Independence Day celebrates the July 4th, 1776 ratification (by Congress) of our nation’s formal Declaration of Independence. While caught up in the recent patriotic fervor of our 2017 celebration, your Rock N Roll Dentist was moved to pen a list of his favorite American bands (three or more members). It’s hard to figure these sorts of lists out criteria-wise. Do you rate a band that only stuck around for a few great albums then broke as high as a band that also put out a few great albums but then kept pumping out records well after they should have given up the ghost? These sorts of lists always feel like personal puffery so please forgive me especially if I have omitted one of your faves – if anything, please feel free to comment and submit your additions. Sorry, but the Electric Flag (seen above) didn’t make it. Oh and if you are looking for the Monkees, forget it as Davy Jones was British and I really couldn’t include them on this list of All-Americans.
1.Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Back in 1978, their classic 2nd album You’re Gonna Get It moved me to visit my local vinyl emporium (Underground Records on Pearl perhaps?) after hearing “Listen To Her Heart” on the radio. It sounded a lot like a snottier version of the Searchers (clear chiming 12 string guitar over a great tune) – something sorely missing from the disco-drunk music scene of the late 70s. To rock starved ears they filled the bill, but could they keep it going? Well, here it is over 40 years after their debut and they don’t show any signs of slowing down with their 13th studio album Hypnotic Eye (2014) debuting on the charts at #1. The team of TP on vocals + rhythm guitar and Mike Campbell on lead guitar is as potent as ever with original keyboardist Benmont Tench and bassist Ron Blair. The late Howie Epstein was a fine Heartbreaker bassist as well who formed a great rhythm section with the much missed Stan Lynch on drums and backing vocals. The volatile Lynch left in 1994 to be replaced by Steve Ferrone who is an able replacement but doesn’t have the distinctively loping behind the beat style Stan brought. Their 1979 album Damn The Torpedoes was their breakout album with great songs like “Refugee” and “Don’t Do Me Like That”. My personal favorite Petty song is “The Waiting” from the 1981 LP Hard Promises.
2.Creedence Clearwater Revival
Their 1968 debut single, a remake of “Susie Q” by Dale Hawkins, got played on Denver’s first underground radio station KMYR – all 8 minutes and 37 seconds. It was a strange amalgam with classic screaming rock vocals over a nearly metronomic rock backing that gave in to a psychedelic guitar/vocal workout before returning to its roots. Frankly, I wasn’t ready for it or their first album – but boy did that change in 1969 when John Fogerty and company pumped out three classic albums – 3 in 1 year!! Bayou Country, Green River + Willy & The Poor Boys were loaded with rock and roll classics like “Born On The Bayou”, “Green River”, “Fortunate Son” and “Proud Mary”. By July of 1970’s Cosmo’s Factory, CCR were America’s biggest band. John’s late brother Tom Fogerty played rhythm guitar while the able rhythm section was Stu Cook on bass and the undervalued Doug Clifford slammin’ the drums. John Fogerty, however, was the MVP writing, producing, playing guitar and possessing one of the greatest swamp rock vocals of all-time (chooglin’ from California – go figure). In addition to playing his music in college, I also adopted Fogerty’s look of lumberjack shirts and jeans not to mention his mop of Prince Valiant hair and long-sideburns (where did all that hair go!?). One more pretty good album and another not so good album then it was all over in 1972. While the passing of Tom and the acrimony with Stu and Doug means no CCR reunion, at least John Fogerty has embraced his legacy and still sounds and looks great in concert. John (if you are reading this – unlikely) why don’t you write an update on your character Jody as I would like to know what he’s been up to since he fell out of his tractor on “It Came Out Of The Sky” and he went to the rodeo on “Almost Saturday Night”. You can’t beat “Travelin’ Band” from the classic Cosmo’s Factory for 2:07 of rock and roll maniac energy on a vinyl record.
Oh my – I can hear many heads being scratched. Who are these guys? Well kids, they happen to be one of the coolest and rockin’est instrumental combos to grace a stage plus they have pumped out just south of 20 albums if spiffy rock and roll since their 1995 debut The Utterly Fantastic And Totally Unbelievable Sound Of… If that isn’t enough, who can resist the mysterioso wrestling masks not to mention on-stage choreography on classics like “Itchy Chicken” (cool cheesy instro choreography at that – not pre-packaged lip-synced dance a la Madonna and her more modern ilk)? Danny Amis of the Raybeats (way ahead of their time) and rockabilly Eddie Angel (the Neanderthals – great band) formed the original guitar core with Amis spouting fake-o Mexican jive on stage (they’re as Mexican as Jose Jimenez after all – look him up if you don’t remember Bill Dana). Scott Esbeck gave way to the winged Pete Curry on bass in ’99 while an assortment of drummers (Jimmy Lester and Jason Smay) have lead to Chris Sprague. When Amis became ill in 2010, Greg Townson from the Hi-Risers (another great band) came on board and has given a nice kick to the sound now that Amis is back. On stage nifty originals like “Lonely Apache” stand next to classics like “The Munsters Theme” and Duane Eddy’s “Yep”. They have a history of teaming up at times with vocalists including, recently, Nick Lowe leading to their newest record – an instrumental tribute to Lowe’s music called What’s So Funny About Peace, Love & Los Straitjackets. Go see them in concert now! They do a killer “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic.
4.Paul Revere & The Raiders
When rock and roll was a fresh music style to this brand new teenager in 1965, my parents signed up for the Columbia Record Club (remember those, baby boomers?). They got something like 10 records for a penny (give or take) as an intro offer and gave the catalog to me to pick out two albums of my own. Thanks to mom and dad’s largesse I got to drive them crazy repeating over and over Do The Freddie (Freddie & The Dreamers – my first concert too) and Just Like Us! by the very sharp looking Paul Revere & The Raiders who also rocked like mad. I suspect my first exposure to the Raiders was similar to other teens of my era – Dick Clarks’ after-school music TV show Where The Action Is. They seemed to be having a great time while wearing revolutionary war costumes and pumping out covers of the day’s rock and roll hits. They followed that formula on their LP adding the singles “Steppin’ Out” and “Just Like Me” – two garage rock classics. Who knew that they had already put out over a dozen records since 1960 in a frat rock style (unless you had bought their early chart instrumental “Like Long Hair”). That classic line-up of Revere on Vox organ, Mike Smith on drums, Phil “Fang” Volk on bass, Drake Levin on guitar and the pony-tailed and leather lunged Mark Lindsay on vocals and sax was the band I remember (though on-line they list around 30 members over the years). I saw them at my 2nd ever concert (at the echoy Denver Coliseum) after Jim Valley had replaced Levin. For a time I forsook them as being too pop (Hendrix called), but couldn’t resist tasty radio hits like “Mr. Sun, Mr. Moon” and “Too Much Talk” and returned to buy all their albums. Sadly three of that classic line-up are gone (including Revere), but Lindsay occasionally performs and records (saw him a few years back and he could still rock). That they are not in the rock and roll hall of fame is a total travesty. “Hungry” is classic rock and roll.
5.The Beach Boys
With guitarist Al Jardine having a brief desire to study Dentistry, it’s easy to see why your kindly Rock N Roll Dentist is in the thrall of these guys (not to mention I have always loved those striped shirts). Some 56 years after they formed literally as a garage band, there is still a version lead by Mike Love and Bruce Johnston on the road plus another version in all but name lead by Brian Wilson and Jardine. While they have recorded something like 29 studio albums and a pile of live records, we think mainly of their output of the 60s when they went toe to toe with every style of music and came out on top. Heck, they didn’t even have a #1 single till the British Invasion swept many U.S. acts off the charts yet they managed three during the Beatles’ heyday – “I Get Around”, “Help Me Rhonda” and “Good Vibrations”. Brian combined the great harmonies of the 4 Freshmen with the wall of sound a la Phil Spector plus he threw in a dose of Chuck Berry rock and roll for good measure and came up with the classic Beach Boys sound of summer. When Brian and the big hits faded, it gave his late brothers Dennis (drums) and Carl (guitar) a chance to shine. Frankly there aren’t many bands who could sing as well as the former Pendletones then you add in the songwriting and you come up with nearly 60 chart singles. The Mike Love helmed version scored an unexpected #1 in 1988’s “Kokomo” that doesn’t sound out of place with their classics of two decades previous. When former guitarist David Marks and the rest of the living originals toured in 2012, they stopped at Red Rocks Amphitheater for an outstanding show that was non-stop hits – over 50 of them. No other American band could top that. My favorite hit by them is a great cover of “Sloop John B”.
No fan of what we now call power pop music should be without at least a Raspberries greatest hits album. Since they only recorded four albums between 1972 and 1974 (the Raspberries, Fresh, Side 2, Starting Over), it is smarter to just buy their whole discography. Dave Smalley, Jim Bonfanti and Wally Bryson came out of the Ohio band The Choir (“It’s Cold Outside”) and added Eric Carmen of rival band Cyrus Erie in the 1970. Their self-titled debut on Capitol (combining some Beach Boys with Badfinger and the Who soundwise) came with a scratch & sniff fruit scented sticker on the cover – my copy still has that odor. Their sound While Smalley and Bryson both sang and wrote, it was Carmen’s smokin’ rock and roll voice plus his catchy songs (“Go All The Way”, “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)”, “Tonight”) that bore chart fruit. Acrimony lead to Smalley and Bonfanti leaving before the final excellent album on which Scott McCarl and Michael McBride replaced them. After a strong Carmen solo career (“All By Myself”, “Make Me Lose Control”) I was lucky enough to see one of their rare reunion shows at Denver’s Fiddler’s Green in 2005. Sadly they didn’t record any new material, but they did release an outstanding live album in Live On Sunset Strip. Their quintessential hit has to be “I Wanna Be With You” from Fresh.
This band from Illinois seemed to take over the style Raspberries and have kept it going through 18 studio albums and induction in to the rock and roll hall of fame last year. They are a 40+ year tribute to perseverance with very few changes (music and personnel-wise). Power Pop bands seem to be the offspring of the Beatles and the Who with other smart Anglophile references of their own. In Cheap Trick’s case, over the years they have added some Roy Wood (The Move, ELO, Wizzard) in the form of “Brontosaurus” (at least the riff) and “California Man”. The Move classic “Blackberry Way” is covered on the deluxe edition of Trick’s newest album We’re All Alright!. They showed another of their influences with the strong tribute to the Beatles in 2009’s Sgt. Pepper Live. Singer Robin Zander still has a great set of pipes while unlikely guitar god Rick Nielson lugs around some of the coolest guitars ever seen on a stage. He also can send a guitar pick soaring through the audience for several rows with one landing in my souvenirs following a Fiddler’s Green concert purely by luck. Original bassist Tom Petersson left for a time then returned while drummer Bun E. Carlos (Brad Carlson) was replaced by Nielson’s son Daxx in 2010. Their second album (1977’s In Color) is the one that first grabbed me with great songs like “Come On, Come On” and “So Good To See You”, but didn’t take off in the U.S. till a live-in-Japan “I Want You To Want Me” became a surprise hit. Over the years they have had hits like “Surrender” and “The Flame”, but my fave will always be “Dream Police” from the album of the same name.
8.The Fabulous Thunderbirds
Though not as flash a guitarist as his sorely missed younger brother Stevie Ray, the cool Jimmie Vaughan was the first of the two to strike pay-dirt when he teamed with singer and harp player extraordinaire Kim Wilson. From ’76 to ’90 those two led one of the best swampy blues rock outfits in the country while selling few records. In ’86 with drummer Fran Christina and bassist Preston Hubbard, they finally hit it big with “Tuff Enuff” which was of a piece with all their other fine records including “The Crawl” from 1980’s What’s The Word and “I Believe I’m In Love” from Butt Rockin’ the following year. Since Vaughan left in 1990, Wilson has nested with a flight of fine players (including the late great Nick Curran on guitar) and continues to keep the Austin sound alive in concert. My fave T-birds track is 1989’s “Powerful Stuff” from that same album.
It’s interesting how the mythology of singer Jim Morrison has kept the legend of the Doors going over 46 years after his death, but if the music wasn’t there no one would really care. If they had only released their 1967 self-titled opener, that might still be enough to get them on this list. Robby Krieger’s “Light My Fire” was the song that drew us all in, but “Break On Through”, “Soul Kitchen”, “Crystal Ship” and the powerful “The End” kept us there. John Densmore’s whip-crack drumming and Ray Manzarek’s keyboards all fit with the enigma that was Morrison to create one of the more unique sounding bands of the rock era. They weren’t heavy but they rocked on songs like “Hello, I Love You” and “Roadhouse Blues” (Waiting For The Wind and Morrison Hotel respectively) – but how do you classify songs like “Horse Latitudes” (Strange Days) or “Runnin’ Blue” (The Soft Parade)? Their last album (1971’s L A Woman) is nearly the equal of their debut. Frankly they should have broken up after Morrison’s passing July 3, 1971 but instead they released two easily forgotten albums before mercifully closing in ’73. I would love to know if Robby and I share any common ancestors, but from pictures it appears we shared a love for Gibson SG guitars (which I too played through my Vox amp back in the day). I guess my favorite Doors song is “Twentieth Century Fox” off The Doors.
10.Huey Lewis & The News
In my music life, it seems there are certain bands that everybody seems to like at a certain time. Santana in college and Fleetwood Mac later. These guys were in that category in the early 80s when they could do no wrong. They came out of the 70s Bay area music scene being mostly an amalgam of Soundhole and Clover (who backed Elvis Costello early on). The original six have stayed amazingly stable over the years with only guitarist Chris Hayes and bassist Mario Cippolina departing. What remains from that band are Bill Gibson (drums), Sean Hopper (keys), Johnny Colla (sax/guitar) and Huey Lewis (harp/vocals). They struggled for a time till 1982’s Picture This with “Do You Believe In Love”. Their next record Sports is the one that really spread the word far and wide with hits like “Heart & Soul”, “I Want A New Drug”, “If This Is It” and “The Heart Of Rock & Roll”. Placing their leader and their song “The Power Of Love” in the movie Back To The Future kept things rolling till the 1986 album Fore! which sported “Hip To Be Square”, “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Stuck With You”. Their everyman image seemed to be tailormade for heavy MTV rotation as well. Since then they have had a few lesser chart hits (though still good musically) and continue to crop up every so often in concert. If I want to play a News track it is generally “Workin’ For A Living” from Picture This.
11.The Lovin’ Spoonful
From mid-1965 to early 1969 these guys charted 14 singles on the Hot 100 which is pretty darn good, but that they charted top 10 with seven consecutive singles is a feat only matched in the 60s by Gary Lewis & the Playboys. The stretch from “Do You Believe In Magic” to “Nashville Cats” was remarkable with great material like “Daydream” and “Summer In The City”. Coming out of N.Y.’s folk scene, we had never seen any band that had someone like John Sebastian happily singing while playing the electrified autoharp. We CERTAINLY had never seen a band with someone like Canadian Zal Yanovsky with his cowboy hat and crazy persona (sorta like a template for one of the Monkees in ’66). Quiet Steve Boone on bass and occasional singer Joe Butler on drums rounded out the original four. My favorite LP of theirs is the 1966 album Daydream (their 2nd) with great album cuts like “Let The Boy Rock And Roll”, “Jug Band Music” and “There She Is”. The original band only recorded three albums and two soundtracks before Yanovsky left to be replaced by Jerry Yester in 1967. Their sound was less ‘good-time music’ by this time and more guitar pop though “She Is Still A Mystery” and “Six O’Clock” are great singles (the album Everything Playing was only okay). After Sebastian split in ’68 they still managed a decent swansong LP in Revelation: Revolution ’69 with Butler singing lead on the excellent singles “Me About You” and “Never Goin’ Back”. The original four had an odd reunion playing music in a cameo appearance in the Paul Simon movie One Trick Pony (1980) and then finally at the rock and roll hall of fame induction in 2000. With Yanovsky’s death and Sebastian’s vocal problems, Boone, Butler and Yester continue to perform under the old name. I saw Sebastian a couple of years ago and even if his voice isn’t up to par, his stories and quick wit are. “Rain On The Roof” remains my fave track by them.
Keepers of the power pop flame, the Smithereens are a band that found success a bit later than most. At the time of their excellent 1986 debut album Especially For You, singer/guitarist Pat DiNizio was 31 while high school buddies John Babjak (guitar), Dennis Diken (drums) and Mike Mesaros (bass) were nearly 29. From New Jersey, these guys were fighting an uphill battle to get on the charts with great pop tunes like “A Girl Like You” and “Blood & Roses”, but their lack of chart success had nothing to do with lack of quality. In addition to their original albums, they have recorded their version of the Who’s Tommy and two albums of Beatles tributes not to mention an excellent Christmas album. Mesaros left in 2006 to be replaced by Severo “The Thrilla” Jornacion and are still outstanding in concert as a recent Denver show proved (though I worry about DiNizio who no longer plays guitar as he had little use of his arms it seems since an accident). You can’t beat the song “Top Of The Pops” from their ’91 album Blow Up.
13.Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
Admittedly the music has to start with Springsteen’s songs, but frankly it has been the six to ten headed monster that is the E Street Band that in my mind has made that music special. It has been sort of like seeing Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound come to life in a different context then he would have imagined. Max Weinberg’s power drumming in team with bassist Gary Tallent then Roy Bittan and Danny Federici on dueling keys formed the core. The Boss fronted first Miami Steve Van Zandt then Nils Lofgren and now both in a guitar army with wife Patti Scialfa at times joining in. Oh, and you can’t overlook the big man – Clarence Clemons on master blaster sax and percussion. Soozie Tyrell came in on violin in 2002. In it’s prime they were a formidable force on stage and on record. Forming in 1972, members came and went before finding the core that mostly still remains. They hit their stride with the 1975 album Born To Run carrying through great albums like The River in 1980 and the ’84 LP Born In The USA. The 40 track box Live: 1975-85 neatly summarized the band after which Bruce put the full act on hiatus recording a series of personal albums only reconvening off and on for various projects till a true reunion tour in 1999. Federici and Clemons have since passed, but they finally go recognized as the E Street Band were inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame in 2014 by Bruce himself. My favorite song by them could be “Glory Days” which has a bright classic rock sound rife with cheesy organ.
That it took the best selling instrumental band of all time (over 100 million records) till 2008 to finally get in to the rock and roll hall of fame tells you volumes about how little many regard instrumentals, but this writer loves this kind of music. Northwestern guitarists Don Wilson and the late Bob Bogle became the Ventures in 1959. A version of the band continues to this day mainly touring Japan where they apparently still appreciate instros. With Nokie Edwards on bass and Howie Johnson on drums they had a hit in 1960 with Colorado guitarist Johnny Smith’s jazz standard “Walk, Don’t Run” done in a rocked up manner. For many, their story would end with their other big hit “Hawaii Five-O” in 1969 but there is a lot of great music in between those records and since. Nokie Edwards was also a skilled lead guitarist so he and Bogle switched instruments while Johnson was replaced in ’63 by one of the finest drummers of early rock in the late Mel Taylor. During the 60s the band pumped out a series of excellent albums every few months that included instrumental versions of many of the hits of the day (such as “Secret Agent Man” that was better than the vocal version frankly) plus covers of other band’s hits – often better than the original (“Out Of Limits” from The Ventures In Space Jan. ’64 and “No Matter What Shape” Feb. ’66 Where The Action Is just to name two). In their career they have released over 60 studio albums plus countless more live records. Looking at their classic live videos you can see many of the same moves that Los Straitjackets still do on stage – the synchronized turning of the guitarists for instance. When Mel died in ’96, his son Leon took over with the band hardly skipping a beat. Mel’s drum workout “The Creeper” ( from their album Walk, Don’t Run ’64) remains my favorite Ventures track likely because my pal Dan Campbell and I used to play this – me on guitar and DC on pounding skins.
Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman have to be the most unlikely looking rock stars ever – sort of overweight and sort of goofy looking, but they sang like angels and had a sense of humor that always tickled me (except in their scatological era with Frank Zappa). As Flo and Eddie they still front a version of the Turtles keeping alive all the great late 60s pop hits they pumped out – “Happy Together”, “You Baby”, “She’s My Girl”, etc. That last abbreviation reminds me that their composition “Elenore” may be the only chart hit to include the work etcetera. Lesser songs by them are still great pop – “Guide For The Married Man” and “Can I Get To Know You Better” come to mind. Their crowning achievement for me was the Turtles Present The Battle Of The Bands LP from 1968 on which they managed to lampoon several different music styles while putting out a good record (surf music in “Surfer Dan”, heavy rock in “Buzzsaw” and the aforementioned “Elenore”). Al Nichol on guitar, Johnny Barbata on drums and Jim Pons and bass where the band at that point. At various times I have listed “You Know What I Mean” from the Golden Hits album as my all-time favorite song.
For good reason, many liken these guys to the Rolling Stones – classic blues based rock and roll and a big-lipped singer (Steven Tyler) paired with a classic riffing guitarist (Joe Perry). Add in the other three backing musicians (Joey Kramer on drums, Tom Hamilton on bass and Brad Whitford on guitar) and you have just about the only 46 year old classic rock band still made up of all originals. “Dream On”, “Walk This Way” and “Sweet Emotion” are standards by now. Their issues with drugs are well documented. That they beat the odds and regrouped to even bigger success is amazing – “Angel”, “Janie’s Got A Gun”, “Love In An Elevator” on and on. While it wasn’t a huge success, I think their best album is their 14th studio album – 2004’s Honkin’ On Bobo which is 12 trax of classic blues just like the Stones did in 2016 on Blue & Lonesome. The use of 1987’s “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” (Permanent Vacation) on Disney’s Rockin’ Roller Coaster ride cemented it as my favorite song by them.
17.Flash Cadillac & The Continental Kids
Okay, I am biased as they are from Colorado and I became friends with them in the course of writing a magazine article about the band years ago (thanks again to manager Scott O’Malley for the access). I don’t care how much I liked them as people, however, if the music wasn’t in the grooves than they wouldn’t be on this list. I refer you to my Jan. 2016 blog post for a thorough band history. I can still remember reading a review of their self-titled debut Epic album in a 1973 issue of Phonograph Record Magazine and being intrigued by their wit and devotion to classic rock and roll. They came to fame playing the high school band in American Graffiti and kept it up on TV in Happy Days. Sadly three of the guys in this picture are deceased (Sam McFadin, Kris Moe and Linn Phillips III), but a fine version of the band still hits the sheds on occasion with original bassist Warren “Butch” Knight and longtime sax player Dwight Bement. They are also know for the single “Did You Boogie (With Your Baby)” that featured Wolfman Jack. “Good Times Rock And Roll” from the Sons Of The Beaches album (1975) is one of my all-time favorite songs as it speaks to my love of music while rockin’ up a storm.
18.Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
By 1962 when he released “The Lonely Bull”, Herb Alpert had already tried a lot of different roles in music from songwriter and producer for Jan & Dean (“Baby Talk”) to performer under the name Dore Alpert (“Tell It To The Birds”). This nice Jewish trumpet player hit the big time, however, when he created a new genre of instrumental hits in a Mexican vein. On Top 40 radio back in the 60s, the charts weren’t just rock and roll and a kid like me got exposed to country and pop hits as well. Some of that stuff was pretty good and bridged the generation gap between parent and kid. The TJB were the only group I liked that my dad liked as well so I was allowed to go see them in Fort Collins at Moby Gym at a fine concert. The TJB I saw in concert were not the TJB I heard on records, however, as Alpert mostly used the guys known as the Wrecking Crew as they knew the studio better. At their peak in 1966, they had five albums in the Billboard top 20 and at one time they had four in the top 10. Their two best records were released in 1965 – Going Places (“Spanish Flea” and “Tijuana Taxi”) and Whipped Cream & Other Delights that had a cover remembered fondly by young boys (and their dads) but was pretty tame by today’s standards. From that latter album, the songs “Whipped Cream” and “Lollipops & Roses” were used on the TV show The Dating Game as intro music. Alpert finally got a #1 in 1968 with the vocal “This Guy’s In Love With You” and got another with the instrumental “Rise” in 1979 making him the only artist to have a vocal and an instrumental #1 hit. I guess my favorite song by them was “The Magic Trumpet” from the ’66 album What Now My Love which was a Bert Kaempfert tune so leaned more to Deutschland than Mexico.
As can be seen from this picture, the early Byrds were heavily influenced by the look of the Beatles which is not surprising given that folkies Jim (late Roger) McGuinn and David Crosby switched to the use of 12 string guitars on folkish rock in 1964 after watching the movie A Hard Day’s Night. McGuinn and Gene Clark had already been playing some Beatles covers at the Troubadour in L.A. (later joined by Crosby). They added Michael Clarke as a drummer who was a novice at best, but looked the part. Later came a country mandolin player in Chris Hillman who took up the bass and this version released the folk rock #1 hits “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)” and “Mr. Tambourine Man”. That latter cover of a Bob Dylan song was their first single and used mostly members of the Wrecking Crew on backing as producer Terry Melcher didn’t think the band was competent enough yet to record (save McGuinn’s 12 string). Clark was the first to leave beginning a series of line-up changes seen till the group broke up in 1973. Singles like “Eight Miles High” and “My Back Pages” came out in ’66 and ’67 leading to my favorite Byrds album in Jan. 1968 The Notorious Byrd Brothers which was not a huge chart success but featured great songs like “Goin’ Back” and “Wasn’t Born To Follow” which showed them leaning towards country. McGuinn and short time member Gram Parsons took the Byrds heavily in to country for the Aug. ’68 album Sweetheart Of The Rodeo which was a pretty radical move for its time (country was seen as music of straight people who supported the war and had short hair). With a totally new Byrds, McGuinn dove head first from then on in to a country/rock amalgam on excellent records like Ballad Of Easy Rider (1969) and Untitled (1970). The original band reunited briefly in ’72-73 for a weak album (Byrds) and did reunite off and on over the years (both Clark and Clarke are now deceased). McGuinn seems content anymore to play as a solo act and release covers of folk songs. Gene Clarke’s song “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” from their debut 1965 album Mr. Tambourine Man remains my favorite song by them.
20.Z Z Top
From 1971 till today the three man team of Billy Gibbons (guitar), Dusty Hill (bass) and Frank Beard (drums) have pumped out nasty Texas blues rock and made long beards synonymous with hot cars and leggy women. They took a bit to grow on me as their early stuff just on London Records just seemed like mostly southern boogie rock – a genre I don’t much like. I did buy the singles “La Grange” (’73) and “Tush” (’75) but it was a switch to Warner Brothers that got me on board as it seemed to bring out the humor and rumble on songs like “Cheap Sunglasses” and “She Loves My Automobile” from the ’79 LP Deguello. Between 1983 and 1990 they seemed tailor-made for MTV with a series of story videos to go with their best singles “Gimme All Your Lovin'”, “Pressure” and “Legs” notably from the classic Eliminator album. Afterburner and Recycler continued in that vein with songs like “Sleeping Bag” and “Doubleback”. Releases since have been sparse and less produced but still good bluesy guitar based rock up to 2012’s La Futura. Concert has been the best way to appreciate the band as they burn pretty good for a three-piece yet still retain their senses of humor (choreographed stage moves, fuzzy covers on the guitar bodies and even moving sidewalks for the guys on stage on one tour – a tip of the hat to Gibbons’ old psychedelic band The Moving Sidewalks). Every time I hear “Sharp Dressed Man” from Eliminator I have to crank up the car radio and bask in the fuzzy guitar glory.
Honorable Mention – The Wrecking Crew
Though not a band per se, this fluctuating aggregation of talented musicians were the uncredited (at the time) players behind countless many of the hits we loved in our youth. They played on The Beach Boys and Frank Sinatra sessions – Crystals (Phil Spector) and Simon and Garfunkel records. On and on – the list is staggering and they would really have to be the #1 hit making band on this list. Their legacy is best appreciated by watching the 2008 documentary The Wrecking Crew put together by Denny Tedesco the son of the late Tommy who played guitar in the band – listen to the flamenco flourishes on the Gary Lewis & The Playboys album version of “Sure Gonna Miss Her”.