Founded in 1972 by the duo Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, Steely Dan is a unique rock band that blends everything from jazz to reggae, pop, and even Latin and blues. The two members have recorded their albums with a large cast of musicians. Early on in their careers, the band members chose to retire from live performances and become a mostly studio-album band in 1974. They were described by Rolling Stones as “the perfect musical antiheroes for the Seventies.”
The duo’s musical style puts great emphasis and attention on the individual sound of each instrument, leading to a diverse sound that’s often considered “jazzy” and relaxing. The band disbanded in 1981 and has since gained a cult following. Since their reunion in 1993, the band has changed its performance policy and has toured steadily and released two new albums, one of which earned a Grammy Award for Album of the Year. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 and sold over 40 million albums worldwide. Walter Becker, one of the band’s two key members, passed away in 2017, leaving Fagen as the only official member of the band.
Recommended Listening: If you ask anyone, Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues” is one of the band’s best songs. At 7 and a half minutes, it takes you on a jazzy adventure that’s sad, cynical, and emotionally uplifting – all at the same time. If you like Deacon Blues, you’d love the rest of the band’s material.
The Grateful Dead
Grateful Dead’s psychedelic rock, which contained elements of country, folk, gospel, and blues, was the type of music that "touches on ground that most other groups don't even know exists." The band’s fans often called “Deadheads” would travel to see the band in as many shows and festivals as they possibly could. The band was founded in San Fransisco during the mid-60s by lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, singer Bob Weir (also on rhythm guitar and vocals), and others.
Following the death of Garcia in 1995, other members of the band continued touring under different names, such as "The Other Ones" and "The Dead." The Grateful Dead was ranked 57 in Rolling Stone's '100 Greatest Artists of All Time list.
Recommended Listening: The band's most popular song, "Casey Jones," is iconic to even non-Deadheads. It was inspired by an actual train engineer named Casey Jones and is the band's most universally recognized song to this day.
Widely credited for restoring hard rock to the front and center of the music scene, Van Halen was known for its energetic shows, and incredible lead guitarist, Eddie Van Halen, and by the early '80s, the California band became one of the most successful rock acts of all time.
The band has sold around 80 million albums worldwide and had the most number-one hits of any band on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart. Unfortunately, the band is also known for much soap-opera drama surrounding its members. Both lead singers, David Lee Roth, and Sammy Hagar were the focus of many controversies and contrasting statements between band members.
Recommended Listening: Our personal favorite from Van Halen is their instrumental track, "Eruption." An incredible feat of guitar virtuoso, the song introduced many of the band's musical inventions, including two-handed tapping, rapid flutter picking, whammy bar tricks, and more. 'Eruption' made guitar tapping a popular skill that decades of rock and metal enthusiasts practice to this day.
The Velvet Underground
Formed in New York City in 1964 by singer and guitarist Lou Reed, multi-instrumentalist John Cale, guitarist Sterling Morrison, and drummer Angus MacLise, The Velvet Underground's integration of rock and the avant-garde led to poor sales in their debut album but eventually led the band to recognition and success as well as critical acclaim. In 2003, the Rolling Stones called it the "most prophetic rock album ever made." The Velvet Underground's music contains provocative matters, musical experiences, and nihilistic themes.
The band has also been accredited for influencing the development of new wave music and punk rock. To this day, the band remains one of the most influential rock groups in history. AllMusic wrote that "Few rock groups can claim to have broken so much new territory and maintained such consistent brilliance on record, as the Velvet Underground has during their brief lifespan."
Recommended Listening: Our favorite song from this legendary band is "Venus in Furs", the melody and lyrics are a brilliant combination of pain and seduction, and perfectly summarize the band's bleak themes and anarchistic style, which made them so revolutionary. It’s mind-boggling when you realize this one was recorded and released in the late ‘60s, back when many of our parents were just barely born.
Best known for their iconic and undying 'Hotel California', this band is one of the only musical teams on our list that is still actively touring today! The Eagles were formed in Los Angeles in 1971 and went on to become one of the world's best-selling bands, with over 200 million records sold. Their music is often self-described as "California Rock." The band's musical sound was also described as soft rock, folk-rock, country-rock, or in short - rock, rock, rock!
You can go see the band perform, as they're currently touring the United States and playing their iconic greatest hits. If you're an Eagles fan or want to be one, this is perhaps the last chance to see the legendary band play live.
Recommended Listening: Despite the obvious answer being "just listen to Hotel California!", we chose to be a bit more original and recommend their debut song from the second album, "Desperado," which is the Eagles' big artistic statement regarding the evils of fame and success. The song has been played at almost every live concert they’ve performed in the past 40 years and often is the last song of the show.