Favorite Songs By Favorite Bands #1: Introduction

I’ve written a few times (most recently here) about the question that, as a known music geek, I’m probably asked more than any other: “So, who’s your favorite band?” I generally have noted over the years 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. I can truthfully state that I appreciate and enjoy pretty much anything that’s done well, and then, of course, I’ve also got some guilty pleasures in the mix, that I know aren’t objectively “good,” but which I still enjoy on occasion, like a trip to fast food restaurant or a summer beach book read.

That doesn’t usually satisfy people who ask the question, so at some point I thought about what, exactly, constitutes a “favorite band.” Here’s the rubric I came up with for a representative listener’s experience:

  • 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.

After framing the argument that way, I looked back over a lifetime of listening and was able to cite an evolving array of artists who met those criteria at different points in my music-loving career. Here’s that list:

  • 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 (2009-2016)
  • King Crimson (2016-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. I still listen to them regularly, never stopped doing so, and I’ve cited some of their 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 2010, but I did find myself spending a lot more mental time, energy, and effort listening to and seeing Napalm Death. Things change. It’s all good.

On the current front, King Crimson emerged as the favorite band after their “Seven-Headed Beast” incarnation was unleashed; I’ve been listening to and loving them since the mid-’70s, but my appreciation has deepened and widened in recent years to the point that they sit on top of the current pile of musical concerns. That said, if I had to name only one all-time favorite, above and beyond all others, for an entire lifetime of listening, I’d 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 100 most played songs playlist of 2020, there are three Tull cuts on the list, and that’s been the case most years since I started keeping 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.

Being an inveterate list-maker, I’ve decided it would be a fun still-in-social-isolation project to evaluate the catalogs of those dozen bands and provide a listing of my 10 favorite songs by each, along with some personal reflections on my listening history, by way of introducing or encouraging revisits into their respective canons. I’ll try to roll out the posts on a daily basis, if listening, listing and writing time allow. The posts will follow the chronological order that they most impacted my listening life, so we’ll start with Simon and Garfunkel tomorrow. Stay tuned. I look forward to digging into the mental jukebox, and hope you’ll enjoy the results.

Note #1: Click Here for an after-the-fact summary of this series, with a convenient listing of links for all articles contained within it.

Note #2: For those who stream your music, Marcia has created a Spotify playlist with all of the songs discussed in this series. Note that the browser embed link below is limited to 100 preview songs. We have confirmed that all 120 songs included in the series are available when you open the playlist in the Spotify app.

3 thoughts on “Favorite Songs By Favorite Bands #1: Introduction

  1. This is an interesting concept! I’m not sure I can do it. I’m not sure that one artist, save for the Beatles and the 1990s Johnny Cash. Although Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder fought for the title in the 1970s. And I surely loved Steppenwolf and King Crimson. The ’80s were a mishmash of then-current artists and a bunch of older box sets, such as Atlantic R&B. And currently, I’d have to think about it.

    • It’s been fun to have sort of codified the list a while ago, and now to dig into it a little bit, with some reflections on the when, how and where I developed this cohort of favorites over time. I limited the list to bands/groups/collectives . . . but might be interesting to do the same thought experiment focusing on singer-songwriter solo artists. Neil Diamond would have a long run, though Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, and Stevie Wonder would slug it out with him for much of the ’70s for me. Right now, I’d probably pick the 518’s own Professor Buggy Jive. His last two releases have been utterly titanic, on top of his already deep and stellar back catalog.

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