Top 20 Bands

by Greg

I feel somewhat embarrassed adding my top 20 bands here after Elijah’s masterful unveiling of his list in a climactic series of posts.  There are no reasons, no recommendations, no videos herein…just an unadorned sequence of names.

There were several criteria that I used in my selection process:

  • I needed to currently own or be in the process of collecting everything these artists have done.  So, for instance, bands like The Kinks or The Clash are not on this list because not only have I not heard all of their albums, but I also feel somewhat disinclined to purchase them due to what I have heard (though of course there are such brilliant albums in their discographies).  You might call this a Rule of Canonical Consistency.
  • While there are bands who fit the above criterion (Regina Spektor, Bloc Party, Snow Patrol), I also needed to sense a generally unwavering personal commitment to defending these bands’ reputation (which I would not do for the above artists).  Perhaps this might be considered an Apologetic Fidelity.
  • The final criterion was a kind of “desert island disc” principle:  could I see myself listening to these bands’ music, and only these bands’ music, for the rest of my life?  Accordingly, we might entitle this the Theory of Undiminishing Returns.
  • I do hope this list will change over the years…Elijah has given me much to mull over in his list.  I’d love to hear any of your suggestions as well!

(Numbers in parentheses indicate their location on Elijah’s Top 20 Bands list)


  1. Sufjan Stevens (3)
  2. Radiohead + Thom Yorke (5)
  3. The Beatles + John Lennon + George Harrison (12)
  4. Lou Barlow + Sebadoh + Sentridoh + Folk Implosion (18)
  5. Elliott Smith + (his songs in Heatmiser) (2)
  6. Frightened Rabbit (Honourable Mentions)
  7. Bright Eyes + Conor Oberst
  8. Jeff Buckley
  9. Sigur Ros + Riceboy Sleeps + Jónsi
  10. The Smiths + Morrrissey (6)
  11. Richard & Linda Thompson
  12. Pedro the Lion + David Bazan + Headphones (Honourable Mentions)
  13. Animal Collective + Panda Bear
  14. Neko Case + The New Pornographers
  15. U2 + Passengers
  16. Elbow
  17. Coldplay
  18. Sunny Day Real Estate + Jeremy Enigk
  19. The Dears
  20. Andrew Bird



Honorable Mentions:

  • Lift to Experience + Josh T. Pearson
  • Hayden
  • John Vanderslice + MK Ultra
  • The National

3 thoughts on “Top 20 Bands”

  1. Very interesting. I like your criteria and even when compiling my own list I rediscovered my great love for each artist once I committed, if that makes any sense. As for your ‘Theory of Undiminishing Returns’, I can certainly say that my 20 fit that criteria for me. While I am quite familiar with your 20 (many of which on account of your introducing me to them), you’ve certainly given me some more that I need to give another shot.

    Thanks for sharing, as always.

    (PS. I still have a list you and I compiled some years ago of our respective top artists.)

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