Five Bands that Justify Having More than Five Members

allman-brothers-top-100Sometimes bands have too many damn members in them. Do we really need that guy with the tambourine who isn’t even singing? How about the third keyboard player? Surely that guy can be lifted right out. Most of our brains are hardwired to only accept groups with five-or-less members in their core group. Bands can add auxiliary musicians when touring, but if the creative brain trust of the group exceeds more than a handful of people, things can get a bit ungainly. Here’s some ground rules for the below list:

a. The group must have had this number of members from the beginning. Members can be shuffled out, but the core founding members of the group must be more than five people. 

b. Backing bands are not eligible. Yes, the E-Street Band has more than five people, but Bruce Springsteen is the obvious leader/creative force and the rest of the band functions as subservient to him. We’re looking for semi-democratic groups here. 

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That being said, here’s a list of groups that have maintained a core group of more than five people and have constantly used this fact to elevate their sound, not burden it.

1. Allman Brothers Band

The long-running Southern Rock group only had multiple Allman brothers for a few years, but despite personnel changes over the years, there has always been a need for a large group of musicians to accomplish the layers of texture in the group’s most memorable tracks. Check out “Jessica,” which features three separate piano parts and at least three guitars. This would be impossible to accomplish live without at least six people.

2. Parliament-Funkadelic

This one is kind of a technicality, since it’s really a mash-up of two groups. However, at the date of the first official recording, 1970’s Funkadelic, the group had well-over six members, and have always maintained at least that number ever since. Regardless of hair-splitting, P-Funk has always boasted a large lineup, including bandleader George Clinton, bass legend Bootsy Collins and recently departed Bernie Worrell. Their unique hybrid of funk and psychedelia requires many different sounds to really get going. Here’s “Mothership Connection.”

3. Belle and Sebastian

The long-running chamber pop band has maintained a core membership of about 6-8 people since their debut record, 1996’s Tigermilk. Though vocalist Stuart Murdoch is the primary creative force, his melancholy pop songs wouldn’t be nearly as memorable without the accents of strings, horns and other traditionally “orchestral” instruments. Here’s “Expectations,” a good intro to their sound from their excellent debut album, Tigermilk. 

 4. New Pornographers

Currently boasting eight members, the Vancouver super group has built a great career on creating indie-pop masterpieces that are both dense and catchy. Some of the group’s bulk comes from the fact that they have two lead singers (A.C. Newman and Neko Case) and two keyboard players, but every member’s contribution is necessary and nothing seems like a redundancy.

5. Arcade Fire

Speaking of Canada, there must be something in the water that makes artists gravitate toward more members per band. Or it’s just a coincidence. Either way, Arcade Fire have released several acclaimed albums featuring post-punk-influenced tracks with unusual instrumentation. Though their recorded output is layered and makes full use of all seven members, a live Arcade Fire show is all about power. The force that the group manages to stir up in concert wouldn’t be nearly as captivating without the extra people onstage contributing.

Of course, these are just examples of groups that work. There are many other groups that don’t use their large population effectively, but that’s probably fodder for another list.

Anything I forgot? Put it in the comments. Note: I did not “forget” Lynyrd Skynyrd. I just don’t like them.

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