Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Best Bands and their Best Lps in Rock n' Roll Heaven

It was a hot steamy day, and I was in Woolworth's going through the now marked down 45's (for those of you who are technology challenged those were really small records that played at 45 revolutions per minute). I found the one I was looking for, which was, the Who's "I Can See for Miles". I have to be honest and say, I didn't like their really early stuff much, like 'Happy Jack'. But when I came home and played this 45 and listened to it in my huge ole headphones--- it was a whole new ballgame. Hard rock had showed up with a tremendous thud!!! It was released October 14, 1967 and the world has not been the same since. The Beatles were a pop band, and they were wonderful, but the Fab Four couldn't play anything like this! The Rolling Stones were good, and 'I Can't Get No Satisfaction released in 1965 complete with fuzz lead guitar, was heading in the right direction, but again, those boys could not play nearly as well as the Who. Long before Led Zeppelin was saturation bombing the airwaves and even before Jimi Hendrix lit his guitar on fire at Monterey and Woodstock, the Who were destroying guitars, amps and eardrums right left and center. The irony was, they could really play and didn't need the theatrics at all to sell an audience. John Entwhistle was simply amazing on bass, Keith Moon was the ultimate mad drummer whose machine gun speed was incredible, and then there was of course Daltrey and Townsend. I saw the Beatles in 1964 on the Ed Sullivan Show, and that definitely got the party started

It will be necessary to divide this list up into two parts-- best live bands, and best studio bands (and there is plenty of crossover of course).

I honestly do not understand all the hype about the Rolling Stones being the best rock n' roll band ever. I've seen them even in their prime, and they are not, if the issue is performance. They're not if we are ranking them in terms of skill in playing, actual on key singing, and the like. They are a lot of fun, and have a lot of wonderful tunes, but neither Ronny Wood nor Keith Richards (basically a rhythm guitarist with ambitions) can hold a candle to some of the bands who had major guitarists in them.

BEST LIVE ROCK BANDS (including more popish and folk ones) EVER (in no particular order, except the Who are first)

1) The Who (as I said before, go listen to the remastered Live at Leeds)
2) Cream-- (like the Hendrix Experience, these three were equally to about six others)
3) Led Zeppelin
4) The Allman Brothers
5) U2
6) Santana
7) Joe Cocker and the Grease Band
8) Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company
9) The Jimi Hendrix Experience (and it was)
10) ELP (simply unbelievable drumming and piano playing. Greg Lake had a hard time keeping up on guitar)
11) Derek and the Dominoes (Eric Clapton and Duane Allman--- enuff said)
12) the Moody Blues (of the more symphonic bands they were better live than Renaissance, Pink Floyd and other atmospheric favorites, though I am listing next...)
13) Pink Floyd
14) Crosby Stills and Nash-- best harmonies on the planet, with the occasional exception of the Beach Boys and the Beatles
15) James Taylor and Carole King together, doing each others songs--- magic
16) Joni Mitchell (when she had her later Tom Scott and Brian Blades led band)
17) Loggins and Messina (maybe the best live folk rock concert I ever saw)
18) The Eagles
19) the Rolling Stones (they were lots of fun)
20) Bob Dylan and the Band (a truly amazing concert run, and tandem)
21) the Eagles
22) the James Gang (Joe Walsh blowing away the neighbors eardrums)
23) The Grateful Dead (their albums do not capture the live effect of this band in their prime)
24) Collective Soul (really very good live)
25) Foreigner (with Lou Gramm, superb live)
26) The Little River Band (great tunes, sung wonderfully)
27) AC DC--- (Angus we hardly knew ye)
28) Uriah Heep-- (not together long enough. They were very good live)
29) Jefferson Airplane (saw them at Fillmore East-- they burned down the house, and Bill Graham couldn't stop them)
30) Aerosmith-- These boys can still bring it.
31) Van Halen

I could go on, but I will move on to the best bands in the studio.

1) the Beatles (they were good performers early on when they were doing the really simple early stuff up through Beatles 65 and a Hard Day's Night. But truth be told they owed much to George Martin in the studio, especially on things like Sgt. Peppers)
2) the Moody Blues (as a classical musician I know how hard it was for them to do some of this both in the studio and live, but they were better in the studio. They were one of the few bands who could play with a classical orchestra, and hold their own, and be commended by the orchestra)
3) the Who (Tommy, Quadrophenia and Who's Next, to mention but three)
4) Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Moon-- one of the all time great lps. The Wall is down the list compared to Dark Side)
5) Michael Jackson's killer Thriller Band (with Eddie Van Halen)
6) Prince (Purple Rain)
7) Sly and the Family Stone (check out the greatest hits-- you'll be dancin')
8) Led Zeppelin ( I love the first second and 4th lps)
9) Bob Dylan (some amazing lps-- including Blonde on Blonde, Nashville Skyline (didn't see that one comin'; Time Out of Mind and so many others)
10) Elton John (the Your Song album and the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road lps were great)
11) Billy Joel (52nd Street, among others)
12) the Eagles (the first lp and Hotel California)
13) Fleetwood Mac (the second incarnation that produced the untitled lp and Rumors)
14) Genesis (post Peter Gabriel)
15) U2 (this band has kept getting better over the years in the studio, but Joshua Tree already showed what they could do)
16) Deep Purple (Smoke on the Water and Hush)
17) Traffic (check out John Barleycorn and Low Spark of High Heeled Boys)
17) Jim Hendrix (Are You Experienced and Axis Bold as Love)
18) Eric Clapton (too many to choose from, but the Layla lp is mighty great)
19) ELP (I love their first lp)
20 King Crimson (again the first lp with Greg Lake especially)
21) Joni Mitchell (Blue, Court and Spark etc.)
22) James Taylor (Sweet Baby James, Copperline)
23) Carole King (the all time best folk rock selling lp of the 60s-80s-- Tapestry)
24) the Eagles (their most recent Long Road CD shows just how good they still are in the studio)
25) Crosby Stills Nash and Young (listen to their first two CDs closely, especially Suite Judy Blue Eyes, and Carry On)


1) The Beatles, Hard Day's Night
2) the Beatles Sgt. Peppers
3) the Beatles Abbey Road
4) the Rolling Stones-- Import very Greatest Hits
5) Carole King- Tapestry
6) Michael Jackson-- Thriller
7) Pink Floyd-- Dark Side of the Moon
8) U2 Joshua Tree
9) Elton John-- Good bye Yellowbrick Road
10-12) Led Zeppelin-- I, II, IV
13-15)-- The Who-- Tommy, Live at Leeds, Who's Next
16) Eagles-- Hotel California
17) Crosby Stills and Nash
18) Moody Blues-- Question of Balance
19) King Crimson-- Court of the Crimson King
20) Traffic-- John Barleycorn is dead

(of course I would rather have taken a lot more to the desert island, including some more recent ones)


Jared said...

I have decided that you really need to listen to Radiohead. You have great taste in music, that is certain; however, I fear that you may have, in rejoicing in the old, missed out on the new. I would start with Pablo Honey or the Bends lps because those are the most stylistically accessible, then, when you are ready, move on up to OK Computer. Then, after your mind is blown (over the few weeks it has taken to really mull it over) pull out 'In Rainbows.'
Then in ten years when POPular music has caught up (just like OK computer), we will sing loudly of the 'ahead of their time' genius of Radiohead. Van Gogh would totally agree with me.

Oscar T. G. said...

Apparently most of your readers were born long after most of these albums were released. The only one that escaped me was ELP. Maybe it was the marijuana haze that has fogged my memory, but that group is just to obscure for me.

I have no argument with any of your picks, but as a child of the sixties I have to be partial to Zeppelin ("Dazed and Confused") and King Crimson ("Cat Food").

Live, James Taylor just didn't have the volume, much better on record, Crosby Stills and Young were the goods! both live AND recorded, along with Zeppelin. The Moody Blues ALWAYS delivered, mostly because of Justin Hayward's tenor and that melotron, later called a synthesizer.

I still listen to many of these songs and artists, and in my more maudlin moments I imagine future rest homes playing Muzak versions of that music for the, now ancient, baby boomers who poulate the Extended Care units. Pas the Pampers, please!

Ben Witherington said...

O.K., my wife will shoot me since I already have too many CDs, albums, and cassettes, not to mention reel to reel tapes of great rockers, but I guess I need to go have a listen to Radiohead and Wilco.

And for bobbym-- ELP is Emerson, Lake, and Palmer...


SJBedard said...

I always thought the Police were a decent band to listen to on the radio but after seeing them in concert recently, I think they deserve to be one of the best live bands. As a Canadian, I also have to stand up for Rush as an excellant live band. Regarding studio quality, Yes deserves a mention. Take a listen to the Yes Album, Fragile or Close to the Edge. And of course there is also Jethro Tull!

Jeff said...

Can't argue too much with you here...

I saw The Who in 1979 when I was in the 9th grade, and they were awesome. I wish I could have seen them with Keith Moon.

AC/DC puts on a terrific show. Same with the Rolling Stones -- even in their later years.

Kyle said...

I totally agree on putting The Who and Cream at the top of the live list... their concerts are just mind-bending, even in recorded form. Even a young'un like me can appreciate. Any time I need some inspiration, all I need to do is fire up Live At Leeds...

I already hear a lot of Radiohead influence in popular rock (particularly in Coldplay, and strangely enough, Christian bands.) Their most recent album "In Rainbows" is actually a pretty good introduction to their music. And Wilco is a band both skinny-pants, vintage-tee wearing kids and cranky old classic rocker/folk fans can enjoy with equal aplomb.

Also, I suspect you can avoid the wife's ire if you buy music in 8-track form!

Ben Witherington said...

Steve you are of course right. My oversight entirely--- I would say the Yes Album is wonderful, and of course Roundabout is a classic song on Close to the Edge--- really wonderful. Of Canadian Bands, Rush is good. I also enjoyed Corey Hart and Bryan Adams, among others (I even listened to Echo and the Bunnymen). Ah 8 tracks-- nope I never drove a truck, which was a pre-requisite to having 8 tracks.
8 tracks are as dead as the original quadrophonic speakers. I remember asking the sales guys-- "so exactly what is the point in separating the sound into 4 parts and spreading them out, when I only have two ears!!!"


Bill Victor said...

No Donald and Walter in your studio band? They are right in that general time frame that you are listing. Oversight?

James F. McGrath said...

Now that we live in the era of LOST, the new hypothetical question becomes "If you are stranded on an island, what records would you want to find down a hatch...?"

Reflections from the Listening Post said...

I couldn't agree more re: the Who! But one of the best shows I ever witnessed was Lynyrd Skynyrd in '74. Ronnie VanZant vocal and the soaring guitars on 'Simple Man' was simply devine.

simon said...

I saw Pink Floyd perform Dark Side of the Moon at the De Montfort Halls in Leicester in, I think 1971. It was aone of a number of gigs the Floyd did before they committed the material to vinyl. It was amazing. I was 16 and it changed my life (in mainly a good way!)
I think your list is very interesting, though I'd like to have seen more contemporary bands on it. i agree that the 60s and 70s were unique in rock history becauise it was the formative years of what we listen to now.
I'd like to have seen REM on the live and studio list, Eels on the studio list (though the string-driven live album is also wonderful), Nick Cave on both lists and the British band Elbow on both lists - four wonderful albums and they are great live.

Bjørn Are said...

In general a good list, thanks Ben!

BTW, anyone living in the 70's and not having noticed ELP is a bit like people living in the 90's withouth having noticed U2;-)

ELP headed e.g. California Jam in 1974 ( - for about 200 000 people (some say more), and most of the concert was sent on ABC at least twice.

ELP also still has the attendee record for Montreal Olympic Stadium (paid attendees, one general admission concert by Pink Floyd had a few more people), playing in 1977 for more than 70 000 people.

Ben Witherington said...

oops, I forgot Steeley Dan for the studio band, and Aja for the desert island.


mafutha said...

I think there's one more...Queen. The best as a concert band.

Sky McCracken said...


I've never disagreed with anything you've ever said or written... until now.

Where's Kansas? And Boston (I mean... they sounded as good live as they did in the studio)?

Other than that - fantastic lists.


Mike said...

Let's get a little heavier - Metallica is a great live band. They've gotten sloppier in concert as they've aged - they can't quite play the older, faster songs as well - but in their prime they could really bring it live. Even today, their interaction and connection to the fans more than makes up for things age has taken away.

I gotta throw in Pearl Jam, too - the Who of my generation. Most people think of them as a "grunge" band, but they've become in my mind one of America's best rock bands. The ability to improvise is a sign of a band's chemistry and live abilities, and that's an integral part of Pearl Jam's live shows.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I like alot of the bands and albums you list. Moody Blues are a favorite of mine, as well.

You left out Yes, whom I liked alot on several of their albums.

But all in all a good list.

Ben Witherington said...

I like both Kansas and Boston, but they both had about one good album from start to finish, and neither of them played enough live shows. I agree Queen was great live, but they too did not have a definitive lp other than the Bohemian Rhapsody one, other wise get the greatest hits.


steve said...

Not a word about Bruce Springsteen?
Ben, you're scaring me!

Unknown said...

Thanks for having the guts to tell the truth about the Stones. They were (as in *were*, not *are*) fun, but they just weren't that good. Really overrated as musicians and writers. And you really nailed it with The Who and their place in RnR history compared to the Beatles and the Stones.

In the greatest recording bands, though, although you've already justified (sort of, grrr...) leaving out Boston and Kansas, I would think that progressive rock bands in general should be pretty heavily represented in this category. Where are Yes and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, to name a couple?

Unknown said...


There’s a large overlap of rock bands that we like, especially (early) Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Allman Brothers, the Who, and many others.

Deep Purple should also be among the best live bands (Made in Japan, In Concert [BBC Sessions]).

You don’t like Lynyrd Skynyrd? I don’t see them on any of your lists.

For me, your biggest omission is Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR), including John Fogerty among the top song writers and Cosmo’s Factory among the top studio albums. Fogerty was ranked #40 on Rolling Stone’s list of Greatest Guitarists of All Time (2003), so I’m not the only one who thinks that he can play.

thegreatswalmi said...

absolutely queen and radiohead. One question: Where's Dave Matthews Band? I've seen them thrice in concert, and it's the new version of the other band that missed the list, namely, the Grateful Dead.

I'd also nominate DMB's Before These Crowded Streets as an incredible studio album.

my .02

Marc Axelrod said...

This is the best rock music ever made. I own or have owned most of it or all of it at one time or another. It's fascinating to hear about all the great concerts you have seen. What awesome memories! I wish I could have been there with you, but I was only like two or three years old!

I think the albums that I liked best in high school were
1. The Beatles - 1967-1970
2. Led Zeppelin III
3. Prince, Purple Rain,
4. Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and The River,
5. Rolling Stones Hot Rocks 1964-1971,
6. Pink Floyd, Meddle and Dark Side,
7. Jimi Hendrix Experienced and Axis

I think I had a lot of anger as a kid, and some of these records were cathartic for me.

Most of the stuff I listen to now is more joyful and tender, like Celtic music and inspirational music, but I still enjoy the vintage rock music from time to time. I just listened to McCartney and Wings last night. People laughed when he put his wife in the band, but she turned out to be pretty good! Listen to that keyboard on Maybe I'm Amazed.

Ben Witherington said...

I do love Bruce Springsteen. Of the second wave of rock, that landed on the beach in the 70s and beyond, I think he is one of the best. I love the Born to Run lp and much more recently the Devils and Dust CD. And I like CCR as well. Cosmos Factory is a good album, to be sure, but not top 10 all time. I would say the same about Lynard Skynard. They were great when Ronnie was doing his thing, and that accident was a tragedy, as was Duane Allman's. Lynard Skynard was a great southern rock live band. I quite agree. But do they have a singular top 10-20 album. I suppose you could argue that the one with Sweet Home Alabama and Freebird is it, but the rest of the songs on that lp do not measure up.


Don said...

I like most of the bands on your list and further additions in the comments.

What do you say to another believer who thinks these bands are a bad (or worse) influence on me/you?

pmPilgrim said...

Wow, what a list. It is actually great to see an excellent theologian deal with these popular topics. It may be the Boomer version of Barth's statement about doing theology with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. I would add- and some of the best music on the CD player.

Anyway, I agree with your overall lists. I would probably push Dylan up a little on the list- and would definitely bring along some of his greatest hits to the "Lost" island.

Good job!

Shaun C. Brown said...

You already missed including Rush in your list of guitarists by neglecting Alex Lifeson. I'm shocked that you missed Rush again on this one.

Ben Witherington said...

I mentioned them in the comments, but what's the Rush? :)


Anonymous said...

I love it that you listed the Eagles twice on each list.

Agree - gotta have Queen and Springsteen in there.

Hayne Begley said...

I grew up listening to almost all of those bands on LP with my dad, those that we didn't have on LP I picked up early in high school. Definitely glad to see you added Steely Dan in the comments Ben, they are a favorite of mine. (Deacon Blues still remains my favorite driving song at night with the windows down). Also I have a particular leaning to a band known as Little Feat, they are amazing, both live and in the studio.

Also, the Black Crowes are one of the best bands I've ever seen live, the shows are simply amazing.

And a personal favorite, Flogging Molly, though completely off this list.

Marc Axelrod said...

Neil Young's two cd retrospective Decade is one of my favorite albums. Rust Never Sleeps is also really good.

The Ramones were great. I liked the Rock and Roll High School soundtrack. Their first album was also amazing.

Canned Heat was good. I liked Heavyweight Hite.

Brendan said...

Dr. Witherington, you are the coolest theologian I know of. I'm reading The Paul Quest and have to say it's transformed my reading of Paul's epistles as I make my way through the NT a chapter a day this year (in 1 Peter now).

Two live and studio bands I'd add to the list:

1. Smashing Pumpkins - (Siamese Dream in particular)
2. David Crowder Band - David Crowder is an outstanding musician, but his greatest talent is playing the audience as an instrument of worship. Don't dismiss these guys just because they sing about God!

Sky McCracken said...

Ben... this might have been your most replied to post ever. We won't forget that you're a biblical scholar and theologian first, tho - promise. I missed out not having you as a professor.

I suspect the Almighty has all of your top 25 in His collection.


Marine Chaplain said...


For starters, the desert island situation has become obsolete with the advent of the IPOD. So the answer to the question of what I would take with me has become---everything.

I am a Beatles nut and view all music in light of their genius and would have to take exception to your George Martin comment. While his engineering certainly propelled them to artistic genius, he merely translated their original ideas in the studio, including most of the string arrangments. In other words, they pushed him to explore new territory in recording.

Marine Chaplain said...

I see someone else propped McCartney and Wings. Have you checked McCartney's last two albums? Great late career work from the driving creative force behind the fab four. Especially check out Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard.


Marc Axelrod said...

For some reason, I have always been a big fan of the LP Venus and Mars by McCartney and Wings. Jeanne and I get a kick out of "You Gave Me the Answer." I like Lonely Old People, Letting Go, Magneto and Titanium Man, Spirits of Ancient Egypt, Medicine Jar, and Listen to What the Man Said. Am I crazy or what? The songs make no sense, but they're catchy.

I also like Flaming Pie. I think it's one of McCartney's best solo LPs.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Marine Chaplain: You are clearly not remembering that on the Lost island there is no way to recharge ones Ipod battery :)

I am about to dip into the Radiohead pool to check out what ya'll are talking about.