The Best Band in the World: The 1970’s
In this very special guest feature Nate Garrett (Spirit Adrift, Gatecreeper) is taking you on a year-by-year journey through the greatest live performances of each year over the last four decades. We’re beginning our trip with the shag-carpeted 1970s. Take it away, Nate.
A long time ago, I was watching some footage of Lynyrd Skynyrd from (spoiler alert) 1977. I was so blown away, I remember saying out loud, “Skynyrd was the best band in the world in 1977.” This marked the genesis of an idea I’ve been wanting to explore ever since. Thanks to the seemingly limitless footage on YouTube and to the generous platform of Toilet Ov Hell for hosting this, I now have the capability and impetus to actually pursue this idea. My question is simple: “Who was the best band in the world in [insert year]?” This is my attempt at answering that question for each year, starting in 1970 and ending at present day. In approaching this task, I wanted to apply research methods that were at least vaguely scientific, to counterbalance the inherently biased nature of the whole thing. First of all, there must be audio AND video evidence available on Youtube. I’ll admit that for a lot of these years I already had a specific band and performance in mind, having had my mind blown by a particular bootleg in my younger days. But as I conducted supplementary research to fill the gaps, I noticed a pattern emerging. With many of these bands there’s a strikingly similar, quantifiable peak in their careers and discographies. For example, many of the live performances in this series feature the band’s most beloved lineup, or take place between the release of the band’s two best/most successful albums, or both. We’ll discuss that idea throughout the series. I hope you enjoy Part One, and I look forward to some lively discussion.
TIE Led Zeppelin / Black Sabbath.
No surprise here. I gave up trying to objectively pick a side in the Zeppelin/Sabbath debate long ago. I will always prefer Black Sabbath, but most of the time I feel like Led Zeppelin was objectively a better band. I am torn and probably will be forever. But there’s no question that these were the two best bands in the world in 1970. Sabbath, deep in their residency at the Star Club in Hamburg, wrote their self-titled debut and its follow up Paranoid ON STAGE around this time, and honed the material to perfection. Zeppelin was… well, Led fucking Zeppelin. Just watch the footage.
Black Sabbath, Paris, 1970:
Led Zeppelin, Royal Albert Hall, 1970:
I anticipate some objections about this entry, since Live at Pompeii was released in 1972. However, the Pompeii performance itself took place in October of 1971, making Floyd inarguably the greatest band in the world that year. And also the band with the coolest idea. The proof is below.
It’s surreal to hear Ian Gillan introduce opening track “Highway Star,” from Deep Purple’s upcoming album Machine Head, having no idea how huge the song and album will be for the band. Another highlight is Gillan smashing what I’m assuming is a person with the mic stand, and not acknowledging the incident in the slightest for the rest of the show. That goes down around the 3:55 mark, and it actually seems to loosen him up a bit. To me, this is Deep Purple’s peak, as Gillan would quit the band the next year.
Full disclosure, 1973 was the most challenging year of this entire piece. It was challenging because I tried to find a band other than Led Zeppelin for this entry. For some reason, there’s just not much solid video footage of bands from that year. I considered The Band (no video), Fleetwood Mac (underwhelming), Allman Brothers (also underwhelming), Queen (inaccurately overdubbed), and several others. Eventually I felt like I was just reaching and arbitrarily avoiding the obvious. The obvious being that Led Zeppelin was the best band in 1973. Not only did they release Houses of the Holy, they shattered every concert attendance record (most of them previously set by The Beatles) all year long. Evidence below:
Black Oak Arkansas
There is only one band like Black Oak Arkansas, and it’s Black Oak Arkansas. Only these guys could transform a song that begins as a washboard-lead back country hoe down into a slamming groove that sounds like proto-Iron Maiden. Black Oak was the dark horse of the 1970s. They toured with everybody. They played huge shows. And if you take a look behind the drum kit, you’ll see Tommy Aldridge. He went on to play with Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake, and loads of other crucial hard rock/metal bands. Watch them raise hell in front of half a million people at the link.
A case could be made that Sabbath was the best band every year of the first half of this decade, but 1975 is special. Things were not going well for these guys. Drugs addiction was destroying the band’s inner workings and wreaking havoc on the lives of its members. Legal troubles plagued their every move, and they were over it. Yet they were able to channel all this pain and negativity into one of the greatest albums ever made, Sabotage. One of the beautiful things about music is it can be used to turn horrible things into powerful, cathartic art. Sabbath was doing just that in 1975, before everything fell apart completely. Check out the footage below and you can feel that the wheels are right about to fall off, but that the ride is most fun just before the crash.
This was the last year that the now immortal duo of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson unleashed their unparalleled guitar harmonies from stages across the world. Thin Lizzy released Jailbreak AND Johnny the Fox this year. Think about that. Both of those albums came out in one year. Fucking insane. In November of the same year, Robertson’s hand would be seriously damaged in a bar fight, an incident which would result in him being kicked out of the band. Things would never quite be the same after that. 1976 marked the height of Thin Lizzy’s power, and no one could touch them.
The video I’m including here isn’t even the same one I mentioned in the intro to this article. That’s how good Lynyrd Skynyrd had become just before the tragic plane crash that killed several band and crew members, including lead singer Ronnie Van Zant. Seriously, pick any Skynyrd performance you can find from 1977. Not one of them is anything but raucous, unbridled fire.
Waylon Jennings & The Waylors
Waylon Jennings in 1978 was punk as fuck. Read his book. Nobody holds a candle to the guy in regards to work ethic, outlaw mentality, and total disregard for his own health and sanity. This is the best group of musicians he ever played with, and he is flying high to say the least. He’s egging the band on the entire time to play faster and harder so that every song is considerably faster than album tempo. He screws up his own lyrics and clowns himself for it, hits wacked out “wrong” notes on guitar and rides with it, grinning all the way…. the whole performance is pure magic.
The performance at the link takes place between AC/DC’s two finest albums, 1978’s Powerage and 1979’s Highway To Hell. This is indisputably a band on top of the world. The energy is undeniable. Bon Scott sounds not only as good as he does on the albums, but better. The rhythm section is locked in as tight as anything you’ll ever hear, operating on some transcendental psychic wavelength. Again, we have the pleasure of witnessing a lead singer announcing a song from the band’s upcoming album, totally oblivious to the forthcoming massive success of said song and album. This time it’s Highway To Hell.
Check back next week for Part 2 of this series, The 80s. In the meantime, check out some of Nate’s upcoming tour dates. He is surely, positively coming to a venue near you.
May 30 Oakland, CA @ Golden Bull
May 31 Eugene, OR @ Old Nick’s
Jun 01 Seattle, WA @ Northwest Terror Fest
Jun 02 Boise, ID @ V.I.P. Boise Event Center
Jun 03 Salt Lake City, UT @ Diabolical Records
Jun 04 Denver, CO @ Streets of London
Jun 05 Kansas City, MO @ Riot Room
Jun 06 Chicago, IL @ Cobra Lounge
Jun 07 Detroit, MI @ Sanctuary
Jun 08 Toronto, ON @ Velvet Underground
Jun 09 Montreal, QC @ Bar Le Ritz
Jun 10 Boston, MA @ Sonia
Jun 11 Brooklyn, NY @ Saint Vitus Bar
Jun 12 Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter
Jun 13 Atlanta, GA @ Drunken Unicorn
Jun 14 Nashville, TN @ The End
Jun 15 Little Rock, AR @ White Water
Jun 16 Ft. Worth, TX @ Ridglea
Jun 17 San Antonio, TX @ Limelight
July 25 Blueberry Hill Duck Room – Saint Louis, MO
July 26 Indiana City Brewing Company – Indianapolis, IN
July 27 Ace Of Cups – Columbus, OH
July 28 Mr. Smalls Theatre – Pittsburgh, PA @ Migration Fest
July 29 Metro Gallery – Baltimore, MD
July 30 Kung Fu Necktie – Philadelphia, PA
July 31 Union Pool – New York, NY
August 2 Great Scott – Boston, MA
August 3 3S Artspace – Portsmouth, NH
August 4 Bar Le Ritz – Montréal, QC
August 6 House Of Targ – Ottawa, ON
August 7 Hard Luck – Toronto, ON
August 8 Lager House – Detroit, MI
August 9 Empty Bottle – Chicago, IL
August 11 Lee’s Liquor Lounge – Minneapolis, MN
August 12 Riot Room – Kansas City, MO
August 15 Urban Lounge – Salt Lake City, UT
August 18 Psycho Las Vegas – Las Vegas, NV
August 21 Brick By Brick – San Diego, CA