Note: Click Here for a 2021 update to this article.
Eight some years ago, I wrote a blog post called “The ‘Favorite Band’ Question,” wherein I attempted to answer the query that, as a known hardcore music nerd, I am probably asked more often than any other, online and in the real world: “So, who’s your favorite band?”
I noted then, and I note now, that I listen to so much music, and I am so musically omnivorous, that it’s really hard for me to answer that question, simply because there are so many apples to oranges, or meatloaf to polonium, or bicycle to aardvark comparisons between the different types of things I spin. To wit: per my iTunes account, here are the past ten songs that have spun via the “random shuffle” setting on my collection as I’ve sat at my computer, getting ready to write this post:
- “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” by The Specials (Caribbean funk/ska, 2019)
- “Funky #7” by Hot Tuna (Power trio stoner rock, 1975)
- “Whisper” by Schnell Fenster (Weird Australian pop, 1988)
- “Dead Behind The Eyes” by Soulfly (Brazilian-flavored metal, 2018)
- “Delius” by Kate Bush (Arty pop, 1980)
- “Nothing Will Be The Same” by Renaldo and Michael Alan Alien (Experimental tape torture, 2012)
- “The Wrong Thing” by Xiu Xiu (Tortured art rock, 2019)
- “Mr. Wiggles” by Parliament (Aquatic funk, 1978)
- “Gone, Gone, Gone” by Bad Company (Arena rock, 1979)
- “The Creator Has A Master Plan” by Leon Thomas (Vocal jazz, 1969)
I loved everyone of those songs as they spun, and I love everyone of those artists. But can I rank or compare them in any meaningful fashion? No, not really. They’re just too different. So because I don’t do anything simply, when I first started thinking about this question back in 2011, I decided that I had to define what constituted a “favorite band” for a generic listener before I answered the big question myself. Here’s the list of criteria I developed:
- The listener actively looks forward to listening to the favorite band’s music more than any other music, and does so weekly, if not daily;
- The listener seeks to have a complete collection of the favorite band’s work, and is willing to spend a little bit more money than usual to acquire it, with special attention paid to albums or singles that less-enthusiastic fans might never find or hear;
- The listener never grows tired of the favorite band and its works, and anytime they come on the stereo or radio, no matter what the song, it is greeted with volume raising and singing along;
- The listener seeks to learn more about the favorite band, and will often buy books or magazines or watch television or internet shows related to its members and their music;
- The listener makes an effort to see the favorite band in a live setting as often as practically possible.
In my first stab at this article, I went back through the ages of my life and listed the bands that I am pretty certain met all of those criteria more than any others in different years. That list looked like this:
- Simon & Garfunkel (Initial musical sentience-1971)
- Steppenwolf (1971-1973)
- Wings (1973-1976)
- Steely Dan (1976-1978)
- Jethro Tull (1978-1982)
- XTC (1982-1984)
- Butthole Surfers (1984-1994)
- Hawkwind (1994-1998)
- The Residents (1998-2004)
- The Fall (2004-2009)
- Napalm Death (2009-present)
I note that those years in no way limit the time spans in which I actually listened to all of those groups. Take The Fall, for instance: I first started listening to them in 1983 or so, and I was gutted when their leader, Mark E. Smith, passed away last year. I still listen to them regularly, never really stopped doing so, and I cited some albums from outside the 2004-2009 time span as all-time favorites in various lists like this one or this one. But for a variety of reasons, internal and external, I was really, really, really into The Fall in that six year span in the early Naughts, and they really spent an extravagant percentage of time on my stereo, and on my mind. I didn’t like them any less come 2009, but I did find myself spending a lot more mental time, energy, and effort listening to and seeing Napalm Death.
And I continued to do so for many years, although the reason that I revisit this old post today is because I realized recently that a couple of years ago, sometime around 2016ish, Napalm were supplanted atop the current pile by another group: King Crimson. (Favorite bands are like economic recessions, apparently; you can’t really decide that they’ve started until you’re well into them). I have been listening to, and loving, the Crim since the ’70s, but they sort of moved onto a different plane for me around 2014, when the “Seven-Headed Beast” incarnation of the band (now with eight heads) hit the road with a show that for the first time in their complicated history featured music from 1969’s debut album, In The Court of the Crimson King, along with cuts from every band era since, and a healthy slab of new tunes.
Marcia and I have seen King Crimson twice in recent years, and we have tickets to see them again in September. I check their website on a near daily basis for news, downloads, archived articles, or whatever else they feel like sharing with me and their other fans. We play their music pretty constantly around the house, and I’ve always got some of their cuts on my commuting and travel iPods. I still spin Napalm Death on a regular basis (though Marcia is not particularly fond of them, even though she was a sport and went to see them live with me once), but somehow it feels like they really hit a peak or a pinnacle of sorts with their 2015 album Apex Predator – Easy Meat, after which long-time guitarist-vocalist Mitch Harris went on sabbatical to deal with family matters. I’ve seen them twice since then with replacement live guitarists, and the shows were fantastic, but I don’t find myself obsessing about them quite as much as once did, with Crimbo oozing into the spaces in my frontal loaf that they used to fill.
One thing hasn’t changed since I tackled this question in 2011: I’d cite King Crimson as my favorite band right now, but if I had to name one all-time favorite, above and beyond all others, for an entire lifetime of listening, I’d still pick Jethro Tull, who have consistently filled my playlists and brightened my heart since 1975 or so, never, ever leaving the current listening pile, never, ever making me say “Ennnnhhhhh . . . not in the mood for this today (or this week, or this year).” Looking at my most played songs playlist of 2019, there are three Tull cuts on the list, and that’s the case most years since I started keep track of such things. Ian Anderson and his colleagues moved me way back when, and he and the music they made move me now, and I expect he’ll continue to move me as long as he’s still alive and kicking, and probably beyond that, unless he unexpectedly outlives me.
So, to summarize: you ask “What’s Your Favorite Band” and I answer “Right now, King Crimson. All-time, Jethro Tull.” Easy peasy. But subject to change. Watch this space.