the official list

The Top 5 Greatest Bands Of All Time*

1. The Grateful Dead

Clearly, without question or hesitation, simply the greatest band ever. They did everything with perfect style and perfect imperfection. Country, jazz, blues, jam, rock, biker rock, bluegrass, ballads, prog-rock, psychedelic, old-sad-bastard tunes, freak-out weird stuff, gospel, spirituals, kids music - the list goes on to include essentially everything but rap or hip hop. They had the best frontmen of all time in Garcia and Weir - the young baby-faced surfer kid and the weary old man. Jerry’s guitar combined with Lesh’s outside-of-possible-expectation bass, plus the double drums provided everything music can be when playing with a group.

2. The Talking Heads

David Byrne & Co. did something that no band had ever done before and no band has ever come close to since. Byrne’s lyrics about buildings and food combined with his “George McFly” weirdness, when added to some of the funkiest, twitchiest, stompiest and jitteriest music created the perfect mix of both entertainment, joy, and confidence, which somehow actually created a sensation of hopefulness. As Anthony Keidis said when inducting them into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame “The Talking Heads were the only band that ever made me feel smart”. It’s also well worth pointing out that Tina Weymouth is without a doubt the best female bass player ever.

3. Bob Dylan

This doesn’t need much explanation. Dylan is possibly the only person on this list that most people would figure as a given - but that’s not why he is on the list. He’s on the list because he is truly one of the greatest musicians of all time, in fact, if this were a list of the top 5 musicians (not bands), he would be comfortably at the top. Much like the Grateful Dead, Dylan did every kind of music possible and he did all of it excellently. Most people are quick to dismiss his “Christian years” but I would argue that that is because they don’t like or don’t want to listen to Christian music, which is understandable, but I think it’s still some of his best stuff ever. It’s not that Dylan can do no wrong, it’s that he really never has.

4. The Band

Obviously, The Band could easily be coupled with Dylan, as they were his band for a time, making them one of the greatest “supergroups” ever. Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, and Rick Danko were unquestionably the best trio in a band since McCartney, Lennon, and Harrison. Levon’s vocals, Danko’s bass, plus Robbie’s odd guitar half-step fury created simple perfection. Bouncy, funky, and wild, The Band was the best Southern-Wild-Man music ever (with Creedence coming in at a close second). When they added a solid horn arrangement to a track, it was just unstoppable. Additionally, as a side-note - Danko’s vocals on “It Makes No Difference” is the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever heard.

5. James Taylor

Sweet Baby James will always hold a special place in my heart. He too created a style seldom seconded, but one that has become so commonplace it is often overlooked. “Mud Slide Slim & The Blue Horizon” changed the way I heard music in a profound way. Smooth as can be, confident, strong, easy, endearing, heartwarming, and just straight up good. Taylor’s is music for the things I like to do - floating a river, fishing, camping, drinking beer on a sunny day, grilling, spending time with friends and family - everything. And what’s great about him is that he knows it. Listen to “That’s Why I’m Here” and you’ll know he’s a good friend of yours too.

* A more accurate title for this list would be: “My top 5 most consistently and continuously loved bands or musicians, living or dead, including all works ever done by them, as of March 2, 2011.” It is possible that this list could change over time, but not likely. Obviously, only two guys on this list are still making music, and Dylan won’t be around much longer, and I seriously doubt James Taylor will ever let me down in the future. So the case is essentially closed on all of these guys, and I don’t see anyone else coming close to taking over a slot on this list anytime soon. Any new band would have to do a hell of a lot to get anywhere close.