After three decades of making music together, the rock band R.E.M. have announced that they are calling it quits (as a group, anyway). Unfortunately, R.E.M. reached their zenith a number of years ago, so they're going out with a whimper, and not a bang. Still, it's been a good run. Someone on an internet forum I frequent (because that's what I do in my spare time -- visit internet forums) posited the following:
I think you could make a strong case that they were the greatest American rock and roll band of the past thirty years.
Now, I got to thinking about this. My initial reaction was a knee-jerk nodding of the head, but then further contemplation brought forth some doubt. There are other rock & roll bands that could vie for the title of 'greatest' from past thirty years, surely? Perhaps R.E.M. comes to the fore because of its longevity? But does quantity stand tall over quality? Seems doubtful. Let's look at some other rock bands from the past three decades.
When thinking of prominent rock bands of the modern era, of course R.E.M. holds a place of importance. So does Nirvana. Granted, they weren't around too terribly long (for obvious reasons), but their star burned bright before burning out. What of The Flaming Lips? They're often underrated, but have produced some really great rock music in the last couple of decades. Greenday is also an awesome American rock band, and has rightfully seen a lot of praise over its increasingly long career. They have remained relevant by producing credible rock song after credible rock song -- not an easy task.
I've gotta give a shout-out (mad props, or whatever the kids are saying these days) to homegrown rock band HUM. They've had some good, quality, well-accepted albums over the years, including 1995's classic You'd Prefer an Astronaut. And what of the (relatively) short-lived band Jellyfish, from the early 1990s? I was introduced to their two studio albums by Ashley, and I have to admit that they're both great examples of pop/rock music. Speaking of two-album-bands, we can't overlook Vampire Weekend who, in my humble opinion, are the best rock group performing today.
Our list could go on and on. We've got: Fleet Foxes, Dave Matthews Band, OneRepublic, Lady Antebellum, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Bon Iver, Talking Heads, Phish, Soul Asylum, The Lemonheads, Styx, etc. etc., to name but a few.
So, yes, a strong case could be made that R.E.M. was the greatest American rock & roll band of the past thirty years, but it is certainly not a conclusive case. All of the aforementioned rock bands (as well as countless others not mentioned) could have strong, plausible arguments made in their favor. True, some of them weren't around for 30 years like R.E.M., but then I'd argue that the term "greatest" means quality of music, not necessarily quantity of years. But then I'm sure you have your own criteria by which to judge this sort of thing.