My Top Five Bands: Number 2

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I need to start this post with a minor clarification.  Yes, I am posting my five favorite bands this week, but after the Beatles at number one, the number ranking is kind of irrelevant.  I love all these groups, but their relative positions on any list will shift and change with my moods.  Which means stuff moves around a lot on this list.

Of course, the Band hold a place in my heart that’s almost as dear as the one the Beatles hold.  For a few years, from around 1967 to around 1975, they were magical.  It was like they could do no wrong.  (Of course they did do some wrong; Cahoots was released in 71, and it’s virtually unlistenable.)  Because of all the years they’d spent backing up first Ronnie Hawkins and then Bob Dylan, they were probably the finest live act ever to grace a stage.  They were sharp and tight and practically telepathic with each other.  Between Rock of Ages and The Last Waltz, they are responsible for some of the most electric and iconic live recordings this side of The Allman Brothers.

“Rag Mama Rag” sounds kind of ragged and chaotic, but if you listen carefully you can hear the perfect syncopation between the piano and drums and fiddle; the addition of the horns by the Tower of Power just makes it that much looser and more of a party (which makes sense, since this performance was recorded on New Year’s Eve).  The Band excelled in making music that seemed simple and unstudied, but really they were masters at making it all look sloppy.

Unfortunately, like all magic, the Band couldn’t last.  Robbie Robertson got too big for his britches (as undeniably talented as he is, he really could’ve been a better human being).  The rest of the guys were either too passive or too wasted.  Bad blood, addiction, and exhaustion took their toll and the Band fell apart.  I’m leaving a lot out, obviously, but that’s the gist of it.  Even when the majority of them played together in later years (after the official break-up in 1976), the feeling was never the same.  There was just that one shining moment, and then poof . . . it was all gone.

There are more obvious songs I could’ve chosen for this post, but I picked “Rag Mama Rag” and “Look Out Cleveland” partly because they’re favorites and partly because they’re not the songs the Band is best known for.  Dylan helped make the Band famous, but they stand just fine on their own merits.

My Top Five Bands: Number 1

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Let’s have another theme week, shall we?  Okay, so they’re not generally the most popular, and they almost always get interrupted by news of some kind, but why not give it another shot.  I’ve been thinking about doing some kind of top five or top ten list of my favorite bands, but that probably would’ve been too unwieldy.  So this week each post will be about one of the bands I consider my five favorites.  If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, most of these probably won’t surprise you—although I admit I did surprise myself just a bit.

Number one isn’t exactly shocking.  The Beatles are number one on a lot of people’s lists.  I could go on about how innovative and culturally influential they were.  I could probably spout off something about their songwriting and musical talent.  I could probably even muster up a decent postmodern analysis of their personal dynamics and deconstruction of the meanings behind their songs, if you give me enough time.  But all that stuff has been done to death.  And, really, the Beatles position as my favorite band of all time ultimately boils down to one thing: I like them better than I like anybody else.

Listening to a Beatles song, any Beatles song, makes me feel better than just about anything else.  If I’m feeling down, I get a little happier.  If I’m anxious, I relax.  If I’m angry at something, it just kind of dissipates in the face of their charming, lyrical, Liverpudlian onslaught.  “Ticket to Ride” happens to be one of my very favorites, but I could’ve chosen about a dozen others that I like just as much.  And dozens of others that fall not that far behind.  (I’m sort of proud that I managed to keep it to just my favorite 150 on the iPod.)  There’s really nothing and no one in music that I enjoy more than the Beatles.

In fact, I like them so much, here’s another song.  I dare you not to smile.