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The 100 Greatest American Rock ‘n’ Roll Bands, Part IV – #65 to 56


As this list continues, we explore garage rock from the Pacific Northwest, ponder the death of Bobby Fuller, and stick a fork in our eyes.

#65 – The Sonics

For many years The Sonics were a band that hardcore music fans would rave about, but few people outside of the Pacific Northwest had actually heard. Their records may have been long out of print, but they established a legend that steadily grew in their absence. The Sonics formed in Tacoma, Washington in 1960 and went through several evolutions before releasing their debut album, Here Are The Sonics, in 1965. That record paired the energy of first generation rock ‘n’ roller Little Richard with the aggressive guitar sound of mid-60’s rock music. Songs like “The Witch,” “Psycho,” “Have Love Will Travel,” and “Strychnine,” represented the best of the Nuggets era garage rock sound. After a few more unsuccessful albums, The Sonics broke up in the late 1960s.

Due to renewed interest in their adrenaline fueled sound, The Sonics reformed in the late 2000s. In 2015, they released This Is the Sonics, a new album that was true to their roots, but didn’t sound like a museum piece. The Sonics have been cited as an influence by a legion of bands from the punk and grunge eras and they are continuing to tour in 2016, showing the world a purity of execution that is unmatched in our more sophisticated, less enjoyable modern age.

#64 – Old 97’s

There are plenty of roots rock oriented bands who never do more than replicate the sounds of their combined influences. The alternative country/cowpunk Dallas based band the Old 97’s (their name comes from the railroad tragedy folk song, “The Wreck of the Old 97”) have separated themselves from the pack due to the strong songwriting of Rhett Miller. In fact, after two decades of recording, their 2014 album, Most Messed Up, may be the best album from a band with a deep catalogue of quality work.

After releasing a few independent albums in the early 1990s, the Old 97’s were signed to Elektra. The band released three high quality major label albums, always seeming to be on the edge of a major breakthrough that never happened. At the very least, their song “Question” should have became an engagement anthem for the Millennial Generation. Still, the Old 97’s appear to have reached the sweet spot where they can generate a good living making music on their own terms. In addition to leading the band, Rhett Miller has released a number of highly regarded solo albums. By the way, their song “Doreen” from their 1994 debut album was inspired by someone Rhett knew in real life. These days, Doreen stands front row, center at every Dallas/Fort Worth area Old 97’s show.

#63 – The Bobby Fuller Four

The death of Bobby Fuller in 1966 is one of rock music’s more bizarre unsolved mysteries. At the age of 23, in the midst of pop stardom, Fuller was found dead in his car in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Police Department quickly ruled it an accident/suicide and never investigated the possibility of foul play. Speculation about his death has included theories of a mob hit, a drug deal gone bad, or that even Charles Manson was involved. His short career, like the one of his idol Buddy Holly, leaves musical historians pondering what might have been.

Bobby Fuller had roots in El Paso and formed his self named band in 1962. The group moved to Los Angeles in 1964 and scored a Top Ten hit in 1965 with the anti-authority anthem “I Fought the Law” – a song penned by Sonny Curtis, a former member of The Crickets. With the exception of the occasional surf guitar sound, The Bobby Fuller Four made no attempts to sound contemporary. Their music was firmly rooted in the style of rock that Buddy Holly had popularized in the 1950s. The band also had a Top 40 hit with their cover of Buddy Holly’s “Love’s Made a Fool Out of You” and should have had a hit with “Let Her Dance,” which was later covered by Marshall Crenshaw. Fuller’s music remains a reminder of simpler times and the beauty of a ringing Stratocaster.

#62 – Aerosmith

The Boston arena rock band Aerosmith, equally defined by Steven Tyler’s obnoxiousness and Joe Perry’s clever riffs, formed in 1972 and became one of the most successful acts of the ‘70s. They first crossed over to Top 40 radio with “Sweet Emotion” in 1975, which would create a market for previously released singles “Dream On” and “Walk This Way” to become Top Ten singles. Their 1976 Jack Douglas produced album Rocks impressed critics and fans, eventually selling over four million copies. However, beset with drug problems and ego clashes, Joe Perry left the band in 1979 and Brad Whitford quit in 1981. Perry and Whitford returned in 1984, but with the commercial failure of their 1985 album Done With Mirrors, it looked like Aerosmith was looking at permanent irrelevance.

Aerosmith returned to Top 40 radio and MTV through rap music – a 1986 cover/collaboration of “Walk This Way” by Run-D.M.C. was a Top Five pop hit. With the help of song doctors and strong promotion, the group returned to the Top 40 in 1987 with “Dude (Looks Like a Lady),” “Angel,” and “Rag Doll,” beginning a string of hit singles that would continue through 2001. In 1998, they scored their first #1 hit with the ballad “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” (written by pop music schlockmeister Diane Warren). While there have been peaks and dips in quality over the years, Aerosmith’s has a firm place in American popular culture as one of our longest lasting and most successful rock ‘n’ roll bands.

#61 – Angry Samoans

There were plenty of Los Angeles hardcore bands who have sold more records and are quoted as being “influential” more often than the Angry Samoans. However, the Samoans were filled with an irreverent fun – they had a teenage boy outlook at authority figures and political correctness that could be shocking and gallingly hysterical. They never pandered to reach a broader audience or made attempts to be more mature. The attitude may have been comic book punk rock, but they played with no sense of irony, just malcontents enjoying the ride.

Lead singer “Metal” Mike Saunders moved from Little Rock to Los Angeles and joined fellow rock critics Gregg Turner and Richard Meltzer in the late 1970’s punk band VOM. Saunders and Turner morphed into Samoans in ’78 and released their EP, a snot rock classic, Inside My Brain in 1980. A song calling influential Los Angeles disc jocky Rodney Bingenheimer “a pathetic male queer” reportedly got the band blackballed from playing many of L.A.’s most popular clubs. Their 1982 number “Lights Out,” about the advantages of blindness caused by sticking a fork in your eyes, has been covered by several punk rock acts and by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Gregg Turner left the band in the early 1990’s (his next unit was called the Blood Drained Cows), but Mike Saunders continues to play the oldies on the punk rock circuit with a few hired guns.

#60 – The Meters

The Meters were the Booker T. & the M.G.’s of New Orleans, working as the house band for legendary producer Allen Toussaint. The funk pioneers released their first album in 1969 and had immediate chart success with the Top 40 singles “Sophisticated Cissy” and “Cissy Strut.” They never reached the Top 40 again, but released a string of quality albums in the 1970’s that highlighted their percussion heavy sound. Some of their better known tracks include “Look-Ka Py Py,” “Hey Pocky A-Way,” and “Fire on the Bayou.”

In 1976, The Meters participated on The Wild Tchoupitoulas album, a very highly regarded record that captured the spirit of the Mardi Gras Indians vocal celebrations. After that project, Art and Cyril Neville left The Meters to form The Neville Brothers. The Meters broke up in 1977, but various versions of the band (one called The Meters and another called The Funky Meters) have been performing since 1989. Their music later found a home in the hip hop generation, as their songs were sampled by N.W.A., Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, the Digital Underground, Queen Latifah, etc., etc., etc.

#59 – The Mamas & the Papas

The folk rock quartet The Mamas & the Papas was not a traditional rock band by any means. Only bandleader John Phillips played an instrument on their records, the rest of the music was performed by the Los Angeles studio musicians known as The Wrecking Crew. However, in addition to playing guitar, Phillips wrote the majority of the material and served as the architect of their complicated harmony sound. Phillips was in his early thirties by the time his band found success. He had performed in the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early ‘60s and released three albums with the folk trio The Journeymen.

With help from producer Lou Adler, The Mamas & the Papas found success quickly. Their second single and their signature song, the majestic “California Dreamin’” hit the Top Five and their next release, “Monday, Monday,” was a #1 single. The group would hit the Top Five four more times with “I Saw Her Again,” “Words of Love,” “Dedicated to the One I Love,” and “Creeque Alley,’’ the last number a narration of how the group was formed and their early years. However, the change of pop music to the psychedelic era quickly made their folk rock and Tin Pan Alley arrangements sound obsolete. Additionally, there were several dysfunctional relationships within the band, leading to their breakup in 1969. Although not without raising a few eyebrows, The Mamas & the Papas were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.

#58 – Jefferson Airplane

Jefferson Airplane is a group that is synonymous with the 1960’s free love, acid, Haight-Ashbury culture. The band formed in San Francisco in 1965 and released their first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, in 1966. Despite positive press, sales were relatively meager. Their fate changed later that year when Grace Slick joined the band. Slick was attractive, charismatic and deservedly became the focal point for the band. Additionally, she brought the song “Somebody to Love” from her brother in law and wrote “White Rabbit.” Those two contributions helped make Surrealistic Pillow one of the most highly regarded albums of its era.

Jefferson Airplane never had another hit, but had several successful albums, reflecting the sentiment that they were one of the most important psychedelic hard rock bands of the era. The band broke up in 1972 and various members of the group would emerge in Jefferson Starship and Starship, two entities much more interested in making money than political statements.

#57 – Paul Revere & the Raiders

Paul Revere & the Raiders may have looked quite comical in their Revolutionary War costumes and tri-corner hats, but produced some of the best garage rock singles of the 1960s. The original band met in Idaho in the late 1950s and scored a small national hit in 1961 with the instrumental “Like, Long Hair.” The group was sidelined for over a year as conscientious objector Revere performed deferred service by working as a cook in a mental institution. The Raiders recorded a version of “Louie, Louie” in 1963, but were elbowed out of the bank vault by The Kingsmen.

In 1965, the band had their first major national hit with “Just Like Me,” then followed that up with two excellent singles written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil – “Kicks” and “Hungry” were both Top Ten hits. They were also the first act to record “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” later popularized by The Monkees. The hits dried up in the late 60s, but the band had a major comeback in 1971 with the comedy protest number “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Indian Reservation).” They quickly lost commercial validity, but many of their songs were revisited by the punk generation. The band’s namesake/frontman Paul Revere Dick passed away in 2014, but his son Jamie keeps the music alive by performing intermittent casino gigs.

#56 – Traveling Wilburys

Forming a music supergroup sounds like a wonderful idea, but they almost never work out due to issues such as individual talents being submerged, fragile egos, and deciding who gets the clean needle first. The Traveling Wilburys smartly played exception to the rule in the late 1980s as George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and Roy Orbison released their debut album, showing a relaxed mastery of rock ‘n’ roll. The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 record sold over three million copies behind the mainstream rock hits “Handle with Care” and “End of the Line.” Perhaps more importantly, the album and the Roy Orbison solo Top Ten hit “You Got It” put Orbison back in the public spotlight for the first time in decades and shortly before his death.

The band released their second album, jokingly titled The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 in 1990. Despite a winning cover of Del Shannon’s “Runaway” and a mainstream radio hit with “She’s My Baby,” the album garnered much less attention. The Wilburys never toured and they didn’t overstay their welcome. They provided a much needed reminder that rock ‘n’ roll should actually be fun. Both albums were reissued as The Traveling Wilburys Collection in 2007 – the rerelease went Top Ten in the U.S. and to #1 in the U.K.

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