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POP MUSIC : L.A.'s Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band--Who Is It?

August 21, 1988|ROBERT HILBURN

So what's Los Angeles' greatest rock band ever?

Is it:

The Beach Boys, whose recordings, including "California Girls," have tempted pop fans around the world for almost three decades with visions of a Southern California world filled with gorgeous beaches and good vibrations?

The Byrds, the quintet whose mid-'60s hits such as "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Turn! Turn! Turn!" gave birth to folk-rock and introduced a jangling guitar sound that continues to influence generations of new groups?

The Doors, who combined Jim Morrison's often dark, mystical poetry and sexual heat with unusually seductive, bluesy musical textures in such late-'60s songs as "Light My Fire"?

The Eagles, the '70s band whose early songs projected a "laid-back" image of Southern California life, but whose later tunes insightfully chronicled a generation's struggle against disillusionment?

Or what about Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young? Fleetwood Mac? The Mothers of Invention? Van Halen? Los Lobos?

Calendar polled 34 pop industry insiders to come up with the answer--and the winner is . . . the Doors.

The reasons behind the Doors' finish varied considerably.

Some scholarly minded voters spoke about the haunting or innovative nature of the Doors' songs, while others gave more personal or--primal--views.

In voting for the Doors, Dayle Gloria, co-owner of the underground nightclub the Scream, suggested, "Jim Morrison was the ultimate frontman. . . . There's never been anybody cuter in rock or . . . who looked better in leather pants."

Defining the Terms

L.A.'s greatest rock band?

The members of Calendar's panel were left to define that term for themselves.

Some judges felt musical influence was the key factor to be weighed, while others went for bands whose music in some way defined the L.A. life style. A few voters said they considered a band's abilities live. Several went strictly on personal taste.

The judges--each of whom was asked to vote for five bands--were also given freedom in determing what constitutes an "L.A." rock band.

It was enough for some voters if the group simply recorded here, but most felt the identification with Los Angeles should be more tangible. A couple even insisted that the band had to have performed enough in local clubs to assert an L.A. "presence."

Whatever the reasoning, the race proved to be strictly a two-band affair, with the Beach Boys and Doors accounting for first-place mentions on 27 of the 34 ballots. The only other groups to top anyone's ballot: the Eagles (three first-place votes), the Byrds (two), and the Doobie Brothers and Little Feat (one each).

On a scoring system that gave five points for every first-place vote, four points for every second-place vote and so forth, the Doors registered 113 points to the Beach Boys' 86. The Doors also edged out the Beach Boys both in the number of first-place votes--15 to 12.

The Eagles finished third with 58 points, narrowly beating the Byrds, who scored 51.

Far behind:

Buffalo Springfield (21 points), the short-lived late-'60s group that was a launching pad for Neil Young and Stephen Stills, and whose song "For What It's Worth" was an anthem about the Establishment vs. young people during the psychedelic era.

Van Halen (21), the hard-rock band that was built initially around the guitar excellence of Eddie Van Halen and the vaudevillian good humor of David Lee Roth. One of only four groups in the panel's first 10 to have been formed after 1970.

Little Feat (17), a band that enjoyed only limited commercial success in the '70s but was widely admired by critics and musicians in an era of anonymous corporate rock for its integrity and allegiance to jazz, country and blues roots.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (13), who merged elements of the Byrds and Stones in the late '70s and '80s with Petty's anthemic tales of idealism and desire.

Love (12), a rival in the psychedelic era to the Doors and one of the few bands in rock to have a black frontman (Arthur Lee).

Rounding out the Top 10: X, the critically acclaimed leader of L.A.'s late-'70s punk explosion; Fleetwood Mac, the Buckingham-Nicks line-up that produced "Rumours" and "Tusk," and Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, two of rock's most relentlessly independent figures.

What about such big sellers or critical favorites as the Jackson 5, Steely Dan, the Coasters, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Mamas & the Papas, the Go-Go's and Earth, Wind & Fire?

In some cases, the judges--while expressing admiration for the bands--thought of the groups as R & B vocal outfits rather than self-contained rock bands (the Coasters), or as bands identified with other cities more than with Los Angeles (the Jackson 5 with Detroit; Steely Dan with New York; Earth, Wind & Fire with Chicago).

Most of the remaining bands, however, simply didn't generate enough support.

Morrison, That's All

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