airwaves even while the Beatles were soaring.

    2. The Doors, what can I say? Morrison’s lyrics ruled

    3. Lynyrd Skynyrd who brought country rock to the mainstream

    4. The Eagles, where else did such talent existed from Glenn Fry to Joe Walsh,

    5. Metallica, definitely in top 10

    others in my list, Aerosmith, Guns’n’Roses (who knows how great they would have been if Axl Rose wasn’t such a nitwit), Green Day, ZZTop, Nirvana, Journey, REM, Bon Jovi, Grand Funk Railroad, Van Halen, Styxx, REO Heart

    and in time The Black Keyes

  10. dleins says:

    The Byrds in a landslide. They invented whole genres of rock. Caused George Harrison to pick up a Rickenbacker. Spawned Folk Rock, Country Rock and some acid Rock. Signature sound stills sounds great today. Copied by everyone (e.g. Tom Petty)…

  11. Several people have suggested the Byrds — They don’t make the top 5, and I’m not sure where they fit into the top 10.

    Here’s why: They have an extensive catalogue of music, but I was never blown away by a lot of it (the word “Shmaltzy” comes to mind). “Tambourine Man” always struck me a s corny.

    There’s no doubt they were hugely influential. Some have called them America’s 1st supergroup. But I can’t really get to jazzed about them — I found their writing pretty thin when compared with many of the other names we’ve discussed.

    I’m not so sure they “spawned” country rock, southern rock, acid rock, and everything else that’s been attributed to them.

    Maybe its just a matter of personal taste — they don’t rock my world. But I can appreciate them for what they are.

  12. hankest says:

    Yeah, i didn’t get the “too genre specific” comment about Allman Brothers either. They’re too “genre…” but REM and the T-Heads aren’t? While i prefer the latter 2 bands, if you pick an arbitrary song from any of those three which would sound most like R&R? Clearly, the Allmans.

    I think influence should be the most important factor, bands like Velvet Underground, the Ramones, NYDolls, and Nirvana, more than CCR, or (dear god) Van Halen.

    I remember being in 9th grade (1979) when a neighbor played me a Ramones album, away went my Stones albums – for a time at least. I remember when a friend lent me Nirvana’s Bleach in 1990, away went my G’nR CDs. One listening to these bands and i was hooked, blown away, my tastes changed – as were so many other people.

  13. CSF says:

    A great band needs more than great songs. It also needs great musicians, a rich sound, and a repertoire with creativity and diversity. This puts the T-Heads, Steely Dan, and REM at the top. Also, add Little Feat and the Allman Brothers, and maybe the Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam.

    Scratch Creedence and the Doors: great music but every Creedence song sounds the same, and the Doors repertoire is too limited.

  14. ronin says:

    Following your rules:

    1. Doors
    2. RHCP
    3. REM

    But if I had to make a choice based on bands that blew me away, personally, and made a lasting impression:

    1. Van Halen (Roth years)
    2. REM
    3. Janes Addiction

    Honorable mention: Bad Brains, Minor Threat, and Fugazi

  15. chomen says:

    Everly Brothers.
    The Ventures.
    The 4 Seasons.
    The Isley Brothers.

    Rock and roll is not “of the intellect.”

  16. Lariat1 says:

    My 18 yr old lists, Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, Quicksilver Messenger Service. I would say, Allman Brothers but I think they remain more an east coast band, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, The Doobie Brothers, but I have to list Talking Heads, they just plain “wowed” you.

  17. graubart says:

    From one Barry to another.
    Re: the Ramones – small body of work? Not really. They put out 14 studio albums and Its Alive was one of the greatest live albums by any band ever in terms of delivering the feel of their live shows.
    I’ll acknowledge that much of what they put out in the 80s and 90s was not up to par with their earlier works. But the first four albums – Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket to Russia and Road to Ruin are up there with almost any band’s top 4. I’d compare it to the 5-album run Bowie had from Space Oddity through Aladdin Sane.

    Sloppy live? Not really. I saw the Ramones about 8-10x in the late 70s and early 80s and they put on a strong, high energy show every time. That includes club gigs at Max’s and CBGB as well as slightly bigger venues like the Palladium. Here’s a 26 minute video from the show at the Rainbow Theatre that was used to record the Its Alive album: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imf25Squ8ro

    Think back to the state of music in the mid-1970s. It had become big, bloated, pompous and overblown. Prog rock from Yes, King Crimson, Genesis and similar. Songs were 12 minutes long and full of self-importance.

    The Ramones came along and delivered amazing two-minute rock & roll songs using a bass, a guitar, a drum and vocals. They built on some things that bands like the Stooges, MC5 and emerging bands like the NY Dolls and the Heartbreakers had started, and made it their own.

    Much of the rock, punk, alternative and even metal that followed in the 80s and 90s can be traced directly back to the Ramones influence. The only band of the same period that had close to that level of influence are the Replacements (and for them, your argument of inconsistent live shows and short duration could apply).

    I still believe the Ramones to be clearly the greatest American rock & roll band ever.

  18. Father Lucifer says:

    Jerry Lee Lewis
    Lovin’ Spoonful
    Buddy Holly
    Animals
    Bufalo Sprindfield

  19. MidlifeNocrisis says:

    I’ve enjoyed this thread and checked out most of the links, so I thought I would add another.

    If you have any interest in Talking Heads at all, this video of live performances filmed in 1983, is a solid one hour and 27 minutes of high energy Heads. Start times are shown if you want to check out a particular single song.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJJ9u4yrjvY

  20. jonathonkav says:

    @chartist I just saw your comment to me and cannot believe you think I am suffering from a recency effect for naming four or five bands more worthy of inclusion from the late 80s /90s (20+ years ago btw). If anything its yourself and old man Ritholtz who cannot see past your youth. You will note I have no problem with the inclusion of The Doors, Talking Heads, Rem. Try and keep up though guys.

    I maintain The Pixies were the best American rock group. Followed closely by Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Sonic Youth. These are the Bands whose music still sounds innovative today and are fit, together with The Doors and REM to be compared to the genius of the Stones, Beatles, Zeppelin et al (even if unfavourably).

    And Blondie? ha ha. Don’t worry you’re not the first guy to be taken in and shown up by a hot girl.

    ~~~

    BR: In my defense on Recency Effect — this was originally written in 2003!

  21. Frilton Miedman says:

    It occurs to me, it’s impossible to select single “rock” band because there are too many sub-categories and genre’s.

    From rockabilly, folk rock, New Wave, Indy to death metal, I can choose one or two from each category, but how would I compare CCR to Dream Theater? or The Doors to Pantera? Nirvana to The Cure? Alice in Chains to The Pixies?

    No way, each is awesome in it’s own right, for it’s own mood & genre.

  22. Quid says:

    Perhaps the greater question is why the choices are dissatisfying when, were the question “What is the greatest British Rock & Roll band?” The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Clash, or (while Plant’s lyrics would keep them off my list) Led Zeppelin would all seem reasonable contenders? Why doesn’t America produce bands which, regardless of whether one likes them, have such undisputed stature? As it is, the candidates inspire thoughts of “if only …”

    If only Steely Dan had continued touring, there would no question because they were ferocious live and easily banished any ignorant “LA-soft rock-studio-musicians” prejudices. If The Talking Heads had continued down, rather than retreated from, the path they blazed with “Remain in Light” …. If Nirvana and Lynard Skynard had not been undone by death …. If CSN&Y had not been undone by being CSN&Y (or been as good as Buffalo Springfield) …. If Los Lobos had not been undone by changing fashion (which isn’t fair because they remain excellent)….

    Despite the Northern California roots of the musically echt American Creedence, the list reflects a longtime critical tendency to downplay the importance Bay Area rock. Jefferson Airplane and Sly & the Family Stone (at least as much a band as Creedence) are the equals of the other candidates, as is, in a different way, Metallica. And while I don’t actually own any of their recordings, it really is hard to rule out The Grateful Dead, who would seem exemplary in every way but record sales and radio play. But Bob Dylan falls short in the sales and air time catagories too and I presume we are not questioning his “greatness.” Besides, I’m not sure that three decades as a preeminent live act doesn’t compensate for radio hits.

    But this raises the question of how one defines “greatness” as one can easily make the case that The Ramones and The Velvet Underground, or, for that matter, Funkadelic or Sonic Youth, have had more influence than The Eagles or Van Halen.

    If I had to choose, I’d give the nod to The Grateful Dead. They are a true band, both in the sense of being an ensemble and in their emphasis in playing live, and truly American, fusing rock, bluegrass, country, blues, R’n’B, psychedelia, experimental jazz, and I don’t know what else. They have as many great songs as most of the contenders (and many, many more interesting ones). And, finally, the Dead were a constant and significant presence in Rock & Roll through most of the genre’s four decade dominance of American pop music.

  23. Eliza says:

    Who said horns can’t be included in a great rock & roll band?

    I’ll guess….

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfj8zxGos10&list=AL94UKMTqg-9A-1QBTtOLkyBFuFZKTkx4S

    I… still be diggin’ on James Brown…

  24. fedster says:

    I cannot believe the Doobie Brothers are not on the list…………..

  25. Ian says:

    All this talk of the Ramones reminds me of this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpEf2uzXunc

  26. MikeInSF says:

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

    Because they shamelessly ripped off or outright plagiarized American blues artists.

  27. Plugh says:

    What, only one mention of the Velvets?And a parenthetical one at that?

    I fear for my nation.

  28. 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.

  29. pmorrisonfl says:

    BR: ‘their [Ramones] live performances, while full of energy, somewhat lacked in musicianship.’

    I feel that this is somewhat like saying Bob Dylan’s voice sounds like ‘a cow with its leg stuck in a fence.’ In both cases, it’s somewhat accurate, but it misses the point. Rock and Roll isn’t about virtuosity.

    While I’m annoying the host, is Steely Dan really a band, or just a vehicle for Fagen and Becker? How often do you hear, say Elliot Randall (guitar solo on ‘Reelin’ In the Years’) on SD’s albums after that? I love Sd, don’t get me wrong, but I think of them as a duo with whomever they felt like working with that year, not exactly a band. As a counterexample, I’d say that Clarence Clemons was key to Springsteen’s hits, though he was technically a hired hand.

  30. CB says:

    How do you define rock and roll? maybe high energy, electric guitar-based bands with vocals? If so, based upon the 2 rules and 3 qualifications I nominate Aerosmith (although they are not my favorite band.)

    I always thought of Aerosmith as a weaker Zeppelin/Stones imitation. But they continue today with a deep catalogue including a few big hits plus a long history of elaborate, energetic stage shows. They seem extremely influential in sound, songwriting and presentation regarding the later rise of Van Halen, GnR, Bon Jovi, etc. as well as the mainstream acceptance of rap with RunDMC’s updated Walk This Way collaboration.

    CCR was indeed a great band but I feel not as broadly influential (even though the hit songs seem to age better due to simpler production.)

    Interesting the number of music comments for this type of blog – a fun discussion. 

                

  31. algernon32 says:

    Why did the Brits field the greatest rock bands? Simple.
    Rock is essentially Celtic folk, ballad and battle song set to African rhythm.
    American bands, southern in particular, had intrinsic access to the rhythms and styling, the Brits had easy access to centuries of Celtic ditties long forgotten by the Americans to recycle with the “new” beat.
    Paul Simon’s Graceland is a purposeful example of the fusion.
    Ancient melodies and even more ancient rhythms. Hell of a ride.

  32. Robert M says:

    Thank someone for their only being football on TV this afternoon otherwise I wouldn’t read this.
    do know that you are a jazz head so I’ve loved to hear your lists there, yes lists because of the genres or even by instrument
    Big Band: Sun Ra very controversial as his latter efforts into free jazz obscure his early 50′s work
    Trumpet: Miles it was hard early as I couldn’t hear the spaces in his music in my head listen to Tutu and then go back to Sketches of Spain and you’ll know what I mean
    Sax: Von Freeman was the sax go to guy in Chicago and basically never left
    Piano: have to go by eras and that is harder
    Drums: Art Blakey

  33. McGentrix says:

    Elvis, but he was not a band…

    Metallica, Aerosmith, The Grateful Dead, all had a great impact on the music we call Rock and Roll.

  34. hammerandtong2001 says:

    The Grateful Dead.

    Surely one of the singular live performance bands, and one that defined rock & roll/live music for a generation of Americans (and many others) during the 1970′s and 1980′s.

    I attended a Dead concert at Gaelic Park in the Bronx, NY in 1973. They played for 5 hours and invited the Allman Brothers on stage to jam. An amazing show.

    .

  35. Winchupuata says:

    There really is no contest here, The Doors, hands down.

  36. MTstiles says:

    My 2 cents

    Best = REM
    Worst = Eagles

  37. noahmckinnon says:

    Short interview with Ginger Baker. Figured this thread is as good a place as any to share it.

    **************

    ‘I came off heroin something like 29 times’

    ‘Old bandmates, such as Jack Bruce – whom Baker physically attacked, precipitating the breakup of Cream – and Clapton contribute to the documentary. Asked if contemporaries such as John Bonham or Keith Moon ever measured up to Baker, Clapton is emphatic: “No. No. No. Different league. Completely.”

    Instead, Baker sought the recognition of heroes such as Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Phil Seamen and Art Blakey. Not Bonham or Moon? “Don’t make me laugh,” he says. “If it doesn’t swing, it doesn’t swing. There’s lots of drummers with lots of technique. It doesn’t matter how many beats you play, it’s where you play them, and a lot of it is what you don’t play.” ‘

    ***********
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2013/jan/05/ginger-baker-cream-interview

  38. delilo says:

    VERY tough
    Maybe Van Halen, Aerosmith, RHCP or REM
    Not the Doors or CCR
    Or the Dead….not really rock n roll though i am a big fan and my mom has the same exact bday as Jerry Garcia.
    My favorite is Skynyrd.

  39. Duff Clarity says:

    Thanks for the Jello Biafra Ramones link, Ian.

  40. JP2012 says:

    Beach Boys, Pet Sounds era was great.

    Love Van Halen. For now I would mark-them down a notch on influence points.

    Eddie Van Halen is obviously a hugely influential guitarist — a big influence on a certain kind of rock guitar playing. But as far as the band’s sound goes, what really big groups over the past 30 years, other than Van Halen, sound like Van Halen? Maybe it’s a matter of time.

    The Eagles sold a lot of albums, and were clearly a huge live draw. I would limit the influence part though. Within Alt Country or County-Rock you could make a case.

    However, even in those cases, bands would probably cite other sources as big influences — e.g. Gram Parsons or the Flying Burrito Bros, something else.

    I’m going to cast my own vote for a band called Funkadelic. Yes, Funkadelic.

    This band’s alter-egos, Parliament or “George Clinton”, are more famous, but this band was still what I would consider an American Rock Band in its early years. The band was too much of a guitar driven, rock band for R&B stations, and in the early to mid 70s they weren’t white enough to get in the rotation on most rock stations either, because of a kind of segregation in the world of radio. So their influence was delayed about a generation. But eventually kids discovered the band — especially ones who went on to form their own bands.

    In terms of influence, you have artists like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Prince, citing them as a key influence. In hip-hop you have the West Coast sounds of Dr Dre. In the south Outkast has mined the sound for at least a couple platinum albums.

    Members of the band including Bootsy Collins, Eddie Hazel, and Bernie Worrell have had influence on at least one generation of musicians based on their sound and their innovative uses of their instruments. As performers outside the band, they had an impact (e.g. Bernie Worrell’s work with the Talking Heads during their most influential period in the 1980s; the work of Hazel and Collins as performers outside of the band was largely in the world of R&B — Bootsy with James Brown, Eddie Hazel with the Temptations during one of their more creative periods), George Clinton as a producer had an impact as well (early Red Hot Chili Peppers work, work with Prince).

    In terms of performances, these guys would put on marathon 3+ hour concerts — still do. The Mothership Connection tour in the late 1970s was one of those concepts born out of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust influence, combined with other monetary and chemical influences.

    The early music was definitely rock, which would fit them within the parameters outlined above.

    Later on their sound started blurring the musical lines between Rock-Pop-Funk and R&B. The R&B-rock was the most influential part, but much of the psychedelic-acid-rock in the early years proved to be influential as well (e.g. albums like “Maggot Brain” and “Free Your Mind . . .” — my own personal favorite — “Standing on the Verge of Getting It On”). Some of the stuff they did was absolutely crazy.

    If we are sticking to criteria — body of work, influence, and live performance — and not simply record sales — these guys have to be in the discussion. Arguably the top. I’ve even heard the term the “Black Beatles” used to describe the band, which is only hyperbole, if we limit influence to the 1960s or 1970s.

    This is a band that has had a huge foot-print within rock, and especially outside of it if we have a 30-40 year time horizon, instead of one that is just on a 10 year period. The band itself has received some belated recognition as well. Including placement in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

  41. wanderer314 says:

    You said you wanted rock and roll and most people are choosing rock as I read comments that had it reversed. There are so many and that includes one hit wonders maybe that should be a band in itself. For lasting power and good rock and roll at any time anywhere and in concert in no particular order would be The Ramones, Rancid and CCR. The rest do not count. The Dead the name speaks for itself. Van Halen that is why we have the Ramones and Rancid cancel them. Nirvana, what? I see someone mention the Dead Kennedys as well and that is a good pick. Most other picks as I said are just rock or some form of it.

  42. AndyP says:

    Don’t forget Aerosmith and ZZ Top. Many years together and pretty extensive catalogs.

  43. Adam Van Alstyne says:

    Gotta disagree with placing Van Halen on the list at all. Aerosmith was kicking ass longer and harder than anyone while Eddie Van Halen was still on the teat.

  44. dougc says:

    I am surprised that nobody nominated KISS. That raised my opinion of your readership.

  45. BR,

    these are, really, some of the Best threads..

    personally, from your List, I’ll go with the ‘Talking Heads’, & ‘R.E.M.’, though..”To each, Their own..”

    in an earlier, related, thread, you broke out..

    Barry Ritholtz Says:
    December 27th, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    I love Reggae — I will definitely check out

    The 2006 list had Michael Franti and Spearhead’s Yell Fire!,
    ~~~

    Have you thought of doing a “Reggae”-specific thread?

    you know, for the un-, somewhat-, and *fully- Initiated..

  46. LLouis says:

    From my point-of-view in Quebec, CCR is definitely the best AMERICAN rock n’roll band, they definitely have a deep american sound and feel when I listen to them. They sound very good in my car. After many years I still like to listen to them, which is not the case of The Doors and Kiss.
    As for Aerosmith, I’m nuts about Sweet Emotion, a masterpiece of classic rock, but don’t like to listen to more of them.
    Talking Heads was a great band, I saw them at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal in the Eighties, they opened for The Police, I liked them more than The Police because they were more fun to listen to. Stevie Ray Vaughan was also there at that great concert at the Olympic Stadium.
    I think nobody mentioned the following great Rock n’Roll American bands: The James Gang (they sound so great in my car), Styx, Blue Oyster Cult, Dick Dale and his Del-Tones (Misirlou fits so well in the Pulp Fiction movie), Mountain, The Doobie Brothers, Vanilla Fudge…
    and I’m not naming funk or jazz-rock bands…

  47. grandwazoo says:

    This is a futile exercise there are just too many great ones to choose from and too diverse a field and no wrong or right answers but I will pick a couple that where influential in their own right but not maybe the greatest or most popular or most talented.

    1. The Mother’s of Invention
    2. The Velvet Underground
    3. The Stooges
    4. The Ramones
    5. Sonic Youth
    6. Dinosaur Jr.
    7. Fugazi
    8. Black Flag

    All were ahead of their time and widely influential in my opinion.

  48. grandwazoo says:

    Actually I have an answer the greatest american rock band of all time was Ween.

  49. brianj997 says:

    This is a great thread!

    Here is the real question: Why are the 6+ greatest bands of all time British if the US market and population has always been much larger?

    Any thoughts on this?

  50. McMike says:

    Barry, The Eagles – number one. Summer ’77, I was 16 on the gentle sloping hillside that is the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River valley at Southern Illinois University-E (Edwardsville) it was the MRF (Mississippi River Festival) and the distinctive aroma of a specific burnt weed wafting in the air and frisbees flying across the crowd with a few daredevils climbing the speaker poles, one-uping each other’s various stunts. There with my sweet little honey we were not there to watch a show – just listen to the music. A lot of good music got played there in that post-Nam era mid to late ’70′s in which I believe the music reflected our nation’s collective sigh of relief – Chicago, Yes, CDB with I think Molly Hatchet warmed up for, John Denver (yes, I like John Denver) and a host of others I never got to see. Rem’s lead singer maybee attended the MRF as I believe he lived around Collinsville for a time back then. Steely Dan and CCR remind of that time period also, but when I hear them, I know it’s them; the Eagles have such a depth of talent (Don Henly, Glenn Frey, Timothy B. Schmidt, Joe Walsh, Don Felder) that one can listen to an Eagles song and not realize that it’s the Eagles. But I liked the first Foreigner and Boston albums along with the Head East “Flat as a Pancake” album along with various REO Speed wagon too.

    The ’80′s were a ‘visual’ decade having watched my first music video on Mtv in 1982. And the mid to late ’80′s were a great time for me, and the music with video was ‘fun’ and I can’t help now when hearing some of the ’80′s music visualize the old videos too.

    As far as later stuff I thought Nirvana was genius like the Doors, Sound garden and Pearl Jam anchored that grunge decade influenced (IMHO) coinciding with the recession of 91-92. I bought my first CD player and CD’s in ’93, but unfortunately music has been replaced by talk radio and internet news/information since about then. But I think I will sign off here and change that – at least for this morning – I have some REM and Steely Dan loaded on the computer and some busy-work to do. Maybee look up some CAKE or Wilco on you-tube too. Thanks for the outlet. And I did listen to some Alabama Shakes online after your suggestion earlier this year – its good too.

  51. I can usually identify the Eagles in a few notes — a bar or two of music at most.

    I am a big fan of Cake — especially Fashion Nugget and Prolonging the Magic — fantastic, under appreciated albums!

  52. James Picerno says:

    The “greatest” rock ‘n roll band is a broad topic, and it all depends on how you define “great.” By sales of records? Live performance? Originality and influence? I would argue primiarly for originality and influence, breaking any ties with live performance. Sales mean almost nothing, since many awful groups that didn’t have an original bone in their body had huge sales.

    Among the original choices offered, the Beach Boys and the Doors are probably the main contenders. Why? A number of reasons. First, originality and influence. Although everybody owes a debt to those who came before, the creativity of these two bands is second to none. Barry notes Pet Sounds. That album alone, given the time it was released, speaks for itself. If you don’t understand why Pet Sounds is important, you shouldn’t be debating this topic. Then again, aren’t the Beach Boys just a jazzed up Jan & Dean?

    The Doors, meanwhile, were the biggest American act in the late-1960s. No one was bigger when they were on the scene. The original nihilistic rock ‘n rollband, the Doors were very post-modern and actually didn’t belong in the love and peace era of the late-1960s. In fact, the genre created virtually out of thin air by the Doors is still influential today. One can’t say that of the Beach Boys, other than in technique. Musically, the Beach Boys is a one-act pony, and they’re it. The dark visions of the Doors, on the other hand, remain widely influential. The fact that the Doors had a fairly short run isn’t really relevant, in my humble opinion. It was the first two albums anyway that set the pace and tone that continues to live on. In fact, the Doors wouldn’t have survived as they did even if Morrison lived. They were too intense as a group, and in fact were breaking up towards the end anyway.

    Iggy & the Stooges is a great choice, but ultimately there could be no Iggy without the Doors. And while I very much admire the music of the Allman Brothers, ultimately they were musicians first and a rock n’ roll band in the true sense of the word second. The Doors, remember, fomented revolution in a way that few other bands could. Rock is ultimately about creative rebellion, and no American band that can lay claim to that triumph does so without a debt to the Doors.

  53. roboninja says:

    Pearl Jam is better than any of the bands mentioned. Live, on album, whatever, they always rock.

  54. Greg says:

    Pearl Jam. They are the best live band ever, sell out almost every show and do it without MTV or much radio airplay.

  55. lora aspen says:

    Most of the above comments and answers only seem to highlight how superior british rock groups have beeen and still are when compared to american ones….a list of Beatles,Rolling Stones,The Who,Led Zeppelin,Black Sabbath,Kinks,Pink Floyd,Yardbirds,Yes,Cream etc..easily outdoes any above.

  56. doug says:

    REM? get out of town.

    this sounds liek a stupid list that VH1 would try to get together and have NSync near the top.

    not to mention you forgot to define rock n’ roll.
    that eliminates REM right there, talkign heads too. RnR is actually very exclusive

  57. Doug,

    A few points: I didn’t to forget to define Rock N Roll. I don’t think it needs defining. Its simply a visceral thing. (Test me on it)

    2nd — Are you, um, actually comparing REM to N’Sync? Seriously, are you? Are you familiar with any of the 4 albums I mentioned? Are you aware of their impact on musically generally?

    Its one thing to have a difference of opinion — The Byrds are not my cup of tea, and I like (but don’t love) the Dead — but I certainly can understand and respect why some people are so into them. That’s called having an open mind.

    But to suggest that a manufactured, insipid boy band is in any way related to one of the most interesting and intelligent progressive musical influences over the past 25 or so years. . . well, that’s just silly.

    Hey, that’s the beauty of the internet — everyone is free to demonstrate their ignorance and/or prejudices in full public view.

  58. Eric Polley says:

    Good God people… Why not ask who the best looking Playboy Playmate is? You’ll almost never get everyone to agree.

    However let’s review the criteria shall we?

    Originality. Ok that kicks Aerosmith (America’s Rolling Stones), Metallica (mash the New Wave of British Heavy Metal together – just because you don’t know the bands they copied doesn’t mean they were original), Steely Dan (Why not say the Doobie Brothers or Kansas and get it over with).

    Wide Appeal: If you’re gonna kick the Allman Brothers or Lynard Skynard for not having wide appeal, you have to throw Van Halen at the same time. Not everyone was a pimply faced teen trying to score and get drunk. Same as the Byrds (hippies), although I cannot attest to their popularity as I was not alive then. Pearl Jam falls here too as I don’t see many Brittney fans humming PJ’s greatest hits. Their earlier stuff was wide spread, but other than die-hards, can you name some of the later hits they had?

    Live Performance: I saw someone mention ZZ Top earlier and wasn’t immediately stoned for the choice. Let me back this person up. Any band that can (while not missing a note) be picked up by a claw, be dropped into a mock crusher, be crushed, taken off stage, then come on a minute later out of the back of a working Tractor-Trailer in new outfits and no one in the audience (including professional musicians) not be able to pick out where (if at all) the sound was switched to CD and back is just damned impressive (Halifax, Nova Scotia, Recycler tour ’91). Good grief.

    Musicianship – Sure this is important, but hey – don’t forget the golden rule of R’nR – If it feels good, do it. The Romanes are in. End of story.

    Whew!!! That certainly was long winded…. and in the end pointless. The point of the matter is that it all comes down to taste. And the fact that the popular bands (Nirvana) were influenced by bands before (Kirk Cobain once said in an interview that ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was a Pixies rip-off) that were not as well known. It’s a circular argument. The popular bands were influenced not influential, and the influential bands did not have wide appeal (Al-la the Beatles and the Velvet Underground.)

    Bands that I felt should be discussed: Soundgarden, Kiss, Alice Cooper, Phish, Divo, The Animals, The Jimi Hendrix Experience (If you’re including the Doors, there were other qualified members of the Experience, not just Jimi. It’d be like saying Cream wasn’t a band because of Eric Clapton.), Nine Inch Nails…. Damn it’s hard to think of purely American bands…… Well anyway you get the point. I’m not saying that my opinion is more important than any of yours; I’m just stirring the pot a little. Not in the bad, troll-ish way either.

    Oh yea, I cannot find fault with the selection of REM….. Go figure…..

  59. Matt Maholchic says:

    Leaving the Allman Brothers off this list is like not mentioning Napoleon in a discussion about great generals.

  60. TEA says:

    I read through all of the quite informative opinions while listening to REM’s “New Adventures in Hi Fi.” I thought what wonderful people we have out there who listen to our music. Without entering the debate about the greatest American band, I wish to say that you’ve all mentioned bands that have delighted all of our ears for years. This question, “Which is the best American band?,” remains one that only the ears of the listener can answer. And over the years one’s sensibility changes. Quintessential American bands? Yes. Which? Man, where do we start? Dixieland? Delta Blues? Nashville? Los Angeles in the sixties and early seventies? Whew! How about Blondie? Dave Mathews? Let’s celebrate the artistry of American rock.

  61. Richard Y says:

    I’m upset that you didn’t have the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, or Kiss

  62. j.s. says:

    1. the boss and the e street band- They’re a band, have been forever.
    2. the Band- what a line up, very influential over many sub genres from Eagles to skynard to greatful dead
    3. ok, the doors.
    4. beach boys
    5. the osmonds- just kidding
    5. for the heavey metal genre- metalica
    6. are talking USA or North america?- Rush/ BTO/ Guess who/ CSNY
    7. ok, USA only- We need some females on this- The Holding company (and janice of course).
    8. Buddy holly and the crickets- he wasn’t a solo act either, they were a band
    9. gotta have the chilli peppers on here
    10. …..ramones, not my cup a tea, but hugely infuential.
    j.s.

  63. Gregory Borden says:

    It’s funny that I found this page, but I was having this EXACT conversation tonight. While America might not have the cream of the crop in ROCK BANDS (as far as the brits go) We have much more musical influence overall. Barring Country, Rap and Jazz, (just to stay in the more rock format) We have Bob Dylan, ELVIS, Simon and Garfunkel, John Melloncamp, Billy Joel, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, All hard hitting – chart topping – aged rockn’ career spanning artists. Hell we even got Neil Diamond. So wave your American Flag proudly, we got great A R T I S T S as well, and I think that’s the real over-all view.(except for Steely Dan, they suck! : )

  64. dango says:

    Okay, I came to this conversation late. However, if we`re talking mass appeal, originality and muscicianship into equal consideration I think we`re going to wind up with:

    1: Grateful Dead (despite the scene and long tangents they sometimes took, these guys were the jazz musicians of rock… ready to let it all hang out in an exploratory, improvisationary way.)

    2. R.E.M (they were also of the kind of group mind that great bands are, but allowed each member the freedom to bring whatever they wanted to the table… the result, an innovative and affecting meld of American genres)

    3. Red Hot Chili Peppers (they represent the funky turn it up loud side of American rock better than any other band, while surprising us from time to time with the melodic turns they sometimes take)

    4. Aerosmith (for durability and wealth of catchy raunchy material)

    5. Allman Brothers Band (the twin guitar, twin drum attack was innovative and propulsive… the only thing better sounding for pure groove was the Bros and the Grateful Dead playing live together.)

  65. Rob says:

    Guided By Voices…just ask Bob Pollard, he’ll tell ya.

  66. Chibi says:

    I’ve been following this thread for a while with some interest. I can’t really add anything under the criteria given, but if you take away mass appeal, Sonic Youth, Minutemen and Fugazi are all great American rock bands that haven’t been mentioned yet–just throwing those out for fun! Oh yeah, Big Star! OK, only three albums, but what a great three they were.

    Also, yes, Beastie Boys is a rock band!

  67. Pat T. says:

    In a word: CHICAGO

    Does everyone forget what a band is all about?

    Look at the musicianship and popularity in their first six albums (most of them actually album-sets), and Lamm, Kath, et. al. are still going strong 30 years later.

  68. On of the first concerts I saw was Chicago — CTA was a great double disc — I saw them many times after.

    I found a lot of their albums were hit or miss, and they faded rapidly once Terry Kath died,

    Still, definitely worth talking about . . .

  69. JR says:

    CHICAGO IS ONE OF THE GREATEST ROCK & ROLL BANDS OF ALL TIME CERTAINLY # 1 IN AMERICA SUCCESS SPEAKS FOR ITSELF THERES NO BAND LINEUP POUND FOR POUND THAT COULD MATCH UP WITH THEM, TERRY KATH – GUITAR ONE OF THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME, AND WITH OUT A DOUBT THE BEST SINGER, PETER CETERA-BASS, ONE OF THE BEST LEAD SINGERS OF ALL TIME, ROBERT LAMM-KEYBOARDS ONE OF THE ALL TIME GREATEST SONG WRITERS, DANNY SERAPHINE-DRUMS TOP 25 ALL TIME, AND THE GREATEST HORN SECTION, WALT PARAZAIDER, LEE LOUGHNANE, AND JIMMY PANKOW, NOW YOU KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT OVER 125 MILLION RECORD SALES OVER 35 YEARS OF NON STOP TOURING, THE ULTIMATE THROW DOWN BAND, THERE SECOND TO NONE, JUST LISTEN TO THE MUSIC AND THEN FEEL IT!!!

  70. The Fool says:

    There is no doubt that the greatest American rock band is the Grateful Dead.

    The Allman Brothers are also way up there as are CCR, the Doors, the Band, Little Feat, and ZZ Top.

  71. Jeff Lawson says:

    I 3rd The Band (saw’em live, about ’82-wooohooo!) – but it’s kinda curious more Motown, like the Temps, weren’t mentioned.

    And nobody thought enough of The Mothers of Invention? Meatloaf? :-P

    Most mentioned seem good to me(except I don’t know much about anything done in the last 10-15 yrs or so…sue me).

  72. Tim says:

    First things first: While the greatest bands mights be British (The Beatles, The Stones) the most influential artists are, and have always been, American. Rock n Roll is impossible without Chuck Berry, Elvis, and Bob Dylan. They’re the holy trinity of rock and the creators of the sound (Berry), the lyrics (Dylan), and the performance (Elvis).

    Secondly: I’m not going to attempt a list but would like to comment about a few of the posts.
    The Doors: I love the Doors, but they are rather thin, and one-sided. One can only delve in the apocalypse so many times without finally succumbing.

    Sublime: Nobody’s even mentioned them and I’m suprised. They too are thin because of premature death, but they also (musically) are extremely broad. They were ten years ahead of thier time with thier incorpration of hip-hop, reggae, and punk. Also, the epitome of a live performance band.

    Chicago/The Eagles/Fleetwood Mac: They are all garbage. Watered -down, 70s, pop-rock makes me sick to my stomach.

    Skynard/Allmond Brothers: Southern rock is rock. So, to say that a southern rock band is a niche band is just completely erroneous. If I had to pick one I’d take Skynard b/c of popular appeal.
    The Band: I just recently got into the Band heavily, and they are terrific. Aren’t they Canadian though?

    Van Halen vs. Aerosmith: How this is even a matter of debate is beyond me. Eddie can play, no doubt, but Perry, while not the technician, has written some great riffs and songs. “Dream On”, “Walk this Way”, etc. are all original compositions and classic songs. Van Halen is merely a bar band compared to Areosmith.

    Guns N Roses: They get overlooked but they are the band of the 80s that matters- not Bon Jovi, and whoever nominated Bon Jovi ought to be anally penetrated with a billy club.

    The Greatful Dead: Personally, not my cup of tea, but I think they may have the strongest claim to best American band, because of influence, longevity, and obviously, live-appeal.

    CCR: Great band, great songs. But why do people want to write Skynard and Allmond Bros. off as southern bands, and ignore CCR’s obvious Southern roots.

    Nirvana: Again, not my preference, but who has had such an impact on music as them? No rock band in the last ten years has been free of their influence.

  73. Jeff Lawson says:

    Well, Levon Helm, the Band’s drummer, was American (in fact, his mom used to live right behind me) – hey, other people suggested Neil Young, and he’s Canadian.

    Besides, isn’t Canada just another state, with reeeaally big counties? 8^]

  74. Mentorr says:

    Dude, stop arguing the point, you’re wrong, wrong. wrong! The E Street Band is the greatest American r&r band of all time. Period. With all due respect the the other nominess, many who I also love. All the suggestions made by others here are valid, but if you ever get a chance to listen to live bootlegs from the late 70s and 80s you will hear what a band is supposed to sound like live.

  75. Andrew says:

    How can you not include America’s greatest rock band, rocking together for over 30 years, overcoming substance abuse, making a comeback which outshined their early days and has put them on top of the music scene for nearly 20 years, accomplishing nearly every musical feat, and always influencing the culture in America, AEROSMITH. It’s a shame you also forgot Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi, and Van Halen. What the hell is wrong with you? These bands define American rock music. Not the friggin’ Eagles.

  76. Bob Ripple says:

    Greatest American R&R band? Would have to be influential, not derivative. My top five choices:

    1. R.E.M. amazing creativity and durability; still sounds fresh twenty years later (not unlike the Stones’ whose sound has aged really well, cf. Exile on Main Street, for example)

    2. The Replacements the best punk-pop-rock sound ever and an inspiration for lots of 90s grunge and current post-punk bands. never broke into the mainstream but then, neither did the Velvet Underground. and still sounds fresher than most of the stuff getting play today

    3. Creedence Clearwater Revival nuff said about them already

    4. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers southern rock meets punk sensibility and they never stopped growing.

    5. Neil Young & Crazy Horse the best garage band ever.

    Posted by:

  77. jeff l. says:

    1. Bon Jovi
    2. Aerosmith
    3. Metallica
    4. Van Halen
    5. CCR
    6. Stone Temple Pilots
    7. Guns & Roses
    8. Smashing Pumpkins
    9. ZZ Top
    10. Eagles

  78. Keith Gorgas says:

    Greatest American Band: By all definitions, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Not the the greatest rock&roll band, though they have played at some of the biggest rock concerts of all time, and they still do rock. With all due respect to other long lasting acts like the Grateful Dead, the Eagles, CCR, etc, the Dirt Band represents what American music is all about. They have been performing and recording together since the mid 1960s. They have had more top 40 and country hits, sold more records and performed before more people in more countries than many of the other bands mentioned on this forum. They have assembled together Levon Helm, the Byrds, Willie Nelson, John Hiatt, Bruce Hornsby, Roy Acuff, Linda Ronstadt, Tom Petty, Emmylou Harris, etc.just to name a few and gotten them all together singing and playing American music. I saw them perform 25 years ago and again a few weeks ago, and they still are having a great time playing and rocking.
    I’m not saying they are my favorite band, or that they are the best, but no band in the world so fully embodies what American music is all about.

  79. Jeff Huffman says:

    Steely Dan was never a band beyond the first album. Most of their music reflects the talents of hired guns.

    And who cares who the greatest American R&R band ever was? The best pop and rock groups have always been British – the Beatles, the Stones (lousy album band, though), the Kinks, the Who, then there’s a pretty big dead zone until punk. And then you have the only band that matters, still, the Clash.

  80. Oh boy Jeff, where to begin:

    1) Steely Dan’s first CD is probably the weakest of the first 5 — the next 4 discs each has a lot going for them. If you want to write off the Aja/Gaucho period, I have no real problem with that.

    But considering the depth of their catalogue, and the quality of their muscianship and songwriting skills –yes, they belong amongst the top – we can argue if its top 5 or 10, but thats as far as I go.

    2) Who cares who the greatest American R&R band ever was? This will be the 262nd comment, so obviously some fans cares . . .

    3) The Stones as a lousy album band? Kid, get out see and the world, check out their back catalogue and then get back to me. (Thats a polite way of saying you have no idea what you are talking about as far as Mick and the Boys ).

    4) Finally, as long as we are discussing UK bands, you left out Genesis (with Peter Gabriel, not the Phil Collins version), Yes, Pretenders (3 Brits + Chrissy Hyndes) and Pink Floyd. If you stretch, we could call “Elvis Costello and the Attractions” a band also . . .

  81. Frank says:

    There are very rare bands to be mentioned in this topic.
    From an emotional and creative point of view I agree with Julian Jerman and his web site “JAYNET.INFO”:

    1) The Doors
    2) Supertramp*
    3) Eagles
    4) Velvet Underground
    5) REM
    6) Band*
    7) Beach Boys
    8) Steely Dan

    * even if some member doesn’t come from the States.

  82. Frank

    I like your list, with 2 small quibbles.

    Aside from one terrific album (and one additional great song), I never really thought Supertramp had a deep or wide catalogue.

    Everyone else you mentioned has album after album after album of terrific music.; So I kind put these guys into top of the “B” category;

    (please correct me if I am overlooking some of their material)

    I always thought of the Band as an primarily US outfit . . . no asterisk neccesary.

  83. Frank says:

    Hi Barry!

    Supertramp are best known in the world with the album “Breakfast in America” but artistically this one is not
    the best of their catalogue even if there is the first song there “Gone Hollywood” that attests the extraordinary melodic creativity and composition balance of this band jealously kept for more than 30 years!

    The Supertramp is the typical band with an inimitable and mysterious sound ( like The Doors, Pink Floyd …) for which they musically stends out from the fray!

    Songs like “Rudy”, “Asylum”, “Crime of the Century” ( 74 ), “Even In the Quietest Moments” ( 75 ), and “Brother Where you Bound” ( 85 ) can attest it more and more!

    Unfortunately these songs aren’t played from the commercial radio stations.

  84. Reid McLean says:

    1. Byrds
    2. Steely Dan (barely qualify as they weren’t a real band for most of their career)
    3. Beach Boys (also barely qualify, they couldn’t/can’t reproduce as a band some of their best music.)
    4. MC5 (best live band ever – BELIEVE it)
    5. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band (as noted above, if you allow the Doors you gotta allow Bruce and Co.)
    6. CCR
    7. Buffalo Springfield
    8. Nirvana
    9. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

    Almost There: Cheap Trick, Replacements, Moby Grape

  85. pjschgo says:

    I’ll need some convincing that The E Street Band shouldn’t count as a band! That seems pretty silly. The Beach Boys don’t RAWK! Therefore, they can’t be the greatest rock band. Shouldn’t the Allman Brothers at least be a part of the conversation? They rock, have longevity, and influenced countless other bands. In fact, they were forefathers for two separate and uniquely American genres — Southern rock and jam bands.

  86. Jack Debante says:

    Hi Reid,

    Lyrically you are right but musically Bruce Springsteen will never be able to create a song rich in pathos like “Aja” ( Steely Dan ), “Crystal Ships” ( The Doors ), “From Now On” ( Supertramp ) or “The Long and Winding Road” ( Beatles ).

    Unfortunately in the States ( for instance ) many music lovers consider unproperly U2 better than Yes or another Progressive Rock Band because the irish band has in their songs the social and political themes.

    But I repeat again: the music is created by musicians not politicians or sociologists!

  87. Joel says:

    i think you need to think again bout bon jovi, they are one of the 32 artists who have ever sold more than 100 million albums, they have survived all the crap today for over 20 years, four out of five members have stuck together, they’re the second most international toured band of all time, i dont care if u say they’re the greatest, i just think you people should have some more respect for this band, i think americans should treasure this band that we can proudly say is an american band.

  88. hankest says:

    Great thread. Some comments.

    1) Strange who some people define as “Rock.” Bob Dylan is rock? I thought he was folk.

    2) Someone said the Stones aren’t a good album band. Nonsense, Exile is one of the great albums of all time. The Stones can’t seem to make a great album without Brian Jones or Mick Taylor as lead guitarist, true.

    3) The Stones suck live. There i said it. Granted i didn’t see them in the 60s, but by1981 they were a joke. Lots of silly cornball theatrics, goofy outfits, almost as cheesy and lame as Kiss or Van Halen. I saw the Ramones again a few weeks after (at Spit i think), slashing chords, slam dancing, vomit on the floor – that’s rock (at least when you’re 17).

    4) Supertramp? uh, yeah.

  89. jake says:

    Joel has a good point there, I definetely agree with it.

  90. Joel says:

    thanks jake and jeff for supporting me, I might highlight the point that they are the second most international band of all time, yes, I think the beatles make better music (in my opionion the best band) but Bon Jovi was and still is more internationaly popular than the Beatles, and the most international band is Rolling Stones if you wanted to know. And no, this is not a opinion, it is a fact, check out the numbers of countries.

  91. c says:

    Velvet Underground!

    Look, no 70s bands. If we’re going up against the beatles, stones, kinks, who, you can’t drag out aerosmith and van halen. and I love the eagles, but they hardly even rock. and I love the ramones, but you can’t be that one-dimensional and still be the greatest american rock band. but for the velvets:

    1) the most influential
    2) the most innovative
    3) hard rocking
    4) from the 60s
    5) super cool and edgy
    6) could do noise freak outs and pretty songs
    7) had a serious side, a playful side, and a libidinous side
    8) and they’re really, really american.

    other bands, whatever their merits, don’t have as much going.

    and if you don’t believe me, take it from Jonathan Richman:

    They were wild like the USA
    A mystery band in a New York way
    Rock and roll, but not like the rest
    And to me, America at it’s best
    How in the world were they making that sound?
    Velvet Underground.

    A spooky tone on a Fender bass
    Played less notes and left more space
    Stayed kind of still, looked kinda shy
    Kinda far away, kinda dignified.
    How in the world were they making that sound?
    Velvet Underground.

    Now you can look at that band and wonder where
    All that sound was coming from
    With just 4 people there.

    Twangy sounds of the cheapest types,
    Sounds as stark as black and white stripes,
    Bold and brash, sharp and rude,
    Like the heats turned off
    And you’re low on food.
    How in the world were they making that sound?
    Velvet Underground.
    Like this…

    Wild wild parties when they start to unwind
    A close encounter of the thirdest kind
    On the bandstand playing, everybody’s saying
    How in the world were they making that sound?
    Velvet Underground.

    Well you could look at that band
    And at first sight
    Say that certain rules about modern music
    Wouldn’t apply tonight.

    Twangy sounds of the cheapest kind,
    Like “Guitar sale $29.99,”
    Bold and brash, stark and still,
    Like the heats turned off
    And you can’t pay the bill.
    How in the world were they making that sound?
    Velvet Underground.

    Both guitars got the fuzz tone on
    The drummer’s standing upright pounding along
    A howl, a tone, a feedback whine
    Biker boys meet the college kind
    How in the world were they making that sound?
    Velvet Underground.

    Wild wild parties when they start to unwind
    A close encounter of the thirdest kind
    On the bandstand grooving, everybody moving
    How in the world are they making that sound?
    Velvet Underground.

  92. pjschgo says:

    Really, Joel?!?! Bon Jovi is more internationally popular than the Beatles?!?! That’s crazy talk! You can’t just look at sales dollars from two completely different eras and compare apples to oranges. You remind me of this young intern I had a few years back who said Mariah Carey was more popular than Michael Jackson and tried to cite record sales. Sure, Bon Jovi is a solid band, and they are hugely popular, but you embarrass yourself by mentioning them in the same breath as the Beatles.

  93. fredd says:

    Great thread. My comments…

    Aerosmith – No – two good albums, Toys and Rocks, that’s it.

    Van Halen – No – after David Lee left, they became another hair band.

    Chicago – No – not what I consider R&R

    Bon Jovi – No – you’re joking, right?

    Eagles – No – we’re talking R&R here, right?

    Fleetwood mac – No – see Eagles.

    Kiss – No – Kiss Alive, that’s it (and even that sucked), IMHO

    Skynrd – No – inspired by the Allmans

    Doors, CCR, REM, Allman Bros., Nirvana, Dead, Steely Dan, Talking Heads, Hot Tuna, Ramones. There’s 10 – put ‘em in any order you want. Oh and whoever brought up Little Feat, inspired choice, but they kinda dropped off after Lowell george died, did they not?

  94. Joel says:

    “Bon Jovi – No – you’re joking, right?”

    No I’m not.

  95. Joe says:

    Any talk of great American rock bands that doesn’t mention The Velvet Underground is suspect. They meet all the criteria and then some-influence, musicianship, depth.

    I also agree with those who’d like to see The Ramones. The Byrds, and the Allman Brothers on the list.

  96. Note to Joe:

    I like The Velvet Underground a lot — I think reasonable people can argue about where they fit in the top 20

    Allman Bros where always too “Southern Rock” specific for me . . . again reasonable people can disagree where they fit at the top

    I was never a huge Byrds fan, but I understand the appeal . . .

    lastly — I’ve seen the Ramones too many times too drunk to play — so their live performances take them off my list (gotta be able to hold your guitar without pissing yourself . . .)

    Barry Ritholtz

  97. rcumming says:

    Seriously. Can we go to arbitration. If Bon Jovi is in your discussion then your opinion is invalidated. Number of records sold means nothing- see Justin Bieber, Bon Jovi is overproduced pop rock.