Men have always liked “top 5” lists, especially when it comes to music. In fact Nick Hornby wrote the fantastic novel High Fidelity on just such a subject. I have spent many hours engaged in passionate, often heated debate about “best guitar solos, best vocalists, best live acts, best albums” etc. “Best bands” is the list of lists.
Here’s my stab at bands which should be in everyone’s record collection.
1) Led Zeppelin
Perhaps the ultimate rock band fronted by the legendary Robert Plant on vocals with Jimmy Page on lead guitar, John Bonham on drums and John Paul Jones on base. Stairway to Heaven, Kashmir, Whole Lotta Love and many others still cause goose bumps when listened to at volume setting number 11. And of course they set the standard, arguably never topped, for the great rock excesses of the 1970s; TVs through windows, sex, drugs and private jets.
2) The Rolling Stones
Still going strong in their mid to late 70s, in fact they have just announced a UK tour for 2018. Past their best in terms of new album material but still electrifying to see live. Sympathy for the Devil, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Midnight Rambler and countless other classics still thrill.
3) Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
My personal number 1 band. 4 hour concerts, huge back catalogue of unforgettable standards from Born to Run to Badlands to Born in the USA to Jungleland. Bruce Springsteen still writes original , exciting new music today for the band, and has attracted a new generation of fans independently of their parents, although my own children had no choice growing up but to love this combo.
Radiohead have dominated the rock music landscape since they burst onto the scene in the early 1990s with Creep and their post-apocalyptic vision of the world on first The Bends then OK Computer. Incidentally both of these are on my list of top 5 albums of all time. Radiohead broke brand new ground in rock when everyone thought it was all done. Has anyone done that in the 21 years since OK Computer? Not Ed Sheeran that's for sure. In 2000 they departed radically from the format of these 2 majestic records and released Kid A, marking a dramatic change in direction with the use of synthesisers, drum machines and strings. Seen live showcasing material from throughout their career is one of life’s great treats.
5) The Beatles
I have left them until last because arguably without the Beatles we wouldn’t have any of the others. I know I said I was focusing on live bands and the Beatles last performed live in 1966 - not counting the surprise appearance in 1969 on the roof of the Apple building (record label not iPhone maker). However, you can detect their influence in the output of pretty much every rock and pop act to follow them. I need say no more.
This list is of course subjective, and there are some glaring omissions - if I were allowed a best 7 i would include Muse (so much noise from just 3 people) and Pink Floyd - but 5 was the instruction so 5 it is.....and no David Bowie! Honourable mention should go to The Who, Talking Heads, The Beach Boys, Genesis, The Clash, Cream, The Doors & U2, all of whom tick lots of the boxes required but maybe not all.
Words by Charles Matterson, The Iris Letter March 2018.