An odd thing happened on the way to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

As most of you know, I tend bar for a living.

One of the keys to being a good bartender, in my mind at least, is the ability to strike up thought-provoking conversation amongst your customers, particularly during the slower shifts.

Consistent with my interests, I generally talk about sports, music, movies, pretty much anything other than religion and politics which, as any good bar denizen will tell you, is strictly verboten.

BeatlesMy topic of conversation lately has been the top five bands ever.

I always assumed the greatest pound-for-pound, rock-and-roll band of all time was the Beatles.  And you can define “greatest” however you please.  It can include or exclude prolific, influential, top-selling, most number one hits, etc.  After all, these kinds of arguments are subjective.  Sort of.

My point of engaging customers in this conversation, other than getting to know their likes and dislikes, was to ask them what they thought it would take for a modern musical act to supplant one of the greats as the top band of all-time.  Instead, I encountered something far more interesting.

Very few of them selected the Beatles as the top band ever.  In fact, more people chose the Rolling Stones.  One gentleman even answered Nirvana and he was in his 40s!  When I asked him again, just to be sure he understood the question, he repeated with conviction that Nirvana was the greatest band ever.  He probably owns a lot of knit sweaters.

So let’s take a step back for one second and gather our thoughts.

Every year or so, VH1 comes out with the greatest musical acts of all-time.  They generally poll musicians, who know about music and music critics, who don’t.  For the sake of modernity, they leave out artists like Beethoven, Mozart and Bach.  Generally, when these lists are compiled and completed, they read Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, Hendrix and will include Elvis, Bob Dylan or James Brown to round out their top five.

Mantle MarisPersonally, I don’t have a problem with that order.

Apparently others do.

If you ask me, the Beatles are the ’27 Yankees, the ’72 Dolphins and the ’95 Bulls.  Lennon and McCartney are Jordan-Pippen.  They’re Mantle-Maris.  They’re Magic and Kareem.  George Harrison was no slouch as a third man.  Sure the Beatles had Ringo Starr as their drummer but what championship team doesn’t have at least one .220 batter in their lineup.

So my question to you, my dearest readers, comes in multiple parts and is designed to engage us in healthy debate.

Who is the greatest rock and roll act of all-time?  Who are your Top Five artists and why?  Not your personal favorites but the greatest acts based on their career accomplishments.  And what would it take for a band these days to crack your list if not supplant the Beatles (or your own personal favorite) as number one?

Let the music play and let the debate begin.

21 thoughts on “An odd thing happened on the way to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

  1. In no discerning order , Beatles , Cream , Pink Floyd , Rolling Stones and Beach Boys . I’d have placed The Who and perhaps U2 among those ,but as you stated top-five , these were my personal favorites.

    So Dwyane Wade now joins the players earning $20 million a year solely based on his being thought of as the body and soul of the Miami Heat ? It’s been four years since Wade played more than fifty games in a season , much less put up All Star type numbers for the Heat.

    Pat Riley has become desperate and over-reaching, because the Heat in 2016 will be hard pressed to obtain a marquee free agent even if the cap will be at an all-time high for the NBA .

  2. As you say, Chump, er, Chris, this is highly subjective. I’ve been participating in a writer forum where some clown claims that E.L. James, who wrote Fifty Shades of Gray, is the greatest writer who ever lived. Of course he’s basing that opinion on the fact that she’s outsold every book ever written save the Bible. Everyone else in the forum thinks she’s a hack who simply won the lotto by being in the right place at the right time.

    All of that said, as preface, I think The Beatles were the most influential band of all time. Lennon and McCartney I believe still rank as the most successful song writing tandem ever. They evolved from Love Me Do to I Am the Walrus, so I’d say they were also the most creative band; but they recorded at a time when the record companies handed them the keys to the studio and said, “Have at it.” They could’ve belched on tape have a Gold Record. Today, record companies demand everything to fit into neat little boxes, so I’d dare say The Beatles likely would have a difficult time getting a contract. In fact, legend has it that some suit at Decca because he didn’t like their sound and thought that guitar driven music was on its way out. Wonder what he did for a living after we “met The Beatles.”

    But does all that make them the greatest rock and roll band of all time? They certainly are one of my favorites, especially the Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, White Album, and Abbey Road LPs. But I always considered their music pop rather than rock and roll.

    I’d have to say Zeppelin is the better rock and roll band. Certainly they were influential, maybe to the point that there would be no Guns ‘n’ Roses without Led Zeppelin. As an aside, when I first heard some D.J. call out Guns ‘n’ Roses, I thought he was referring to a florist on Eight Mile near Woodward Avenue in Detroit—an area of town noted for its topless bars, pur¬veyors of triple-X rated DVDs, streetwalkers, and filthy motels for which patrons paid by the hour, and where Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith, Jr. in 1995 launched his rap career as Eminem.

    The Stones have longevity going for them, although their best years are far behind them, and really, I can’t say I can name more than a dozen of their songs.

    But I’m running long. You asked for the all-time top five greatest rock and roll acts of all time. Don’t know that I can come up with five, but here we go, and these are in no particular order.

    Led Zeppelin—come on, no one could rock down the rafters like Jimmy Page, John Bonham, John Paul Jones and Robert Plant. Plant appears on just about everyone’s list of best rock voices ever.

    Elvis—there’s a reason they called him the King. Granted he got his start in the fifties, but he could work an audience, and yes, I saw the fat Elvis at the Pontiac Silverdome just a few years before his death.

    The Beatles—see my diatribe above.

    Here’s where it gets difficult: I know someone in this band pissed off someone at Rolling Stone magazine because they don’t list Terry Kath in their top 100 rock guitarists of all time, but they do list Joni Mitchell (so Rolling Stone, in my mind, is irrelevant), nor are they in the Hall of Fame (so somebody in the band pissed somebody off there, too), but the original lineup of Chicago was a killer draw, selling out 15,000-seat outdoor arenas and places like Carnegie Hall for five consecutive nights. They’ve been together for more than forty years, and while they sold out in the 1980s to become a top 40 hit machine, it really wasn’t their fault that the record companies and radio stations pigeon-holed them. They still put on a pretty good live show.

    Last but not least, the late Gary Moore, who played with Thin Lizzy. If you’ve never heard him, get some of his live compilations, he is one mean guitar virtuoso, and his vocals are killer. He died far too young, at the age fifty-eight, after living a pretty hard life. Fortunately, we still have his records.

    Obviously I’m not the first to post. Let the debate commence.

  3. As you say, Chump, er, Chris, this is highly subjective. I’ve been participating in a writer forum where some clown claims that E.L. James, who wrote Fifty Shades of Gray, is the greatest writer who ever lived. Of course he’s basing that opinion on the fact that she’s outsold every book ever written save the Bible. Everyone else in the forum thinks she’s a hack who simply won the lotto by being in the right place at the right time.

    All of that said, as preface, I think The Beatles were the most influential band of all time. Lennon and McCartney I believe still rank as the most successful song writing tandem ever. They evolved from Love Me Do to I Am the Walrus, so I’d say they were also the most creative band; but they recorded at a time when the record companies handed them the keys to the studio and said, “Have at it.” They could’ve belched on tape and have a Gold Record. Today, record companies demand everything to fit into neat little boxes, so I’d dare say The Beatles likely would have a difficult time getting a contract. In fact, legend has it that some suit at Decca turned them because he didn’t like their sound and thought that guitar driven music was on its way out. Wonder what he did for a living after we “met The Beatles.”

    But does all that make them the greatest rock and roll band of all time? They certainly are one of my favorites, especially the Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, White Album, and Abbey Road LPs. But I always considered their music pop rather than rock and roll.

    I’d have to say Zeppelin is the better rock and roll band. Certainly they were influential, maybe to the point that there would be no Guns ‘n’ Roses without Led Zeppelin. As an aside, when I first heard some D.J. call out Guns ‘n’ Roses, I thought he was referring to a florist on Eight Mile near Woodward Avenue in Detroit—an area of town noted for its topless bars, purveyors of triple-X rated DVDs, streetwalkers, and filthy motels for which patrons paid by the hour, and where Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith, Jr. in 1995 launched his rap career as Eminem.

    The Stones have longevity going for them, although their best years are far behind them, and really, I can’t say I can name more than a dozen of their songs.

    But I’m running long. You asked for the all-time top five greatest rock and roll acts of all time. Don’t know that I can come up with five, but here we go, and these are in no particular order.

    Led Zeppelin—come on, no one could rock down the rafters like Jimmy Page, John Bonham, John Paul Jones and Robert Plant. Plant appears on just about everyone’s list of best rock voices ever.

    Elvis—there’s a reason they called him the King. Granted he got his start in the fifties, but he could work an audience, and yes, I saw the fat Elvis at the Pontiac Silverdome just a few years before his death.

    The Beatles—see my diatribe above.

    Here’s where it gets difficult: I know someone in this band pissed off someone at Rolling Stone magazine because they don’t list Terry Kath in their top 100 rock guitarists of all time, but they do list Joni Mitchell (so Rolling Stone, in my mind, is irrelevant), nor are they in the Hall of Fame (so somebody in the band pissed somebody off there, too), but the original lineup of Chicago was a killer draw, selling out 15,000-seat outdoor arenas and places like Carnegie Hall for five consecutive nights. They’ve been together for more than forty years, and while they sold out in the 1980s to become a top 40 hit machine, it really wasn’t their fault that the record companies and radio stations pigeon-holed them. They still put on a pretty good live show.

    Last but not least, the late Gary Moore, who played with Thin Lizzy. If you’ve never heard him, get some of his live compilations, he is one mean guitar virtuoso, and his vocals are killer. He died far too young, at the age fifty-eight, after living a pretty hard life. Fortunately, we still have his records.

    Obviously I’m not the first to post. Let the debate commence.

  4. Queen! After every NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB championship, you always hear “We Are the Champions.” It is a song that will live forever as long as there are sports. Brian May’s guitar virtuosity is right up there with Hendrix and the other guitar gods. Plus, Brian has one thing that the others don’t have- a PhD in Astrophysics from Imperial College, London. As far as songwriting talent, Roger Taylor and John Deacon are no slouches.
    And, of course, there is Freddie Mercury. For sheer showmanship, no one can compare to Freddie. The mere fact that almost 25 years after his death, everyone in London Olympic Stadium was participating in the taped “call and response” is proof of their place in rock history. There is an excellent documentary on Youtube about Queen, “The Days of Our Lives.”(I highly recommend it.) It gives great insight into Freddie’s desire that “The Show Must Go On”, especially in his final months. That he could still sing like that despite his ever declining health proves that Freddie and Queen belong at or near the top of any list.

  5. Got to weigh in on this one…..in no particular order

    The Who
    Led Zeppelin
    Van Halen (original version)
    Lynyrd Skynyrd (original version)
    Everybody else

    Does Dave Matthews Band count as rock and roll? – those guys are my go to music whether I’m feeling up or down. Carter Beauford on drums is about as smooth as it gets. Happy 4th to all. I plan to be nicely buzzed on suds by this afternoon (maybe listening to all of the above).

  6. Chris

    The world has fallen off its axis . Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest and the favorites lost with Joey Chestnut and Sonya Thomas going down in flames .

    The San Antonio Spurs sign LaMarcus Aldridge . Presumptive favorites in the West next season, as well as making their twentieth consecutive NBA Playoff appearance.

  7. Alright, let’s get to answering some of these comments.

    Before I do, I did have someone Tweet me to tell me that any Top 5 list that excludes AC/DC is flawed.

    Does anyone care to comment on that? While their sound and mark on rock and roll is indelible, I’m not too sure I can put them Top Five.

    Anyone?

  8. Al…

    I simply can’t put Cream ahead of Led Zeppelin.

    Although LaMarcus Aldridge put the Spurs ahead of both Los Angeles and Miami. That’s gonna leave a mark.

    I agree with you that Miami needs to make a splash. I’m not sure who else is out there that they think might make a difference. I heard David West’s name mentioned.

    Either way, they need health and they need another scorer particularly considering both Wade and Bosh are banged up and getting a little long in the tooth.

  9. Conrad…

    I haven’t read the Fifty Shades stuff (my life is kinky enough) but I have heard from females that I trust that have read it is that it’s pretty pablum stuff. Hey, but they sold so more power to the guy. Wait, it’s a guy that wrote that shit, right?

    Re: the Beatles, not only did I grow up listening to them (mom was, and is, a huge fan), I listened to them as an adult as well. And you forgot to mention Revolver. What an insanely loaded album that was.

    That being said, I’ve probably logged more hours listening to Zeppelin. And sure the Stones have longevity but other than yet another tour, what worthwhile have they put out that’s meant anything musically?

    Still hard to keep ’em out of the Top Five.

    I’m no Dylan fan but I’m surprised no one’s come to his defense yet. Guess that’s not my reader’s demographic.

    And no love for Jimi? And let us not forget James Brown is one of the most influential artists of our time.

  10. I love Queen, Beag. I don’t know too many people that don’t.

    And I’d put Freddie Mercury in my top five male vocalists of all time.

    But if you put Queen in there, that means you have to take someone out.

    Who would that be?

  11. Ya know what, Moose.

    I asked someone at the bar this same question the other day (was it you?) and they also put Skynyrd in their Top Five. Hey, man, I don’t wanna get shot so I didn’t argue.

    And I logged my fair share of Van Halen (old, not new) hours as well.

    Again though, no Beatles on your list? I would have given you the benefit of the doubt til you mentioned Dave Matthews. No we’re just gonna have to put you in time out.

  12. Al…

    I’ll have my thoughts up on Aldridge soon.

    He’s clearly more sensible than anyone who shoves eighty hot dogs down their throat in one sitting.

  13. Oh well, guess I’ll go sit in the corner. Sorry – Beatles never did it for me.

  14. You’re right, the Stones have been resting on their laurels for decades; but they still sell out arenas.

    I’ve always felt Hendrix was overrated; even he said Kath was better than he was.

    James Brown is the Godfather of Soul. I saw him do a show in Ann Arbor and he put on a helluva show; but it’s not rock and roll.

    AC-DC? Eh.

  15. Yeah, but the point, Moose, was to allow for some objectivity.

    Regardless of whether you liked the Beatles or not, can you honestly say that they are not one of the five greatest acts ever?

    Like I said, there are no right or wrong answers… I think.

  16. Ah, yes, Conrad, so now we get into the difference between rock and roll and rhythm and blues… assuming there is one.

    Both art forms, or rather genres, are derivatives of the American blues form, yes? Rock more from white artists and R&B more from black, although that’s simplistic.

    Since that’s the case, I’m inclined to group them all together making the argument even more difficult to narrow down to five only.

    Earth, Wind and Fire, the Commodores, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin are all in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

    As they should be.

  17. Ok, my top five:

    1. Buddy Holly and the Crickets- Buddy was going places musically that no one had ever dreamed of. Strings and orchestras in rock and roll? Without Buddy, there is no Moody Blues or ELO. How many groups have Buddy and the Crickets influenced? The Beatles, the Stomes, the Hollies, the aforementioned Moody Blues.

    2. The Beatles- they changed the course of rock and roll in the Uniited States plain and simple. I don’t know if the Beach Boys would have come up with Pet Sounds were it not for the Beatles(although the Beatles do credit Pet Sounds as being one of the albums that influenced their later work)

    3. The Rolling Stones- just because they’re the Stones

    4. and 5. Led Zeppelin and Queen(interchangeable)- These two groups trade places on lists like these so many times, it’s not even funny. Queen invented stadium rock(that’s why they were able to steal the show at Live Aid). On every list of the top rock anthems of all time, again Zeppelin and Queen go back and forth in the top two with Stairway to Heaven and Bohemian Rhapsody.

  18. Beag…

    So we have Buddy Holly to blame for the Moody Blues? Too bad that plane didn’t go down sooner. ZING!!

    I like the list altho I give Zeppelin the nod over Queen and I replace Buddy Holly with James Brown.

    Without James, there is no funk. And life just wouldn’t be as good.

  19. So subjective that it would take a month to do a proper dissertation on the hows and whys, so I’ll keep it short and simple.

    My top five:

    1. Led Zeppelin
    2. The Rolling Stones
    3. The Beatles
    4. Van Halen
    5. Metallica

    …And NO…Van Hagar doesn’t count.

  20. Actually Chris, I do.

    My musical tastes are all over the map. Depends on my mood I suppose, but the topic was rock n roll bands….As great as James Brown and Stevie Wonder are, they ain’t rock n roll in my book.

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