Last week back in 1957, the most famous rock club in England opened in Liverpool. There was absolutely no rock and roll on the bill that night.
The Cavern Club was originally opened to mimic the cellar jazz bars that owner Alan Synter visited in Paris. There was a strict jazz-only policy in place while he owned the joint. The room itself was underground, having served previously as a wine cellar and a wartime air-raid shelter.
The club's first taste of rock and roll came in August 1957, when a gang of local punks known as the Quarrymen were booked to play skiffle tunes -- an inexplicably popular musical fad of the day. Quarrymen guitarist John Lennon decided to spice things up with a cover of Elvis' "Don't Be Cruel," prompting a note from Synter: "Cut out the bloody rock and roll."
The next time Lennon and his pals played the Cavern, things were different. The band had changed its name to the Beatles and honed its act during a German residency. In 1961, the group took over the Cavern for three weeks, becoming a local sensation and attracting the attention of manager Brian Epstein.
Before long, the Beatles were the most famous rock and roll band in the world, and the Cavern Club achieved almost as much notoriety as the spot where the Fab Four were discovered. Even today, a rebuilt version of the club (the original was torn down in 1973) serves as both a tourist attraction and a popular live-music venue. Not a lot of places can claim that.
A few can, though. For a while there, the Cavern stood alone as the epicenter of authentic '60s rock and roll cool. In a matter of years, of course, other clubs on both sides of the Atlantic would rise to rival the Cavern's fame.
To celebrate the birthday of one of rock's most hallowed haunts, Rocks Off offers up the following highly scientific ranking of the most famous clubs in rock and roll history. (I Googled them.)
How many have you visited?
10. Crocodile Café, Seattle Google Search Results: 295,000
This Seattle fixture played host to all the legends of Seattle's '90s rock scene, from Nirvana and Pearl Jam to Mudhoney and Sleater-Kinney. Alternative icons like the Beastie Boys, Dinosaur Jr. and REM have also graced the stage over the years. In fact, REM guitarist Peter Buck liked the place so much that he married the owner and took a stake in the club himself.
That all worked out fabulously until the couple divorced. The Croc was closed and put up for sale in 2007. It was a major blow to the local music scene. Luckily, a consortium including Sean Kinney of Alice in Chains purchased the club in 2009 and reopened it as the Crocodile.
9. Max's Kansas City, New York Google Search Results: 316,000
Max's Kansas City was an important Manhattan club where rock and roll sorted itself out in the '70s. After opening in 1965, the club became a favored hangout of forward-thinking artists, including Andy Warhol and his entourage. In the early '70s, it served as the glam capitol of the U.S., home to Iggy, Bowie, Lou Reed and others.
After the club reopened under new ownership in 1975, management scrapped plans to turn it into a disco when the punk rock bands being booked there began to break. The New York Dolls, Patti Smith Group, Ramones, Television, Blondie and more bands you idolize codified the look, sound and attitude of the American underground at Max's until the club closed in 1981.
The place had a hell of a final night in business, though, featuring the Beastie Boys opening for Bad Brains. That probably didn't suck.
8. Marquee Club, London Google Search Results: 357,000
The Beatles had the Cavern Club; the Stones had the Marquee. Mick and the gang weren't the only influential rockers to play their first gigs at the Oxford Street club in London, however. On the contrary, pretty much every notable late-'60s act in Britain graced its stage, from the Yardbirds to Led Zep to Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix.
Later, the Marquee would also become a key venue for alternative acts like the Cure, Joy Division and the Buzzcocks as well as NWOBHM bands like Iron Maiden and Diamond Head. Sadly, the club has been mostly dormant since 2008.
7. Gilley's Club, Pasadena (Texas) Google Search Results: 649,000
Not a rock club, exactly, but we think it's close enough to count. Gilley's in Pasadena rocketed to fame as "the world's biggest honky-tonk" after being used as the setting for much of the action in the John Travolta vehicle Urban Cowboy in 1980.
The nightclub was smash success as soon as it opened in 1971. The joint was a veritable adult playground, including a shooting gallery, showers for truckers, mechanical bulls, pool tables, punching bags and a dance floor big enough for thousands. It was a haven for top country artists and a few rockers, as well, including Mickey Gilley's cousin, Jerry Lee Lewis.
The club was closed in 1989 and was razed by a suspicious fire a year later. Today, its legacy continues at the enormous (retch!) Gilley's Dallas, but Mickey Gilley himself says the club could soon return to Pasadena. If it does, we'll be there.
6. The Troubadour, Los Angeles Google Search Results: 2 million
One of the longest-running and most storied venues in rock and roll, the Tourbadour in West Hollywood began its life as the home base of the Southern California singer-songwriter set. The place helped launch the careers of performers like Van Morrison, Elton John, Linda Ronstadt and Joan Baez. Famous comedians like the Smothers Bros. and Cheech and Chong got their start performing there, too.
By the 1980s, the Troubadour had become a major hair-metal hub. David Geffen discovered Guns N' Roses there. The club continues to be a premiere L.A. venue for a variety of popular styles to this day.
5. CBGB, New York Google Search Results: 4 million
Possibly no place on earth was more punk than CBGB. The dank Bowery club was opened to showcase country, bluegrass and blues (get it?), but it didn't take off until it was taken over by Tri-state punk and New Wave acts like the Ramones, Misfits, Dead Boys and Talking Heads in the late '70s and early '80s.
As the '80s wore on, CB's became notorious for its hardcore matinee shows, featuring acts like Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, Gorilla Biscuits and Sick of it All. The club folded in 2006 following a final performance there by alumna Patti Smith. A victim of gentrification, CBGB now lives on as the namesake of a city-wide music festival in New York.
4. The Hacienda, Manchester UK Google Search Results: 4.4 million
Ground Zero of the "Madchester" scene of the late '80s and early '90s, the Fac 51 Haçienda got its start playing host to performers such as the Smiths and Madonna in the early '80s. It rose to true prominence, however, as one of the first clubs in the world to feature house music. Soon, it would become a major epicenter of acid house and rave music.
As bands such as the Stone Roses, the Charlatans and the Happy Mondays began to find national success by bringing together dance music and alternative rock, the venue also became one of the planet's great club-drug capitols. England's first Ecstasy-related death occurred there in 1989. Patrons typically preferred E to alcohol, which led to the club's closure in 1997 due to financial difficulties.
3. Whisky a Go-Go, Los Angeles Google Search Results: 5.4 million
One of the very first discotheques on the West Coast, the Sunset Strip's grande dame helped to popularize caged go-go dancers in the early '60s before serving as nursery to L.A.'s budding rock scene. The Doors spent a time as the club's house band, and the stage was shared by future superstars from the Byrds to Alice Cooper.
Later, the Whisky would become home to the city's leading punk and metal outfits. The Germs, X, Quiet Riot, Van Halen and Motley Crue all honed their live chops there. It remains a vital locale in L.A.'s music scene today.
2. The Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco Google Search Results: 13 million
Anybody who was anybody in San Francisco's '60s psychedelic scene went to Bill Graham's Fillmore to be seen and heard. The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company and many, many others made the venue into America's foremost psychedelic temple, and it eventually played host to outside acts including Creedence Clearwater Revival, Miles Davis and the Pink Floyd, amongst dozens more.
After Graham moved his operation to its Fillmore West location in 1968, the building was rechristened as the Elite Club, which booked seminal West Coast punk bands such as the Dead Kennedies, Flipper and T.S.O.L. The Fillmore reopened in its original location in 1994, where its far-reaching cultural impact continues to be celebrated by live music fans.
1. Studio 54, New York Google Search Results: 213 million
Surprised? Don't be. This Manhattan dance mecca may be best remembered as the most aggressively decadent disco of all time, but the glitter-soaked club saw more than its fair share of live music over the years. Anonymous sex and huge piles of cocaine helped draw in crowds to dance to the likes Donna Summer, Grace Jones, the Village People and James Brown.
After the IRS ended the club's magical run in 1980, Studio 54 re-opened more than a year later and featured performances by emerging pop artists like Madonna and Duran Duran. The thrill of the place was gone, however, and by 1985, Slayer, of all bands, filmed a performance there. No celebrities or jet-setters were in attendance for that one. After years spent as a hall for rent, the studio closed for good in 1996. The space now hosts Broadway plays as the Roundabout Theater.
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