Who is The Greatest Hard Rock/Metal Band of All Time, Part 1- The 1960s/70s

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Rather than delve into the delusion that currently is supposed to oversee this country (and trust me, there’s plenty to call the Tangerine Ignoramus out on simply from this last weekend alone), I’ve decided to start something that will definitely be much more fun. Since college basketball is deciding the 64 teams (OK, 68 teams because of those simply idiotic play in games the NCAA conducts) that will compete for their championship, thought it would be fun to do the same but in a different arena – the genre of hard rock/metal music.

As it is one of my personal fortes, hard rock/metal music is essentially celebrating its 50th Anniversary since the release of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild,” which contained the lines “Get your motor running/heavy metal thunder.” With this in mind, I’ve put together a compilation of the top 64 hard rock/metal bands from four different eras – the 1960s/70s, the 1980s, the 1990s, and the 2000s/10s – and split them up in accordance with those eras into “regions.” We’ll break down the matchups in each bracket and, with hope, readers will make their own comments and vote on the matchups and perhaps they’ll be some sort of prize at the end – the management here (re:  me) is still trying to come up with that prize.

What are the criteria for consideration? First, the band/singer would have to have some sort of longevity to their career – you don’t see many bands or singers that are considered “legendary” if they were only around for a couple of albums (Amy Winehouse is a rare exception, but that’s a discussion for another time). Second, the band/singer would have to have an impact on the genre – did they do something particularly noteworthy or notorious that put them into the annals of the genre’s history, a song or “behavior” that was historic. Third, just how popular were they when they were in existence – a band or singer that was wildly popular with the fans might get some leeway over a critical darling OR vice versa (depending on tastes). Fourth, what accolades did they receive – awards, gold records, and recognition by the industry (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, hello?) are all under consideration here. Finally, was the band/singer influential on future generations of music – have they helped shape the genre since they have left the sphere?

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Without further ado, here’s the breakdown of the 1960s/70s bracket, with the seeding by each band/artist name.

Led Zeppelin (1) vs. Steppenwolf (16)

Led Zeppelin as the #1 seed was about as much of a lock as you could expect. They never had a #1 song and they might lack the longevity of some of the other competitors (Zeppelin’s heyday was 1968-80, only a scant 12 years). But they make up for those deficiencies in every other area under consideration – their “tour behavior” became the stuff of legends and they had the musical chops to back it up (“Stairway to Heaven” is widely accepted as one of the greatest songs of all time), their popularity was outstanding and they were inducted into the R&R HOF on the first ballot in 1995 (minimum of 25 years after first album release). Although Steppenwolf coined the term “heavy metal,” Led Zeppelin lived it, thus they should move to the next round.

Rush (8) vs. Queen (9)

These are the fun matchups where the smallest thing can push one of the competitors past their opponent. Throwing these two against each other is roughly akin to picking a favorite child as both are outstanding and legendary groups that click all the boxes. Rush pulls ahead slightly on the longevity front – they’re still active today, while Queen disbanded after Freddie Mercury’s death in 1991 after a two-decade career, but Queen has the epic “Bohemian Rhapsody” that is arguably better known than any Rush track. Queen is arguably more influential than Rush, especially given Mercury’s soaring vocals over Geddy Lee’s vocal individuality. Both have their accolades to lie back on, but Rush waited quite some time before being inducted into the R&R HOF. Deciding a winner here could come down to a few votes.

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Judas Priest (4) vs. Scorpions (13)

Some may debate ranking Scorpions that low in the region, but it goes to demonstrate how tough it is to even get on the rankings. The Priest has been a monolithic machine that has rumbled since the early 70s (and are still at it today, albeit with an adjusted roster), while Scorpions have been up-and-down since the latter part of that decade. As far as the definition of “heavy metal,” Judas Priest for many would be the template to go with – the “leather and chains” look was patented by Judas Priest front man Rob Halford. What may tip the scales is that Judas Priest is in the R&R HOF; at this moment, Scorpions have not even been considered. It’s unfortunate that one of these giants of the genre doesn’t get to move on in the competition, but which will it be?

Black Sabbath (5) vs. Motörhead (12)

The 5/12 matchup is always one ripe for an upset and this battle is no exception. Black Sabbath were extremely influential on burgeoning metal bands, but Motörhead has their own legion of followers. The front men for both bands are iconic, with Ozzy Osbourne as the first singer for Sabbath followed by the legendary Ronnie James Dio and Motörhead featuring the late, lamented Lemmy Kilmister. Sabbath never got the critical recognition that Motörhead did – yes, if you’re asking, hard, fast, and loud can be critically appraised! – but Sabbath has been recognized with more accolades than Lemmy and Co. Perhaps Sabbath might win for their “Stonehenge” moment, but it will be a tough fight between this twosome – and, once again, a travesty to see one out of the competition.

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AC/DC (2) vs. Thin Lizzy (15)

Critically acclaimed Thin Lizzy had a handful of hits (“Cowboy Song,” “Jailbreak,” “The Boys Are Back in Town”) before decadence and the untimely passing of leader Phil Lynott ended their run in 1983, but they are running into a buzz saw coming from “Down Under.” AC/DC is still going strong 45 years since their creation, although some might think the road has come to an end without Brian Johnson’s vocals (and, prior to him, Bon Scott) heading the riffs of lead guitarist Angus Young. Influences? Accolades? Longevity? All the clicks go in the corner of the Australians over the Irish in this one, but we’ll see if an upset is brewing.

Van Halen (7) vs. Aerosmith (10)

Another difficult matchup between two U. S. bands that have been part of the backbone of the genre. Both have influenced the “up and coming,” especially Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler’s sound (it is arguable he might have had an influence on a young David Lee Roth from Van Halen), while band namesake Eddie Van Halen is recognized as one of the great guitarists of all time (no shame to Joe Perry for coming up second-best in that comparison). Both bands have awards and accolades, critical respect, and longevity as seminal parts of their being – who can come out on top when the competitors are almost dead equal?

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Deep Purple (3) vs. KISS (14)

For some reason, I smell an upset brewing here. KISS has been around it seems since the dawn of time, but Deep Purple was one of the formative bands of the hard rock genre in the late 60s and 70s (and even a bit into the 80s). Deep Purple’s constantly shifting lineup, however, might be a detriment to them…KISS has kept two of its four members, singer/guitarist Paul Stanley and bassist Gene Simmons, intact since its creation and, for the most part, has had all four original members (lead guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss) for a sizeable segment of the band’s history. KISS has had more of an influence on perhaps the stage performance side of the equation that Deep Purple didn’t have, but Deep Purple had the critical love. Which will be enough to provide the edge in this race?

The Who (6) vs. Jimi Hendrix (11)

There might be some chirping from the crowd on these two picks but, for their time, they were considered as “hard rock” as you can get. The tipping point in this battle may be the longevity question – The Who lasted well into the 1990s (for better or worse), while Hendrix’s stay was short-lived (he only released three albums while alive with the Jimi Hendrix Experience; his work with the Band of Gypsies was released posthumously), which should push them ahead (Hendrix arguably was Winehouse of the 1960s). But when you’re running up against the man the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame calls “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music,” you’re going to be in for a fight.

That’s it for the first “region” of our tournament. Later this week, we’ll look at the 1980s and over the weekend perhaps we’ll delve into the 1990s and the 2000s/10s (and be thinking of who could be the #1 seeds for those “regions” – would love to hear those opinions). Don’t forget to vote by replying here and I will compile the responses – and maybe award a prize once a champion is crowned to a reader!

 

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Why I Chose Satellite Radio over Terrestrial Radio

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There have been a couple of things that I have failed to pick up on when they came out. One, believe it or not, was cellphones. When they were becoming more popular in the 90s and even the 2000s, I told people I would never have one. “If it was really that important,” I would say, “they can call me at home. And if I’m not there, they can leave a message.” That lasted until I got my first cellphone and, as they say, the rest is history. Now I cannot imagine not having one.

The second thing was satellite radio, in particular SiriusXM. For 16 years I worked in the radio industry as a DJ and a music director and I felt some loyalty to the industry, that it would be incredibly wrong to buy satellite radio and violate a personal bond with broadcasting and the radio industry as a whole. Hell, the radio station was free and, as long as I could put up with the DJ that came on every 20 minutes or so, I continued to listen. For the last few years, however, I have been an aficionado of satellite radio and I sincerely doubt that I will ever return to “terrestrial” radio.

As a former radio DJ, I knew the ins and outs of the business. I also knew how the music actually got on the air that we played for our listeners. As a music director, I would chart the requests we received each week, monitor the new music added to the station, try to predict what we would add to the station’s playlist and offer suggestions as to the new music we would add. Sometimes, especially in Album Oriented Rock (AOR), those songs were more predicated on the artist rather than any great musical achievement (in this late 80s/early 90s, this meant a lot of crappy music from Aerosmith and many others instead of truly groundbreaking work from bands like Nirvana and Faith No More). But there was a dirty little secret that does still exist, even in the programming of stations today.

Back in the 1950s Alan Freed, the legendary Cleveland DJ who coined the term “rock & roll,” was the man whom artists and record companies needed to sway to guarantee their single or album’s success. Through his radio programs in both Cleveland and later in New York (where he added television), Freed passed along to the youth of the 1950s (probably our mothers and fathers) what was supposed to be the best music in the United States. Freed himself was responsible for “breaking out” such artists as Bill Haley & the Comets, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Fats Domino (Freed was partial to black artists, who would often write and perform songs only to see white artists cover them so they were “acceptable” to the white audiences, according to the record labels). The ability that Freed had to “make or break” careers came with a hefty price, however.

In 1958, Freed was accused of accepting money from the record companies to play and promote certain songs, known as “payola” (a mix of the words “payoff” and “Victrola”) and, to a lesser extent, accepted credits as an author or producer on some of the songs he was playing on the air, which was a conflict of interest if true (this was also the case for a man named Dick Clark, but that is a story for another time). He was immediately fired from his spot at WABC in New York and lost his television gigs also in 1959, although there was no law on the books that made what he did criminal.

In 1960, that was changed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and, in a true miscarriage of justice, Freed was convicted on two counts of commercial bribery in 1962 (once again, despite there being no laws on the books at the time the alleged crimes were committed). Given a small fine and a suspended sentence, Freed would be blackballed by the major players in the music community; he would bounce around at smaller stations across the U. S. for the rest of his life, passing away in 1965.

While many would like to think that Freed was the only case of “payola” that has ever existed in the world of music, that isn’t the case. Although many DJs knew about the rules (the FCC put a punishment of a $10,000 fine and/or a year in prison for accepting payments from the record companies), there was a way around the new laws.

Instead of paying off the on-air talent themselves, record companies began to woo those with the power to get the music on the air with special “freebies” that, for all practical purposes, only looked like “promotional” tools. How many times have (or did) you dialed up a local radio station because they were giving away free tickets to a concert or an album or CD? How about special “concert trips” where you were whisked to a far-away show? These were the new “payola” (as some of these “freebies” ended up in station employees’ hands), just this time around those in charge decided to look the other way.

In the 1980s and 1990s (and even today), this was still the way the game was played. The record companies would call up one day a week (usually on a Monday, as Tuesday was the day adds were done to the station’s playlist after the labels released the latest albums) and try to woo you to play the latest music from the label’s artists. Using the “promotional” tools at their disposal, the A&R people would do everything short of sleeping with the DJs and music directors (although I heard of that too) to get their records on the air.

Although I left radio in the late 1990s, I still felt a tremendous bond with the industry, so much so that when Sirius satellite radio – and then XM – came about, I was about as “anti” as you could get.

The satellite radio industry began in 1990, when the FCC assigned frequencies for satellite radio (using digital sound) to use, even though there were no satellites in the air at the time and no one broadcasting in that format. In 2001, XM became the first satellite radio service and, in early 2002, Sirius joined in the battle. After spending billions refining their products and fighting against each other, the twosome decided to merge in 2007 and SiriusXM Radio came to life. As of this summer, SiriusXM can boast of roughly 28 million subscribers.

In the end, it was my lovely wife’s frustrations with terrestrial radio that brought about the changeover to satellite. After a particularly lengthy drive – in which she had spent much of it looking for a suitable radio station to listen to – we began to discuss getting satellite radio. Because we didn’t always know the stations when we were traveling, we thought that having a set schedule of stations to pick from would be more suitable to our lifestyles. As such, in 2010 we installed a SiriusXM receiver in our vehicle and the difference was immeasurable.

Normally when dealing with radio, you can find one station in each of the formats in a given “metro” area or city:  a Top 40 station, a Classic Rock station, a news/talk station, etc. With SiriusXM, you can pick pretty much any musical genre or era and have a place to go. Want to listen to Frank Sinatra? There’s several channels, including hits from the 1940s and 50s and a “Siriusly Sinatra” dedicated station. Feel like some rock music? There are almost two dozen stations there, covering everything from the 1950s to today. Country music has six channels, Christian music three…as you can see, it covers everything.

Then there is the pleasant respite from commercials that SiriusXM gives the listener. For the most part, every station on the SiriusXM dial is commercial-free radio (save for simulcasts of radio and/or television broadcasts). This means that you won’t be jumping around the radio dial, trying to find some music when your favorite radio station goes off on a five-minute commercial binge (like television, radio goes to commercial breaks at the same times – 10, 25, 40 and 50 minutes past the hour, in most cases). About the only reason you’ll leave a station is because you want to hear something different.

You need more? How about the vast libraries that the SiriusXM stations have put together. Due to the advent of digital music, the SiriusXM libraries play virtually anything that has been digitized for listening consumption. Because they also haven’t been corrupted by radio “consultants” nor the radio conglomerates (in one city my wife and I lived in, two radio groups controlled 15 stations that were in town), they will play things that you won’t hear on terrestrial radio; instead of hearing “Stairway to Heaven” for the third time in a week, you might hear instead a deep cut from Rainbow (grossly neglected in terrestrial radio, along with many other artists).

Finally, there are the host of specialty stations that SiriusXM delivers that would never appear on terrestrial radio. Channels that focus on the music of Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Pitbull, the Grateful Dead…these are all artists that have their own dedicated stations on SiriusXM (especially my favorite, Radio Margaritaville and Jimmy Buffett). There are also “limited engagement” stations that have featured Billy Joel, Tom Petty and Elton John in the past year. If you would like to listen to nothing but Howard Stern 24/7, there’s a place for that, as there is for the sports fanatic.

For the hour I spent in my vehicle today, here’s where I bounced around:  I started with Buffett, then moved over to the Hits station that played the latest from Fall Out Boy; after getting my son out of the car, I moved over to Octane, where Tesla was doing “Little Suzi” before dropping down the dial to First Wave (the 80s British synth pop era) and hearing the Human League. When I got home, I’d worked my way through the alternative stations, which had told me that one of my favorites in Florence and the Machine were about to play, before getting “back to the beach” on Radio Margaritaville. Tell me you could find that wide a range in terrestrial radio.

After once thinking that there was nothing better than terrestrial radio for as long as I did, I can now confidently say that there is no way I would ever think about not having SiriusXM in my vehicle or on my computer. The reasons listed previously should be enough, but there is also the ability to make up your own playlists (called MySiriusXM) that puts the cherry on top of the sundae. There are some questions about its compensation methods to the artists (something that I might get into sometime), but there’s more enjoyment than you’ll ever get out of terrestrial radio through the SiriusXM satellites circling our planet.