(Images from Author’s Music Collection)
The untimely death of rock music icons David Bowie and The Eagles’ Glenn Frey early in 2016 led some well-meaning journalists to ask readers to select the best rock band ever. The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Doors, The Ramones, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Nirvana have all been mentioned. At a time when annual arguments ring out about the inclusions and exclusions of worthy nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio the answer is clear. There is an overabundance of talent and no clear cut method of possibly making a determination for a “best” rock band.
What everyone can agree on is that certain bands—notably The Beatles—were part of a very important social change in this country. Their arrival came as the United States was still mourning a youthful president who was infused with optimism and hope and was slain. The Beatles arrival to the United States in 1964 dove-tailed with a rise in counterculture on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In essence, our attention was diverted away from our collective grief to something new, something hopeful and different. The so called “British Invasion” of bands from the United Kingdom followed soon after with The Kinks, Herman’s Hermits, The Who, The Dave Clark Five and of course, The Rolling Stones. Through the years, the U.S. lost much of its innocence beginning with the horrors associated with the Vietnam War to the present, and it is only natural that the passing of still vibrant rock icons jolts the existential sensibilities of people everywhere to wonder, ‘Who is the best?’ In truth, there is no sure way to answer this question objectively. What is clear is that this question is cause for celebration.
David Bowie and Glenn Frey were in a class by themselves. But then, let’s consider Bob Dylan, Emmy Lou Harris and Joni Mitchell with younger artists such as Jewel Kilcher, Sarah McLachlan, Paula Cole, the late Eva Cassidy and Kacey Musgaves. From 1997 to 1999 there was Lilith Fair, a tour that celebrated the contributions of female musical artists (later resurrected in 2010). Each of these artists are too, in a class by themselves. They are incomparable.
It bodes well to remember that the late country music legend Waylon Jennings despised musical contests or music award shows. I believe he attended at least one awards ceremony. But what Waylon sincerely found objectionable was the lack of authenticity that becomes inextricably associated with comparing the worth of one artist over that of another. In the words of an ancient Indian saying (and I’m paraphrasing), “The heart has a memory”. With this in mind, lost artists from Buddy Holly and Gram Parsons to Rick Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Prince, according to singer/songwriter Neil Young remain “in our hearts and in our minds”. They are never forgotten. Neither are they in any way comparable.
Former Beatle Paul McCartney remains quite active touring the globe and selling out large public venues such as sports stadiums. Unarguably, he has drawn the attention of both old and new fans alike of all ages, and his music retains that timeless quality that brings back specific memories of special moments. I suggest that these moments should become the focus of celebration and not who is better or worse than another. After all, it was none other than William Shakespeare who wrote in Twelfth Night: “If music be the food of love, play on”.