Monday, May 04, 2009

My Essential Musical Artists

This is actually a few years old (I think it's from 2007) but I think it still holds up. The fabulous WFUV Blog asked their staff to come up with the musical artists that are essential, underrated, overrated, and the essential new artist. Read it all here. From what I can tell, 10 seemed to be the number for essential artists, so that's what I'll go with. And remember, before you feign outrage, these are MY essential artists. Your mileage may vary.

Reader comments are also available as to who is overrated and underrated. Everybody has a point (for the most part).

I will tell you that, out of the mainstream, virtually every person that I know that has ever performed or played in a band has been underrated (thus taking care of Montgomery Delaney, Jon Field and Up Front, Grip, and Dayspring, and Scott Wilson and his various bands, John Aita and the Mondays, along with others that I forgot to mention).

Now onto my 10 essential artists.

* The Beatles - It all starts here. Everything. Rock and Roll as we know it (I know they were heavily influenced by Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins and American rock, but they took it and recreated it). No act, band, or personality will ever do what they did, in terms of cultural and musical impact. It's why they blow The Rolling Stones away.

* Frank Sinatra - Quite simply, the greatest singer ever. Nobody could take a song and interpret it like him. Again, his impact to this day can't be matched, and his ability to cross into acting - some great, some not so much - can't be overlooked for pop culture purposes.

* Bruce Springsteen - Some think he's overrated, but here he is - nearly 40 years after his first record, still blowing listeners away with great albums and amazing performances (Super Bowl XLIII, for instance). His ability to take Woody Guthrie and early Dylan and make them relevant is beyond comprehension.

* Billy Joel - There's no doubt that Billy Joel wanted to be The Beatles, and probably Paul McCartney, and yeah, some of the songs haven't stood the test of time, but the hooks are there. For me, it's almost impossible to be alone in the car, hear "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant" and not turn it up to 11 (thank you, Spinal Tap) and sing along. It's nostalgia. It's 1979 and I'm 10 or 11. And life is very simple.

* Eagles (and Don Henely) - They're still essential to me, but it's different now. I loved them from the first spin of Hotel California, and they're music was like a soundtrack to dating days - two Don Henley concerts, and an reunion tour show in 1994. Their music provided for a first dance in a marriage, and I feel like I'm living out the thoughts in Henley's "The Heart of the Matter." Yet music, while it can be discarded (and some has or will be), can't be erased completely (I'm still struggling with The Police, for instance). In this case, I had to choose whether to cast them off or carry on. But you can't hide your "Lying Eyes" though I gave you the "Best of My Love." They were there before; they're still here now.

For the record, I almost never get rid of music. I'll burn it to CD so that I can delete it from my iTunes. This, friends, is a whole different blog post.

* Led Zeppelin - I lose sight of them at times, because of what so-called "rock" radio has done to them. That's why it's a pleasure to rediscover them (this would also apply to Pink Floyd. My brother gave me the mighty Zep when we shared a bedroom in the 70's. While I won't spin "Stairway" without a Congressional order these days, I can still be found rocking with any one of a number of great songs. As for Pink Floyd, they are still mind-blowing, even though I'm probably the only person alive who loved their music without ever lighting up. Perhaps I would have become a Grateful Dead fan if I had lit up. It would take herbal refreshments to get me to ever embrace some other garbage but let's get back on track.

* Miles Davis - How does one represent an entire genre? I needed someone for my jazz fix, and thought about Dave Brubeck, but went with Miles because, when all else fails, put of Kind of Blue. And most agree that it is the essential jazz CD. Still I couldn't go wrong with Brubeck, Monk, Parker, Satchmo, Coltrane and others, not to mention Glenn Miller to represent the Big Band sound.

* Radiohead - One of my few modern entries. I had heard how I needed to listen to OK Computer for years and somebody made me a copy. Yep, I listened. And listened. And listened. Then I got The Bends, and I listened to that too. Incredible. Still.

Sheesh, now it gets tough. Sheryl Crow? The Stones? Eric Clapton? The Clash? Elvis Costello? Ben Folds ? (oh, we'll return to him). U2? (ditto) All have had an enormous impact on me, and each one might be on here in a different year/era. Yet for tonight, I'm feeling like...

* Queen - I don't own every album (at least as of this minute). Yet when I remember buying my first record albums (big vinyl things, kids), two come to mind: Heart's Little Queen, and News of the World by Queen. Yes, that's the one with "We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions", but way before they became obnoxious sports anthems. There's so much about this band and their music that I still enjoy, and I guarantee that you will never find me a better front man than Freddie Mercury. Try...and you will fail. Queen did not need idiotic effects for their music. They had the showmanship of Mercury - the most grandiose thing in their show was normally when Freddie donned a cape for "God Save The Queen." Tell me about Live Aid and while some will say they remember U2, ALL remember Queen.

And you've been waiting for the obvious. So...

* Huey Lewis and the News - OK, so you're in shock that it took me this far to name them. I went the dramatic route and saved the best for last. As the 80's moved along and I was working on finding what kind of teenager I was, bands were coming and going. Billy Joel had moved onto the pop sound of An Innocent Man (a nostalgic album, for sure). Bruce was doing Born in the USA (other than "Bobby Jean", not my favorite album). And this little bar band from the San Francisco area exploded with a CD called "Sports." I felt like I had seen the light! Nobody had any influence on me here. This was to be my band, and they have been ever since, through 10 concerts, every last scrap of music that I can find (even the few rarities) and loves found and lost, HLN has been there. Sports is still, to this day, my favorite album. Their music plays in my soundtrack - every bit as much as The Beatles or Springsteen - and probably more. I mourn the fact that, to me, they are so underrated, but love the fact that here they are, down two members from their original six (and they visit occasionally) and continue to tour. I love that they've been so accessible. I love how I can be transplanted from the dregs of sadness at times in 2009, to 1984, when I was listening to "The Heart of Rock and Roll" in my FM Walkman while on my school trip in Washington DC; or the way I felt in '86, when I went to Record Town in the JV Mall to pick up my first copy of FORE! I wouldn't want to freeze time, but it's nice to visit.

This is my band. My favorite band. Ever. They're like my friends, though I've barely met them (and yes, I havemet some of them). Look in my 1987 Mahopac High School yearbook and there's the nickname: "Huey." They're my essential band.

Mock me if you wish. I'm OK with it.

As for underrated, that's where Ben Folds comes in. He's essential to me also, but I popped him here because his music is catchy, deep, melodic, driving, moody, smart-ass, and unknown after "Brick" with the Ben Folds Five. Great in concert and always fun and evolving.

For overrated, I'm going with U2. They became overrated the day that Rolling Stone anointed them "Band of the 80's" - in 1985! So began a roughly 15-year hatred of them from me. Sure, I got over it, but since then, other than Achtung Baby, which album of theirs has really stood up? I still love them, but I sometimes wonder if we've just overdone it with them. That's the deal with being overrated - it doesn't automatically mean something or someone is bad - hell I think we can overrate The Beatles and Derek Jeter, for that matter!

Then there's the question of Essential New Artist (or maybe "newer artist") and I'm not sure I have a definitive answer for you. Depends on who's new or newer. I like a lot of artists that have been around since the late 90's and the early part of this century, but are only now getting to be known (Death Cab for Cutie is a good examples). I'm going to give the nod to Martha Wainwright, since I like her music a lot and nobody else is jumping out at me. That might not sound like a ringing endorsement but it is. Trust me - considering the way I feel about the current state of mainstream music - those who think they evoke a certain time but whose music sounds all the same and whose shows are full of effect and little substance.

Again, a different post for another time.


Jon said...

That was a great read (your list and theirs). I'm not going to attempt one of my own though, my musical tastes are all over the place these days. Probably why I have over 16,000 songs on my ipod. And I too burn old mp3s to CD rather than toss them.......and Little Queen from Heart was one of my first LP purchases (after Destroyer from KISS).

Rob Adams said...

I have to admit that our talk about U2 in NYC made me think about how somewhat bloated and overrated they have become. Kiss was also in my sights for being overrated but they have their place.

I just feel like, with nearly 12,000 songs in my iTunes, I need to weed some junk out. Besides, having he CD's gives me another form of backup. I'm looking forward to cleaning the stuff up. A lot of what I'm going to dump is stuff related to somebody and I just don't want to see or hear it for a while - if ever.