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Published April 05 2012

Morast: America’s best rock band is Skynyrd. Really?

Grand Funk Railroad sang about being an American band. But while that Michigan act provided a (sort of xenophobic) anthem for all the rock bands still smarting from the British Invasion, it’s hard for me to imagine a world where Grand Funk wears the crown of Greatest American Band.

Apparently you agree, as your votes in The Forum’s Greatest American Rock Band contest delivered the news that our online readers believe the best rock band in the history of our nation is …

Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Yes. The Southern rock band that still celebrates the Confederate flag was voted by you, our readers, as the Greatest American Rock Band. Skynyrd beat Creedence Clearwater Revival in the finals Thursday by earning 55 percent of the vote.

Gotta admit, I didn’t see that one coming. Going into this thing, I was forecasting Van Halen, CCR or Aerosmith to take the popular vote. Not a Southern rock band whose greatest contribution seems to be the enduring legacy of having its signature song, “Freebird,” shouted out as a request at virtually every concert in America.

Plus, you know, there’s that whole Confederate flag worship thing: kinda racist, kinda offensive to a large swath of America’s population.

And while I don’t think our voters cast their votes with prejudice in mind, it’s an issue that’s always bothered me about the Skynyrd fanbase.

Regardless, I can understand the appeal of Skynyrd as America’s band.

The group’s entire ’70s oeuvre carries an undercurrent of patriotism to its music. Even when the band is singing about its Southern roots – “Sweet Home Alabama,” despite being from Jacksonville, Fla. – people seem to transfer the music’s inherent geographic pride to wherever they are at the moment, be it Fargo-Moorhead or the greater U.S.A.

Just as important, Skynyrd’s one of the few bands that truly transcends categories as its fan base ranges from rockers who only wear black to country boys who would never be caught dead at an Aerosmith concert.

Part of that appeal is a musical style that blends mixed genres with everyman passion. But, as much as anything, Skynyrd’s genius is that its music and its essence manage to be both patriotic and rebellious at the same time. They’re flag-wavers who just happen to be bad-boy biker types. It’s the classic “safe rebel” vibe that we, as Americans, gravitate toward time and time again.

So, yeah, I can get why you voted for Skynyrd as America’s Greatest Rock Band. And even though part of me really wants to argue for The Ramones or Van Halen, I suppose it’s all moot.

Because while we can argue about Skynyrd, Aerosmith or Guns N’ Roses deserving the title of best rock band, they’ll never be the best “band” in American history.

That vote goes to country’s greatest group, Alabama, another act that’s mixed the Confederate flag into their imagery.


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Readers can reach Forum Features Editor Robert Morast at (701) 241-5518 or rmorast@forumcomm.com