Yeah, afraid not lads
The debate has been raging for months and years and will go on literally until the end of time, but I’ve finally cracked it – I’ve compiled a list of the Top 20 Great British Bands of all time… according to me. It was a painful, emotional and often unnerving experience, as I watched groups that I adore trundle along the imaginary conveyor belt in my mind, only to clumsily fall off like overfilled cardboard boxes right at the very end. Amongst them The Rah Band who could boogie with the best of them at one point, Dexys Midnight Runners who were consistently excellent, Massive Attack who provided anthems for 1990s dope smokers, The Jam, The Smiths, New Order. Loose Ends. The Shadows. Average White Band. I secretly like Duran Duran and The Pasedenas. Even Wham! One of my guilty pleasures is Young Guns by Wham! I fucking love that track. But in the end I got there. You won’t find Coldplay, Keane, Radiohead, Blur or Oasis in this list. Basically because I don’t like those groups. Neither will you find Queen on account of me not standing them, which is unusual…
1. Small Faces
The greatest band of them all for so many reasons. They dressed in fine outfits made from continental thread, they weren’t alarmingly tall which is neither here nor there, but most importantly they made great tunes, made even better on account of Steve Marriott having the howliest British rock roar of all time. When Marriott eventually flounced off, they famously dropped the Small and employed a guy with a dreadful cough called Rod Stewart.
2. The Beatles
Everyone likes The Beatles. Everyone. Even people who go on about how much they hate The Beatles secretly get home every night and dance naked in front of a mirror to Twist and Shout or Hey Jude. They’re just really bloody excellent, even Ringo who had a foghorn voice and was hilariously considered the twelfth best drummer in the band. Both Revolver and Rubber Soul would make my all-time top 100 albums list. The below track, however, features on neither of those records.
3. The Specials
For those who don’t remember 2-Tone, it involved wearing clothes that were a touch too tight and running on the spot to reggae played a touch too fast. So in short, it was fucking amazing, and of the swathes of bands that bum rushed the charts this one was the best. Their presence here means there’s no room for Madness, The Selecter, or Bad Manners. Although there never would have been room for Bad Manners anyway. No offense.
4. The Kinks
The quintessential English band, that’s what everyone says about The Kinks. They’d sing about things like sipping a cup of tea and bonking the vicar’s wife, or about a buxom man-women they met in a seedy Soho coffee shop. All with a wry smile, a cheeky wink, and a fist punched into the crease in their forearm accompanied by a big chorus of “phwoooar look at the arse on that!”. Without them we wouldn’t have bands like Blur, which may or may not be a good thing. It would mean no almighty cheese prick Alex James. Yeah, perhaps we hate The Kinks. Actually no, we love them. Sorry.
5. Black Sabbath
Before he married a frumpy lady in a floor length Laura Ashley frock who was the opposite of his usual crumpet called Sharon Arden, Ozzy Osbourne was in a band called Black Sabbath, and they were really really fucking loud. So loud your ears would actually grow skin over them during the course of an album. So loud that voices in your head would start to exist just to tell them to stop. So loud that you wouldn’t hear an explosion unless it was actually in your face. So loud that they keep other heavy rock bands like Motorhead, Iron Maiden and the Zep out of the top 20. Which is ridiculous when you think about it, because the Zep were AMAZING and should definitely be on this list. And yet they’re not.
6. The Rolling Stones
Old Rubber-Face and the girls have been around so long and now look so old and decrepit like a collection of line drawings wearing suits that it’s hard to remember that when they were younger they were great looking like hot European chicks and innovative like serious German scientists. They were dangerous innovators and over the years they have produced some outstanding music moments.
7. The Jesus and Mary Chain
Don’t be fooled by the strange pissing noises and the fact these guys look precisely like glue sniffers, they’re the real deal. They’re artistes, which is French for artists. They’re also Scotiche, which is French for Scottish. The below clip comes with an introduction from the original Pixie Geldof – Paula Yates.
As funk bands go, the US had it nailed, but Cymande could go toe to toe with any one of them in the 1970s. Formed in London in 1971, they’re still going, and if you listen to this stuff for long enough your trousers morph into flared jeans and some wicked sideburns just appear from nowhere.
9. The Who
If it’s a loud 1960s mod band with buckets of attitude you’re after, try The Who. If you’re looking for solid 1970s rock featuring a man who was separated at birth from Kevin Keegs, try The Who. In the mood for a rock opera?…. you’re probably starting to get the gist of this. Like it when songs start all teasingly slow and then suddenly feature aggressive guitar licks and mad drum skills? I’m doing it again aren’t I?
10. The Style Council
The debate will rage until the planet finally explodes itself on account of global warming, but who is better, The Jam or The Style Council? Both Paul Weller groups, they divide people. One were all jackets and haircuts, the other soft synths, a bit of sax, and men looking like they’d oiled up and recreated Brideshead Revisited. In my case, I like to take The Jam from October to March, then from April to September I prefer The Style Council. At the moment, I’m in an April kind of mood what with it actually being April, so you do the math(s).
11. The Coral
Merseyside has a great tradition in churning out fantastic pop groups, and these cheeky chappies follow in a great tradition that follows The Beatles, The Farm, The Boo Radley’s and Cast. Yes, most of the bands just mentioned are utter shit. That was the joke. These guys aren’t though, hence why they keep The Zutons, The Las and all manner of other floppy haircuts in tight jeans out of this line up.
12. Gang of Four
Time was when you could go for a job interview in a stuffy office working for THE MAN during the afternoon, then head off to perform your political socialist mantras on The Old Grey Whistle Test in the evening without bothering to change outfits. Above are post-punkers Gang of Four. A band that keeps Orange Juice, The Pop Group and Magazine out of the running for reasons of being ever so slightly better.
13. Soul II Soul
Jazzie B is the only human being who has ever dared to pick up a keyboard/guitar without looking like the world’s most stupid prick. Hence Soul II Soul keeps Young Disciples, Freeez, and Loose Ends out of the running. Just.
14. The Clash
Probably three of the greatest front men of all time stuck into a single band, Jones, Simonon and Strummer were like three Springsteens, only not quite so palatable in a good way. The Clash were also the pick of the 1970s British punk bands, so they keep The Damned and the Sex Pistols off the list.
15. Arctic Monkeys
Definitely the most current band on the list, Arctic Monkeys are continuing the trend of nifty bands coming out of the Northern city of Sheffield, which is famous for making steel and generally being an incredibly depressing place for everyone involved – ABC, Pulp, Heaven 17, The Human League. Of that lot, these guys are possibly the best. They can’t quite beat local legend Joe Cocker though. Not yet.
As a band, Aswad were far better than their international saccharine smash Don’t Turn Around would have you believe. An excellent, excellent reggae group, with an occasional singing drummer thrown in to boost them up to Warp Factor A Million on the Wicked-o-Metre. They keep UB40 out of the Top 20.
17. The Slits
Long before The Spice Girls, Girls Aloud, The Saturdays, The Sundays, The Mondays, Little Mix and One Direction girl groups were already going super strong in the UK. Look at The Slits – below in 1979. Their lead singer Ari Up invented a revolutionary one-legged dance, which she’d occasionally practice in one of London’s many parks.
18. The Stone Roses
For a strange period in the 1990s, everyone thought it was cool to talk in a Manchester accent and walk around like a really arrogant version of Charlie Chaplin with their feet pointing in opposite directions. That was entirely thanks to the Madchester explosion that started when these guys detonated a pop-funk-dance-rock bomb and ended when the shaved gorillas in Oasis started throwing their weight around because they’d just that minute taken a bunch of coke. Oasis didn’t make the list.
19. Echo and the Bunnymen
Although as a child the bitter disappointment of not seeing a rabbit on guitar or a big brown hare on drums would have me shouting and throwing bricks at the TV whenever these guys were on Top of the Pops, you just can’t fault them as a band. They’ve got all the ingredients: a guy on guitar, someone singing, a bloke playing bass, a wild feral animal smashing around on the drums. They keep The Smiths and The Cure out of the running.
20. Public Image Ltd
Johhny Rotten’s second most famous band, but my favourite of the two – they had a slightly less shouty thing happening, and proved once and for all that Rotten really can’t sing. Not that it matters.
Absolutely including this lot…
The big news is that John Lydon is reforming his old group Public Image Ltd to go on some kind of tour. And that got us to thinking. PiL was Lydon’s second successful stab at the big time with a band, but what other artists have been lucky enough to enjoy two days or more in the sunshine? We decided to come up with ten of the best, with the likes of The Last Shadow Puppets, The Raconteurs, Gorillaz and The Foo Fighters all falling at the final hurdle…
1. The Style Council
The Jam split up in 1982 and Weller formed The Style Council in 1983. Much to a lot of Jam fan’s disgust. Where were the spikey guitar riffs? Fuck me, is that a PIANO? The Style Council were much silkier and soulful. They wore lovely cardigans. It was picnic-pop, but totally brilliant. Weller’s finest hour?
2. The JB’s
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, James Brown ploughed through backing band line ups – mainly because he was a massive soul bastard, and paid everyone in either punches or peanuts. The JB’s provided the sound for his golden period in the early 1970s, succeeding The Famous Flames, The James Brown Band, and The James Brown Orchestra. Bootsy Collins on bass, “Jabo” Starks on drums, Fred Wesley at the back tromboning. So to speak.
3. Public Image Ltd
Formed in 1978, almost directly after the Sex Pistols had imploded, PiL featured John Lydon (formerly Johnny Rotten), Keith Levene – once of The Clash – and Jah Wobble. Or, at least, the first line up did. Over the years, almost twenty thousand people could claim to have once been a member of PiL. You were probably in the band without realising it. Lydon’s best band.
4. Humble Pie
Small Faces were bloody excellent, Humble Pie weren’t too bad either – much rockier, intent on wooing audiences in America. They initially got together after Steve Marriott had failed to convince his Small Faces bandmates to allow Peter Frampton to join the group, so he flounced off and made Humble Pie instead. For the first half of the 1970s, they were a fantastic band, then Marriott went a little bit loco.
5. New Order
After Ian Curtis decided to dance weirdly into the eternal night in 1980, the Joy Division morphed into New Order – a far more oily band, replacing their office temp outfits for short shorts, and highlights in their hair. All three surviving members– Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris – stayed on board, with the addition of Morris’ girlfriend Gillian Gilbert on keyboard guitar. As anyone who reads massive textbooks about war well knows, the Joy Division was a reference to the prostitution wing of concentration camps during the Second World War, New Order was incorrectly seen to be taken from a quote in Mein Kampf. The band are not fascists.
Wings, though rather unfashionable to like, were actually a pretty decent band. Not, obviously, as good as The Beatles, but tracks like Maybe I’m Amazed and Live and Let Die would have been great additions to any Beatles back catalogue. In fact, the latter was produced by George Martin. They were also the only permanent band formed by any of The Beatles after the split, with McCartney leading the merry troupe for around ten years. He might even have been a Wing for longer than he was a Beatle. They enjoyed much chart success with Linda on backing vocals.
7. Crosby, Stills and Nash
Crosby was once of The Byrds, Stills was once of Buffalo Springfield, and Nash was once of The Hollies. All very successful, sometimes brilliant, pop groups. Hence, this was seen as something of a supergroup project when the three formed in 1968. And yet, they’re still going. Or, at least, on and off. They were so-named to prevent any of the bandmates stealing the name of the group should any of them decided to leave – a result of bitter experience in the cases of Crosby and Nash – and Neil Young would occasionally join in, making it Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Rather cleverly.
8. Lucy Pearl
Like Crosby, Stills and Nash, Lucy Pearl was made up of three big names from successful R&B and hip hop groups. There was Raphael Saadiq from Tony! Toni! Tone!, Dawn Robinson from En Vogue, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest. Originally D’Angelo was supposed to join in too, but some kind of commitment clash meant that he couldn’t. In the original formation, they only managed to squeeze out one album – in 2000 – but the good news is that it was a corker.
9. Big Audio Dynamite
After getting royally booted out of The Clash, Mick Jones shuffled around for a bit, then eventually formed Big Audio Dynamite with reggae/punk legend Don Letts in 1984. With Jones on lead vocals for once, they became known for mixing punk rock with reggae, hip hop, and whatever kind of genre they fancied with an impressive degree of success and innovation. Their biggest hit came with E=MC2 in 1986. Which isn’t featured below.
10. Gnarls Barkley
Both members of Gnarls Barkley have enjoyed musical success with other groups. Danger Mouse with the Damon Albarn cartoon vanity project Gorillaz, and Cee-Lo Green with the popular US rap group Goodie Mob – who were particularly popular in the 1990s thanks to their affiliation with Outkast, and the rise in popularity of raps from the Deep South. As Gnarls Barkley, everyone knows them for that great song about going bananas.
No room for the Fresh Prince…
Something about the sunshine and the outdoors can make certain records sound magnificent. Only a few years ago there was that Macarena song – a repetitive number, with a vocal delivery from two grown men who wouldn’t make 10p busking in the middle of Covent Garden on Australia Day. And yet, the combination of heat, cold beers, heavy drugs, and an semi-erotic dance made it the hit of the Summer. Hence, this list is not about summertime hits, but songs about the Summer itself. After much debate, the top four ended up looking like this…
1. MFSB, Summertime
An up-tempo instrumental take on the sultry jazz classic, we love this. MFSB stands for Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, which lends this track a wholesome family appeal, and it’s great for dancing around to in a field full of borderline trustafarians. At, say, The Big Chill.
2. Roy Ayers, Everyone Loves The Sunshine
When Roy Ayers was wondering what people might love, he eventually hit the nail on the head. Everyone really does love the sunshine. Except perhaps for Stephen Hawking that time his girlfriend took the batteries from his wheelchair and left him to crackle and burn in the sweltering heat (true story). But robotronic genius aside, this is one magnificent ode to the weather.
3. The Style Council, Long Hot Summer
For a brief period in the 1980s, Paul Weller – the Modfather – became a little bit camp, and this video catches him riding the crest of a slightly pink wave. And it’s no bad thing at all. In fact, we much prefer his Style Council days. Hence Long Hot Summer can be found rotating at around 45 rpm on the Interestment turntable with startling regularity during the sunshine months. Make no mistake about it, this is a classic record.
4. Alice Cooper, School’s Out
It’s hard to find a decent rock record that encapsulates that Summer feeling, probably because most decent heavy rock bands are made up of people who prefer the night time. This, by a strange woman/man called Alice Cooper, is one of the few exceptions. Sadly, grown men in leather get little chance to celebrate the school holidays in these increasingly suspicious times.
New Order, Temptation
The Jam or The Style Council? The Beatles or Wings? Small Faces or Humble Pie? These are debates that will rage for centuries to come. As will this one – Joy Division or New Order? Both exactly the same band, only one with a strange jerking lead singer, the other with an additional lady. Our vote goes to the latter.
The Style Council, Long Hot Summer
The debate will rage for years – The Jam or The Style Council? Both Paul Weller groups, they genuinely divide people. In our case, we like to take The Jam from October to March, then from April to September we prefer The Style Council. The ultimate summer pop group, above is Weller’s best song.
Humble Pie, Black Coffee
Steve Marriott is one of only a handful of rock and pop stars to feature in two excellent bands – others include Mick Jones (The Clash, Big Audio Dynamite), Vince Clarke (Depeche Mode, Yazoo), Ronnie Wood (Faces, The Rolling Stones) and Paul Weller (The Jam, The Style Council). Steve’s first was, of course, Small Faces, then he pulled together these guys. They were terrific too.