Nothing like inspiring some debate from the get-go for the first legitimate post on this blog, and what better way to do so than with a list? Folks, this was a tough one, but here are my picks for my favorite bands of all-time. By the way, there will be a separate Top 10 for solo artists!
1. Echo and the Bunnymen. Number two on this list is pretty close to taking over this spot, but for now Echo and the Bunnymen still have a hold on things. Echo has been my fave since about 1987-88, a long time to have such a stranglehold on Number One.
No wonder. The first albums from Echo are in my mind the all-time best start to a career, four stunning records of post-punk and early Britpop mastery. What was most exciting about this band was how different each album was from the previous. Crocodiles was an incredible debut, full of energy and a melodic post-punk edge. Heaven Up Here added mysticism and power to the mix. Porcupine was a masterpiece, combining the elements from the first two albums into one unique combination. My favorite track from the band, In Bluer Skies, appears on the third album.
However, the 1984 release of Ocean Rain remains one of the top albums in music history. At least in Tfronky’s eyes. Nine breath-taking tracks of pure beauty, highlighted with the first track on side two of the album, The Killing Moon. This album has been reissued on a couple of occasions. Find the one with a second disc of a live concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1983.
Echo would make one more album with the original line-up. Once drummer Pete de Freitas was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in 1989, the magic was in many ways gone. Echo and the Bunnymen continue to tour and record to this day with vocalist Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sergeant. They recently released their 11th studio album, entitled The Fountain. I will have to check it out.
Critical album = Ocean Rain
2. Elbow. My good friend Bobby Lerma has introduced me to some great music over the years. One day he handed me a disc he had burned from a band I was not familiar with by the name of Elbow. The next day I called him and when he answered, I immediately began cursing at him, pissed because he had waited so long to tell me about these guys!
If the next album from Elbow, which will be their fifth studio disc, is better than Echo’s fifth, self-titled album, then Elbow will slide into the Number One spot. Amazing to think that this foursome toiled for years in obscurity under the different moniker of Soft, because they have developed into the greatest band in the world at the present time.
That disc Bobby burned contained tracks from Elbow’s first three albums, Asleep in the Back, Cast of Thousands and Leaders of the Free World. Their fourth disc The Seldom Seen Kid was the album that finally gained them the commercial success they so richly deserve. These guys have yet to create a bad song, and more often than not have created some of the best music in the past 12 years. No one can touch Guy Garver for Top Dog in regards to vocals. Their show at the Bluebird Theatre in Denver May of 2008 ranks as the best concert I have ever seen, no mean feat when you consider how many shows I have been to over the years.
Critical album = The Seldom Seen Kid
3. Sugar. Sigh … what a shame that such an incredible band was only around from 1992-1995. Husker Du was incredible, the first two solo records from the legendary Bob Mould were very good, but when Sugar’s debut Copper Blue was released in 1992 I went nuts. The punk aesthetic of Husker Du was tempered with Mould’s melodicism from his solo work, but the structure of the music went far beyond what he had done before. Sugar possessed a delicate ferocity. Every song possesses brutal power, but the pop hooks each track possessed were absolutely incredible. I only had the pleasure of seeing this band perform once, at the Electric Ballroom in Tempe, AZ. No joke, my ears may still be ringing.
Thank God Bob soldiers on today, remaining one of the most crucial artists in music.
Critical album = Copper Blue
4. Agent Orange. My favorite punk rock band, although Agent Orange expands on the limits of that formula. Take melodic punk, add in a heavy surf rock element and you have the formula for some of the most dynamic music produced in the past 30 years. Guitarist/vocalist Mike Palm is the only original member left, but his presence alone still makes this trio a powerful force.
Critical album = This is the Voice
5. Swervedriver. An original part of the early nineties U.K. shoegaze scene, Swervedriver pushed the boundaries on that genre of music and left a definite imprint as one of the best bands on the nineties. Swervedriver takes several of the characteristics of Britpop, mixes in some explosive power and one of the best vocal styles in rock and roll from Adam Franklin.
This band has gone through several hardships during its career, especially in regards to some terrible luck with its record labels. After the release of their fourth album 99th Dream in 1998, the band broke up a year later and were on hiatus for nine years. Then in April of 2008 Swervedriver reunited at Coachella and once again proved they are capable of creating some of the most beautiful damage when they play together. The show I saw at the Mason Jar years ago brings back some incredible memories.
Critical album = Mezcal Head
6. Juno. One day my friend Bobby Lerma walked in to the store I was working at back around 2001-2002. He handed me a disc, told me to put it in and fast forward to a track entitled Killing it in a Quiet Way. The song was from Juno’s second full-length album A Future Lived in Past Tense. I was immediately blown away. Juno was emo without all the horrible characteristics of that genre of music.This was emo reminiscent of the mid-eighties Washington D.C. Dischord Records era and Sunny Day Real Estate. Intense music, inspired and soaring vocals, and a three-guitar attack highlighted this incredible band that had far too-short a career from 1995-2001.
Few bands can create long instrumentals and keep them interesting. Juno had an amazing ability to do so, and their more standard tracks possessed immense power and a subtle tranquility. I wish I could have seen these guys live.
Critical album = A Future Lived in Past Tense
7. Band of Horses. I had been introduced to this band before, but for whatever reason had not made a huge impression on me. Then I had the opportunity to see them play at the second Monolith Festival at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, CO September of 2008.
There were several great acts during that weekend, but when Band of Horses took the main stage on Sunday evening, they put on a performance for the ages. The one band with a sound big enough to capitalize on the stunning acoustics of Red Rocks, Band of Horses played an incredible set that evening, highlighted by their signature song The Funeral. The cool weather, the wonderful scenery of Red Rocks and the outstanding delivery of that song provided in my opinion the highlight of the weekend, powerful enough to nearly move me to tears.
I had the pleasure of seeing them at Coachella this year, where Band of Horses unveiled two new tracks. I am stoked for the new disc, whenever it does finally come out!
Critical album = Everything All the Time
8. Dead Can Dance. The beauty of Gregorian chant mixed with ethereal dreampop is one way you could describe this duo. Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard combined their talents to deliver one of the more unique styles of music I have ever had the pleasure of hearing.
Typical of most 4AD bands from that time period, Dead Can Dance released a string of albums that were mellow enough for your parents to enjoy, but contained enough elements of alternative music to satisfy the indie crowd. For a great introduction to this band, check out their live release Toward the Within.
Critical album = Within the Realm of a Dying Sun
9. Gang of Four. The best, most powerful and most intelligent post-punk band of the late seventies-early eighties, Gang of Four released two incredible albums to commence their career, the landmark Entertainment! and my fave, Solid Gold. The Gang created music that makes you think. They also create music so powerful that it pummels you into submission.
He may not be the most technically correct guitarist in music history, but Andy Gill is a genius. There was an eighties concert film by the name of Urgh! A Music War. To this day I marvel at the band’s delivery of He’d Send in the Army, and the manner in which Andy Gill destroys his guitar while playing that song is incredible.
Critical album = Solid Gold
10. The Ramones. Without this band I never become a fan of the Sex Pistols, Agent Orange, M.I.A. or Social Distortion. The impact of the Ramones is still felt in rock music 35 years after they first formed in Queens, NY.
Now granted, the last five albums the band released were terrible, and only three of the previous five were worthwhile. However, the first four releases from the Ramones were so outstanding and so ahead of their time that I could still put Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket to Russia or Road to Ruin on today and immediately be brought back to my youth. I immediately recall how simple their music was, and how powerful that simplicity was in creating controlled chaos.
Do yourself a favor and rent the movie Rock and Roll High School if you get a chance, great stuff!
Critical album = It’s Alive
Let the debate begin!