BEST U.S. R&R BANDS

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’.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

*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).

‘Lovin’ Spoonful’
(‘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’
(sorry, Dolly)

*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).

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Some Thoughts About My Cuba

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Some Thoughts About My Cuba

This is a stream-of-consciousness outpouring of my thoughts and memories and learning of Cuba, without any additional research, or “fact checking,” because I am sure whatever details I may have “wrong” are inconsequential to the truth of my testimony. And besides, I’m in my “don’t give a fuck what you think of me” senior years. Let the picayune, pedantic and nit-pickers do their own fact-checking (it’s easy enough today). But, to those with poetic and musical and socialist souls: welcome!

My family lost everything in the Cuban Revolution (from 1959): family business, property, grandparents’ health (early death); 1961-1967 were hell for us that way. Because of the rabid U.S. assaults on the Cuban Revolution, Fidel followed Raul’s lead and looked to the Communist Party — i.e., Russia — for help (I saw a Russian freighter in Havana harbor in 1960), and in reaction to those assaults, Castro banned rock music and the Beatles (in ~1965-1967; yet Juan Formell, famously, penned the seminal Cuban Rock-and-Roll classic, “Llegué, Llegué / Guararey de Pastorita,” and founded Los Van Van in 1969, https://youtu.be/75VYMyYVPhA).

BUT, my father forever refused to ever play golf (the signal Republican/Conservative/Imperialist/Reactionary/Fascist “sport”; I had offered to buy him golf clubs as a retirement present), and refused to ever visit Miami, where his old Upper West Side NYC buddies from the 1940s-1950s had gone in their senior years, because he did not want to go where “the pain in the neck” Cubans were.

My father had sent money sub-rosa (for bribes) to help his two childhood friends and their families to get out of Cuba in the later 1960s, and he cried when thinking back on it all, saying the U.S. had “destroyed my country.” Che Guevara was executed on my father’s 43rd birthday.

So, I know that Castro made many mistakes, and had dictatorial tendencies, but he was exponentially better for Cuba than the U.S. ever was or ever will be (Cuba si! Yanqui no!, I saw that grafitto painted on Cuban walls in 1959-1960). And the Cuban government always has the U.S. and its embargo and its CIA, as an easy excuse for and distraction from its own mistakes and heavy-handedness in managing Cuba; but there is an abundance of truth in that excuse nevertheless.

Despite its evident poverty, Cuba is what Puerto Rico (I am 50% Puertorriqueño) should be: independent; “the Cubans will never bend the knee,” as the last East German premier has said. Despite killing 2 to 3 million Vietnamese (between 1965 and 1975), and toxifying much of their land with Agent Orange and Cluster Bombs, the U.S. has “forgiven” officially ‘Communist’ Vietnam because it has let itself become a sweatshop for capitalism; Cuba remains unforgiven because it has not. And THAT is a dagger pointed at the heart of American imperialists’ greatest fear.

By the way: rock and roll is, deeply, a Cuban invention. The “French Quarter” of New Orleans is considered by US Americans as the birthplace of rock-and-roll through the African-American roots of Delta Blues, R&B, and Gospel music (rhythmic and charismatic African call-and-response choral music – originally without drums, which were forbidden to American Black slaves).

The French Quarter was actually built by the Spanish governor of New Orleans during the ~25(?) years of Spain’s ownership of that port, by treaty with the French (who had established and owned it previously, and then owned it afterwards – eventually selling it to the Americans in 1803 – all by treaties between France and Spain, because of European wars in the 18th & 19th centuries).

The rhythm-based African music was imported to Cuba with the slave trade (Cuban slaves were allowed the freedom to drum at night, which was forbidden in the U.S. over fear of “signalling” a slave revolt). There was a huge trade from Havana (of Cuban sugar) to New Orleans (and back with furs bound for Europe), and with it rode in Afro-Cuban musicians to New Orleans, who by then had already incorporated colonial Spanish instruments (guitar, flute, violin, brass, piano) into their bands. Those musicians brought in the roots music of what would eventually flower as Blues, Jazz and Rock. Chuck Berry’s “Louis, Louis” is a pure cha-cha-cha.

Today, Cuban popular music incorporates hip-hop (reggeton, via Puerto Rico, and via the many back-channels Cubans have used to gain access to foreign recorded pop music: Cubans are the most talented and accomplished “pop” musicians of the world, and the tap root of it all is Africa). All pop music worldwide is basically African-based, which is why, (pop) musically, Cuba is the “ombligo del mundo” and Africa is its placenta.

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