Lit and Crit
TOP 10 GREATEST
BANDS OF THE
CLASSIC ROCK ERA (1960-70s)
Having been born in 1968, the rock and roll era is all I've ever known as far as music goes. To me, rock was music itself for many years. It swallowed all, encompassed all. It integrated the blues, folk, psychedelica, technology and pop. Prog rock was just classical with amplified instruments. Funk was soul with even more devotion to rhythm and wah-wah guitar. It all flowed from the wellfont of blues based rock and roll. Rock modeled how to be a man, explained the world's values to me, and built a temple to sound and aesthetics which opened its doors to everyone willing to be touched by the spirit.
The utopia of mankind was at hand, courtesy of Leo Fender and Orville Gibson and Robert Johnson, at least so I thought. It was the wail of the human animal made elegant or energized with Eros, pregnant with portent, flush with prodigies as talented as any in history, and restless to remake the world in its image. It was symbolic of American post WWII energy and a promise for the rest of the globe: rebellion, technology, revolution, libido, libation, liberation, and freedom. It preferred proficiency and expertise over pop's attempt to dumb everything down to a jingle, thankfully. We all loved it, the world over.
My brother bought himself a Gibson L6 from a pawn shop and I borrowed it every chance I got when he wasn't home until I knew how to get feedback from the amp. It rattled the windows and tore the doors from their jambs, as Ginsberg once urged. It was raw power in the hands of a teenager ready to take on the world.
Back then I didn't even know there was anything but the blues scale that I learned a guitar could play from copying the licks on my big brothers' albums, that's how much Zeppelin and Deep Purple and Stones I absorbed. KMET and KLOS in Los Angeles were beacons of free speech and freelove broadcasting 24-7 over the air, and my little AM/FM clock radio was always on (even when I was sleeping). As long as it was something featuring distorted guitars or pounding drums, I absorbed it, breathed it, sucked it all down and digested every morsel of music no matter how marginal or insignificant.
Since, of course, time has marched on. I didn't understand generational shifts back then and was bewildered that by the early 1980's the rock bands I loved were already being called "dinosaurs" with a tone of slight derision. Led Zep broke up and Jimmy Page started touring with The Firm and hair metal came along and none of our girlfriends wanted to go see them in concert with us despite the promise of underage drinking. Turns out people always want fresh. Yesterday's shocking style quickly turns into today's anachronism.
Still, another thirty years or so on, we find the music of the classic rock is perennial and really has stood the test of time to a great degree. People took Sabbath seriously and they got popular, and then they fell out, and then Ozzy had a metal era 80s comeback, and then he fell off a cliff, and then everyone thought he was a loveable idiot to not take seriously but that's what made him so popular all over again. Now it's all 80's flashback weekends and music culture has migrated online and guitars are considered passe. (Then in a few more years there will be a 90's grunge rock revival, just you wait and see. These cycles seem long when you're young but when you get old it seems like they roll over once every two decades as another crop of teens grows old enough to be nostalgic for the innocent pleasures of their youth.
Today in the music industry there's a million new artists and only the freak-shows stand out despite having limited shelf-lives. Meanwhile, the dinosaurs still roam the earth eating mostly plants and staging comeback tours.
Today, of course, I listen to jazz and classical and every genre under the sun and love em all, but I still have a soft spot for classic rock. Turns out the best music is timeless, like Gershwin or Beethoven or The Beach Boys.
The classic rock and roll era, to me, started in the mid 1960s. Before that, rock and roll in the 1950s was just pop music. Bill Haley and the Comets rocked but they were not taking on the entire canon of human expression, just trying to whip out a beat and some guitar riffs to get the kids to dance. It's fun but perhaps slightly less than timeless, more fixed to its time and place. Even the Beatles and the Stones and The Beach Boys all started out as pop with some rock thrown in. The early rockers who started it all --Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, Howlin Wolf and the bluesmen-- were still writing songs to please even when they had punch (for the most part). They'll get their own list but they don't figure into this one.
Meanwhile, other innovators outside of classic rock almost get the nod but somehow fall outside of the definition of the genre. Sly and the Family Stone (a pop soul band which injected so much classic rock into their sound that they created a new genre all their own called funk) deserves special mention. Funk is a kind of rock for sure but its ambitions are musically a little more modest. Thus, in order to not marginalize the cultural contributions soul and funk have made to American music, they get their own article and rankings as well.
As defined elsewhere, I think that rock by nature is out to challenge rather than please, rile rather than soothe, stomp heavy rather than boogie light. Hence, for me, the "Classic Rock era" starts with the advent of rock and roll not as a 50's roller coaster ride of teenage rebellion but an artistic attempt to incorporate and re-evaluate the canon, perhaps in time starting about 1964 and onwards. Classic rock took into account the studio as an instrument and all that had come before it, from the blues to classical music.
The standouts of the late 50's sometimes point to the future and are a kind of rock, but there weren't many bands who were looking to take the form and challenge the entire canon of music itself the way Pete Townshend did later on. Buddy Holly was just singing some catchy jingles, not reimagining symphonies for electric guitar about LSD gobbling gamers.
Between the early days of rock to the end of the 60's, music went from the sock-hop to the psychedelic, from the exothermic to the endothermic, from archeology to ontology. Obviously, both pop and rock styles of the time managed to produce crossovers and combinations, precursors and premonitions of the art to come, but by the end of the 1960s rock and roll was no longer about getting a song on the radio. It was about creating commercial works of art which would stand the test of time (when it was at its best).
No wonder this period produced some of the richest, most satisfying and powerful music of the last half century-- it swallowed up everything in the canon and shat it out as potash to fertilize the next 100 years of musical invention.
Since, music has essentially stayed the same to my ears. Sure, new micro-genres pop up, but for the most part the styles and sounds of today are simply skating down streets of gold paved by the originals of the genre and the first genius innovators of the rock and roll era. That means that the top ten of the time are still some of the greatest rock bands of the entire modern electrified music era (in which we still live).
Others since have nearly matched them in output and innovation, but who has bested them? Since the 1970s a million rock bands have come and gone but few have been able to top the artistic achievements of these forebears. Still, because worthy successors do exist, we've decided to break the ratings down into several eras of modern music to better appreciate some of the standouts.
Thus, coming installments may include Top Pop bands of the same era, Top Rock Bands of the 80s-90s, Top Rock Bands of the New Millennium, and so on for several genres. But we're starting off with the originators who have impressed me the most in the genre I enjoy the most (classic rock). That seems like the most logical way to start. Thus, below, we rank the 10 top Classic Rock bands of all time and explain how and why they get the ranking.
Note also that this is all about Classic Rock bands. Solo artists and pop bands and other genres will also get their lists, though sometimes there is crossover. For example, the Beatles were both rock and pop and deserve to be on both lists. This list, though, is really about bands and how a group of players can form something greater as a unit then they might be able to alone. Their chemistry, their aesthetic, their professional prowess and total catalogue of work all play into it.
To get your mittens on the whole list, or even if you are not wearing any kind of gloves at all, click on the link to the next page!
Culture, Humor, Finance, Politics
Check out our sister site for more