Modern-Day Bands Destined for Classic-Rock Greatness
We’re peering into our crystal ball to find out which modern-day bands are destined for classic-rock greatness. With some classic-rock stations already playing bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chili Peppers alongside AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, the boundaries of the genre continue to expand. In a few decades (or maybe even a few years), which current bands could be sharing airspace with established rock titans? Take a look at the future of classic rock.
When the Followill boys (three brothers and a cousin) released their first album in 2003, some called them the “Southern Strokes” because of their edgy, post-punk vibe and twangy guitars (plus plenty of cowbell). Over the course of a few albums, the Nashville band’s sound became bombastic (opening for U2 certainly didn’t hurt), featuring bigger guitars and catchier choruses. With 2008’s blockbuster ‘Only by the Night,’ the Kings of Leon truly became rock royalty, boasting multi-platinum sales, arena tours and huge radio hits like ‘Sex on Fire’ and ‘Use Somebody.’
Trying to peg My Morning Jacket can be a little hairy. Simply classifying the Louisville outfit as Southern rock doesn’t do justice to a band that gets seriously funky (‘Highly Suspicious’), toys with reggae rhythms (‘Off the Record’) and delivers soaring pop-rock singles (‘I’m Amazed’). MMJ’s 2003 release, ‘It Still Moves,’ is among the best rock albums of the 21st century, combining a love of folk songs, dreampop and space-rock, while being equally inspired by the Beach Boys, Black Sabbath and Buffalo Springfield. As if the band needed any more classic-rock cred, honey-voiced frontman Jim James even recorded a tribute EP to George Harrison.
With fuzzy guitars and fuzzier memories, Queens of the Stone Age can be found floating above the intersection of stoner rock and stoner metal -- which certainly qualifies them as one of the Modern-Day Bands Destined for Classic-Rock Greatness. Josh Homme and pals are like the Grateful Dead rising out of Deep Purple: They hit hard, but hang around long enough to make sure they left a bruise. Homme pays tribute to the glory of rock radio and howls about classic subjects like sex and drugs. He steals song titles from Elvis and sounds from Blue Oyster Cult. And we can only be in awe of a guy who got to create a side project (Them Crooked Vultures) with classic-rock legend John Paul Jones and one-time QOTSA co-conspirator Dave Grohl.
No band on the planet celebrates the glory of rock 'n' roll more wholeheartedly than the Drive-By Truckers. Their 2001 opus ‘Southern Rock Opera’ is enough to place them on this list, given its loving tribute to not just Lynyrd Skynyrd, but also Neil Young, AC/DC, Thin Lizzy and more ’70s rock greats. Subsequent albums have revealed a breadth of influence and depth of soulful songwriting, whether in Mike Cooley’s Stonesy rocker ‘Marry Me,’ former member Jason Isbell’s Band eulogy ‘Danko / Manuel’ or the slow-building, vintage FM sound of Patterson Hood’s ‘Used to Be a Cop.’ Hood, the Truckers’ driving force, has a special rock lineage: His father is David Hood, co-founder of Muscle Shoals Sound Studios and bassist on gems by Paul Simon, Bob Seger and Traffic. Most of DBT’s songs -- from ‘Lookout Mountain’ to ‘3 Dimes Down’ -- would fit seamlessly among those classics. In concert, they’re even better.
This British trio is the modern torchbearers for progressive rock, a label that Muse have sometimes encountered with resistance. Call it whatever you want (space-rock, symphonic rock, experimental rock), Muse’s musical universe allows for ambitious mini-epics. Prog-rock and pop acceptance haven’t co-existed this seamlessly since the ’70s, a tribute to the balance that the band strikes. But it’s not just Muse’s big, glossy, mysterious sound that ties it to classic rock; it’s also the intellectual subject matter of Matthew Bellamy’s lyrics. His musical ruminations on politics, uprisings and the end of the world put him in excellent classic-rock company, not limited to the Who, David Bowie and Rush.
Yes, we know that Jack White isn’t a band. But if he's not going to limit himself to just one band, why should our list? Emerging as the leader of the White Stripes during the garage-rock revival of the early '00s, White and his “big sister” Meg (actually his ex-wife) were the only group to survive the backlash. Perhaps that was due to his clever songs, blues-based foundation and brilliant guitar playing (it’s no wonder he was selected, alongside Jimmy Page and the Edge, for the guitar-based documentary ‘It Might Get Loud’). The Stripes are no more, but White still has a dozen other jobs, including producing stripped-down sessions at Third Man Records in Nashville, pounding drums in the Dead Weather, playing unpredictable solo shows or churning out knee-deep riffage with alt-rock supergroup the Raconteurs. Whether he’s portraying Elvis Presley onscreen, writing a James Bond movie theme or going toe-to-toe with Mick Jagger, one thing is clear: He's rock 'n' roll’s great White hope.
Set aside the Flaming Lips’ music for a moment. Arena rockers began to wow concertgoers in the ’70s with laser lights, pyro and giant inflatable pigs. That’s nothing compared to a Lips show, which might include everything from a life-size UFO and dozens of dancers dressed in Santa suits to a giant hamster ball (for singer Wayne Coyne to roll around in) and enough confetti to cover New York City on New Year’s Eve. Throw in fake blood and hand puppets, and it’s like Alice Cooper had a fever dream on ‘Sesame Street.’ But it all would be mere spectacle without the Lips’ off-kilter blend of Who-like power, ‘Summer of Love’ psychedelia and Pink Floyd-esque concepts. (Those Lips love the Floyd; they even did a full-album tribute to ‘The Dark Side Side of the Moon.’) The band writes clever songs with winning melodies on albums meant to be digested all at once, not in pieces. It’s sort of like 1967 never ended.
No group on our list of Modern-Day Bands Destined for Classic-Rock Greatness taps into a more varied tapestry of classic-rock influences than Radiohead. You want a crushing, guitar-centric single? There’s ‘Creep.’ You want world-conquering arena rock the size of Bono’s ego? There’s all of ‘The Bends.’ You want a socially conscious concept album on par with Pink Floyd classics? Check out ‘OK Computer.’ You want sonically adventurous experimentation in the tradition of Brian Eno? How about ‘Kid A’? Radiohead continue to mutate and innovate, finding new ways to create music and new ways to release it. If you think that Thom Yorke and friends have become too computer-y for classic-rock status, think about the music’s legacy of experimentation -- from the Beatles and tape loops to Pete Townshend and synthesizers to David Bowie and, well, anything. Radiohead align perfectly with the tradition in which artists seek new and different sounds to serve as the framework for great music. Because of their talent and creativity, many Radiohead albums are already classics.
In an age of singing competitions and YouTube sensations, the Black Keys made their bones the old-fashioned way. Coming out of Akron, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney simply played their butts off. Clubs, festivals, opening slots, whatever -- and over the course of a decade they've built a cult following into a fan base that fills arenas. In that time, the duo’s sound evolved from something wholly blues-based into more expansive rock 'n' roll. (In 2010, they had to add a bassist and a multi-instrumentalist to the payroll in order to do justice to their new recordings.) The Keys’ progression mirrors many of the classic ’60s rock bands, which began as blues cover operations and incrementally learned how to bring their own creativity to the fore -- all while maintaining the raw aesthetic that made their music special in the first place.
Dave Grohl is on a bullet train to the classic-rock pantheon. He was in Nirvana, he’s bandmates with a guy from Led Zeppelin, he’s buddies with a Beatle, he jams with John Fogerty, Roger Waters and Rush, and Lord knows who else. Oh yeah, and his band, which began as a solo studio project, has become one of the biggest and best rock bands in the world. The Foo Fighters’ formula is simple: raging guitars, clean production, emotive songwriting and crackerjack musicianship all wrapped up in a charmingly self-deprecating sense of humor. ‘Everlong,’ ‘The Best of You,’ ‘All My Life,’ ‘Walk,’ ‘Learn to Fly’ -- if this is the future of classic rock, it’s in good hands.