It’s a band that has yet to play together, but the Rock Immortals would trump even the Beatles for sheer quality. So, who should be in this fantasy group? The best singer, guitarist, drummer, bassist and keyboardist, or a group made up of members who complement each other? I’ve decided to go for a bit of both.
There’s probably more famous rock singers than all the guitarists, drummers, bassists and keyboardists put together. Swaggering frontmen aplenty – Jim Morrison, Robert Plant, Mick Jagger, Meat Loaf, Freddie Mercury, Paul Rodgers. Sensitive souls, too – Morrissey, Neil Young, Ray Davies, Roy Orbison, Justin Hayward, Bono. Then the ones in between – Lou Reed, Roger Daltrey, David Bowie, Steve Marriott, Rod Stewart. And as for Bob Dylan, rocker or folkie?
But in the Rock Immortals, even those luminaries don’t make the shortlist. It comes down to three: Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. We haven’t heard the last of John and Paul, but, as a standalone singer, it has to be Elvis. How would Elvis be performing heavy rock or psychedelia? Elvis covering Green Day? Well, Glen Campbell succeeded. From Suspicious Minds to An American Trilogy to Jailhouse Rock involves a few quantum leaps. The boy could sing, so no need to worry about him.
The chosen lead guitarist for the Rock Immortals would come from a worthy list. Choosing from a list of ’60s axemen alone would be difficult enough. The Beatles had George Harrison and John Lennon, the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones and Keith Richards, the Byrds, Roger McGuinn, the Who, Pete Townshend. The Yardbirds had arguably Britain’s three greatest guitarists in Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck – though not all in the group at the same time. That would have been all too much!
Other notable guitarists, who emerged in the ’60s, included Robby Krieger of the Doors, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, Dave Davies of the Kinks, Steve Cropper of Booker T & the MG’s, Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett and Dave Gilmour, and Carlos Santana.
Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore, Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, Paul Kossoff of Free and the great rock ‘n’ roll guitarist/singer-songwriter Chuck Berry all deserve consideration. Brian May, Mark Knopfler, the Edge, Slash, Kurt Cobain and Billie Joe Armstrong were/are good, but a former Little Richard guitarist was better – James Marshall Hendrix. The ultimate guitar showman, Jimi Hendrix was almost the composite rock star. Good looks, blinding ability, circus tricks, mercurial songs. Maybe fanciful notions that he came from another planet were not so wide of the mark. He’s one man who may actually be capable of upstaging Elvis.
John Lennon has to be in the Rock Immortals as a rhythm guitarist, but he could also have qualified as a singer. Maybe Elvis would let him sing a few numbers, as well as John helping out with the harmonies.
A drummer in the Rock Immortals would need to be able to offer more than just keeping the beat. Someone who could improvise and hold the attention of an audience. Someone like Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham or Cream’s Ginger Baker.
You may want a drummer who can play the guitar as well, like Nirvana/Foo Fighters Dave Grohl. But Keith Moon of the Who really opened the door for what a rock drummer could achieve. He or she could be the star of the show and not just someone at the back keeping the rhythm going. It’s a close call between Bonham, Baker and Moon, but Keith just wins because of his ability and unique style – and any rock band needs someone to arrange a party…
Bassists probably don’t get enough recognition, but take the bass out of any song and you’d definitely notice. A good bassline drives a song and some good bassists are almost like lead guitarists with their dexterous playing, namely Red Hot Chili Peppers Flea and the Who’s John Entwistle. Bassists like Entwistle and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones also held everything together while mayhem was going on all around them. Bassists also often have a coolness about them. Adam Clayton of U2 was determined to be the coolest member of his band.
Some of rock’s great singers are bassists – Beatle Paul McCartney, Cream’s Jack Bruce, and the Police’s Sting. Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters would be handy in the Rock Immortals, as they could play various other instruments as well.
Paul McCartney is not only one of music’s greatest songwriters and singers, he’s also one of rock’s greatest bassists. Putting John and Paul together again is just too hard to resist. John and Paul harmonizing with Elvis is some thought.
Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard redefined the piano and took its use a step further from the jazz age. The piano, in the rock era, especially in the 1950s, became as important a lead instrument as the electric guitar. Keith Emerson of the Nice, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer fame, took keyboard showmanship into strange territory by slamming knives into his electronic organ to achieve discordant effects. A session piano player called Reg Dwight became Elton John and took rock attire to ridiculous levels. He was a natural fit for singing Pinball Wizard in the movie version of the Who’s classic rock opera, Tommy.
Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright bridged the gap between piano and synthesizer – being a wizard with both. Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek acted as a bass player as well in his band. The final member, however, of the Rock Immortals is Elton John. Again, a singer-songwriter, so it’d be interesting to see what Lennon, McCartney, Hendrix and John would come up with.
There wouldn’t be a conventional venue on Earth big enough for the Rock Immortals, so it’d have to be an open air concert. Central Park, New York, or Hyde Park, London would be two good candidates.
So, to recap, the line-up of the Rock Immortals is: Elvis Presley – vocals; Jimi Hendrix – lead guitar; John Lennon – rhythm guitar/backing vocals; Paul McCartney – bass/backing vocals; Keith Moon – drums; Elton John – keyboards/backing vocals. Top that!