Surfing on a tidal wave of hubris, I have selected the Top Ten Rock Bands of all time for MSNBC, and while I was at it, thrown in the Top Ten Rock Songs also. I already have a flood of emails respectfully begging to differ with my selections and/or questioning my sanity - the more the merrier.
UPDATE 8/9/05 - the entire text of the story now appears here as well on MSNBC.
The Ten Best Rock Bands EVER
When tackling a project as audacious, slippery and fraught with diagnostic peril as "The Ten Best Rock Bands EVER," one can either cower in anticipation of the monsoon of disagreement sure to come and load the package with every manner of weaselly equivocation, or one can swagger ahead blissfully secure in the universal righteousness of one's judgment. Being American, I choose the latter.
1. The Beatles
The Beatles are unquestionably the best and most important band in rock history, as well as the most compelling story. Almost miraculously, they embodied the apex of the form artistically, commercially, culturally and spiritually at just the right time, the tumultuous '60s, when music had the power to literally change the world (or at least to give the impression that it could, which may be the same thing). The Beatles are the archetype: there is no term in the language analogous to "Beatlemania."
Three lads from Liverpool — John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison — came together at a time of great cultural fluidity in 1960 (with bit players Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best), absorbed and recapitulated American rock 'n' roll and British pop history unto that point, hardened into a razor sharp unit playing five amphetamine-fueled sets a night in the tough port town of Hamburg, Germany, returned to Liverpool, found their ideal manager in Brian Epstein and ideal producer in George Martin, added the final piece of the puzzle when Ringo Starr replaced Best on drums, and released their first single in the U.K., "Love Me Do/P.S. I Love You," all by October of 1962.
Their second single, "Please Please Me," followed by British chart-toppers "From Me to You," "She Loves You," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "Can't Buy Me Love" (all Lennon/McCartney originals), and the group's pleasing image, wit and charm, solidified the Fab Four's delirious grip on their homeland in '63.
But it was when the group arrived in the U.S. in February, 1964 that the full extent of Beatlemania became manifest. Their pandemonium-inducing five-song performance on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9 is one of the cornerstone mass media events of the 20th century. I was five at the time - my parents tell me I watched it with them, but I honestly don't remember. I do remember, though, that the girls next door, four and six years older than I, flipped over that appearance and dragged me into their giddy madness soon thereafter. I loved "I Want to Hold Your Hand," the Beatles' first Number One in the U.S. (they had 19 more, still the record), more than any other song I have ever heard, or almost assuredly will ever hear, with a consuming intensity that I can only now touch as a memory.