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Head Spinning

Magazine's "Top 50 Bands" list leaves much to be desired


Spin magazine, that bastion of cultural journalism, recently released their list of (drumroll please, with clarion call) The Top 50 Bands Of All Time. The criteria the magazine used had to do with bands' impact on music and the bands and trends that followed, which would help explain Rage Against The Machine -- a good band, obviously, but in the grand scheme of things, a pretty one-note one. The Lads from Liverpool, The Beatles, were the obvious number one. The Ramones were number two, and Led Zeppelin third. Even with the inclusion of some bands like Husker Du and The Smiths, the list is woefully shortsighted, however, even if the magazine's aim was only to sell issues and spark controversy. Korn is number 48. Yessiree, Korn. Influential maybe, but to what end? If just the number of bands that imitate you is enough, where's New Kids On The Block, or perhaps Menudo? Would we care about the travails of Justin Timberlake if Donnie Wahlberg and company hadn't laid down the template?

The list's real problem is the above stated criteria, used, no doubt, to get a few hot bands of the moment on the list. (OutKast, while a great band, hasn't effectively influenced a whole lot, frankly. Who does what they do? Who even gets close?) The trouble starts when you start examining other worthy acts on the same merits, wherein the reasoning completely falls apart. Following, in no particular order, are 10 bands one could easily make a case for, as well as some honorable mentions. None of these, incidentally, made Spin's top 50.

1. The Talking Heads David Byrne and company were among the first to take post-punk into a realm of thoughtful emotional discourse, paving the way for the college music boom of the 80s. Influenced everyone from R.E.M. to Pere Ubu (who, some might argue, ought to be on here somewhere as well).

2. The Pixies Kurt Cobain's biggest influence, along with the Melvins. Proved that intelligence and thunderous power-chord rockers could be happy bedfellows.

3. Big Star Alex Chilton and Co. took intelligent pop to a new, underground level, equal parts The Beatles and Gram Parsons. Biggest fans? Likely the band below, who even went so far as to name a hit song after Chilton.

4. The Replacements They played the drunken genius rock & roll thing to the hilt, paving the way for Whiskeytown, The Strokes, Slobberbone, and Marah, to name but a few.

5. The Allman Bros. Band They not only influenced the old guard of Southern Rock, they've also helped spawn a huge number of jazz-inflected jam bands that now cover the South like kudzu.

6. Uncle Tupelo Led by twin songwriters Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy, the band for all intents and purposes helped crystallize a new music genre, now known best as Farrar has since gone on to a solo career after placing his band Son Volt on hiatus, and Tweedy now fronts Wilco, one of the most forward-thinking bands of its kind. Influence? Most any band you now read about in No Depression magazine, the popular mag named in part for one of the band's albums.

7. The Police Sting's wry lyrics and the band's jazzy shuffle arrested listeners like U2, XTC, and a number of other bands that have actual words in their band names, like Phish.

8. The Byrds Er, name-droppers include Tom Petty, R.E.M., Husker Du, The Band, Jackson Browne, Buffalo Springfield, Crowded House, The dB's, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, The Jayhawks, The Smithereens, Richard Thompson, the whole Elephant 6 collective, and about 1,000 others.

9. Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band On any given night in America, at any open-mic night, you can find someone who's been influenced by The Boss. Not to mention Elliott Smith, Steve Forbert, Greg Trooper, Pete Yorn and just about any other aggressive-strumming singer/songwriter. The E-Street Band? The Boss's Wall of Sound.

10. Cream Frankly, there probably wouldn't be Led Zeppelin without them. Skynyrd were early fans; so were Mountain, Aerosmith and just about any other blues-based heavy rock band.

Along with the above, one could conceivably make a case for a few other bands, including The Cure, James Brown's Famous Flames (who have influenced most of rap music, albeit via sampling), The Flying Burrito Brothers (90% of, Weezer (emo), Bauhaus (most any goth band going, Ministry, Trent Reznor), Joy Division (Ditto), The Eagles (country rockers, most of whom don't want to admit it), Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Booker T & The MGs (Parliament-Funkadelic), Van Halen (most any metal guitarist, almost all hair bands), Aerosmith (ditto), The Doors, Neil Young & Crazy Horse (Pearl Jam), Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Crosby, Stills, and Nash without Young, The Cars (Weezer), and Oasis (don't laugh -- see Coldplay, Travis, StarSailor, Robbie Williams, etc.).

You get the picture. Again, the whole idea is to sell issues and get people writing in, ostensibly about how pissed off they are. I'm not pissed off. I'm just flummoxed by the fact it seems like they took all of 15 minutes to dream this up, and another 30 to write it (with an extra 15 minutes for the editor to throw in a pick or two he's read Robert Christgau write about, plus Rage Against The Machine and, yes, Korn). Really, how many people bought Fela Kuti albums when he was in his prime? I'm curious to know how many Spin staffers could even name his country of origin, not to mention his albums.

All in all, it sounds like Spin was influenced a bit here, too -- by Rolling Stone. Lists (and sex) sell. At least they don't put some horrible actor on the cover every other month. Unless you count Kid Rock.

Got any we missed? Contact Tim Davis at and we may print a few in a future paper. Or we may not. 'Tis the chance you take. *

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