The Biggest Please Explain Band in Rock History

I am completely addicted to this documentary series that is on VH-1 Classic titled Classic Albums. It is a really cool behind the scenes retelling of how some of the great rock albums came about. The series has actually inspired me to reconsider some of these works, even going as far as helping me understand why Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell was such a world-wide sensation. I never knew that Todd Rundgren produced it. (Rundgren is one of my all-time favs). I never thought of the obvious Springsteen-like influence, which now intrigues me about a record that I hated for my whole lifetime. Amazing that a hour-long documentary series could accomplish that, but it has.

The one episode that I could not get through was the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty. I have never understood the appeal of this group, as their music always sounded like the Allman Brothers, without the musical chops. I did enjoy a few songs off of the Dedicated tribute album, as having some people who could actually sing helped along their few quality songs, like Uncle Jon’s Band, Casey Jones, and Friend of the Devil.

In this discussion I’m asking for rock band, so don’t offer up a boy band.  The other caveat is pick a band that has some critical acceptance.  Sure it is maddening to try to understand the large-scale success of groups like REO Speedwagon and Warrant, but I want you to offer up a choice that will have its defenders here.  I have known actually intelligent people who really have loved the Dead and I’ve just not been able to understand why.  Sure these people had drug addictions, but so do many fans of Pink Floyd and that band was brilliant. 

So tell me what your biggest Please Explain band is in Rock History. 

51 thoughts on “The Biggest Please Explain Band in Rock History

  1. 1.  Bruce Springsteen.

    And the Grateful Dead aren’t remotely good enough to be compared to the Allman Brothers.

  2. 2.  I couldn’t disagree more with your first point.
    I can’t disagree much with your second.

  3. 3.  1 Bruce and the E-Street Band I don’t get. Springsteen by himself is a great songwriter and musician – Nebraska is a masterpiece, The Ghost of Tom Joad has several great, scary songs, and he’s recorded hours of powerful solo works.

    Please explain Queen.

  4. 4.  Ooh boy. I’ve been contemplating this a lot lately. I use to be the stereotypical, close-minded metalhead who hated anything that didn’t have an intricate 3 minute guitar solo in it. Nowadays, even though I still have my preferences, I’m much more open-minded about certain tastes than I used to be. That said, there are still a few bands that I either loathe or cannot understand the popularity they have attained. So here are two bands that need a “Please Explain…”

    Mars Volta
    In my first semester in my college’s “Classical Guitar Ensemble,” we went on road trip up to San Francisco to perform for a nearby college. As we hit the open road, I was ecstatic not only to be visiting San Fran for the first time, but also to be going on my first class roadtrip…

    …that was until some indie kid popped a Mars Volta CD in the car stereo. After the first song played, I prayed that the album would be over quick, since the indie kid said there were only four songs on the entire album. Nope. Despite containing four songs, the entire albums lasted an hour and a half. The songs were generally short, whiny emo songs, followed by a long, freestyle jam.

    Now, to me, musical lines are like sentences. Each note is the equivalent of a word. And just like a word in sentence, each note not only has make sense, but flow into the next one without any sort of impediment. I can listen to a long, improvised speech as well a long improvised jam as long as it follows the rules above. I have no problem listening to a well-trained jazz musician like Miles Davis, or listening to Frank Zappa’s “Gumbo Variations” in the car, even with it’s length, because every note fits well together and makes sense, and thus, sounded like a great conversation. What Mars Volta played was so nonsensical and so pointless, that it sounded less like music and more like a rambling mad-man who is in the middle of a stroke.

    Worse yet, their musical vocabulary was so limited by their lack of chops (the guitar player continously played the kind of pentatonic licks that would have been real interesting, had it been 1977), that they often repeated musical lines over and over again throughout each song. Even my Elvis Costello-loving guitar teacher yelled “f–king play something else” after the same bass line had been repeated 100 times in the span of 30 minutes.

    Yet despite all of this, nerds, indie kids, young-hippies, and college kids in general seem to think they’re the new Pink Floyd. Even Steve Vai was gaga over them. I just don’t get it.

  5. 5.  Ugh.

    I was nervous — no petrified — when I saw your headline on the Toaster; “Please, not another slam on The Dead.”

    And it was.

    Don’t know what to say. Can’t seem to explain it to anyone who wasn’t there, or who attended and Just Hated It.

    No accounting for (my) taste, I guess.

    They were by a wide margin the very strongest band I’ve ever seen live, and I didn’t even see them at their best.

    (And yes, I adore the Allman Brothers, too, though I prefer the Duane-and/or-Dickey years. Probably if I had seen them at their peak I would have said they were the strongest live act I’ve ever seen.)

    (Go back a year or two and you’ll find my favorite rock musician of all — Mr. Jimi “MightyTones” Hendrix — probably if I had seen him in concert during his epochal — and underrated — final concert tour in 1970, I would say that he was the best live act I’d ever seen. Sure comes through on the tapes.)

  6. 7.  Props to NoFatMike. The world has, for the most part, since caught on, but some of us knew from the start that the Mars Volta was all smoke and no fire. (Seriously, that debut album was somehow better reviewed than the final album by the mighty ATDI!)

    I will nominate…Television. Lazy languid liquid guitar wankery to my ears. Plus, I don’t much like Tom Verlaine’s whine.

    Until about a year ago I might’ve nominated Talkng Heads, but I’ve kinda sorta made my peace with them since via the Stop Making Sense soundtrack.

  7. 8.  The other band I feel needs a “Please Explain…” is Radiohead.

    I, for the life of me, do not understand why this band is ranted and raved about. The music is so droning and lifeless to me that it makes “Brahms Lullaby” sound like Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” in comparison. Seriously, there’s no general flow to Radiohead’s music. It almost sounds like a 4-year-old letting out a long-winded, somber, wail after falling off a swing-set, plus, the amount of musicianship and chops is severely lacking for me.

    At least with Mars Volta, the popularity is somewhat limited, with Radiohead, you’d swear they’re the Beatles (in most critics minds they are). The only thing worse to me than Radiohead is the number of knock-off bands they have inspired. Radiohead is a big reason why I don’t take indie music all that seriously, and desperately try to avoid it as much as possible.

  8. 9.  #3
    Are you kidding me? Queen wrote some the best rock songs of all time AND was one of best live acts ever.
    Now I don’t have a band to name, but my please explain would have to be Amy Winehouse. WTF is the appeal here?

  9. 10.  i have several…

    the eagles
    the rolling stones
    bon jovi
    tom petty & the heartbreakers
    the rolling stones
    def leppard
    AEROSMITH, oh man. they should be tops on the list.

  10. 11.  The Eagles are easy to explain. Rock and Roll for people who are too soft to actually like Rock and Roll.

  11. 12.  10 “the eagles”

    I was about to write a long-winded “Please Explain” about the Eagles, but then I rememebered “The Dude” hating the Eagles as well, and figured that’s all the explanation anyone needs.

  12. 13.  11 there are other soft forms of music that aren’t nearly so bad, though. and i like soft music too. for example, i have a genuine appreciation for many twee bands.

    the eagles just… aren’t good.

  13. 15.  I’m not much of a fan of Mars Volta, either. I do think they are a bit too underground and have too few releases to fit the goal of my piece. I should have been more clear.

    Television is similar to what I wrote above, down to how I think they are vastly overrated, as well.

    My top 20 artists would include the rolling stones, springsteen, radiohead, and queen, so I guess my tastes don’t line up well.

    I think the Doors are one of the most overrated bands of all-time, as I hate most of their radio hits. They do have a few Deep Tracks that are worth listening to. I love Texas Radio and the Big Beat from the Alive, She Cried record.

    The Eagles are another overrated band, but I think Hotel California is their one great record.

    Question for skybluetoday. Were you tabbed out on yellow sunshine or blue microdot when you had this great Dead experience?

  14. 18.  Please explain KISS.

    Very savvy, shrewd businessmen/marketers. Great “gimmick”. But gosh their music is/was awful.

  15. 19.  Branford Marsalis on the Grateful Dead:
    “Those guys can play music. They’re better than most people give them credit for. They have big ears and real chops . . . Most rock shows are just like versions of MTV, but not the Dead–they’re into jazz, they know Coltrane, they’re American musical icons . . . They’re fantastic.”

    Bob Dylan on Jerry Garcia:
    “There’s no way to measure his greatness or magnitude as a person or as a player. I don’t think eulogizing will do him justice. He was that great – much more than a superb musician with an uncanny ear and dexterity. He is the very spirit personified of whatever is muddy river country at its core and screams up into the spheres. He really had no equal. To me he wasn’t only a musician and friend, he was more like a big brother who taught and showed me more than he’ll ever know. There are a lot of spaces and advances between the Carter Family, Buddy Holly and, say, Ornette Coleman, a lot of universes, but he filled them all without being a member of any school. His playing was moody, awesome, sophisticated, hypnotic and subtle. There’s no way to convey the loss. It just digs down really deep.”

  16. 20.  I’ll try to explain a few (in simple terms):

    Radiohead: OK Computer.

    Doors=Nirvana: One defining hit (Light My Fire/Smells Like…)that each moody frontman spent considerable energy playing down/running from, interesting, if limited, ‘deep tracks’ for those that paid attention and early,well-publicized deaths that inflated the importance of each.

    I’m not sure I can explain the Dead, but I rarely saw a Deadhead actually listen to their music—they were all about the live shows, that’s at least part of it.

    Bon Jovi is easy: Hair Metal band writes songs aimed at women. Each summer clever Jon Bon Jovi allows millions of women pretend that they are teenagers again.

    Queen=Freddie Mercury’s Voice.

    I can’t explain the Eagles and I’d definitely like Gun’s and Roses explained for me. I’m also baffled by Bruce…he writes some decent songs, but like Neil Diamond, I prefer everybody else’s versions of them.

  17. 21.  Please Explain: people who pretend to know about music by putting down bands simply because they are successful.

  18. 22.  Agree 100% about the Grateful Dead. Here are a few that always have puzzled me:

    Dave Matthews Band
    Bruce Springsteen

  19. 23.  The Grateful Dead provided an live experience for their fanbase that was unique and appealing. I never bothered to experience this for myself since I despised them when they were still touring, but it’s safe to say that there was probably nothing like attending a Grateful Dead show, and I can certainly understand the appeal of that experience.

    That’s the only reasonable explanation for why that band became so popular, because their peers absolutely annihilated them. “American Beauty” and “Workingman’s Dead” were decent enough, but The Band was superior in every way. The Allman Brothers destroy them. Gram Parsons was superior in every way. There’s not one Grateful Dead song that can hold a candle to anything Neil Young released for over fifteen years.

    I’m not familiar enough with the Dead to know if they considered their own music psychedelic at any point. I know for sure that many fans consider a certain segment of their work psychedelic. That output is a total failure. It is perhaps the worst of anything that could be considered psychedelic. Napalm Death is better psych music than the Grateful Dead. Much better.

    Jerry Garcia was an excellent guitar player, but his excellence is overshadowed by the complete incompetence of not one, but two drummers. How a band that popular managed to find two completely horrible drummers is beyond me.

  20. 24.  Rock music is not jazz and fusion of the 2 is generally awful. Jerry Garcia is such a poor vocalist that he makes even Bob Dylan sound good in comparison. Of course, Dylan writes brilliant songs, so that puts him in a different tier.

    I love springsteen, but I can kind of get why others don’t.

    Kiss is a great example, though I do think Destroyer and Love Gun are B-grade albums.

    Queen had 3 talented musicians, who also could sing and write their own music. Few bands can offer that up and that was a major key in why their music was so diverse.

  21. 25.  Explaining Wilco: I’m not sure they are ‘big’ enough to warrant a mention here (I like them a lot), but I try to explain them (again in simple terms):

    Midwest version of REM, although smaller in scale and appeal—probably in part to being a post-MTV band—better musicians, though.

    Last great show I saw was Wilco at the Fox in St. Louis where the audience was full of dudes pretty much like me, late 30’s white dudes, happy to be out of the house drinking beer and watching a show.

  22. 26.  listen to wilco’s first 2 releases. great alt-country.

    yankee fox trot is the record that made critics get all sticky in their bohemian bugle boys, but using the REM example, it was more like their Monster.

  23. 27.  I will explain:

    Your tastes are your tastes. If you don’t like Bruce Springsteen, I will merely think you’re insane as you will about my near-worship for him. If you don’t like Radiohead, I’ll think you’re insane and that you’re missing the point of their modern commentary and enjoyable music.

    No matter what you like, some people won’t like it. I can’t stand the Doors. I like the Grateful Dead’s music, but hate any band that inspires a lifestyle.

    I like steak, but admire vegetarians.

  24. 28.  Most of the acts whose popularity needs to be explained to me don’t fit the criteria here because I don’t think they get much critical acceptance (e.g., Dave Matthews Band, Jimmy Buffet, Journey–although I have noticed Journey getting some love from young hipsters as of late if not out-and-out critical support), but there is one act whose adoration befuddles me: early Beatles. Don’t get me wrong: I can understand why people like some of their later output like the White album, but I cannot understand why people go ape caca over banal, soulless, and bland songs like “I want to hold your hand” or “Love me do.” Please explain.

  25. 29.  Without a moment’s hesitation, I was going to say Springsteen, too. Glad to see the first poster covered it.

    I’d put Buffett on the list, too. (But then again, while I hate all things Buffett, it’s easy to explain: it’s a Dead show for old people with jobs.)

    The Dead were great because of their live music. The shows, sadly, were marred by the big scene for posers, slackers, and literally unwashed masses. But the Dead were like a jazz band in the sense that the music was created for that night only, for better and for worse. They weren’t like the Stones or Clapton who get their tour band together, rehearse a 17-song setlist for three months, then hit the road and play the same exact show 40 times. Eff that.

  26. 30.  The Dead were awesome, but I’m not going to waste any bandwidth to rise to their defense.

    Instead, I’ll throw my support behind a couple of Please Explains already contributed. The Eagles, and Aerosmith. Aerosmith may be my least favorite band of all time. Mediocre white blues-rock Stones ripoff in their “heyday.” Straight up corporate over-produced cynical dreck in their “renaissance.”

    And I’ll throw in one new contribution. Steely Dan. Please explain Steely Dan.

  27. 31.  15

    Not all 50 times, no. 😉


    Josh, thanks for getting my back. I don’t generally bother to try to defend The Best Band I Ever Saw Live any more, but I do respect the Toaster, so this time I had to say something.

    The “poor vocals” things is generally less important in rock and roll and its offshoots than in pop and soul and MOR and so forth. As Dylan proved beyond a doubt, there is a vast difference between The Great Voice and The Great Rock and roll Voice. Garcia had a cracked, tentative vocal style even in his best years, but I will always contend that he knew how to cut to the heart of a song — he had a real feel for a slow one, especially, and rarely tried to overextend his limited range (unlike bandmate Bob Weir).

  28. 32.  The people who don’t like Springsteen need to be the subjects of the next “Please Explain.”

  29. 33.  8

    amen brother, amen…


    I have to strongly disagree with you there Brock.


  30. 34.  Now that I think about it, I’d like to throw Springsteen into the “Please Explain” pile as well. His music just isn’t all that special, and for the members that are in the “E-Street Band,” you’d figure they’d be able to play something other than root-rock once in a while.

  31. 35.  I’m not wild about Springsteen but the wife is and so is my brother. And even though I’m not wild about the music, he is the best live performer I’ve ever seen. Any time anyone comes up with an “overrated” list, he’s gonna be on it and I don’t get why–lyrically, he’s terrific (I could teach my kids irony by just having them listen to “Born in the USA.”). Musically, I’m not sure what more you could want and as mentioned, he puts on a damn good live show.

    Now, for my “Please Explain”: Creed. I just want to know who thought they were good and why.

  32. 36.  35 “Now, for my “Please Explain”: Creed. I just want to know who thought they were good and why.”

    Christians who wanted a “Pearl Jam” of their own (since Eddie Vedder is pretty liberal).

  33. 37.  Dave Mathews Band: Ok, this one’s a gimme.

    Bon Jovi: I dunno, I wasn’t a teenage girl in the ’80s, so I guess I wasn’t really the target demographic.

    Radiohead: They aren’t bad by any means. But they sound so far from the band that apparently everyone else thinks they are that I’m beginning to doubt my sanity here.

    Depeche Mode: Again, not bad. Just boring.

  34. 38.  23 Takes all kinds. I love the Dead – although for a much briefer peak than most Deadheads – but can’t stand to listen to Neil Young. His voice grates on me much worse than Garcia’s ever could.

  35. 39.  Creed doesn’t work because they were always posers that received no critical acclaim.

    Dave Matthews was the first please explain, so that has been covered.

    I can see why some don’t quite get Radiohead, but listen to the Bends and tell me that doesn’t connect at all. It is like classic rock Radiohead.

    Depeche Mode is a pretty good example. I like them a lot, but I can understand why some wouldn’t.

  36. 40.  I guess I can understand why people wouldn’t like DM also but to me Depeche Mode is like going to a town named Coolville & everybody that lives there is incredibly cool, were in one side of the street you can here a little Joy Division & on another side of the street you can see a couple of cool cats listening to some U2 mixed in with some New Order Killers, they’re just electronica perfection to me.

  37. 41.  33

    I really enjoy the Doors’ albums that I own — even the live stuff. I used to claim that it helped to be from Los Angeles to understand it — but now I think that it’s just a matter of taste once again.

    Favourite tracks:

    When the Music’s Over

    Crystal Ship

    Texas Radio and the Big Beat

    Riders on the Storm

    L.A. Woman

    Light my Fire (live)

  38. 42.  I love Texas Radio, as I wrote above. There might not be a song I hate worse in classic rock history than riders on the storm.

    The doors more than any other band create love/hate in my ears.

  39. 43.  19 Again, Josh… great minds…

    29 Wow, I agree w/ jgpyke about something. Hell is a little bit colder tonight.

    Please explain Genesis. Zoinks. Ugh. Can’t switch the radio fast enough when one of their songs hits the air-waves.

    Hey Scott, I work at Vh1 in Santa Monica. Best Job Ever! (Although the rock docs tend to be produced out of the east coast.)

  40. 44.  43 Yeah, much of Genesis is intolerable. Gotta say I can’t help but laugh at this completely politically incorrect video, though:

  41. 45.  Radiohead….RADIOHEAD?!

    Are the few of you insane? (I know, I know be nice…)

    And yo, chris, that OKC line. Ouch dude.

    Will’s almost right, but the fact is there are certain artists that because of critical and popular acceptance…transcend such discussions and make arugments such as Springsteen – – and say RADIOHEAD – – not being in the top50 all-time complete lunacy. (And uneducated lunacy at that.)

    So how’s that for stirring it up?

    Do I get my cred back now?

  42. 46.  TFD,

    My Radiohead comment was not a slam. OK Computer is one of my top 20 of all time. They can coast on that for all I’m concerned. I was trying to explain why Radiohead was good…my explanation was OK Computer—brilliant.

    and hey, what’s up with Jason Kubel??

  43. 47.  chris…great to see you.

    dude my apologies. It’s been too long, knew you better, anyway. my bad. LONG LONG week, trust me; then exacerbated by people bringing up radiohead. damn near threw me to a seizure;-)

    kubel…eh. career obp 315….career 425…nuff said.

  44. 48.  be2ween— My goal for 2009 is to get some management to pitch me to VH-1 type shows like Best Week Ever where I can rant away on pop culutre. We will see.

  45. 51.  Sorry that I am late, but I would suggest explaining Evanescence… I really can’t stand that band.

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