I was asked my opinion on “the best U.S. rock-and-roll bands.” My answer:
‘The Band’ was ‘built’ around Levon Helm, from Arkansas, and the mythology it plumbed was all country-blues, country-folk, Levon’s canon of music. By “best” I mean most connected to the spirit of the people, coupled with absolutely superb musicianship, lyrical insight, and ever captivating ‘listenability,’ all equaling pure songwriting and pure performance.
What I DO NOT mean by ‘best’ is flamboyant sonic showmanship — though I have enjoyed much of this as well, as with Hendrix and the Allman Brothers (with Duane). Sly and Santana were good, mainly for dancing. Dylan and Aretha were superb, each in their own idiom, but they were showcased acts fronting cherry-picked studio bands, though I’ll give Dylan credit for sometimes blending into the bands who backed him (The Band, with the ‘Basement Tapes’, and George Harrison’s ‘Traveling Wilburys’).
For me, ‘best’ is a musical ensemble that is a song-expressing integral unit that has achieved a timeless recorded body of work; and for ‘American’ that has really tapped into the spirit of its people both on its light and dark sides.
My three favorite (‘best’) American Rock and Roll bands are:
— The Doors (especially albums 1,2,4,5),
— The Band
(‘Music From Big Pink’, and ‘The Band’ being to me two halves of one double album), and
— the 1969 band in Memphis, TN, that recorded ‘The Memphis Tapes’ with Elvis Presley, his absolute best work ever.
*If the pure ‘American idiom’ were the #1 criterion, then ’The Memphis Tapes’ band+singer rates #1.
*The most underrated Doors album is #4: ‘Morrison Hotel’, which is their most unified (a favorite).
*The most avant-garde Doors album is #5: ‘L.A. Woman’.
*The ‘best’ (favorite) Band song is ‘King Harvest Has Surely Come.’
(Steinbeckian musical mythology).
*The most ethereal song of any Rock band: ‘Whispering Pines’ by The Band.
*Best stoner album: ‘Blonde on Blonde’ by Bob Dylan
(+ real musicians, one from The Band).
*Best Dylan albums: ‘Highway 61 Revisited,’ ‘Bringing It All Back Home,’ ‘Blood On The Tracks’.
*Best Hendrix song/track: ‘Little Wing’.
*Best Janis Joplin song/track: ‘Me and Bobby McGee’
(Kris Kristofferson song).
*Best Southern Rock band: The Allman Brothers
(with Duane Allman).
*Best Duane Allman + Dicky Betts track: ‘Little Martha’.
*Most popular Duane Allman solo: on ‘Blue Sky’
(Dicky Betts’s non-blues balladic song).
*Best ‘supergroup’ band: The Traveling Wilburys (1988)
(also, best ‘old man’ band).
*Best Dance Band: ‘B-52s’.
(most creative song: ‘Rock Lobster’).
*Best Beer-Drinking Night band: ‘Hoodoo Rhythm Devils’.
(their best ‘American mythology’ song: ‘Red Pacific’).
*Best ‘generation II southern rock band’: ‘The Doobie Brothers’.
(with Tom Johnson, and pre Michael McDonald).
*Best soul singer: Aretha Franklin (obviously).
*Best female rock-pop-country vocalist: Linda Ronstadt.
*Most idiosyncratic: ‘Captain Beefheart’, a Howling Wolf imitator
(considered a genius by his afficionados, an acquired taste, not mine).
*Most Puckish: Ry Cooder
(especially his ‘Paradise and Lunch’ album: his best?)
(a favorite, especially ‘Married Man’s a Fool’, delicious guitaring).
*Best band for wallowing in depression: ’The Velvet Underground’.
*Best frenetic unhung rock band: ‘The New York Dolls’.
*Best album for spending the night with your girlfriend in the dormroom:
‘Crosby, Stills and Nash’.
*’The Rascals’ (or, ‘The Young Rascals’)
(‘Good Lovin’’ best cover ever).
(‘Do You Believe In Magic?’, ’Summer In the City’)
*’Creedence Clearwater Revival.’
(their groove is all in their pacing).
*’Steppenwolf’ (best white trash stoner band)
(’Easy Rider’ soundtrack).
*Best Country-Pop: ’The Carpenters’
*Most soporific on long roadtrips out West: ‘The Eagles’.
*Most ‘70s coke-hip cool: ‘Steely Dan’ (eh, for me).
Most amusing gen-II ‘Dolls’ style (with less chops): ‘The Ramones’.
Best Disco: an oxymoron.
CATEGORIES NOT INCLUDED HERE:
Blues, R&B, Soul, DooWop, ‘Detroit Sound’, JAZZ, Gospel, ‘50s R&R,
(Black music from which White R&R was sourced)
NON U.S. R&R Bands:
*Most appealing rock band ever, and best all-around: ‘The Beatles’
(and from the working class).
*Most pretentious rock ban ever: ‘The Rolling Stones’
(and most Tory-decadent rich hypocrite appropriators of American R&B)
(my favorite RS song: ’No Expectations’, last with Brian Jones).