The Ten Bands I Will be Pleasured With in Heaven


I’M GOING TO heaven. And not only is it going to rock, I deserve to be there. From my stint in the Peace Corps to certain heroic measures saving stray dogs, God will no doubt giddily welcome me into his brass kingdom. Although possibly not before a stern lecture about slagging other people’s favorite bands. In my defense, should I choose to argue with His Wrathful Omniscience, having to deliver three thousand words on something besides Tom Cruise every Wednesday is a Job-level affliction.

Last week I read a widely-praised debut novel numerous people recommended. I had to force myself to finish. In fact, I would go so far as to say I hated it. But there’s no way I would ever criticize the book or its author in public. Even unsatisfying prose seems too intimate to blithely demean. Bearing down between the stirrups and delivering a novel to the tiny percentage of the populace that continues to read is a small miracle. I stopped doing book reviews, despite the huge fees being offered, for the very same reason. Who am I to pass judgment on such an agonizing and vulnerable experience? And yet I feel perfectly comfortable making rude, metaphor-larded comments about bands that irritate me. Why is one justified and not the other? Possibly because I’m often forced to listen to music I don’t like, either in Camrys or airport lounges or on the radio, whereas no one has forced me to read a book since The Great Gatsby in eighth grade (sucked, btw.) Also, when I was sixteen I bought a guitar and two days later was in a band. We were terrible, but with a drunk enough A&R tool and some tighter dance moves, we probably still could have scored a multi-album deal. By fronting three chords, rudimentary harmony, and the right footwear, almost any band can stumble upon a fairly listenable mix. On the other hand, it took me twenty years of arduous and soul-killing practice to learn to talk smack about the Beach Boys.

So essentially I’m mad I was duped into a career that will never allow me to decide which color M&Ms to exclude from my rider.

Disliking a band should not be confused with personal animus. I’d be happy to grab a taco with Eddie Vedder and just sit on the sidewalk talking about how hard it is to find a good nanny. He’s probably a cool guy. There are no doubt dozens of bands we could rattle off that we both admire. But I still don’t want to hear another note of his music, ever again, for the rest of my life. If he’s good with that, a couple’s dinner could be on the horizon. On the other hand, if he said he hated every article I’d ever written, and couldn’t stand to read another sentence until his goatee fell out, it’d be harder for me to accept. Which is totally hypocritical and unfair, but seems to be part of the unwritten contract we’ve all consented to. Bands are fair game. In comparison, the other arts are almost coddled. The reasons for this are manifold, including the fact that almost all of us think we know the difference between “good” and “bad” music, even if the only band we’ve ever heard of spells deaf like Def and leopard like Leppard, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone who will bore you to the marrow with opinions about Impressionism or Renaissance perspective if they’ve never even been to a museum. Also, most bands rarely change, even incrementally. They establish a sound and a style and then proceed to beat it to death until even die hard fans won’t rush the stage anymore. But the other arts seem to have a greater capacity for evolution. The ditzy paralegal in your local workshop will turn out shitty stories for years, and then one day inexplicably start producing astonishing and insightful work, but your ex-boyfriend with the thousand-dollar Martin almost never really learns to play that Rage Against the Machine riff, let alone come up with a listenable song of his own.

Which isn’t to say that great music is any easier to produce or less transformative than work in other mediums, just that the divergence between what’s considered “great” and what’s relegated as “unlistenable shit” is so much more random and insanely personal. Not to mention impossible to defend. Besides, any band that has enjoyed the radio saturation required to become a sonic earwig in the first place has by definition made a shit-ton of money, which should inure them from having to care about anything but cashing checks and sleeping with the cast members of Friends. I picture Adam Duritz, for instance, safely ensconced in a Scottish castle or Tokyo penthouse, hunkered down with stacks of cash and a kilo of whatever it takes to grin through even the most diabolical internet critique.

Even so, the idea that Billy Joel actually opened his laptop in the Glass House breakfast nook last week and read my comments about “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” makes me feel bad and want to give him a big hug. But I guess not enough to pretend to enjoy a single note of “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”, or even restrict myself, in a highly public forum, from saying that “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” may, in fact, be the most ridiculous song ever recorded. Strangely, in a stroke of almost divine provenance, just as I was writing that, R.E.M came blaring from the radio. It was the tune where Mike Stipe keeps singing “calling Jamaica” or “calling Chet Baker” or “calling the L.A. Lakers” over and over (and over) again. True to form, my wife shimmied her way through the kitchen, thoroughly enjoying every note, while I wanted to lob a cinder block at the receiver. How is it possible that something can give one person so much pleasure while simultaneously delivering so much pain? But hey, the point is that perception is relative. In the end, it may be true that my musical taste is all in my mouth, but as the awesome hair metal band Snatch once said, “If the party’s in your mouth, we’re comin’.”

Which would be incredibly offensive if they were coming, but as long as they're only comin', it's cool.

So, to stave off suggestions that I’m too much of a coward to name the music I actually like and thereby subject it to the same rude scrutiny that Sting received last week, not to mention further speculation that I’m yet another callow indie darling who was paid way too much for an article almost any pop hack could have written (that part’s true), here’s my ten heaven bands:

1. Death Cab for Cutie

2. Neutral Milk Hotel

3. Waaves

4. Belle and Sebastian

5. The Decemberists

6. Modest Mouse

7. Sigue Sigue Sputnik

8. Fleet Foxes

9. of Montreal

10. Vampire Weekend


Yeah, that’s a joke. Here’s the real list:**


1. The Clash

From any perch or perspective–hook, chorus, style, politics, melodics, aggression, humor, lyrics, simplicity, complexity, and sheer giddy thrash, the Clash does it all. They cleanse the palate, blast out the arteries, nuke the complacency, and force lazier assumptions into uncomfortable crevices. Is it actually possible for rockabilly, ska, and punk to brilliantly co-exist within a shell of Brit-squat poet loathing? Yes, it is. They didn’t always hit the mark, and fame-and-drugs fratricide eventually tore them apart, or at least forced them into marginal solo careers, but I didn’t wear a black sleeveless “The Clash is the only band that matters” T-shirt around for years with an unforgivable smirk, provoking disdain from grandmothers to bartenders alike, for nothing.

My best friend had this cover on the back of his denim jacket in 7th grade, when I was still wearing salmon colored Izods. I've never forgotten that. I'm sure the Clash haven't either.

2. JJ Cale

The degree to which I love JJ Cale is unmeasurable, either by heart, head, or the Large Hadron Collider. His broken voice, near-indifferent delivery, and effortless roadside cool suffuses every lyric and lick. He’s the floor of a rye-soaked, brawl-ravaged, Tulsa dive personified. Except when he’s a cool breeze. Or a Dharma bum. Cale’s songs have been covered, copied, stolen, and abused by half the music business, including everyone from The Clap (“Cocaine”, “After Midnight”) to Captain Beefheart. About an hour after we arrive in Valhalla, me, JJ, and Bobby Kennedy will hit the poker room, playing five card stud for random souls and the next round of mead.

This album makes me feel good.

3. Miles Davis

I could have chosen to ascend with Roy Eldridge, Eric Dolphy, Johnny Hodges, Hank Mobley, Fats Navarro or any of a dozen other horn players I love and admire, but if only for the sheer volume of output and variety of style, it has to be Miles. He displayed more balls over five decades of playing than entire genres of other supposedly transgressive music combined. And I love it all. From the earliest straight bop through cool, modal, the quintets and the sextets, funk, electric, and avant. Miles was always onto the next thing before he got bored, while everyone else was just beginning to understand where he’d been. So why is he on a band list? Because vast swaths of his music absolutely kills rock. Pries it open, eats its marrow, steals its few worthwhile tricks, and then laughs a low, gravelly laugh.

Listening to Bitches Brew is like drinking kerosene while being aurally trepanned, but in the best possible way. It rocks harder than any sixty-nine given pointy guitar bands, even after they've been fused into a single keytar-driven supergroup.

4. Slayer

When I need a dose of pure diesel crude, Slayer is usually my first choice. While there are plenty of other hilariously decadent metal bands that deliver the requisite wall of distortion like a claw hammer to the temple, most of them also saddle you with bat-head biting, hair that would embarrass Maria Conchita Alonso, numbingly dull chord progressions, unforgivable upper neck noodling, endless rouge, and nut-crimp vocals. Not Slayer. Few bands can match their unrelenting amphetamine squall. Hardly any even try. They make Metallica sound like Edie Brickell and the Band Therapist Bohemians. No matter what form God ultimately inhabits (Bastet? Minerva? Loki? Erzulie Dantor? Xenu?) I’m sort of assuming Paradise will skew toward the Citizens United crowd. In that case I’ll need something to scare the immortal shit out of the deity with. And that thing will almost certainly be a three-minute burst of frantic Slayer.

Once I waltz through the pearly gates with this under my arm, entire cultures will begin to worship Mr. Freeze.

5. Billie Holiday

Although I made a promise to stick to rock, I am simply not going to heaven without Billie. If that’s a problem for the Elysian Guard, then I will take Lady Day’s hand and escort her to the down escalator. There hasn’t been a single time over the last thirty years that I wasn’t happy to be listening to Billie Holiday. I don’t think I can say that about any other musician or band, no matter how much I like them. Her voice is an aching, lilting, uncommonly supple and fearsome instrument. Her phrasing is nuanced and creatively unparalleled. There is more beauty in a few toss-off verses of her lamest standard than most singers can muster over an entire album. Let alone a career. In fact, Billie Holiday might actually be God herself, waiting up there for me with a vodka martini, seventy-two virgins, and a white gardenia.

If Billie is goddess, it means I've been studying the bible like a mad seminarian my entire life.

6. The Minutemen

With apologies to Minor Threat, Hüsker Dü, Bad Brains, Agnostic Front, Meat Puppets, X, Johnny Thunders, the Stooges, Mission of Burma, Gang of Four, and the Replacements, I have to hand this slot to the Minutemen. Not only were D. Boone’s lyrics hilarious, intricate, and politically challenging, his guitar chops continue to be hugely underrated. Preferring to eschew big meaty bar chords and a wall of distorted fuzz, he jammed econo, utilizing unusual song structure, sixteenth chords, jangly guitar lines, and a punk-jazz aesthetic that really was way more “punk” in the sense of doing whatever the hell you wanted to, despite what anyone else thought, than the scene that was busy tearing each other down for not having the right stickers on their leather jackets.

The best and most innovative album of the 1980's.

7. Jimi Hendrix

What would Electric Ladyland II have sounded like if Jimi hadn’t died while beginning to assemble the tracks for it? What new direction would he have chosen, already attempting to put Purple Haze as far behind himself as possible, ten years later? I guess I’ll find out when I rise through the cumulonimbus. Or maybe after achieving nirvana while rotting in the ground in a forty-dollar suit. And it will unquestionably be one of the best things about being dead, because I am absolutely certain that despite the mindblowing and incendiary playing already on record, Jimi was just getting started. No one else has ever been able to wrap soul, funk, jazz, blues, raw feedback, and southern-fried roadhouse skunk into such a singular style. His massive hands, thumb hooked over the neck and fretting bass notes while simultaneously picking out psych-boogie leads, not to mention his angular lefty style, make him arguably the most original rock guitar player of all time. Ever wonder why only gibbering fools and baked open mic devotees try to cover Hendrix tunes? Because it’s nearly impossible to reproduce his licks with even a tenth of the creativity, technical ability, and daunting rhythm that he did. See execrable versions by John Meyer, Red Hot Chili Peppers, PM Dawn, Phish, and Skid Row for damning conformation. (Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Little Wing” being a rare exclusion.) In order to kill off a century or two of eternal bliss, Jimi and I will play endless choruses of “Hear My Train a Comin'” on ivory acoustics, sitting cross-legged and callous-fingered, high above the murky Ganges.

Shiva will be on drums, Ganesha will play bass, Vishnu will sing back up, and Hanuman will keep the groupies away.

8. The Meters

This is sort of cheating, since the Meters are funk, not to mention an essential component of the New Orleans sound, but I must have them. Besides, they rock hard as hell when they want to, and are pretty much what I subconsciously want most rock bands to sound like anyway. At least rhythm-wise. In other words throbbing, propulsive, intricate, life affirming, and ass-shakingly syncopated, doling out a lifetime’s worth of bad ass chops, riffs and second-line swing like it was just another Sunday in the parish. Instead of all the instruments following a simple prompt, the Meters each create their own brilliant lines, weaving in and out of rave ups, breakdowns, and vamps seamlessly. And Leo Nocentelli can play circles around even the most determined shredder while glossing his wingtips with the other hand. Besides, any ascension worth its salt will be dying to do a Cissy Strut through the lower atmosphere, ready to ride a mammoth groove straight on into the eternal.

Just try to imagine them with leather jackets, perms, dry ice, and cool makeup that hides their secret identities.

9. David Bowie

I’m sort of astonished by this choice, and yet here I am making it. The hard truth is that any self-respecting list needs some Glam. I considered Roxy Music, T. Rex, Sweet, Sparks, Big Star and even the Soft Boys but it’s hard to argue with the longevity and variation of the Thin White Duke. Bowie started out as a straight-ahead hippie troubadour but as soon as he hit Manhattan almost instantly absorbed (stole? borrowed? transformed?) the downtown transvestite/art culture, not to mention the sound and attitude of the New York Dolls and the Velvet Underground. He stepped into the bell-bottom closet, did a line of cheap crank, and emerged a spider from Mars. But that wasn’t enough. Flitting from plastic-horn soul to brilliant minimalism, from piano breakdowns to the Berlin albums, he consistently produced the most interesting and miscreant pop around. Collaborations with Brian Eno, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed were all occasionally fantastic (let’s just forget the brief tête à tête with Mick Jagger, shall we?) Sure, there’s enough tedious material putting out fire with gasoline to round out several other careers, but it’s mostly Hunky Dory and The Man Who Sold the World that I’ll spin into sansara. Not to mention Low and Lodger. And, oh yeah, Station to Station. And Heroes. And Diamond Dogs. And Alladin Sane.

David jealously watching Jesus descend from the clouds, ready to kick off the Rapture in Spandex and platform boots.

10. Syd Barrett

His work on the first two Pink Floyd albums are the only compelling reason to listen to Pink Floyd at all. Syd left the band in 1968 due to mounting instability and lysergic dissolution, but it’s because of his huddling pair of solo albums, Madcap Laughs and Barrett, that he appears here. This is broken music. Lost Thelonius. Way out on the coil. Completely untethered. But it’s also beautiful, transcendent, and truly childlike. The structureless quality of the songs, combined with improvised lyrics and jarring (but somehow perfect) rhythmic changes, tap into something elemental without making any effort to. These songs simply exist. It’s a sound bands have been laboring to achieve for half a century, but only Syd sounds like Syd. And only briefly did.

The rare album art that almost perfectly encapsulates the mad genius lurking between frayed vinyl grooves.



**A quick note on the impossibility of choosing only ten bands: I ignored behemoths like the Beatles or the Stones because even though I dig them, I’ve heard all their songs (including outtakes, rarities, etc.) a million times and don’t really want to keep doing so for eternity. “Me and My Monkey” or “Ventilator Blues” would be cool on any given Tuesday lying around on Corinthian leather pillows with St. Paul and Aaron Burr, but I never, ever want to hear “Start Me Up” or “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” again, even while alive. Also, just like the hell list, I confined myself to rock. The definition of what “rock” actually circumscribes would require an extremely lengthy article that would appease no one, but suffice it to say that I define it mainly as outside the realms of jazz, classical, Cajun, soul, funk, honkeytonk, afro beat, Batucada, Gamelan, and blues. (Sure, most rock is blues-based, but I’m talking of the difference between Skip James and Albert Collins, or the difference between what you might hear in a bar in 1940’s Natchez and what you’d be hearing right now in a $20 cover club on Beale Street.) Which is also why I otherwise chose not to consider Charlie Patton, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Doc Watson, James Brown, Sly Stone, Gilberto Gil, Ry Cooder, Son House, Roy Acuff, Gram Parsons, Slim Harpo, Lee Dorsey, Nina Simone, Fela, Al Green, Jimmy Smith, Howlin’ Wolf, Django Reinhardt, Larry Young, Bo Diddly, Jackie Mittoo, Sun Ra, and/or Elvis. In fact, if I were really standing at some heavenly deli counter with a number in my hand, waiting to place an order, I’d probably choose a pound and a half of thinly-sliced classical composers, because no matter how much I love Frank Zappa, I’m a lot more likely to get sick of Sheik Yerbouti by the time I sprout my first wings than I am to tire of the entire recorded output of Shostakovitch or Mozart.



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About Sean Beaudoin

Sean Beaudoin (@seanbeaudoin) is the author of five novels, including The Infects and Wise Young Fool. His new short story collection, Welcome Thieves, is just out with Algonquin Books.
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26 Responses to The Ten Bands I Will be Pleasured With in Heaven

  1. Mike Reed says:

    As usual, another fine effort Bub. The “Bearing down…” sentence, for instance, is obviously excellent.
    I find it hard to think of “Bands” as such, actually having a direct relationship with Music.
    Would like to have seen Bechet among those in the Note even though the number of “noteworthy” , especially passed musicians, is hard if not impossible to fathom.
    I’m not sanguine about that use of “passed” but insist on doing so anyway.

  2. Joel says:

    I agree with 3 (one for top list). The Clash though?

  3. jmblaine says:

    I knew you’d make it.
    I hid the key to Heaven’s gate
    in the Bootsy bootleg
    I slid down the tube to Hell.

    Good to see you.

    Hendrix is over here fronting
    the Minutemen
    & Billie Holiday & Kerry King
    are working up a wickedly divine
    Angel of Death.

    I’m over by the Jasper Walls watching
    Bocephus & the Bad Brains.

    • Sean Beaudoin says:

      JMB! I knew you’d be up there, ready to take a brother in hand and guide me around. I looked through two cakes before I found the key. Clever hiding it with Bootsy! Who would ever suspect him of smuggling anything?

  4. Caleb Powell says:

    You know, I guess it’s time to bring in the term “subjective” on this one. After a gutsy take on the shitty bands, well, this is a hall of fame of overrated, none of these are particularly bad, but there are a lot of twiddlers in here. Jimi Hendrix jammed and jammed and jammed and jammed and it gets old. Syd Barrett was weird, “Bike” was cute, but that’s when Pink Floyd was a bunch of spaced out LSD freaks tripping on their instruments, not much song writing, after Roger came in they went from “Iron Butterfly trip shtick” to audio art. David Bowie…”Bluejean”, do I need to say more? The Clash, perhaps, but even that’s a stetch. This would make a good mix tape at a rave, it’s not bad, but not heaven.

    • Sean Beaudoin says:

      Hendrix did a whole lot more than jam, but it never gets old for me. Have you listened to the Syd albums I mentioned? Bowie put out about 20 albums before Bluejean. I’ve never been to a rave, but I have been to heaven.

  5. I hated The Clash for a long time. On the radio you only ever hear London Calling, Should I Stay…, and I Fought the Law. I still dislike those songs.

    But that first album is incredible. For some reason the copy I bought has the US track listing, which I think is better than the original release. It has White Man in Hammersmith Palais on it, which is what sold me.

    Shostakovitch fucking rocks. So does Mozart— the use of Dies Irae is the only good thing about the X-Men films. It’s a bit obvious, but I still prefer Beethoven. At the Proms this year they are playing all of his symphonies. He’s the Led Zeppelin of classical music.

    • Sean Beaudoin says:

      Ha. It’s so true, James. Beethoven is the Zep of Classical. Which I guess makes Shostakovitch Pavement?

      • For a long time I always thought of Beethoven as The Stones to Mozart’s Beatles, based purely on relative fame and popularity.

        I’m not too familiar with Pavement (my CD collection is pretty narrow). I love the Russian composers though. One of my tutors at university used to work with Graham Chapman. Apparently Chapman once claimed ‘I hate classical music. It’s all shit. Apart from Prokofiev, you know the one that goes…’ (he was talking about Dance of the Knights from Romeo and Juliet).

        Have you ever read Mozart’s letters by the way? They’re hilarious/disturbing.

  6. Jane Chen says:

    Miles Davis began by ruining many Charlie Parker recordings, and the great majority of his recordings as leader feature trumpet playing that is labored and self-conscious, ultimately exposing a fact that musicians understand: he is not a very good trumpet player compared to artists like Dizzy, Roy, Donald, Lee, etc.

    • Sean Beaudoin says:

      Dizzy Dean? Roy Hobbs? Donald Sutherland? Stagger Lee?

      • Jane Chen says:

        I forgot to mention that Davis sounds more constipated than anything else much of the time. Don’t get me wrong, I was fascinated with him initially, but outgrew it, and now much of his playing is simply awful; something a jazz trumpeter told me years ago, but it took me a while to appreciate the truth of what he said.

        • Sean Beaudoin says:

          Miles put out dozens of albums. I can only assume you’ve only listened to the famed Blue Note collection Miles Davis: My Constipated Years. It might be time to branch out. Also, that “jazz trumpeter” may have actually been a hose salesman.

  7. Shraderstreet says:

    Your writing is pure genius.

  8. Gloria says:

    I agree with Caleb that all of this is subjective. I mean, it’s obviously subjective (duh), so I don’t really have to agree. For instance, I know a bunch of people who would put U2 in the Heaven category, and I think they make up the elevator music on the way down to hell.

    I will, however, say that I agree about Miles Davis. Though, obviously, Kind of Blue is the superior album. :)

  9. I loved this. Also, that you have “Double Nickels on the Dime” by The Minutemen on your list just boosted your cool points +50. I remember the first time popping that album in my cassette player. As a bass player–and one who never had a desire to play guitar–I worshiped at the feet of Mike Watt. Shit just makes you want to shake your head like you ate too much sugar.

    Here’s my list in no particular order*:
    1. Nels Cline Singers
    2. Vic Ruggiero
    3. Richard Hell & the Voidoids
    4. Bouncing Souls
    5. Jimi Hendrix
    6. Rancid
    7. Bruce Springsteen
    8. Desmond Dekker
    9. Flaming Lips
    10. Justin Hinds and the Dominoes

    Honorable mentions: Bad Brains, Tupac (though they may only allow the censored versions in Heaven which, if so, I would need to remove it from this list), Social Distortion, Buju Banton, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Peter Tosh, Trampled by Turtles, Suicide Machines, The Stooges, New York Dolls, The Clash, Tom Robinson Band, and jeez a million others — I might as well quit now

  10. Pepe says:

    I’m from Cuba. I read and read for years about how fantastic Bitches Brew was but at least in the 90’s it was really hard to find any cds or even tapes of this album –or any other Miles work for that matter– in Havana. I bugged and bugged Pablo and he finally shipped me the cd from Idaho. Needless to say I was anticipating, drooling about McLaughlin, Corea, Zawinul, Cobham, Wayne and all those guys jamming with Miles so I went to Carlito’s house to play the cd and I have to admit that album scared the shit out of me in the same way that Irakere’s “Black mass” or Palestrina’s “Pope Marcello” did. There’s some raw, genuine, shamanistic vibe throughout the whole thing. Intensity is what makes Brew so exceptional; a big pile of multidirectional music trascending any genre. Not sure it’s jazz or rock. It is an exercise in exorcism. What a pioneer, always “miles ahead”. No Miles: no Grand Wazoo or Hot Rats or Waka Jawaka… or Leftoverture (just kidding)

    • Sean Beaudoin says:

      Excellently described, Pepe. I am sure Miles would have been happy to have blown minds in the streets of Havana if he could have. I agree that BB transcends genre, but it also destroys genre as well, and certainly saves a good deal of its payload for rock.

  11. Bonzo Bizarro says:

    Couldn’t wait for Neil Young to show up!

  12. J.M. Blaine says:

    I just saw Bootsy roller skating with Lemmy & The Runaways across the fields of Glory!

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