Top Five Things That Make A Great Band Great!

Ever wonder why we're still talking about the Beatles or The Who, or the 50th Anniversary of the release of a particular Stones album?  It's because they were great.  And the more we talk about great bands, the fewer new bands seem to get added to the mix.  Give a band like Led Zep a six-decade head start on radio airplay, not to mention the furthering of their mythology by word-of-mouth and a current band like Mumford & Sons, Radiohead, or Chicago's own Wilco just might find it hard to match up.

Rather than give you our list of what bands, old and new, that we consider to be great, we thought it might be more fun to describe the ten things that make a band great in the first place.  Per usual, they are in no particular order.

1. They write great songs.

Sounds kinda obvious, doesn't it, but how many bands have we seen that seemed to have the whole package - all except for some killer songs with which to slay the world?  Much as the New York Dolls had the looks and musical prowess to get signed to a major label, they just didn't have the generation-defining great songs.  Sure, we talk about them some 40_ years later, but pay careful attention to what folks are actually talking about.  Chances are it isn't the band's music.  Not awful, mind you, just not particularly remarkable when placed against true greats like the Beatles and Bob Dylan.

2. They fight like cats and dogs.

Turmoil is a great motivator and the best example I can think of is The Police.  Imagine being Stewart Copeland and finding some fellow by the name of Gordon who fancies himself a jazz bassist.  He talks Gordon into joining his punk band and singing his songs.  Gordon. who has taken to calling himself Sting by now, eventually decides he can write better songs than Copeland and the rest, as they say, is history.  Still not convinced?  See also Ramones.

3. They have a unique connection with their producer that creates an almost symbiotic relationship.

The Beatles had George Martin, U2 had Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, Bowie had Tony Visconti (and Eno, and Nile Rodgers), the list goes on.  The list of potentially great bands saddled with the wrong producer (not a bad one, necessarily) is seemingly endless and sadly includes many bands that we as individuals love.  I mean, just because you love a band doesn't necessarily make them great to the world at large, but sometimes that band finally happens upon a producer who understands them and, voila, their career takes off.  I'm thinking of AC/DC and Robert John "Mutt" Lange, whose first album with the band was Highway To Hell, but he also produced Back In Black, which saw the band back in the studio mere weeks after Bon Scott's death, determined to carry on in the face of unimaginable adversity.

4. They paid their dues with years of gigging.

We've all heard the stories about such-and-such band getting signed to a big money major label deal after only three gigs.  I remember an unintentionally hilarious interview with Metro's Joe Shanahan where he noted that, prior to Nirvana, when a band called the Metro office looking for a gig and claiming to have a major label deal already in place, you could tell if they were blowing smoke or not.  After Nirvana, and Liz Phair, and Veruca Salt, all bets were off.

Meanwhile, most every band found on any credible list of great bands has many stories of years of bad gigs, great gigs to no people, and finally the bubbling bursting like it did for The Police when, after years of shitty gigs throughout Europe, they now found themselves playing to over 1,000 people.  It's called paying your dues and, like it or not, it is a part of the process of attaining greatness.

5. They can "pull it off" live.

Ever heard of a great band that can't "pull off" their songs in-concert?  Of course you haven't.  That's because, as described in #4 above, all great bands cut their teeth by playing anywhere and everywhere that would have them, ultimately becoming better musicians, songwriters, and performers in the process.  As romantic a notion as it might be to have a band record their new album without ever being in the same room together, think of all the mistakes they're missing, all the musical discovery that comes when someone hits a "wrong" note that ends up being better than the right one, among other things.

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