Greetings, Glancers. It seems like this tier malarkey is all the rage these days, and every blogger, vlogger, and their embittered uncle is thrusting their own flaccid list into the unexpected orifices of subscribers. Not one to be out-thrust, this post will be my own grading of a list of bands. Before I get to that, I should point out that I only found out about this nonsense via my watching of Become The Night – a Youtube channel run by a musician and metal fan called Mike. If you’re into reaction videos, metal, prog, insightful and entertaining rants on the current state of popular music, then it’s one of the more eloquent and knowledgeable channels out there, while remaining fun to watch.
Mike seems to have used a site called tiermaker which allows you to create your own lists and categories, and drag and drop items into each, before sharing on Facebook or wherever. That link above takes you to the same list Mike uses in his video. In my post I’m going to go through the same artists, but give my ranking on each. It’s partly a response to Mike’s video, partly because I’m curious to see where I would rank each act, and partly because I couldn’t think of anything more interesting to write about today. I should talk a little at the outset about where Mike and I differ. Obviously, obviously, each person is different, with our own tastes, preferences, baggage and all of that will greatly determine how we rank anything, no matter how objective we try to be. If we’re being 100% objective, there would be no point in doing the list because one ranking would be the official ranking. Mike is big into production when it comes to music – listen to any of his song reaction videos, any of his videos really, and he’ll harp on about production quite a lot – the mix, the tone, the tools – he knows a hell of a lot more about it than I ever will and that’s mainly because I simply don’t weigh production as highly as he does in terms of making a song. I’m being slightly tongue in cheek, and admittedly naive because obviously Production is one of the most important aspects of recording music. It’s just that for me, it lies a hell of a long way behind talent, melody, emotion, and lyrics.
Lyrics and emotion are two points where I differ from Mike, and maybe from a lot of other fans. Where Production for me roughly falls into three large categories – crap, okay, and good, Mike has a highly trained ear for the slightest flaw (perceived or otherwise) in a recording and mix – I don’t. My ear is much more attuned to emotion – I can easily tell if something is false or disingenuous, much more so than your typical listener and (without getting too wanky) I have a finely tuned degree of empathy when hearing and feeling any song. In Mike’s own (near enough) words, he doesn’t give a shit about lyrics and considers music and the playing of instruments as the most important element in creating a song.
He’s wrong of course, and is not accurately defining the difference between music and song, at least as both have existed since the start of the 20th Century. Sure a song doesn’t have to have lyrics to be considered a song, but most do, while a song usually needs (but not always) music before being called a song. Ignoring lyrics is essentially ignoring half of a song. It’s one of the prime examples of how music and listeners and artists have been dumbed down over time, to the point that most people ignore lyrics unless they’re deliberately provocative or ridiculously inane. Otherwise intelligent people have been taught to ignore words in songs, because words in songs have lost all meaning. If music is to become intelligent again and move away from its current mass-market, junk food approach, then lyrics need to be part of that equation. As always, I’m writing this off the cuff and chucking generalizations around – I’m aware that lyrics have been silly for most 20th and 21st Century popular music, but even The Beatles grew from childish declarations of love to often near God tier poetry. In Epic Poetry, lyrics told the stories with a cast of hundreds, sung to music which has been lost over time while the words remains. Popular music began showcasing more intelligent lyrics in the mid-sixties, but since it there have been more troughs than peaks in the art form, with the best lyrics tending to come from either cult acts or those with a small following. Various sub-genres of rap obviously focus heavily on words, perhaps moreso than the music. From a Business perspective, lyrics don’t sell, music does. It’s a little frustrating then when he berates modern acts (correctly) for being vain, reductive, and repetitive in terms of music and lyrics, but then completely dismisses the lyrics of some of the best songwriters in history. It’s partly because his favourite acts are shitty lyricists anyway (Dream Theater anyone?) It’s fine though, he mainly defines songs in terms of music while I define songs in terms of the whole package which comprises a song – a piece of music usually designed to be sung.
Enough bullshit for now, lets look at how his tier looked at the end – if you’re curious it’s probably best to watch his video first (plus you’ll probably find it more entertaining than this).
That’s not the easiest to see, so here’s a more clear list:
S: Led Zeppelin. Pink Floyd. Steely Dan. Queen. The Beatles
A: Cream. Creedence Clearwater Revival. David Bowie. Elton John. The Rolling Stones
B: ACDC. Aerosmith. Billy Joel. Deep Purple. Jimi Hendrix. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Rush
C: The Who. Fleetwood Mac. Black Sabbath
D: The Eagles. Grateful Dead. Bob Dylan
F: The Doors
Naturally, posting a list like this to a large audience on the internet is going to lead to all manner of angry frothing and gesturing. How dare someone else have an opinion, especially one that is so different from mine! Mike has a much larger audience than I do, so I imagine he’s got a lot of hate over some of these choices. Because people are precious of the things they love, and because people are dicks. I disagree with some of his choices, as I will show in my own ranking, but I understand that he is who he is and I’m not here to change his mind. Or anyone else’s. As always, leave a comment here and share your own ranking and reasoning. But there’s no sense in arguing because this is almost entirely subjective and based on our own shit. If we try to be objective, then we have to fall back on tangible metrics such as sales, chart history, longevity, influence, followed up by less tangible stuff like musicianship, lyrics, originality. I’m not sure who even came up with this list of artists, or how they define each tier – I think there are too many tiers and I would replace a few of these acts with ones I deem much more suitable, but I’ll cover these ones anyway.
So lets follow Mike’s ranking from the bottom. The Doors – it was pretty obvious from the outset that Mike would stick The Doors here. He’s not a lyrics guy, and perhaps more than any other act on this list The Doors relied more on lyrics and atmosphere than music. Being a lyrics and atmosphere guy, I rank The Doors much higher. The band were also massively influential (maybe more in terms of redefining what a front man can be) in terms of lyricism and songwriting, they’re undoubtedly one of the most iconic acts of all time, and of course they sold and charted a bunch and are still spoken of highly today. I love a lot of The Doors songs and for a while they were one of my favourite bands. I fully admit that a lot of their catalogue is a little iffy – I credit that to the use of keyboards more than anything else. I agree that Morrison doesn’t have the greatest voice from any technical standpoint, but it continues to moisten panties in every generation which is more than I can say for most vocalists. As much as I like The Doors, there’s really only a handful of songs which I can say I both love and which had an impact on a wider scale. For example, Love Streets is probably my favourite song by The Doors, but it’s not one you ever hear people talking about it. Ray Manzarek was a beast on the keys, it’s just that the sound now feels dated and cheesy. Densmore – a decent enough drummer, nothing special. Krieger had some great riffs and solos and as a band they all experimented and stretched the boundaries of popular music – something Mike claims to pine for.
Next up, The Eagles. In what is going to be a recurring theme for this post, I’ll have to take a step back and state that I’m not American. In my part of the world and in the time that I grew up in, no-one gave a shit about The Eagles. They made Hotel California and… that’s it? I know they were a massively successful band but I think most of that success was internal to the USA. For whatever reason they never crossed the shores to me. They’re a band whose back catalogue I have wanted to get into, and I’ll probably get to them in the future on this blog, but for now they are looking like an F. The same will go for The Grateful Dead, except they don’t even have Hotel California. Bob Dylan, I’ve never been a huge fan of and in most cases the songs he’s written that I have liked, have been performed by other artists whose versions I much prefer. Again, he’s someone I know I need to listen to and will. Known for his lyrics, I’m hoping those will have something I can enjoy and distract me from his voice. Either way, I probably wouldn’t include Dylan on this list at all.
The Who haven’t been given enough credit by Mike, presumably because he hasn’t heard enough by them (admitting again that many of the bands I will rank low will be because I haven’t heard a lot of their stuff). The Who are arguably the most energetic rock band of all time – Mike mentions that ACDC are ranked higher for him because he appreciates their energy even if he doesn’t like many of their songs. The Who knock ACDC out of the park in terms of energy. Keith Moon is unquestionably one of the great drummers, Roger Daltry’s voice can strip paint and lull a heart-attack victim to sleep, while Pete Townsend is at the forefront of progressive music. Of course Townsend would class his stuff as Rock Operas rather than concept or progressive albums, but they fall under the same wider umbrella of telling a larger story with linking themes and songs. The band is rarely mentioned as pioneers, but I think they influenced both metal and punk as well as rock overall. Admittedly they don’t have as many hits as some bands here, but their sales and longevity speak for themselves. Great lyrics too.
Fleetwood Mac is a band I should love but I haven’t bothered going from album to album yet. I do love quite a lot of their songs so I can only assume there will be others I’d like, and they crossed more successfully than other bands that bridge between rock and pop. Black Sabbath, as Mike points out, are probably the first metal band. At least in terms of what we think of as Metal today. We all know Ozzy isn’t the most appealing of vocalists nowadays, but back then he could belt it out and that’s what it was all about – being loud, being aggressive, and being in your face. Tony Iommi is probably second only to Jimmy Page in creating memorable guitar riffs. While the band quickly ran out of steam, their first few albums remain essential parts of metal. They’re far from my favourite band, but I appreciate what they did, the ground they broke, the fans they awakened. I take them more as a greatest hits band – a few songs from each album would make one single great album, leaving the majority of stuff I pass over.
The B and A tiers are where I will change most stuff around. Starting with ACDC. I’ve never been a fan – I think they’re the prime example of pop music under the guise of rock. I feel the same way towards ACDC as I do towards hair metal – sure ACDC is more authentic, but it’s marginal. ACDC is just a better Status Quo. They’re the Nickleback of the 70s and 80s. I just can’t take them seriously, with their lyrics like a bad Carry On movie or a thirteen year old boy’s idea of sex. Sure they have some memorable riffs and the odd decent song, and they’ve sold more albums than is humanly possible… doesn’t mean they’re any good. I’ve never liked any of their singers either – ever skinned a fox? While it’s still alive? Neither have I, but that’s what I think Brian and Bon sound like. Only their sales keep them from being lower.
Aerosmith I used to like when I was a kid. They had a couple of decent albums in the late 70s, then again in the early 90s. I can’t say too many of their songs have really stayed with me over time – while I like them, they’ve fallen away while songs from other bands have kept afloat. Mostly a fringe band for me, I don’t have anything bad to say, but I don’t have any massive positives either, beyond liking (not loving) a lot of their songs. Billy Joel is an artist who, until a few years ago, I had no idea had sold so many records. This must come down to not being American again. As an outsider I knew Uptown Girl, and that one about not starting fires, and that was about it. Yet he is somehow one of the biggest selling artists of all time? How did I not know this? Is it like Garth Brooks syndrome and it’s only idiots buying multiple copies of his stuff? Actually, let me check Wikipedia to see if I know any of his other stuff – there must be songs I know that I wasn’t aware were by him. Nope. There are songs there which I have probably heard, but don’t recognise from name only. He’s another I’ll have to delve into on the blog. For the purposes of this post though, he’ll be going low.
Deep Purple was always a dad rock band to me, even when I was a kid. There was another kid on my street when I was growing up, and his dad loved Deep Purple. They were always playing when I was in his house. Incidentally, it was in that house that I first watched (most of) John Carpenter’s The Thing. Another example of a movie being put on and then us sneaking in unattended. Anyway, it took me a while to actually listen to Deep Purple for my own purposes, and in truth I still haven’t heard most of their stuff. I know their biggest songs, but little beyond that. Jimi Hendrix on the other hand I know fairly well. There’s no doubting Hendrix’s skill as a guitarist and there are quite a few songs I like. The problem is there are very few songs of his I truly love. He broke ground as a front man – ground which remains to this day largely, and sadly untouched in rock and metal. As a vocalist though he was quite limited, but I think it’s his style of singing which gets on my nerve more than his actual voice – a languid funk which never changes from song to song. Hendrix’s songs also come almost entirely from within the psychedelic period and are therefore of their time much more than many other artists here. If he’d been alive longer I have no doubt he would have branched into other territory and made stuff I liked more.
Lynyrd Skynrd. Another quintessential US band and therefore another band I don’t really give a shit about. Mike’s a Southern guy so I can understand him liking this lot. For me, there’s Free Bird and nothing else. Rush is a band people have been telling me to listen to for so long that I’ve given up caring. Maybe I’ll listen one day. The few songs I’ve heard have had elements I’ve liked. But they’ve also had Geddy Lee. I have little doubt I would like Rush if I took them time to listen to their stuff properly – I just haven’t done that, or been given the impetus to do so. Into A and Cream – nope. They didn’t last nearly long enough or sell nearly enough or chart highly enough to be in this tier. Sure, they were influential, but mainly in setting up acts a few months later who were much more influential and much better. Creedence Clearwater Revival – I used to think they were a made up band, like Spinal Tap. Then I found out they were real. I still didn’t care. Another band for Southern US guys trapped in time – a poor man’s, no, a destitute man’s Led Zep. Honestly, I only know a handful of their songs – their covers I don’t care for, Proud Mary annoys the nips off me, but I quite like Bad Moon Rising.
Man, I should have made a video for this instead of typing. But that would take more effort. Bowie next – if you follow my blog you’ll have seen me going through the Bowie albums – I’m up to number 86 or something by now. I think it’s clear by now that Bowie is someone I appreciate and respect more than I actually like. He does have some songs I love, I have found some songs I’ve liked. I’m not a fan of his vocals or delivery, and too much of his stuff is in the glam genre which I like as much as I like Country music (not at all). But credit to changing the game, to always trying something new stylistically, and for pushing boundaries. Elton John I probably wouldn’t include on the list at all – he hasn’t been rock since the early 70s, and even then it was touch and go. I can’t think of a single Elton John song I love, and there are very few I like. I haven’t listened to a single album by him so there could be a treasure trove of stuff out there, but I’m very aware of all of his singles.
The Rolling Stones are wildly hit and miss for me. I can’t remember if I’ve posted it yet or not, but I am starting to go through their albums again. I’ve listened to all of their albums up until the mid 70s before, but they didn’t make an impact on me. 10 years later I’m doing it again to see if my opinion has changed. Just that short bluesy stuff doesn’t do a lot for me personally, and they had so many covers and almost covers in their early days that it’s a slog to get through. Jagger is a great front man without being a great singer, and the rest of the band are just okay. But they’ve sold so much and they’re still headlining, and some people genuinely prefer them to The Beatles. Led Zep – you know my feelings – I think they’re the greatest classic rock band of all time. Pink Floyd – immense in all the tangible categories, great lyrics and emotion too. I like patches of their early and later stuff, but it’s that run from Dark Side to The Wall which cements them – four flawless albums. Steely Dan – I haven’t posted it yet, but I have already listened to and written about one of their albums (A Royal Scam I believe) and as far as I know that’s the only stuff by them I’ve heard. I need to know more to adequately comment, but based on that single album they’re not top tier. Queen are as big as they’ve ever been and their songs have already proven to stand the test of time. The Beatles I probably wouldn’t have included here, but they were the turning point so it’s fine. Either way you cut it, they’re top tier anything. Lets take a look at my ranking:
A little different then. And because it’s not very clear, and because I don’t like the categories, I’m going to rejig it a little below:
A: Led Zeppelin. Pink Floyd. The Beatles
B: Queen. The Who. The Rolling Stones. David Bowie. The Doors.
C: ACDC. Aerosmith. Deep Purple. Jimi Hendrix. Fleetwood Mac. Black Sabbath
D: Cream. Elton John. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Rush. Billy Joel.
E: The Eagles. Grateful Dead. Bob Dylan. Steely Dan. Creedence Clearwater Revival.
That looks better. Or worse. Who knows. If it was me, and because I am me it most likely is, I would have replaced Elton with Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles with Alice Cooper, Steely Dan with Thin Lizzy or Motorhead, Billy Joel with Santana, The Grateful Dead with The Kinks.
Right, I’m done with this. Think differently? Chuck in a comment. Want me to do more reaction type posts to Youtubers or lists or other nonsense? Tell me to. Want me to listen to any songs by any of the artists I’ve ranked low above? Let me know and I will. Adios for now!