Respect for the Dead

by Chris Bertram on July 19, 2004

“Norm’s rock stars poll closed”: the other day, and, “like others”: , I’m inclined to protest a little about the results. [1] The source of _my_ dissatisfaction is that the incomparable “Grateful Dead”: not only miss the top 25 but aren’t even among the further 30 also-rans. Meanwhile, talentless losers like REM (someone had to say it) capture 11th place. Young people today….

fn1. I fear I may have misread the rubric, since the results include bands and I voted _inter alia_ for Keith Richards, Joe Strummer and Jerry Garcia. I assume that Norm just folded those in as votes for the Stones, the Clash and the Dead.



Walt Pohl 07.19.04 at 4:37 pm

The authors of the line “I stick my knife down your throat and baby it hurts” made number 2? Young people today indeed.


Mike 07.19.04 at 4:43 pm

Bob is two places too low.


Bolo 07.19.04 at 5:06 pm

Elvis is number 4? He shouldn’t even be on the list.

And REM looks like some sort of statistical aberration or something. They definitely seem out of place given the names preceding and after them. Maybe 18 friends got together and decided to throw a monkey wrench in the system.


q 07.19.04 at 5:07 pm

Elvis had a great voice and persona, the Beatles had great harmony and energy. The Stones bawl and Dylan can’t sing – big difference.


Chris in Boston 07.19.04 at 5:08 pm

Talentless losers?!

There is a generational divide in part, as I can’t abide by the Dead, among other boomer bohemian faves. But also something about R.E.M. doesn’t translate well across the Atlantic. Part of it was that IRS Records never released the back catalog in the UK until they broke big in the early 90s. But there’s more, I don’t know what, some deeper difference in national music sensibility. University kids in the US in the 80s were in the mood for oblique rock that backed into its hooks and had mumbled lyrics. And though I was barely a teen then, I’m still nostalgic for it.


bob mcmanus 07.19.04 at 5:11 pm

The Dead are lounge music for hippies. I have 30 of their albums and listen to them every day, but I wouldn’t ever compare them to Dylan or the Beatles.


bob mcmanus 07.19.04 at 5:13 pm

The dead are lounge music for hippies. I have thirty of their albums and listen to them every day, but I wouldn’t compare them to Dylan or the Beatles


Keith M Ellis 07.19.04 at 5:30 pm

R.E.M. and Talking Heads should trade places on that list.

As with prior “greatest” lists, however, it may not be completely clear to all the voters what “great” is intended to mean. It may not be clear to the tallykeeper what “great” is intended to mean.

I’d have asked for “most talented”, “most skilled”, “most influential”, “most favored by self”, “most popular”, and “most revolutionary” and combined results into “greatness”.


James 07.19.04 at 5:32 pm

Um, where are the Pixies?


felix 07.19.04 at 6:13 pm

I can’t stand listening to the Dead. They’re horrible. I have to think people who like the Dead are nostalgic for the days when they were young, dumb and stoned.


harry 07.19.04 at 6:23 pm

Although I’m of Chris’s generation I’m with the Dead’s critics.

But I’m also with Norm on the Beach Boys, and with Chris on REM. REM ahead of the Beach Boys. Indeed!

And I find it very odd that the Stones beat Dylan and Elvis. I can understand people preferring them (though I don’t, on q’s grounds), but to actually think they are better/greater/more important is astonishing.


peter ramus 07.19.04 at 6:24 pm

Well, sure, why wouldn’t anyone be nostalgic for that? On a good day anymore I’m only batting .667. Back then I had it all.


Dougf Muir 07.19.04 at 6:36 pm

Boomers have 20 of the top 25, and 9 of the top 10 — excepting Elvis, who of course is untouchable. So who does Chris pick on? R.E.M., the highest-ranked post-Boomer (1) band on the list.


Michael Stipe is a no-talent loser but, oh, Paul Simon is a genius for the ages? What a wretched generation it is, really.

Doug M.

(1) The boys from Athens were all born around 1960, but their fan base has always been quite a bit younger. Probably more to the point, it’s simply not a Boomer sound.

Doug M.


harry 07.19.04 at 6:55 pm

OK, having expressed my own boomer preferences I sympathise with DM. I’d take a lot of the boomers out of the list (if it were mine) and I would have Blur, Supergrass, Ryan Adams, and maybe some others in there. But, the reason I wouldn’t feel entirely comfortable putting them in is that they haven’t yet passed a certain kind of time test. (I’m assuming we are making judgements here, not merely expressing personal preferences, following bob mcmanus). I *suspect* Blur and Supergrass really will stand the test of time. But I *know* that the Kinks and the Beach Boys do. And, sorry Chris, that the Dead don’t.

I’m sure most of the boomer-bias is accounted for by the age of the participants, but some of it might be accounted for by this kind of consideration.


ian 07.19.04 at 6:59 pm

What about Jefferson Airplane then?

I don’t understand how some of these can be considered rock at all


Brian Weatherson 07.19.04 at 8:03 pm

I think Harry’s point is important in this context. I was a little upset that the Observer’s “definitive list” of the greatest British albums had so few recent albums on it. If the 2000s had just been as good as the average year since 1964 there should have been 8 to 10 albums from post Y2K, but there were I think 2. (Dizzee Rascal and the Streets.) But in fairness to the voters it is hard to tell which of the modern phenoms will stand the test of time. It’s very hard to predict, for example, how good Franz Ferdinand will seem in 24 months, let alone 24 years.


Andrew Brown 07.19.04 at 8:25 pm

I just feel that the (mutter) totally unreconstructed deadheads should,like, be, um, represented on this list.


peter ramus 07.19.04 at 8:45 pm

Every generation gets to propose what rock ‘n roll is.

Mr. Geras’s poll for the most part reads African-Americans and women out of its results but this is a function of the age of the respondents as much as anything else, and to be expected. Rock ‘n roll for them is apparently a bunch of white guys playing in small combos. So be it. If I say Chuck Berry is rock ‘n roll, and all the rest is commentary, I’m merely pointing out an earlier generation’s sensibilities: he made music about teenage stuff firmly rooted in R&B with a happy hint of country, which gave way over time to another generation’s sense of what rock ‘n roll is all about.

To a San Franciscan the Grateful Dead were never a rock ‘n roll band. When I went to the Panhandle or Speedway Meadow or any of the ballrooms back then I expected them to wrestle with their tuning and sing out of key and invent Grateful Dead music on the spot. The amiable energetic acceptance of the sudden possibility of transcendence or catastrophe inherent in the gold rush/earthquake sensibility of the place itself is at the core of the region’s abiding fondness for those guys and their music, I think. They played what we are.

I have no idea why anyone else anywhere in the world would like them very much, or why people would insist they made rock ‘n roll music, for that matter. But, as I said, each generation imposes its own meaning on the term, so I suppose by today’s standards the Grateful Dead were, imperfectly, a rock ‘n roll band, and by that standard not the greatest, by any means.

Bob Marley’s listing there is a category error, to my mind, and forgetting Ray Charles entirely is unforgivable. Absolutely unforgivable, you ignorant whippersnappers.


harry 07.19.04 at 9:04 pm

Following Peter Ramos’s comment there’s something else that occurred to me. I believe that in the past 15 years the US is supposed to have become more idiosyncratic in its popular musical tastes. So whereas even the Kinks broke into the US market, Blur hasn’t, really; whereas the Doors were a transatlantic success, REM isn’t, really. Singles charts in the Uk and US used to coincide a great deal in their content and now do hardly at all. I don’t know that, but people tel me so. If so, earlier bands would have the advantage of later bands of getting votes from all over the place.


vernaculo 07.19.04 at 9:16 pm

Rock ‘n Roll will never die.
It didn’t exactly get born, though it started, somewhere before the phrase got coined. John Lee’s Boogie Chillun says that.
But the poll didn’t distinguish between recorded and live performances and that distinction’s primary with the Dead. I saw them at Berkeley in ’65 and they benchmarked execrable. I saw them at the original Filmore and more than once they opened up every musical possibility there is. Working Man’s Dead belongs with John Wesley Harding in the minutes of the American soul.
The trouble with time is all we have are the recorded versions, and dim testimony, to go on.
I saw some Swedish guys do Losing My Religion in the parking lot at Mont St. Michel one time, and the crowd was lifted. That means something for sure yah.
And the Stones, the Stones pushed the sick world toward healing, consistently. Not like doctors, like siblngs, from within the gestalt, breaking it wide open. Their collective attitude was and is heroic.

“I rode a tank
In a general’s rank
When the Blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank”

That means something too.
But mostly you know time is linear, music’s not. Fitting bands into a numerical list is idle fun and ok. Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers, The Caravans, Lonnie Donegan, all have a huge presence in the modern world, as far as the continuation of musical language and behavior goes, though most of y’all’s pudge-brained consumeroid myopia(Dylan’s voice!) makes it too hard to see.

And speaking of words that start with “m-y”…
As Peter Ramos notes.
Janis Joplin.


Simon 07.19.04 at 10:01 pm

whereas the Doors were a transatlantic success, REM isn’t, really.

Not really true. REM were massively popular in the UK in the early 90s in the Automatic for the People/Out of Time era, and still retain residual popularity – all of their albums since Out of Time have reached no. 1 and sold respectably at the very least. They also headline festivals like Glastonbury and sell out arenas whenever they get round to touring.


J. Ellenberg 07.19.04 at 10:08 pm

Simon — I think Harry was talking about the good REM.


Simon 07.19.04 at 10:15 pm

Well, he did refer to them in the present tense…


mc 07.19.04 at 11:08 pm

To add to Simon’s note about the transatlantic thing, since the two sides of the Atlantic are not just the UK and the US (the usual anglocentrism…), REM are huge throughout Europe anywhere from the UK to Spain to Germany to Sicily, they got a huge following in Brazil, Japan, Australia…, and that’s just to name a few countries. They are basically as intercontintentally popular as U2. Which makes them also as hated as U2.

Since it’s mostly sixties bands in the list, why no Byrds in there?


p00p 07.19.04 at 11:39 pm

Like Harry’s point, I must think that the question was interpreted as some kind of referendum on the “Greatest of All Time” kinds of rock bands. Most influential or some such. Nothing else explains the top three being the Beatles, Stones and Dylan.

These guys made most of their music in the late 60’s/early 70’s. Wouldn’t someone have to be at least a teenager by then to be maximally impacted? That makes these fans, what, in their fifties and sixties now? I’m not young anymore either (sadly) but the thought of sixty-year old people rocking out to Sargeant Pepper’s in 2004 is, um, disconcerting.

Maybe the problem is the competition; the late 70’s only gave us Boston and The Eagles. Frank Zappa was on that list, though. Gag me with a spoon indeed. (P-Funk, punk rock all left off). Hardly any eighties new wave on the list, and thankfully the hair bands were omitted (didn’t one of the hosts here express a fondness for GNR though?).

People. I’ll never understand them.

Since I’ve probably given away my prejudices, I’ll just come out with it: CLASSIC ROCK SUCKS! Good God, that music sucked 30 years ago, and it has sucked every freakin day since. As Cheech might say, Leeeeaaaad Zeppeliieeaaan!


Ahem. Thank you.


Matt Weiner 07.19.04 at 11:50 pm

Harry, I’m not sure how that indicates that the US is getting more idiosyncratic–it sounds like the divergence of two markets, of which the US is not the smaller, nor the one that made a #1 hit of the words “Dr. Who” sung to Gary Glitter’s only melody. (Don’t get me wrong, I like idiosyncratic.) Anyway, the bias seems to be toward what gets played on AOR–not just boomer-oriented music but music by people who are either white or named Hendrix. The fact that James Brown and P-Funk don’t show up anywhere means either that a lot of people decided, as AOR did, that soul/funk (except Aretha) doesn’t count as rock or that the people polled were a bit, let’s say, Cro-Nasal.

And the generation gap w/r/t the Dead is probably partly the fault of the people in my generation who like them….


bob mcmanus 07.20.04 at 3:07 am

Been looking at a few California Impressionists lately. Maurice Braun, Rieffel, Mitchell, all 1st quarter of the century. Nice, skilled, creative stuff. They ain’t Monet.
Classic rock did it first. Punk rock? Stooges, Velvets, MC5, Deviants, Seeds, Downliners, Blue Cheer,Elevators. Classic Rock may have done not it perfectly, or even best, but the sixties did it first. All else is commentary. Get over it.


Dave 07.20.04 at 3:54 am

Q. What did the deadhead say when he ran out of pot?

A. “This music sounds like shit!”.


fyreflyr 07.20.04 at 5:35 am

Well no wonder, mate. Most of the bleedin voters were bleedin Brits!


wcw 07.20.04 at 5:43 am

I long ago gave up trying to convince anyone else of the truth about music. Stop listmaking, buy a record you haven’t heard before, and die happy.


joel turnipseed 07.20.04 at 6:09 am

Nirvana on the list, but neither Husker Du nor the Replacements anywhere–not even honorable mention? My white ass! Also–R.E.M. deserves to be on the list for pre-1987 recordings: all timeless. Smiths? I suppose: “I’d rather be famous than righteous or holy, any day, any day, any day…”


Mrs Tilton 07.20.04 at 10:19 am

Pace the many unbelievers in this comments thread, I must second Chris’s complaint about the Dead’s poor showing. It’s a good argument against democracy – who cares about the canaille and their collective opinion, the Dead are almost always good and often achieve genius. Though I am far from being a ‘deadhead’, by happy coincidence it was The Eleven jam I was listening to while walking to work this morning. Hippie lounge-music how are you – anybody who hasn’t twigged that the Dead are jazz just doesn’t get it.


dave heasman 07.20.04 at 10:36 am

“whereas the Doors were a transatlantic success, REM isn’t, really.”

The Doors weren’t particularly popular in the UK while Morrison was alive.
I’m not convinced the Dead were jazz, though I take Mrs T’s point that there is genuine improvisation. But jazz artists play in multiple lineups and configurations and still produce. Phil Lesh is the best improviser in the Dead (I have “The Eleven” running through my head,and Garcia is just playing scales) and he never tried to work outside the band. And he’s no Jaco.


Mrs Tilton 07.20.04 at 11:40 am

I’m not convinced the Dead were jazz, though I take Mrs T’s point that there is genuine improvisation. But … Phil Lesh is … no Jaco.

Well, of course he isn’t. And I will concede that my statement contained a certain element of hyperbole.

The point is, though, that the Dead are so very much more than ‘lounge music for hippies’. If one wanted to find an American pop band whose music synthesises rock, blues, C&W and bluegrass, not to mention jazz or at at least jazz-related programme activities in way that one might not expect American pop bands to do, one could do worse than reach for the Dead. Perhaps, for some of those lounging hippies, the Dead do nothing more than conjure up happy memories of tie-dyed tripping. If so, it’s their loss.


The increasingly scandewegian Count von Bladet 07.20.04 at 11:54 am

I bought a Greatful Dead triple live album (on rocktastic vinyl) as a student, largely because it was the most blasphemous possible purchase to those conditioned by punk. (Yow! Greatful Dead triple live album!)

And Mrs Tilton is right – the point of the Dead is improv, for sure, but it needs also to be said that it’s an idiosyncratic (and often wonderful) kind of ensemble improv. Objecting that Garcia couldn’t sit in and just blow over rhythm changes makes about as much sense as the same complaint about Ornette Coleman or Albert Ayler, and I am by no means swayed by it. (Although if Derek Bailey and Cecil Taylor team up for a set of My Bloody Valentine covers I might reopen this question.)

But Mrs Tilton is righter still on the big question: a committee of persons not even screened to remove Q readers past or present is an entity whose opinions it is surely a moral duty not to value.


W. Kiernan 07.20.04 at 12:35 pm

No Sex Pistols? That’s like leaving Hiroshima off a list of greatest catastrophes.


bob mcmanus 07.20.04 at 1:56 pm

Ok,ok. I was kidding. The mid seventies Dead and beyond were a little mellow and relaxing, and were often accused of “noodling”, which was just Garcia looking for a line. But Jerry found some good ones.

The 68-72 Dead, on the other hand were something special and interesting. Yes the improvs were drug-inspired, but the drugs aren’t so overwhelming that the musical values are totally incomprehensible without them. Just difficult. The improvs on “Dark Star” off “Live Dead”
aren’t off the melody or harmony or rhythym, and not simple dynamics. They may be closer to improvisation in a manner of musique concrete, or Cage or Stockhausen. And so exhausting night after night that the Dead stopped attempting them by the mid-seventies.

I think some European prog groups like Magma or Can attempted this stuff in the early seventies. There may be more.


dave heasman 07.20.04 at 2:01 pm

The well-informed count sez ” Objecting that Garcia couldn’t sit in and just blow over rhythm changes makes about as much sense as the same complaint about Ornette Coleman or Albert Ayler, and I am by no means swayed by it. ”

Ornette hasn’t sat in and blown changes since his summer at Berklee, but he has played in a range of settings – including having Jerry Garcia sit in to no good effect. Garcia has been useless with Merle Saunders too.
Albert Ayler – well it’s a deaf spot of mine. But his “New Generation” band was hardly the same as the “Ghosts” setting, was it?
Coltrane could play with Johnny Hartman & Duke Ellington as well as with his quartet – expanded to include Dolphy & Garvin Bushell too.
I quite like the Grateful Dead, but it’s hermetic, innit? Trapped by popularity into ploughing the same furrow for the last 15 years of their time.
“The Eleven” was first recorded in 1969, wasn’t it?


bob mcmanus 07.20.04 at 2:24 pm

“Trapped by popularity into ploughing the same furrow for the last 15 years of their time.”

Well, 68-73 they were stretching themselves some nights. Got burnt out, took a extended break. I called them “lounge music” because after 74 they were just having a good time on stage, neither challenging themselves or their audience. A Dead concert was extremely comfortable.

Garcia is interesting to me because he is least blues-influenced electric guitarist in rock, if not in all pop. He is a banjo player.


Andrew Brown 07.20.04 at 3:34 pm

Curiously, the dead member who is playing the most interesting and varied stuff now is Bob Weir. His (tiny) live shows have far more interest and collective interplay than I’ve heard from the Lesh bands.


rea 07.20.04 at 3:42 pm

“the thought of sixty-year old people rocking out to Sargeant Pepper’s in 2004 is, um, disconcerting.”

Why? E.g.:

“Doing the garden, digging the weeds
Who could ask for more
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four”


peter ramus 07.20.04 at 5:13 pm

(I have “The Eleven” running through my head, and Garcia is just playing scales)

dave heasman at 10:36 am

One night playing poker Kind of Blue happened to be on the box and my friend Jim, a bar-band bass player who’s fond of the provocatively dismissive turn of phrase said exactly that of Miles Davis and the lads. “They’re just playing scales.”

Of course it’s minimally true. Look at the nice investigation of the making of the album by Ashley Kahn, and yep, that’s what’s going on there. Just playing scales against some modal changes. Still, pace the unpacifiable Jim, they do manage some pretty decent effects.

Likewise Mr. Garcia, to my mind, though, of course, your mileage may vary.


Des von Bladet is the new rock n roll. Or black. Or something. 07.20.04 at 5:24 pm

dave heasman: Points more or less taken. As bob mcmanus suggested, Can would probably have been a better comparison for the Dead, and none of them have amounted to much afterwards (that I’ve heard of anyway). I freely admit to being more than a bit partial to bands that have a thing they do and do that, so long as it is a _good_ thing (e.g., Loop, Spacemen 3, Suicide, Neu!/Stereolab, Cocteau Twins), so accusations of hermeticism leave me pretty much as they found me.

(“Yo, JS, some of the lads were wondering; have you got anything a little less, you know, _contrapuntal_? Oh, you haven’t. Oh well.”)


dave heasman 07.20.04 at 5:59 pm

I’m still trying to think of non-blues guitar players. Graham Coxon? Herb Pederson (he’s a banjo player, too)? John Cippolina? We’re restricting this to *good* guitar players, right?

Dammit I still have “The Eleven” in my head. It’s like a peal of bells in 11/8.


peter ramus 07.20.04 at 6:12 pm

John Cippolina never could have been the next B.B King, but he could have been the next Dick Dale.


David Salmanson 07.20.04 at 6:17 pm

No Prince? What kind of nimrods answered this poll? And this on the anniversary of Purple Rain!

The Dead = a really crappy bluegrass band. For all their vaunted jam-ability they pale in comparison to most bluegrass outfits. The Dead are like Ricky Martin, or Dave Mathews Band, their OK at what they do, but are best understood as gateways to other genres. If you get stuck in them, you’ve missed the point.

And they sucked live for the last 10 years at least.


Fritz 07.20.04 at 6:42 pm

“The Dead are like Ricky Martin, or Dave Mathews Band, their OK at what they do”

Uh, David? Jim DeRogatis is on the line. He wants his cluelessness back.


Zizka 07.20.04 at 8:35 pm

Bob Mcmanus’ dirty little secret comes out.

I never liked the Dead because their fans were so snotty, back in the day. I was definitely not on the bus. (No, I’m not high-minded about ANYTHING. To me, it’s always me against the world, and the battle to the knife. Screw the Dead and the Deadheads. In Portland they’re an enormous, annoying demographic, 15-60).

A music marketing consultant could probably chart this voting group pretty accurately in about ten seconds: mostly over 48 with some as young as 35, white, male. I would guess that there was a mix of mostly non-buffs with a certain number of music buffs.

Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders are the most astonishing absence, especially because they’re not too young.

Merging Lou Reed and the Velvets would have bumped him up.

Richard and Linda Thompson and the Fairport Convention are also missed, and Richard is a less-bluesy guitarplayer.

I also miss Sly Stone, James Brown, Bootsie Collins, and George Clinton (who looked so cute next to young Chelsea),besides Ray Charles.


peter ramus 07.21.04 at 3:19 pm

Rock, roll,
Rock, roll:

You take some
music music
sweet flowin music
some movin and groovin’
rock n roll will stand

take heart beat, dropped beats
finger poppin and a stompin feet
little dances that looks so neat
to see why it will stand

some folks don’t understand it
that’s why they don’t demand it
they’re always tryin’ to ruin
forgive them for they
know not what they’re doin

don’t nickname it
you might as well claim it
it’s swept this whole wide land
rock n roll forever will stand

hear those sax blowin’
sharp as lightnin’
hear those drums beat
loud as thunder

some folks don’t understand it
that’s why they don’t demand it
they’re always tryin’ to ruin
forgive them for they
know not what they’re doin

don’t you nickname it
you might as well claim it
it’ll be here forever and ever
ain’t gonna fade no never no never

it’s swept this whole wide land
sinking deep in the heart of man
c’mon boy join our clan
c’mon boy take my hand
c’mon boy be a man
cause rock’n roll will stand
Let’s do it all over again
I feel good let’s do it again
It’ll be here forever and ever
ain’t gonna fade, no never no never
Rock ‘n Roll will Stand.

IT WILL STAND, The Showmen


Mrs Tilton 07.21.04 at 3:59 pm

I liked Jonathan Richman’s cover better.


David Salmanson 07.22.04 at 6:28 pm

Look, an inquisitive listener hears a catchy tune be it Friend of the Devil or La Vida Loca and says “this is cool, and I haven’t heard much (or anything) like it before. I want more and if they’re lucky or have a friend or a good record store with knowledgeable staff, they get pushed into genres they otherwise never would have explored. The unlucky ones get stuck listening to the pap. The fact that The Dead had a different business model from the other guys doesn’t matter much. The song structures are often straight out of bluegrass and so are the riffs. One of the best examples is Friend of the Devil which is a bluegrass song slowed to a snail’s pace. Sure, the Dead have other influences that you can pursue, Country and Jazz both provided input. (as well as R and B and Rock of course) but the combination the Dead pursued was never as innovative or as well executed as The Byrds, or even (God help us) the Eagles or half a dozen jazz fusion artists (Herbie Hancock jumps immediately to mind). The Dead’s genius lay in the marketing plan they stumbled on, not the music.

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