Posts Tagged ‘Procol Harum’

Here is the first installment of my “100 Greatest Rock Hall Prospects” list, starting out at #100, and moving on to #1 in the coming weeks.  (Chicago, fortunately, lost their spot at #1 by virtue of being inducted.)  Hopefully, I’ll be able to imbed a Spotify playlist on this blog shortly, but please bear with me; I haven’t quite figured that trick out yet.  This particular batch has some eclectic, but somewhat borderline, cases.  Interestingly, five of these artists have already been nominated, but haven’t made it in yet.  Let me know your thoughts as we journey through the epochs of rock and roll.  Remember- this is just one guy’s opinion, so I hope you won’t take umbrage if your favorites aren’t on the list or are ranked too low for your liking.

100.  fela-kutiFela Kuti:  For all we complain about certain “snubs” from the Rock Hall, there are some genres, and indeed, some geographical regions that are left out in the cold entirely.  No artist who spent their career working from Africa, to give one less obvious example, has been inducted.  If the Hall ever looks in that direction, they could do no better than Fela Kuti.  Like Bob Marley before him, Kuti worked outside the Anglo-American axis, and pioneered a bold new synthesis while standing up to political oppression.  And also like Marley, he is regarded as much as a prophet as a musician.  Kuti’s contribution is Afrobeat, a dynamic synthesis of funk and traditional Nigerian rhythms, and a key progenitor to world music.  Redbull Music Guide calls him “A complex man who was equal parts shaman, showman, and trickster,” a crafty thorn in the side of the violent regimes that Nigerians endured during his lifetime.  If it weren’t for the horrific migrations out of Africa in the 1600s and 1700s, rock and roll could have never happened, so it is incumbent on us to recognize a figure who, more than anyone else, brought it all back home.  If this seems like a far-fetched choice, remember that Kuti has plenty of admirers in high places, ranging from Jay-Z to his onetime collaborator, Ginger Baker.

99.  Husker Du:  Husker-DuI was a bit dismissive about Husker Du in my introduction to this project, but they still deserve serious consideration for a Rock Hall induction.  They helped create alt-rock and set the table for Green Day and other latter-day acts that dominated radio when I was a teenager, except they did it years before it was cool.  Ultimately, they were a musician’s band, more famous for influence than for record sales.  Patrick Smith said it best: “To say that Hüsker Dü never cultivated any sort of image, in the usual manner of rock bands, is putting it mildly. These guys just didn’t look or carry themselves like musicians. And they didn’t care.”  Their records rarely had a picture of the band, but they were workmanlike, touring relentlessly to break out of the underground scene they were beholden to.  Husker Du bridged the gap between thrash and alternative, recording an essential album, Zen Arcade, with little time and a meager budget.  Nirvana, Pixies, the Foo Fighters and countless other acts cite them as an important influence.

98.  D.C. Talk: d.c. talkOne important genre that the Rock Hall has heretofore neglected (and will probably neglect for a very long time) is Christian Contemporary.  This is probably because its artists and its audience exist in a somewhat insular subculture in America far removed from anybody on the Nominating Committee.  But if your daddy listened to James Dobson on the radio and your mama read Amish romance novels, chances are, D.C. Talk was a part of your life in the 1990s.  D.C. Talk remains the most historically important Christian contemporary artist for the Rock Hall’s consideration, at least until Jars of Clay become eligible in 2020.  They started out recording plenty of spiritually uplifiting secular songs like “Lean On Me” and “Jesus Is Just Alright” before 1995’s Jesus Freak came out like a bolt out of the blue.  A lot of music that white evangelicals were listening to…well…let’s just say it was shoddily recorded and noticeably derivative.  There were lots of earnest singer-songwriters with acoustic guitars and beards, or Styx-wannabes like Petra.  D.C. Talk broke away from the evangelical tendency toward second-rate music, playing conscientious hip-hop-infused rock that didn’t sound like a pale imitation of existing artists.  Wisely, they tapped into post-punk and alternative’s need for personal authenticity and its identification with society’s misfits and losers, balancing the introspective with a finely-developed social consciousness.  Virtually every edgy Christian songwriter of a generation began his or her education with D.C. Talk.

97.  NyDolls3 New York Dolls: This pick goes against everything I stand for in terms of my personal taste, but it is tough to deny their longstanding influence.  The New York Dolls were gender-bending to a striking, and apparently persuasive, degree (just this semester, one of my students foolishly included them in a diorama on “women in rock.”)  There was this sorta Jagger-knock-off feel to their sound and their sneering and pouting temperament, but they were an important piece of what became punk music.  Even if they got there by way of glam.  I love that their first gig was in a homeless shelter; it’s the perfect encapsulation of the New York underground scene that embraced all kinds of people who were rejected elsewhere.  They challenged convention (particularly gender convention) with their wardrobe choices and became heroes to Patti Smith, The Ramones, and other top-shelf acts that became massively big later on.  (Then again, they also influenced KISS.  This isn’t something to be proud of; it’s more like remembering Lee Harvey Oswald for influencing Mark David Chapman.)  At a time when popular music was getting more complex and ethereal, New York Dolls not only brought it back down to earth, but into the gutter.  They lived fast, some of them died hard, and they enjoyed only a short career before disbanding, but everyone who was there at the time vouches for their importance.  The band was nominated once in 2001, but it may be a long time before they see the inside of the Rock Hall.  If it took the Sex Pistols five tries and the Stooges eight tries, they may have quite a wait ahead of them.

96. Harold Melvin Blue NotesTeddy Pendergrass/Harold Melvin and the Blue NotesEvery genre in the rock and roll family tree moves the listener in a different way.  The deep soul branch touches the most plaintive notes of our conscious selves, and speaks to our deepest hurts and our most aching longings.  I can think of no outfit that did this quite so well as Pendergrass- either with or without Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.  Their most important (and most widely covered) hit, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” is a track of profound emotional depth, and that’s just one of a small armada of hits that tore up the R&B charts through the 70s.  Pendergrass kept this going in his solo career, which was cut short by a freak accident that paralyzed him and shortened his life (eerie parallels to Curtis Mayfield, no?)  Actually, like Mayfield, Pendergrass and the Blue Notes also threaded a careful line between love songs and socially conscious numbers in tune with their times (give a listen to “Wake Up Everybody” for a fine essay in this genre.)  While figures like Barry White had a more conspicuous calling card in his spoken-word seduction, Pendergrass had chops that weren’t overshadowed by deceptive production.  Philadelphia artists have a habit of being ignored by the Rock Hall, as Daryl Hall pointed out at his own induction, and the Blue Notes would be a worthy addition given the absence of Philly soul from the Cleveland halls.  Classic rockers will have a fit, but I’d rather have a first rate soul outfit than a group of second-rate rockers.

95.  Procol HarumProcol Harum: For a few years, it seemed like Cleveland was letting every British invasion act it could remember into its halls.  When Procol Harum was nominated for the Class of 2013, it sure looked like a front-runner on a ballot filled with dicey blues and rap prospects.  Yet, they failed to get the votes, and I wonder why.  Inductees Dave Clark Five and The Hollies certainly had more hits, I’ll grant you that, but Procol Harum had significantly more vision behind it, and was a better fit for the Hall’s own agenda.  With a full-time lyricist at their disposal, they challenged rock and roll’s artistic boundaries, using greater classical influences, and a broader array of instruments- with the organ at the front of the mix- to create baroque pop.  The result of this technique was the glorious “Whiter Shade of Pale,” a track that serves as the exemplar of ambitious (if somewhat obtuse) psychedelia.  But don’t stop there, because “The Devil Came From Kansas,” “Conquistador,” and “A Salty Dog” were all ambitious and masterfully composed, rich gems waiting for those who are willing to delve further into their catalog.  All these factors make them important antecedents to progressive rock sensibilities.  Today, every artist records with a full orchestra as a fun lark.  But Procol Harum was perhaps the first band to do so with a 1972 album with the Edmonton Symphonic Orchestra, exploring how classical and rock and roll might be genres in collaboration rather than competition.  Procol Harum is still on tour today with its frontman Gary Brooker, and despite recurring lawsuits over “Whiter,” the band would be able to perform, and even skip the light fandango, if called upon.

94.  chuck willisChuck Willis: The Rock Hall has, traditionally, been very mindful of 50s R&B legends- people who didn’t have tons of hits that are played on Oldies radio today, but were indispensable to the foundations of rock and roll.  But a few of them never quite made it past the hurdles of induction.  Joe Tex is one of them.  Esther Phillips is another.  But arguably the turban-wearing Chuck Willis is the most influential of the figures in this category.  He was nominated on each of the Hall’s first five ballots, and once again in 2011, without success.  As the voting body becomes younger and perhaps less historically astute, Willis’s window is probably gone unless he gets a backdoor “early influence” nod.  It’s a shame, because he deserves induction without any asterisks.  He wrote his own material in a genre where that rarely happened, popularized “C. C. Rider” and The Stroll, one of Rock’s first dance crazes, and toggled easily between sincere ballads and riveting rockers.  His blend of crooning and wailing established the template for every number of R&B vocalists to come.  Unfortunately, he was felled by peritonitis in his prime, and died at the age of 30, one of rock and roll’s first big casualties, even predeceasing Buddy, Richie, and the Bopper.

93.  mary wellsMary Wells: Has the Rock Hall milked Motown dry?  It seems like every significant Motown artist is enshrined in the Hall, although the Nom Com seems on the lookout for more of them.  The Marvelettes have been nominated a couple times, most recently for the Class of 2015, but I think a stronger case can be made for Mary Wells if you’re going to close the book on Hitsville, USA.  Go back and listen to her old 45s, and you’ll hear a remarkable self-possession and personality shine through.  Sultry but sweet, emotive but confident, she should have had a much bigger career than she enjoyed.  It must have been tough as a female artist in the 60s, with the virgin/whore dichotomy at full bore.  Your output had to be demure enough to be respectable but sensuous enough to be interesting.  There aren’t many songs that are simultaneously both seductive and innocent as her vocal work on the coda of “My Guy.”  Unfortunately, she violated Rock and Roll Rule #3: Don’t Cross Berry Gordy.  (Rule #1 is “Don’t bite the head off a bat” and Rule #2 is “don’t marry your 13-year-old cousin.”)  Rumors persist that Gordy sabotaged her career after she left Motown, irritated by The Supremes getting more attention, better promotion, and more quality material.  But any way you slice it, the hits dried up prematurely for one of soul’s most talented vocalists.   

92.  megadethMegadeth: there are probably metal bands that deserve to be in before Megadeth, but they are certainly in the queue.  Founded by Metallica castaway Dave Muscatine, Megadeth presided over the creation of thrash-metal: angry, focused, intentional, and intense.  The band has danced with the devil for decades, with lyrics that explore death and destruction, but never wholly endorsing a violent worldview.  In terms of zeitgeist, it’s remarkable how well Megadeth directed their ire at the bloodlust of the 1980s, with a revived Cold War and a lot of unnecessary, phallus-waggling American incursions into Latin America and the Caribbean.  Nobody, as it turns out, was buying peace.  Although Muscatine has expressed interest in induction, it’s probably a long way off.  The Nom Com just isn’t interested in thrash metal, and their rivals, Metallica, belong to the Rock Hall’s “in-club” and these guys most definitely do not.

91.  bon joviBon Jovi: If you really stop and think about it, one of Cleveland’s more insidious biases is against artists that women tend to like more than men- perhaps a reflection of the male super-duper-majority on the Nom Com.  How many artists in the Hall of Fame today have a decisively female fan base?  Bobby Darin?  Ricky Nelson?  Neil Diamond?  I can’t think of too many more.  Teen idols tend to get passed over as long on image and short on chops.  Every once in a while, an exception like Peter Frampton- a surprisingly good guitarist- challenges that stereotype, but otherwise, good luck waiting for Bobby Vinton, Frankie Avalon, Lief Garrett, and Neil Sedaka to come to Cleveland.  But in the mid-to-late 1980s, Bon Jovi were not only teen idols, but the most well-remembered emblems of hair bands.  With long mullets, screechy guitar solos, and ear-worm hooks, bands like Bon Jovi tore up the charts in the mid-to-late 80s.  They wracked up a number of big hits made for stadium sing-alongs and Jon holding out the microphone to the audience (every song they’ve done seems to have a “wuhhh-oh” or an “aaah-ah” in the chorus crafted for this kind of moment.)  It was listener friendly, but almost factory-designed to vex the serious listener or critic, ever searching for technique and nuance.  But technique and nuance were never part of Bon Jovi’s appeal.  I had just started listening to Top 40 radio when “Always” was out, inaugurating Bon Jovi 2.0, and several years later, they did it again with “It’s My Life” and later remade themselves into John Mellencamp-style heartland rockers in the new millennium.  In a crazy way, a Bon Jovi comeback seemed more far-fetched and anachronistic than its contemporary Santana and Cher comebacks, partly because it was so tough to disassociate them from the mullet-infested, Dollar Store Springsteen side of the 80s.  After all, didn’t Nirvana exist to save us from bands like Bon Jovi?  Nevertheless, as a cultural artifact, as hitmakers of astonishing resilience, and as contributors to the rock and roll milieu, Bon Jovi deserves a place in the Hall.  “Tommy used to work on the docks” is one of the great opening lines in all of rock history.   Bon Jovi has been nominated once before- for the Class of 2011- but didn’t get in.  With the recent exception of Janet Jackson, that’s probably the most shocking non-induction in the last decade of Rock Hall history.  I’d expect them to get a second chance sooner rather than later- especially under the aggressive new management of Irving Azoff.

Read Full Post »

With the last post, we finally made it past the halfway point.  Lots of great songs were covered in spots #201 thru 400, and things are only going to get better.  Please join me as I unveil the next twenty spots in the Top 400 Songs of the 1960s:

200. “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag”– Country Joe and the Fish (1967):  The live take recorded at Woodstock is an absolute riot to listen to, but the studio version has its merits as well.  Borrowing a leaf from Tom Lehrer in using ragtime to satirize contemporary social issues, the track skewers the military-industrial complex and the poorly thought-out goals for American involvement.  One of the most divisive tracks on this list, it is something every member of the counterculture would have loved, and every member of the Silent Majority would have reviled.

199.  “It’s Your Thing”– The Isley Brothers (1969):  Talk about a reinvention!  After hitting it big with “Twist and Shout” and just plain “Shout!,” the Isleys were, for a brief time, a take-it-to-the-bank favorite for dance music.  By decade’s end, they came back from relative obscurity, and created this song, once against guaranteed to get people moving on the dance floor.  I’m sure James Brown considered demanding some royalties the first time he heard this.

198.  “Matty Groves”– Fairport Convention (1969):  If you haven’t listened to Fairport Convention, do yourself a favor and give them a try.  Maybe start with their most famous album, Liege and Lief.  With rock and roll pedigrees, this group of Englishmen attempted to rediscover and reinvent the music of their home country.  With “Matty Groves” they took a classic tale of cuckoldry and infused it with drama and atmosphere.

197.  “Monday, Monday”– The Mamas and the Papas (1966):  This song is quintessential 1960s, and one of the great efforts from one of the most quintessential 1960s acts.  Even as their easygoing hippie demeanor belied the simmering interpersonal drama, the Mamas and the Papas served up this acoustic, orchestrated track, replete with one of the most famous false endings in pop history.

196.  “Midnight Confessions”– The Grass Roots (1968):  The Grass Roots still constitute one of my favorite guilty pleasures to this day.  With a heavy-handed producer, loads of material from outside songwriters, and outside musicians playing on their records, they were only slightly less fabricated than the Monkees.  But gosh- those songs are some of the best ear candy of the late 60s and early 70s.  “Midnight Confessions” was one of their first big hits, with alternating lead vocals and punchy horns that anticipated Chicago.

195  “Wishin’ and Hopin'”– Dusty Springfield (1964):  Lulu.  Cilla Black.  Petula Clark.  All artists were cut from the same cloth- and yet one of their number, Dusty Springfield, left all of them in the…well…dust, breezing into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and becoming a serious contender for the 100 Greatest Rock and Roll Artists of all time.  Why?  Versatility.  Springfield ambitiously hopped between Memphis-style excursions, girl-group retreads, and pieces like this one, which wouldn’t have sounded out of place from someone like Barbara Lewis.  And most importantly, she never tried to out-Aretha Aretha, possibly the definition of failure for female singers in the 1960s.

194.  “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”– Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell (1968):  If I could have three music-related wishes, I’d bring back John Lennon from the dead, I’d bring back George Harrison from the dead, and then I would impose a total moratorium against using 1960s pop songs in commercials.  I never, ever, ever should have heard this song for the first time in a mid-90s Burger King commercial selling flame-broiled whoppers.

193.  “Conquistador”– Procol Harum (1967):  You could never accuse Procol Harum of lacking ambition.  Gary Brooker cooked up this track with a complex orchestral track that is expertly woven into conventional rock and roll backing.  Every time you hear of a rock and roll band doing a series of concerts with a philharmonic, Procol Harum more or less invented the concept- along with pretentious lyrics like “your death-mask face”.

192.  “I Can’t Get Next To You”– The Temptations (1969):  We are clearly moving into funky, less-polished Temptations Mark II in this track.  The Temptations’ secret weapon was always the interplay of their voices- impossibly high tenors, resonant deep voices, and some soulful, distinctive parts in between them.  Every Temptation gets a turn at the microphone in this number creating one of their most urgent tracks.  With a little help from the Funk Brothers, they manage to find a sweet spot between soul and the psychedelic.

191.  “Dead Man’s Curve”– Jan and Dean (1964):  For a while, Jan and Dean dominated the nascent surf scene and were its most visible icons in what began as a deeply local movement with nary a national following.  Then the Beach Boys hit, and suddenly Jan and Dean seemed like that old Calecovision, gathering dust in your basement. This was something of a comeback attempt, with a hint of angst and fatalism that is leftover from the “Leader of the Pack” era.  The song also proved sadly prescient; Jan ended up in a car accident near the very curve in the highway that inspired this song, leaving him in a coma for weeks.

190.  “Land of 1,000 Dances”– Wilson Pickett (1966):  Pickett’s exciting R&B stylings made him a standout, and I think he is somewhat overlooked as a grandfather to what became funk music.  I absolutely love what passes for the song’s chorus, just Pickett scatting the syllable “Nah”- followed by an entire chorus of backup singers.  Perhaps the strongest testament to the song is that it receives airplay while many of the dances it commemorates (the Watusi, the Mashed Potato) do not.

189.  “Those Were the Days”– Mary Hopkins (1968):  The Beatles’ ill-advised creation of Apple Records, a cheap tax write-off they came up with after Brian Epstein died, had a number of catastrophic effects.  The bureaucratic headaches and corporate mismanagement created in its wake were far more responsible for the band’s breakup than Yoko Ono ever would be.  But because they were The Beatles, they were able to attract top-notch talent to even a chaotic, poorly run record company.  Maybe the best record from this first crop of Apple recordings was this track, both sweetly sad and eminently joyful, based off of a Russian tavern song.

188. “I’m A Believer”-The Monkees (1966): The Monkees’ most commercially successful song, it is easy to forget how ubiquitous the group was in 1966, decimating their competition, including The Beatles, who offered relatively weak singles like “Day Tripper” and “Paperback Writer” that year.  This track, written by Neil Diamond of all people, is a masterpiece of pop songwriting with zero artistic integrity at a time where it was considered, for the first time in the 20th century, an expectation of popular musicians.  Sure, the Monkees don’t play a single note on it- not even Davy Jones’ tambourine- and sure, it was handpicked for them by their svengali, Don Kirschner.  But I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of the sunniest and most memorable tracks to come out of the decade.

187.  “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)”– Darlene Love (1964):  Love labored long and hard in the shadows of the “Wall of Sound”.  Phil Specter, a mad experimenter who viewed singers and musicians as a means to his vision, became notorious for issuing records under the Crystals’ name that did not actually feature any known members of this girl-group.  “He’s A Rebel”?  That’s Love singing lead, languishing in obscurity.  Thankfully, every holiday season you can hear Love- under her own name- belting out this track from this Christmas album released by the artists in Specter’s stable.  It’s little more than Love riffing off of “Chriist-maaaaas” backing vocals, but it is no less magnificent to behold.

186.  “In the Court of the Crimson King”– King Crimson (1969):  Depending on how you feel about Procol Harum, this track is the lead-off song from perhaps the first progressive rock album ever made.  Greg Lake- later to feature in Emerson, Lake & Palmer- makes it work, with solid lead vocal work and impressive bass chops.  It sets the parameters for everything music aficionados love and hate about the genre- it is long, ponderous, mythological, features extended solos, betrays zero soul, and is entirely undanceable.

185.  “For Once in My Life”– Stevie Wonder (1968):  Child stars have a propensity to crash and burn.  Stevie Wonder, having achieved his first #1 hit in 1963 as a pre-teen kept getting stronger and better, in spite of all odds.  He had a small armada of hits by this time, and he was only 18.  But this is perhaps his first song that touches greatness, or was capable of becoming a standard.  I mean, Sinatra asked to record this song!  And it worked just as well crooned by Ol’ Blue Eyes as it did with a soulful harmonica solo in the middle when Stevie released the original.

184.  “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”– The Temptations (1966):  Having enjoyed a revival in the 1980s film The Big Chill, “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” feels a bit more airy and less constrained and micromanaged than a lot of other Motown hits of this era.  The sense of space is particularly striking during the verses, with the soul equivalent of the monochromatic drone in Indian music.

183.  “Words”– The Bee Gees (1968):  The gold chains and white suits were still almost a full decade away.  Here, The Bee Gees were still young prodigies, writing tuneful songs with some of the best melodic twists of their time, and lush orchestration.

182.  “Love Is All Around”– The Troggs (1967):  What a remarkable turnaround!  The Troggs, a barely-literate garage band responsible for “Wild Thing,” managed to also pull off this love song, one of the very sweetest of the Oldies era.  It is a bit overwrought, with saccharine strings, and awkward syntax like “on my love you can depend,” but it has generated a great many covers over the years (perhaps, most memorably, in a Christmas-themed version in Love, Actually.)

181.  “Darling Be Home Soon”– Lovin’ Spoonful (1966):  The Spoonful, helmed by John Sebastian, were always ahead of the curve in the songwriting stakes.  While “Summer in the City” and “Do You Believe in Magic” are the most well-remembered today, this track- a minor hit from mid-decade- is one of their very best accomplishments.  The narrator, still a teenager, reflects on his growing sense of mortality and vulnerability.

Read Full Post »

I remember when rock was young…or perhaps, not quite so young, watching VH1 when I was in high school, in the midst of those halcyon days when VH1 actually aired programming pertinent to vintage rock and roll.  In this belle époque, free from Flavor of Love, and Megan Wants a Millionaire, VH1 aired its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of Rock and Roll.  I watched transfixed, and it introduced me to a number of interesting musicians in the pantheon, including Crosby Stills & Nash, David Bowie, and many others.  I recently found out, via sporcle of all things, that VH1 released a new list of the top 100 last year, and included a number of new artists to that list who either weren’t around in 1998, or whose legacies were still very much up for grabs.  My primordial nemesis, Rolling Stone magazine, approached a similar task in recent years, selecting 100 “Immortals” of rock and roll.

Not one to let a ranking of any sort go unanswered, I am attempting here my own list of the 100 Greatest Rock and Roll Artists.  I write this knowing that no such list is completely objective, and that my knowledge of both the artists included here and those left off is imperfect and incomplete.  There’s a lot of great music to which I am unfamiliar.  This is a list reflective of my time and my biases, as someone enamored of 60s pop and 70s AM-radio hits who zoned out during much of the music that was popular during his adolescence.  But here is my criteria:

  • Body of work– This includes not only the quality, but to an extent, the breadth of what the artist accomplished.  Were they able to sustain success for a reasonable period of time, and if not, is there a very good excuse for why they didn’t?
  • Endurance– Is their work still listenable today for reasons beyond its nostalgia value?
  • Influence on the development of rock– this is a touchy category, to be sure, and it is used badly by many to further their favorite choices when they did not achieve commercial success.  But are they, at the very least, not an artistic dead end?
  • Commercial Success– this is not used by many rankings, but I think it is somewhat pertinent here.  If the record-buying public bought droves of Chicago and ABBA records (two groups hated by critics), this ought to be taken into account in tandem with other factors- nobody can judge music quite like the people who bought records when it first came out.

Okay, got all that?  Given the nature of the criteria, my list is short on “critics’ pets” (so no Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman, or Velvet Underground), historically significant-but-unlistenable outfits (so no Sex Pistols), and groups with small, but fanatical and irritating cadres of fans (KISS, the Smiths, and especially Rush).  Instead, there’s a lot of groups here not on the VH1 and Rolling Stone lists that have fallen through the cracks with the passage of time and are not highly regarded by the astoundingly small and endogomous clique that usually makes these lists– hence the inclusion of America, Lionel Richie, Hall and Oates, Doobie Brothers, and others along those lines.  Finally, my definition of rock and roll is generous and liberal, but it is not elastic without bounds.  70’s soul, British pop, rockabilly, and Top 40 songs with R&B influences deserve consideration.  Outright county, blues, jazz, and rap fall outside this schema– so apologies to fans of Run DMC, Eminem, Hank Williams, Albert King, Miles Davis, and Robert Johnson, meritorious though they are.

100.  Don McLean: I’ll admit it– he doesn’t quite achieve longevity, and if it weren’t for “Vincent”, he would have been a one-hit wonder.  Yet, writing the seminal “American Pie”– the cornerstone of the rock and roll mythos, ensures him a place here.  By the way, don’t neglect the rest of his catalog, which has some very fine work from the 1970s singer-songwriter genre.

99.  Alanis Morissette: Back in 1995, you could not turn on the radio for 15 minutes without hearing something from Jagged Little Pill.  An angsty response to Pearl Jam, Beck, and similar bands, she had a foot in the alternative world while still holding her own on Top 40 radio.  And, of course, I’ll never get over the fact that “You Oughtta Know” was written for Full House’s Uncle Joey- David Coulier.

98.  Carl Perkins: On the list of artists that inspired The Beatles, Carl probably ranks only behind Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Holly.  Perkins deserves a great deal of credit for almost singlehandedly inventing the genre of rockabilly, and creating space where the country-and-western and rock and roll worlds could intersect.  He most famously wrote “Blue Suede Shoes”- but consider the rest of his rich catalog, evocative of his backwoods upbringing: “Sure to Fall (In Love With You)”, “Lend Me Your Comb”, and “Movie Magg.”

97.  The Ronettes: The accolades should go not so much to the Ronettes (although their lead vocalist, Veronica Bennett, was quite capable), but to their producer, Phil Spector.  Now, if you have heard only a quarter of what I have heard about Phil Spector (and I have heard very little of all there is to tell), you would be prepared for any  outrageous anecdote, and any indication of sociopathic behavior.  But despite his mercurial nature and probable inclination toward homicide, Spector was a producer for the ages, creating a rich multi-layered sound that pushed the limits of what rock and roll could achieve sonically.  And with the Ronettes’ come-hither voices, particularly in “Be My Baby” and their Christmas records, Spector achieved this to its greatest effect.

96.  TLC: Few outfits brought hip-hop to the masses quite so persuasively as TLC.  A product of the genre’s proliferation of the early 90s, TLC achieved its most prolific success in the mid-90s, with the release of CrazySexyCool, an album that spawned “Waterfalls” (which I am almost certain was ripped off from a 1980 Paul McCartney song, but that’s another story entirely), “Creep”, and the so-dirty-I-cannot-believe-it-got-on-the-radio “Red Light Special.”  Their subsequent work was interesting, but didn’t quite achieve that level, but for a good long while, these three distinct personalities were the ones to beat for any aspiring young artists.  I remember returning home from a semester in London in May of 2002, and heard about Left-Eye’s death on the front page of the British newspapers– a testament to how global this group’s reach had become.

95.  Coldplay: Hmm..this list is a bit weighted toward recent-y guys so far, isn’t it?  Well, Coldplay continues to perform at some of the highest levels, although it is becoming increasingly clear that they peaked with “Viva La Vida”, Coldplay has used their music to explore the depth of human emotion.  It is no coincidence that Brian Eno, a pioneer in ambient music, has been their producer.  The emphasis is on mood, rather than melody– not that this band has been lacking in lyrical or melodic prowess.

94.  Supertramp: Seriously?  I put Supertramp on here?  Let me check my list here…(furious rustling of paper)…hmm…this is what happens when I rank thinks after drinking a hot toddy.  So, let me think of a rationale, here: Supertramp, particularly its frontman and keyboardist Roger Hodgson, made thought-provoking but radio-friendly hits during the often dark days of the late 1970s.  “The Logical Song,” for example, won the Ivor Novello award for the best music and lyrics in 1979.  But the entire Breakfast in America album is remarkable in celebrating and critiquing Americana at the same time- witness “Take the Long Way Home” and the title track.  This is also, incidentally, the last non-Kenny G. group to use the soprano saxophone regularly while still expecting to be taken seriously.

93.  Procol Harum:  It stretches imagination and memory to understand what an epochal track “A Whiter Shade of Pale” was in 1967, even by the high standards of that revolutionary year.  It inaugurated a whole generation of tracks that borrowed heavily from classical influences and demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of music theory.  Even more to the point, it set the tone for a lot of the psychedelic rock that came after, using church organs and harpsichords to evoke a foggy sense of mysticism and otherworldliness.  By the way, there’s plenty of other great tracks they did: put “Salad Days”, “A Salty Dog” and “Conquistador” on the turntable sometime.

92.  Weezer: They started out as an intriguing alternative band with songs like “Buddy Holly”, and remained relevant longer than anyone thought they would– as one commentator put it, the Weezer of the new millennium ended up being Weezer.

91.  Paul McCartney & Wings:  McCartney’s solo career doesn’t get nearly the respect it deserves.  Lennon and Harrison gain praise because their records most approach the singer-songwriter medium, while McCartney tended toward over-produced hits and, in his own words, “silly love songs.”  But, to quote Paul once more, what’s wrong with that?  You would be hard pressed to name anyone who produced good songs from 1970 to 1985 more consistently than McCartney, and Band on the Run never gets its due as perhaps the decade’s most listenable album.  While the Wings cohered as a unit, McCartney also pioneered the one-man-in-a-studio-going-troppo-and-doing-everything feel that people like Sufjan Stevens would eventually follow-  if you don’t believe me, go listen to McCartney and especially Flaming Pie.  Compare their solo output, and I think you will see that Lennon needed McCartney’s melodic instincts far more than McCartney needed Lennon’s iconoclasm.

90.  Doobie Brothers: They aren’t within sniffing (toking?) distance of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but the Doobies contributed a great deal to the 1970s, and were one of the few bands whose output was equally at home on commercial AM stations as it was on “serious” rock FM stations.  One of the few bands to actually have eras, you can enjoy the early records, characterized by “China Grove”, “Long Train Runnin'” and “Listen to the Music” as you can with the Michael McDonald era (“Takin’ it to the Streets”, “What a Fool Believes.”)  They might be the only multi-racial group on this list as well.  I’ll have to check.

89.  America: Another fantastic, fantastic group that has never gotten its due.  America is, in my own judgment, the only band that surpasses The Beatles in its ratio of good material to crap.  One of my informal criteria for this list is “who has a greatest hits album I could listen to all the way through”?  America fills this spot easily- with “A Horse with no Name”, “Don’t Cross the River”, “Ventura Highway”, and my favorite song from my favorite decade, “Sister Golden Hair.”  Blessed with three great songwriters- born-again Christian Dan Peek, John Denver-ish Gerry Buckley, and Neil Young soundalike Dewey Bunnell, there was no shortage of great material.

88.  The Spinners: The 1970s Philadelphia sound was a wonder to behold- a funkified combination of rich vocals, punchy horn sections and inspired soul that dominated airwaves.  One of the great artists in this field was the Spinners, who racked up a string of hits with a number of different vocalists, and their harmonies were complemented by their dance moves.  Go ahead- listen to “Rubber Band Man” and “Could it be I’m Falling in Love” and tell me they don’t belong here.

87.  The Hollies: How easy it is to forget that the Hollies were, by most measures, the 4th best group from the initial wave of the British Invasion.  While not as innovative as their superiors in the Beatles, the Stones, and the Kinks, they also knew and worked within their limits, with little studio experimentation, and thus few wanton artistic misfires.  While the early hits like “Carrie Anne” and “Bus Stop” are pleasant enough ear candy, they evolved into a talented group of songwriters that created some of the most ambient songs of their era- the murky “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” and the John Donne-ish “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”.

86.  Billy Joel: As he recovers from another nasty divorce and a stinging but mostly truthful Slate article eviscerating his music, Joel is an enigma.  One of the most talented melody writers of the 20th century, how does one reconcile his talent with the smarmy, self-congratulating, faux-authentic, patronizing and not infrequently misogynistic material in his lyrics.  And that’s before you consider the bad sci fi (“Miami 2071”)  the emotional manipulation that insults his listeners intelligence (“Leningrad”) or his need to out-Springsteen Springsteen and write panegyrics to the working joe (“Allentown”, “Downeaster Alexa”).  But look at what happens when Joel drops his pretension, his brazen quest for Long Island authenticity, and his delusions of adequacy- under the right conditions, Joel can produce one of the most touching ballads ever written (“And So It Goes”), or some delightful doo-wop throwbacks (“Keeping the Faith”, “The Longest Time.”)

85.  Peter, Paul & Mary: Speaking of authenticity, here’s the real McCoy.  (Sadly, the Real McCoy did not make this list.  If they had, I would  face a public shaming, a mass-unfriending on facebook and very probably a broken engagement.)  Born amidst the folk music bars of Greenwich Village, Peter, Paul & Mary took that scene and tempered it of its excesses.  (Tom Lehrer once pointed out that folk musicians are the types of people who think singing 50 verses of “On Top of Old Smoky” is twice as enjoyable as singing 25.)  I become distracted- PP&M added some sugar to the medicinal of Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger’s reedy voices and made their work palatable for mass consumption.  Lots of people remember “Blowing in the Wind”, but give “When the Ship Comes In” a try.  But if folk music is about affecting and inspiring change and of bringing awareness to the crisis of our times, they not only sang about it, they lived it out, marching in Selma, performing at the March on Washington, and remaining a fixture on PBS.  As one of their song asks: “have you been to jail for justice?”  Maybe they haven’t (and at any rate, Peter Yarrow actually did go to jail, albeit for the wrong reasons), but in every way they lived out the change their music bespoke.

84.  Santana: Let’s forget about the money-grabbing 90s collaborations, and remember Santana for its spooky, evocative tracks and ethereal guitar solos from the late 1960s and early 1970s.  It touched a chord with its somewhat improvisational style and cool sonic effects.  At the same time, Santana is also responsible for one of the elements of 1970s music that I find most troubling- the close association of women and evil.  (You can see traces of this in, well, “Evil Woman”, “Some Girls” by the Rolling Stones, and every Eagles song ever written.)  (By the way, you caught me, I don’t know very much about Santana.)

83.  The Bee Gees: I am going to catch all kinds of flak from Mr. Stanley and a few other steady readers for this pick.  Let me make my case: disco has gotten a bad rap for entirely the wrong reasons.  Disco isn’t any more insipid than anything else that was on the radio during the late 1970s, and it was a fascinating mix of Philadelphia soul, and dance-friendly white pop (think K.C. and the Sunshine Band)- and culturally, an endlessly fascinating intersection of Afrocentric, Hollywood, and New York’s Erotic City cultures.  But how do the Bee Gees fit into this?  They link up the British Invasion to this phenomenon, and add the exceptional close harmonies that it seems only kinfolk can create.  Their early material was ambitious and adventurous (“New York Mining Disaster”, “I’ve Got to Get a Message to You”), before the Saturday Night Fever days that gave voice to the desperation (“Stayin’ Alive”) and cynicism (“Jive Talkin'”) that characterized an era that historian Alan Brinkley has called “The Age of Limits.”

82.  Smokey Robinson and the Miracles: Motown’s first bankable artist, Robinson began in the doo-wop idiom (“Get a Job”) before lending his voice to some of the 1960s best soul hits- “Tears of a Clown”, “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” and “The Tracks of My Tears”.  Robinson was the very voice of soul during rock and roll’s Detroit-based regency.

81.  James Taylor: Singer-songwriters get all kinds of hipster credentials these days and their music holds up.  Soft rock pioneers are decidedly less chic, tend to have long-lasting careers and give concerts attended by 50-year-old women named Debbie until the singer reaches extreme old age.  Taylor tilts more to the latter than the former, but he maintains elements of both.  His work is introspective, thoughtful and reflective, and isn’t afraid to tilt toward the sentimental when that’s what JT is feelin’ (“Shower the People”).  But the Taylor canon is a warm, familiar voice- not unlike the Berkshire Mountains from which he hails- in a rock and roll world of malcontents, criminals and jackasses.

Read Full Post »