As we close in on the final year of the decade, one burning question remains.
No, not how much longer before we’re rid of George Bush.
Who is the band of this decade. What band defined the decade more than any other?
After the jump, we take a look at what bands came before, starting with the dawn of rock and roll.
1950’s – ELVIS PRESLEY – Sure, today, he’s the epitomy of tacky, but rock was about to break big when an 18-year-old truck driver from Tupelo, Mississippi walked into Sun Records in 1953. The ingredients were all there. Blues and black rhythm and blues were gaining popularity with white kids. Country and gospel singers were wanting something more in the music they played. Insert just one man who could bridge the gap and… BOOM! He intended to record a couple of songs as a gift for his mother, and ended up an icon. Everything Elvis did defined rock and roll – The stage bravado, the screaming fans, movies, even the cult of personality that defines every Band of the Decade. Ironically, Elvis is the only solo act on this list.
1960’s – THE BEATLES – The Stones may be the longest lived and arguably the greatest live act in rock, but The Beatles were the lightning rod for not only the British Invasion but the counterculture as well. Rock seemed to be fading away in the early sixties in spite of the rather interesting sounds coming out of the Beach Boys, but in 1962, when Ringo Starr took his place behind the drum kit, everything changed. Two years later, they set off a cultural earthquake in the US that’s still being felt today. (Funny how some of those people whining about that earthquake will go and see the aforementioned Stones, still active examples of that same revolution.) What other band defined culture along its individual members’ personalities – John the social activist, Paul the glamor god, George the guru, Ringo the working man?
1970’s – LED ZEPPELIN – The monster. Hammer of the gods. The founding fathers of heavy metal, and the lords of excess. Rob Reiner had to invent Spinal Tap in 1984 because the mighty Zeppelin had crashed four years earlier. Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones carefully crafted this hard rock behemoth, using two hicks from northern England – Robert Plant and John Bonham – and single-handedly took rock down a darker, more mysterious path. By the time drummer Bonham died in 1980, Zeppelin had secured its immortality while other, sometimes equally popular, bands (ELP, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath) had collapsed or faded from their short-lived glory.
1980’s – U2 – U2 arrived in the late 1970’s and broke just as we lost John Lennon. In the wake of Lennon’s death, if there were no Bono, you’d have to invent him. From their first appearance on Tom Snyder’s old Tomorrow (the forerunner of Late Night with David Letterman/Conan O’Brien/Jimmy Fallon) thru 1989’s Rattle and Hum, it seemed the boys from the wrong side of Dublin could do no wrong. And then they went away for a couple of years, came back, and did it all over again, only, like the Stones before them, either not breaking new ground or experimenting because, hey, they’re U2. If the Stones comparison seems apt, it should be. U2 has remained consistently active for three decades to become a rock institution, like the Stones. Unlike the Stones (or any other long-lived band), their line-up has been unchanged since 1978.
1990’s – METALLICA – Really, it should be Guns N Roses, but ten years and $13 million later, no Chinese Democracy, and Velvet Revolver is on its second lead vocalist. It might have been Nirvana, but Kurt Cobain one-upped Jim Morrison (or did someone do it for him? Conspiracy theories abound.) Oasis could make a strong case, but they annoy as many people with their Davies brothers-style antics as they draw with their Brit pop melodies (some of which sound like latter day Marillion). Metallica, on the other hand, managed to survive constant upheaval in the eighties, build a fan base with a raw version of their signature sound, and conquer the world in the grunge-fueled nineites by selling out…
…every stadium seat for the past ten years. The Met’s undoing? Lars’ egotistical swipe at Napster; their remake of This Is Spinal Tap, 2003’s Some Kind of Monster; and compounding the 1986 death of Cliff Burton by letting Burton’s replacement Jason Newsted leave the band. If Elvis killed himself with excess, Metallica will eventually crash on its own collective ego.
BAND OF THE ROCK ERA – THE ROLLING STONES – Only Mick Jagger and Keith Richards can stay this cool into their sixties. You have to go back to Frankie and the Rat Pack to find guys who stayed this cool into old age. They rule in spite of violating WInter’s First Commandment of Rock: Thou shalt not screw with thy bass player nor suffer him to leave thy band nor ignore his subtle effect on the band’s sound. ‘Cuz in the end, the Stones are Mick and Keith and Charlie, with Woodie as that final piece of the puzzle that wasn’t available in the beginning.
So who’s the band of the 2000’s? That’s the big question. Is there one? I’ll throw out my thoughts in a couple of days. Until then, argue amongst yourselves in the comments section.