Who is the greatest rock band in the history of rock n' roll? Such names as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and Led Zeppelin come to mind. The amazing thing about this list is that these bands, and a ton others, are all British. It is very impressive how much a small island nation, approximately the size of New England (smaller actually), has put out so much great music. If not more than the United States, then certainly more influential. But I am talking about American rock music today.
Who is the greatest American rock band? Before you answer this, you have to first ask: What is an American rock band? David Byrne was born in Scotland but moved to the US when he was 8. He met the rest of The Talking Heads in Providence while attending Rhode Island School of Design. The rest of the band is from the US. Is this an American band.? I say yes. Their main guy is an American regardless of the Scottish roots and they got their start playing in New England and New York bars. Definitely, an American band. Carlos Santana was born in Mexico and moved to the US when he was a teenager, like The Talking Heads, the rest of Santana is from America. Even though they are considered Latin Rock, they are still an American rock band.
Who is not an American rock band? The Jimi Hendrix Experience is fronted by the Seattle born master of the electric guitar Jimi Hendrix but two other guys, of this foursome, are British. So I have to say no. Some might say that The Band is an American band. Four out of five of their original members are Canadian and one American but most of the replacement members have been Americans. My ruling would be no on this one as well. These are arbitrary rules, established only for the sake of argument. Without a doubt, the greatest rock band from Australia is AC/DC and only one member was actually born in Australia so these rules are not set in stone.
I created this survey in Survey Monkey. It is one question. I suggest you take it before you read the rest of this. It just basically asks "Who is the Greatest American Rock Band?" I posted it to one of my Facebook groups earlier this week, I monitored discussion and had to add a lot of bands that I hadn't originally included. At this point, over 90 people have answered it so far. To my surprise, Pearl Jam is winning with a slight edge over The Grateful Dead. Van Halen, Metallica and Lynyrd Skynyrd are not that far behind. I excluded a few bands that I can't stand like Journey, Mötley Crüe and Night Ranger ... because hey, it is my survey and I said so. Hopefully, no one will miss them.
What is great when it comes to a band? When I voted I considered longevity, song writing, influence, orchestration, broad appeal and live performance. With these categories, I can understand why someone would vote for The Grateful Dead. They've played together for several decades, they have some great song writers, their live performance is something that everyone should see at least once in their life and they have influenced hundreds, if not thousands, of bands. But they do not have broad appeal. It seems that rock fans either love them or hate them. They also have wide ranging styles sometimes jazzy, sometimes country and sometimes psychedelic. I find this to be a good thing, but many fans don't. Sometimes when you mention that you love The Dead, you get laughed at and derided. Sometimes you hear jokes about drugs. This is sad, but this made me consider other bands when I voted.
You get similar reactions if you said The Talking Heads ("too new wave") or Metallica ("too heavy metal") or The Beach Boys ("too poppy"). Most bands are in their silos with few having universal appeal.
I expected more people to vote for The Eagles, but I understand why they aren't winning. Their music didn't age well. They are a great band that were quite versatile especially after Joe Walsh joined the band. But some of their catalog sounds trite. Perhaps they were over played. They have only gotten five votes. Not even half of Pearl Jam's eleven.
I voted for The E Street Band. Perhaps I'm being influenced by listening to Bruce's "Darkness on the Edge of Town" CD all week, but this band has everything. They have one of the greatest song writers in American history in Bruce Springsteen who is also a great guitarist and performer. You couldn't see a better live performance. They've been together for decades and have influenced a generation of performers and are still relevant, putting out socially relevant music that still rocks. If I were at a party with a bunch of strangers and I were asked who my favorite band was, and I said "Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band," no one would grunt. They have almost universal respect. That is what makes them the greatest American rock band.
I have to start thinking about Canada now.