What lineups were the best for bands? Membership changes happen for various reasons: death, substance abuse, ego, solo careers, etc.
Here are some of my favorites:
Beatles. The post Best and Sutcliffe days, obviously.
Rolling Stones. The Mick Taylor years, after Brian Jones. The classic era.
Fleetwood Mac. Obviously, the McVies, Fleetwood, Buckingham and Nicks. But the previous lineups included some great players like Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan and Bob Welch.
Traffic. This is a tough one because the lineup seemed to shift from album to album. The core was Steve Winwood, Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi. Others came in and out, but I like when the band expanded to include a drummer, bass player and percussionist in the early 1970s for The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys and Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory.
Moody Blues. After the first iteration of the band it was Hayward, Thomas, Pinder, Lodge and Edge. When Pinder left in 1978, the magic was mostly over. The albums made between 1967-1972 are classics.
Pat Metheny Group. A jazz-fusion band, a partnership of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays, with Danny Gottlieb (drums), Steve Rodby/Mark Egan (bass), Naná Vasconcelos (percussion, voice). This lineup played together in the 1970 and 1980s, although Metheny and Mays played with others as well.
Doobie Brothers. This is another tough one, the band’s lineup has fluctuated. There are three main periods: before Michael McDonald, Michael McDonald years, and post McDonald. Nothing against McDonald, but I prefer the early 1970s years before McDonald. Tom Johnston, Patrick Simmons, Tiran Porter, John Hartmann and Michael Hossack. This was 1972-1974, then Keith Knudsen replaced Hossack and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter joined. A year later, Johnston left and McDonald joined.
Steely Dan. The original “band” before the group became Fagan and Becker, included Denny Dias and Jeff Baxter on guitars, Jim Hodder on drums, and various session players like Michael McDonald, Larry Carlton, Dean Parks, Jeff Porcaro, Michael Omartian and David Paich. Beginning with Aja, it was Fagan/Becker and hired players.
Chicago. The original lineup until the passing of Terry Kath, 1967-1978.
Eagles. The band’s great early success (1971-1975) had Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Randy Meisner, Bernie Leadon, and later, Don Felder. The following year, Joe Walsh replaced Leadon and soon after Timothy B. Schmidt replaced Meisner. Pre- Hotel California is my favorite period, less polished and looser.
Santana. The lineups have changed since the early albums. There are two main periods I like, the mid to late 1970s, and early 1980s. The first period had Santana, Tom Coster, Greg Walker, Dave Brown and Armando Peraza. The second period, more of a hard rock version had in addition to Santana, Alex Ligertwood, Dave Margen, Graham Lear, Peraza, Raul Rekow Chris Solberg and Alan Pasqua.
Yes. The 1970s early lineup of Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe and Squire. This lineup produced Fragile and Close to the Edge.
Jefferson Starship. Formed in 1974, the best lineup was Pete Sears, David Freiberg, Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, Grace Slick, Craig Chaquico, and John Barbata, or the pre-Mickey Thomas years.
Black Sabbath. Ozzy, Iomi, Butler and Ward, 1968-1979.
Pink Floyd. Nothing against Sid Barrett, but the lineup of Waters, Gilmour, Mason and Wright – in the 1970s – is the definitive lineup.
Supertramp. Original members Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson hired Bob Siebenberg, Dougie Thompson and John Helliwell to what would be the classic lineup that stayed together for a decade and produced “Bloody Well Right,” “Even in the Quietest Moments” and “Breakfast in America.”
Heart. The origins of the band actually pre-date the Wilson sisters. The first album with the Heart name had a lineup of Ann Wilson, Nancy Wilson, Roger Fisher, Steve Fossen, Howard Leese and Michael Derosier. This lineup produced Dreamboat Annie (1975), Magazine (1977), Little Queen (1977) and Dog and Butterfly (1978).
Deep Purple. The Mark II lineup of of Ian Gillan (vocals) and Roger Glover (bass), who joined founder members Jon Lord (keyboards), Ian Paice (drums) and Ritchie Blackmore (guitar). This line-up was active from 1969 to 1973 and was revived from 1984 to 1989 and again from 1992 to 1993. This is the “Smoke on the Water” and “Woman From Tokyo” lineup.
Yardbirds. My favorite lineup featured Keith Relf – lead vocals, Jeff Beck – lead guitar, Chris Dreja – rhythm guitar, backing vocals, piano, Paul Samwell-Smith – bass guitar, backing vocals, and Jim McCarty – drums. Granted, this lineup was short-lived with a revolving door of guitarists, but we got the classic “Over Under Sideways Down.”
Van Halen. The original lineup of the Van Halen brothers, Anthony and Roth during their first iteration. Sammy was fine, but the nod goes to the original guys.
Genesis. I really prefer the Collins, Rutherford, Banks and Hackett version of the band, although Selling England by the Pound is a masterpiece. With Gabriel, the emphasis was more on spectacle and concept than music.
Beach Boys. The three Wilson brothers, Jardine and Love.
Jethro Tull. The Benefit lineup is my favorite. Ian Anderson vocals, guitar, flute, balalaika, keyboards, Martin Barre – electric guitar, Glenn Cornick – bass guitar, Clive Bunker – drums, percussion, John Evan – piano, organ. Jeffrey Hammond would take over on bass and Barriemore Barlow on drums over the couple of albums, but these player would stay in Tull for most of the decade.
King Crimson. From 1969-1974, each studio album had a different lineup. The only constant was founder Robert Fripp. When the band reformed in 1981, that lineup stayed together for awhile. Fripp, Bill Bruford, Tony Levin and Adrian Belew were an awesome lineup. I liked them, but I’m favoring the initial lineup on the debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King. Fripp, Ian McDonald, Michael Giles and Greg Lake. The Mellotron and flute are great instruments to augment the heavy, angry guitars.
The Church. Around since the early 1980s, the only original member is now Steve Kilbey, but Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes were original members who stayed for decades. Drummer Tim Powles has been around since 1994, replacing James Daugherty, who replaced Richard Ploog. Their strongest period was 2000-2013, at which point Wilson-Piper left.
Allman Brothers. Duane Allman was incredible, but my favorite lineup was Gregg Allman, Dickie Betts, Jaimoe, Butch Trucks, Chuck Leavell and Lamar Johnson (1972-1976).
Journey. Although later addition Jonathan Cain helped produce some Journey classics, I will defer to the prior lineup of Gregg Rollie, Steve Smith, Ross Valory, Steve Perry and Neal Schon.
REO Speedwagon. Kevin Cronin, Gary Richrath, Neal Doughty, Gregg Philbin and Alan Gratzer; or that lineup with Bruce Hall replacing Philbin on bass. With these folks you get their best material, covering 1976-1987.
Styx. Starting with Crystal Ball (1976), the lineup became. Tommy Shaw, James Young, Dennis DeYoung, Chuck Panozzo and John Panozzo played together until 1984, collecting most of their hits.
Grateful Dead. This is also a tough one. I believe the 1970s were the Dead’s best period. Keith Godchaux was a good keyboard player for the period, but didn’t enjoy his wife Donna’s vocals. Brent Mydland was a great addition for their 1980s period. Garcia, Hart, Weir, Lesh, Kreutzmann and either Godchaux or Mydland.
Poco. This is easy. Rusty Young, Paul Cotton, Timothy B. Schmidt and George Grantham. This lineup was together after Richie Furay left and before Schmidt left, 1974-1977.
Jeff Beck. Beck has never stayed with the same players very long. In the early 1970s he had his best lineup. Beck, Max Middleton (keyboards), Cozy Powell (drums), Clive Chaman (bass) and Bob Tench (vocals). The excellent Rough and Ready came from this lineup.
3 thoughts on “Classic Band Lineups”
This is a fun idea, Mike. I just have to weigh in! First off, I never heard of The Church. Are they, maybe, late-to-the-party progressive rock? Also, you listed a lot of what I call “corporate bands” (Heart, Styx, REO etc.) that I don’t care for, so I don’t know their lineups. I agree with you here about half the time. Exceptions: Grateful Dead (I prefer the bluesier Pigpen years); Allman Brothers (definitely the Duane years); Genesis (love the two albums just after Gabriel left, but prefer when he was around. Also, the early Anthony Phillips years tend to get short shrift. Also, despite the showmanship of Gabriel, in my view the music then was equally strong…Banks is very underrated). Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow and Wired, both produced by George Martin, were his best albums. For me, it’s the Danny Kirwan years, I don’t care how successful Mac was later on.
Now for Pink Floyd…ahem…yes, you’re probably in the vast, vast majority who prefer the post-Barrett years. With Barrett they were a cult psychedelic band. But if you take time to really dig into what he was doing, there’s no comparison. He was a true artist, light years ahead of the others. And this is from someone who ranks Dark Side as a musical and sonic masterpiece. Lastly…his first name is spelled “Syd.” (Don’t be like the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame!)
(And a big thumbs up re The Doobie Brothers.)
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I’m very late to the party here, but that’s never stopped me before…
I don’t know if I consider the Mick Taylor lineup of the Stones the definitive version (I actually prefer the early years with Brian Jones), but the Taylor years are definitely under-appreciated, as is Taylor himself.
I’d have a hard time picking a favorite Fleetwood Mac lineup. The Green / Spencer lineup produced a lot of great stuff, including “Green Manalishi” and “Oh Well”. The short-lived Bob Welch / Bob Weston lineup did “Hypnotized”. (And it was Welch who helped them overcome the fake-Fleetwood-Mac disaster.) I actually think the Buckingham/Nicks album was better than most of what they did after they joined Fleetwood Mac.
Doobie Brothers: You mentioned “Stampede” in another post. That’s my favorite Doobies album, with Baxter as a full-time member. But yes, I was a fan of the Michael Hossack / Little John Hartman years, including “The Captain and Me” and another underappreciated Doobies album, “What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits”. On the other hand… there’s an underappreciated McDonald-era album, “Living’ On the Fault Line”, which I think was the best McDonald-era album, even though (or because) it didn’t produce any hit singles.
Yes: Anderson/Squire/Wakeman/Howe, and take your pick between Bruford and White. To me, they both have their virtues. I actually liked Moraz on “Relayer”, but I don’t think he would have been right for most of Yes’ material. And I confess to being a secret fan of the “Drama” lineup.
Heart: They definitely lost something when Roger Fisher departed. “Dreamboat Annie” and “Little Queen” are my favorite Heart albums.
Genesis: I’m a fan of both the Gabriel era and the 1975-77 era, but yeah, they lost something when Hackett departed. Rutherford had carved out a different role in the Hackett era, and he never seemed comfortable in the lead guitar slot after Hackett departed. Live, he leaned on Sturmer a lot. I think they would have been better off if they had made Sturmer a full-time member.
Tull: I think Anderson, Barre, and Evan were the important members of the early-1970s era. John Glascock’s death seemed to disrupt things a lot. I was actually a fan of the “A” lineup. It’s too bad that Anderson couldn’t persuade Eddie Jobson to stay on board, or maybe Jobson didn’t want to.
The Church: Kilbey, Wilson-Piper and Koppes were synergistic, in the sense that they were much better together than they were apart. I’ll add one other element that I think was important to the group: Waddy Wachtel, who co-produced the “Starfish” album. He made them cut out a lot of the aimless noodling.
Styx: I admit some fondness for some of the John Curuleski-era stuff. But apparently JC remaining in the band wasn’t an option, and he passed away a few years later. Tommy Shaw was fine as his replacement.
Crimson: I was a fan of the Fripp/Wetton/Bruford/Cross/Muir lineup that did “Lark’s Tongues in Aspic”. But the ’80s lineup of Fripp/Belew/Levin/Bruford was also great.
The Eagles: Their early stuff was mostly too folky for my taste. Felder gave them the kick in the pants that they needed. My favorite lineup was Frey/Felder/Walsh/Henley, and take your pick between Meisner and Schmidt.
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Thanks. Very good observations. You know your classic rock bands.