Monday, October 23, 2006

149 to 100.

149. Kate Bush

T: I admire her artistry and acknowledge some transcendent moments, but me for a little Bush goes a long way.

M: Often imitated, rarely duplicated, though it appears that spiritual descendants Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan (another Canuck!) are going to place higher. I spent far too much time staring at the cover to Hounds of Love.

148. Joan Baez

T: First lady of folk, possessed of a crystalline soprano, her voice can be an acquired taste. But it’s one I acquired at least for 1975’s sublime Diamonds and Rust, which felt valedictorian 30 years ago.

M: Baez kill.

147. David Byrne

T: Uh-Oh.

M: On his own? No way, unless you’re going to give him huge credit for My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. On second thought, keep him here, that’s one fantastic record.

146. Joan Armatrading

T: She has flown under my radar for most of her career but that self titled record with “Down To Zero” and “Love And Affection” is an intimate classic.

M: I can’t help but think of our pal Shuggie, who spun Joanie back in his collegiate days to close the deal with his dates, because there’s nothing that turns a woman on more than a sexually ambiguous, West Indian folksinger. Show off.

145. Joe Jackson

T: Look Sharp was one of the great late 70’s debuts, and I’m the Man just about matched it. I hung in there with Beat Crazy and Jumpin’ Jive, but by Night and Day I could see the handwriting on the wall. I told him we were through and we haven’t spoken since.

M: Like the Police, he tapped into the late 70s zeitgeist without ever really being a punk, and produced a catalog rich with tuneful gems.

144. Bjork

T: I’ve tried with Bjork, but she just leaves me bjaffled.

M: I am so surprising! Many details rich in splendor! Laugh, laugh, the monkeys love it!

143. The Flaming Lips

T: Their transformation from underground art-pop wierdos to mainstream art-pop wierdos is highlighted by 1999s The Soft Bulletin, a lush, damaged masterpiece that revealed leading Lip Wayne Coyne as a gore with a heart of gold.

M: I can’t think of another band that took so long to find its stride. For the longest time, this OKC collective fumbled along as an arty, jokey alt band, before turning into master conceptualists, and a band that occupies its own field.

142. Duke Ellington

T: As Stevie said “For there’s Basie, Miller, Satchmo / And the king of all Sir Duke”.

M: Now we’re comparing apples to orangutans, sneaking a man who may be America’s finest composer in any form into a list comprised mostly of rock and rollers. If you haven’t added the Duke’s loopy take on The Nutcracker Suite onto your list of holiday traditions, you should.

141. XTC

T: There were two XTCs, the jittery, angular blasts of new wave pop that jump started their career in the late 70’s and the 80’s kings of lush, literate masterful songwriting. Both deserve a spot on this list.

M: The new wave Beatles, a band exploding with ideas and lush pop tunes.

140. Weezer

T: The American XTC… with a similarly reticent frontman.

M: Smart guy geek rock. I’m in favor.

139. Lou Reed

T: With the VU surely up ahead, Lou Reed’s decadent spin on classic rock takes no prisoners. Wildly inconsistent, his high water marks (Transformer, Rock and Roll Animal, New Sensations, New York) make his inclusion here just about right.

M: Pure rock and roll authenticity, intelligence and decadence melding together in some of the best songs of the last half-century.

138. King Crimson

T: Prog rears its ugly head once again.

M: My attitudes toward prog in general are well-documented, but I make an exception for King Crimson. Their original incarnation does little for me, but the power trio that recorded Red and the quartet behind Discipline, Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair made some of the most relentless, most interesting art music ever.

137. Patsy Cline

T: I’ve got one Patsy Cline cd called 12 Greatest Hits, and it’s friggin' awesome.

M: A little heartbreak in every word. One of our greatest stylists.

136. Buddy Holly

T: Only 22 when he died… no American rocker ever packed more greatness in 18 months than Buddy Holly.

M: Rave on! The man who made hiccups cool.

135. Aerosmith

T: Masters of boogie blues-rock on their essential first four records, Joe Perry’s guitar heroics and Steven Tyler’s Jaggerisms ruled the day. A descent into junkie hell and self parody made their phoenix like resurrection in the late 80’s all the more remarkable.

M: The band that used to get slagged as sloppy Stones seconds now stands astride all the survivors. Aside from the estimable Pump, their post rehab output has been just so-so, but it’s good they’re alive to play “Back in the Saddle” night after night.

134. Jefferson Airplane

T: More trailblazing than good, I could never really connect with the druggy excess of this proto-hippie, legendary San Francsico band. They have to shoulder the lion’s share of the blame for the Starship too. “Volunteers” was the sh*t, though.

M: I think you had to be there (and I wasn’t) to get the full effect, but a handful of these tunes stand out even through the lysergic haze.

133. George Harrison

T: I won’t begrudge anyone putting the Quiet One on their list, but a quick glance at his solo discography reveals only All Things Must Pass as essential.

M: I remember seeing a video for “Blow Away” on The Midnight Special when I was a kid and feeling an immediate connection to the quiet Beatle. One of the most mind-blowing things in all of rock: This guy was the third best songwriter in his original band.

132. Robert Johnson

T: The devil made him do it.

M: Trace this countdown back to the beginning, and you’ll find a man playing guitar at a Mississippi crossroads.

131. Aimee Mann

T: Way over her head here, Mann’s reflective, gloomy pop folk could use a laugh now and then, but Whatever and Bachelor No. 2 are aces.

M: I spent a whole summer unlocking the mysteries of Bachelor No. 2, one of the best albums of the past decade.

130. Elliott Smith

T: His Beatle-esque, lo-fi folk pop made many believers… including me. Took part in arguably the strangest Academy Awards sequence ever when Madonna introduced Smith, Trisha Yearwood and Celine Dion to each sing their Oscar nominated songs standing side by side. My heart went out to him then as it does now.

M: Unfortunately, he mimicked Nick Drake in one too many ways. A fine, fine songwriter.

129. Michael Jackson

T: He should be here solo and for the Jackson 5. Sure he’s an all-time wackjob, but Off The Wall and Thriller are transcendent rock and soul.

M: Sadly, he seems to be unable to tell the difference between a good idea and a bad one in his life (owning the Beatles’ catalog – good; Jesus juice – bad) or in his work (“Billie Jean” – good; “The Girl is Mine” – well, not). But gladly, he had more good ideas in his early twenties than most people have in a lifetime.

128. The Beastie Boys

T: The Elvis (Elvii?) of rap.

M: They came on like such snotty little jackasses that you had the feeling that their glorious debut would be the only trick in their book. But it turned out that they were brilliant little jackasses, capable of reinventing themselves at every turn.

127. Smashing Pumpkins

T: They seemed to float around the edges of my consciousness, with enough good tunes that I needed to check them out, but not enough to make me care.

M: At their best, they were explosive and showy, unapologetically brilliant. And they weren’t afraid to be excessive (see, e.g., Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness) a trait that could sink a lesser band, but only enhances the great ones.

126. Otis Redding

T: The greatest singer of the rock era.

M: One of the few things my father and I have ever agreed on is that Otis Redding was the $#!&, the most dynamic, riveting soul singer of all. Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa. Your turn.

125. Johann Sebastian Bach

T: I could see Skid Row, but not Bach solo.

M: I never kept up with him much after Skid Row.

(Ed. Note: Suffice it to say we’re classical ignoramuses and brothers in snark.)

124. Todd Rundgren

T: A Wizard, A True Star. I own nothing after 1976’s Faithful but thanks to my friend Feeney I’ve got the best of the admittedly scattershot rest.

M: Perhaps the most maddening entry on this whole list. I hate to begrudge an artist for following his own muse, but after demonstrating his brilliance at creating perfect pop confections like the ones on Something/Anything, Rundgren has spent too much of his career dabbling in self-indulgent vanity projects like computers-gone-nuts disaster of No World Order. If you’re looking for a neglected gem in the catalog, check out 1989’s Nearly Human, which mixes the best of Rundgren’s pop instincts and Philly soul heritage.

123. Madonna

T: Marriages, kids, Kabbalah, Joe Henry’s sister-in-law, the incredibly annoying fake British accent… forget ‘em all because Madonna has been the cultural yardstick of the last 25 years.

M: She’s not just current, she’s post-current, always five minutes ahead of the pack. She knows what the people want before they do.

122. Matchbox 20

T: In best Rodney Dangerfield voice “Matchbox 20? How bad were Matchbox 1 through 19? This poll gets no respect? I tell ya.”

M: Words fail. Were the Bay City Rollers ineligible?

121. Creedence Clearwater Revival

T: They were timely and political without preaching...wrapped up in absolutely perfect 3 minute songs. John Fogerty is right up there with Dylan, Robbie Robertson, Brian Wilson, Tom Waits, Springsteen and Westerberg on the short list of great American rock songwriters. In three years they had 13 top 10 singles (they rivaled the Beatles for the artistry of their A and B sides) and then band democracy, bad career decisions and a classically bad early contract sent Fogerty to the sidelines with artistic and emotional difficulties that have never fully healed. Six albums in three years and they were done. My # 4.

M: I can’t get over the contrast between the last band and this outfit, one of the best, most deceptively brilliant, bands we’ve ever known. At his peak, John Fogerty cranked out a masterpiece every nine or ten months.

120. Dar Williams

T: Dar-nit!

M: She seems like such a nice woman.

119. Green Day

T: Post grunge, Green Day brought melody back to indie rock than got a post-Nirvana boost into every suburban teenager’s discman. Snotty and proud of it, they actually made better records once they left the underground. Tre Cool.

M: I’ve never thought they were as good as everyone around me seems to believe, but the choicest nuggets – “Basket Case,” “American Idiot” – are undeniable classics.

118. Woody Guthrie

T: The Grapes of Wrath come to life, sire of the American folk tradition and Bob Dylan’s inspiration, you really need to have Dust Bowl Ballads

M: Someone really ought to carve Woody’s face into a mountain alongside Hank Williams, Robert Johnson and Louis Armstrong.

117. Patti Smith

T: Combining beat poetry with the punk rock’s raw urgency, Horses still packs an amazing wallop. And “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine” might be the greatest opening line in all of rock and roll.

M: “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.” Has anyone ever opened their career on such a devastating high? And then followed it with a catalog worthy of her initial promise?

(Ed. Note: Apparently we were both smitten with that particular turn of phrase.)

116. Jimmy Buffett

T: Beach bum buffoonery.

M: The weekending stockbrokers must’ve come out en masse to vote. Affable, for sure, but seems to demand his own category.

115. Hank Williams

T: The father of country and the prototype tortured artist. It’s hard to believe that someone so young wrote songs that seem so old.

M: One of the great things about the CD versions of Hank’s early songs is that they’re copies of the best-available 78 rpm discs, making the years of wear and tear seem like part of the music.

114. White Stripes

T: A boy/girl guitar/drums duo will save rock and roll? Maybe.

M: One badass guitar player + one brilliantly crude drummer shouldn’t be able to make music so elemental, so incandescent. Johnny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd treat the blues like an antiquity; the White Stripes treat it like a bottomless well of imagination.

113. Rush

T: This one’s a head scratcher… their enduring popularity totally eludes me.

M: I loved these guys when I was fifteen, which makes sense, because their space-rock silliness (2112) and fake-deep ruminations (“The Trees,” “Free Will”) aim straight for the barely-pubescent heart. Though when they shed their prog affectations and focus on rocking out on albums like Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures, they can still make me feel warm inside.

112. Nick Drake

T: Has one commercial ever enhanced anyone’s legacy and career more than Nick Drake? He supplied the blueprint for just about every mope rocker with three incredible records of morose beauty.

M: It can be almost painful to listen to Drake, and I mean that in the best possible way. The nerve endings are so exposed, the sense of melancholy so pronounced, that it makes you ache a little. But the songs are so luminous that you just can’t turn away.

111. David Gray

T: The currency of recency propels a sturdy minor leaguer into the show… not sure he’ll be able to hit the curve though.

M: Gray ain’t bad, but he’s out of his league with the Drakes, Stripes and Hanks of the world.

110. Little Feat

T: Lowell George’s Little Feat brought gigantic amounts of soul and groove to the 70’s SoCal den of narcissism. The ache and weariness of “Willin” and “Long Distance Love” are proof of George’s genius.

M: I came to this late, but I came strong. This is what a jam band ought to be, a group swimming in soul and with a potent sense of purpose. Music shouldn’t just go anywhere; it should go somewhere, and these Feat will take you there.

109. Muddy Waters

T: The Father of American Electric Blues… most of the top 10 in this countdown would city Muddy as a huge influence.

M: I once heard him described as a “force of nature,” and that nails it. The power in his voice is stunning, every bit as mythical and elemental as his name.

108. James Brown

T: I got you. I feel good. The Godfather of Soul… way-y-y-y too low.

M: There aren’t ten people who have been more responsible for shaping the sound of popular music over the past four decades. There might not be five. Hell, there might not be two. James Brown moved rhythm from the back to the fore, making the vamp – and thereby the funk – every bit as essential as words or melody. A titan.

107. Chuck Berry

T: Muddy, James Brown, Chuck Berry… you sure this isn’t the top 10? Want to hear the blueprint of rock and roll? Check out The Great Twenty-Eight, the single greatest one artist compilation ever assembled.

M: Waters, Brown and Berry? In the triple digits? We could stop the countdown now and it would be just about right.

106. The Replacements

T: What if you combined the Faces’ drunken outrageousness with Springsteen’s working class romanticism, mix in Dylan’s prodigious lyrical gifts and then add Beatle worthy melodies? You just might have the Replacements. Bursting out of the heartland with punk’s fury but aspiring to be Rod Stewart, Paul Westerberg led the finest American band of the 1980’s. My god… Let It Be, Tim, Pleased to Meet Me… these records are American classics. This is the band I wanted to be in… and I still do. (Paul… call me).

M: This is lifted straight from my first post on this blog: No band has mattered as much to me as these guys did during my collegiate years. It was the first time that my favorite band seemed more like peers than heroes. They described a world I could understand, full of loners, lovers, buddies, break-ups, alienation, alcoholic binges, good times, girls who got away, romance, regret, heartbreak, and ultimately, an unrelenting hope. And they rocked. Except when they didn’t, and then, they produced some of the prettiest songs that any group of neighborhood miscreants could hope to make. I miss them in a way that’s almost impossible to explain.

105. Cream

T: Forty years ago I’ll bet Cream would’ve rock my world. The opening riffs of “Sunshine of Your Love” signaled Clapton as god.

M: How could something so big be so agile? I could listen to “White Room” and “Badge” for eight hours straight.

104. Jack Johnson

T: By # 104, shouldn’t the countdown be suck free?

M: A buddy tells me that Johnson’s brand of impossibly lightweight acoustic beach music has been dubbed “surfolk.” I, for one, would like to surfolkate the guy.

103. Crosby, Stills and Nash

T: Their debut features three incredible talents harmonizing as one. Did they make other records?

M: The harmonies sure are pretty, but it doesn’t really take off for me until you add in Young’s songs.

102. Traffic

T: Their Rock and Roll Stew had too many cooks, making some sublime dishes (“Low Spark”, “I’m So Glad”, “Feelin’ Alright”) but often turning out half baked mush.

M: I’ve always dug “Low Spark” and a few others, but my overall response has been fairly tepid. What am I missing?

101. Sarah McLachlan

T: Is this ranking Lilith Fair?

M: Canadian chanteuse who co-opted Kate Bush’s moves, and came up with a lovely body of work, but does anyone really think of her as an all-timer?

100. Jethro Tull

T: FM radio staples with plenty to offer, it’s still hard to believe the rock audience bought a flute totin’, codpiece wearin’, bug eyed frontman. He was pretty electric, though.

M: I was five years old and listening to lots of pop 45s back when these guys were in their 33 1/3 heyday. My first real remembrance of them was when early MTV used to play a concert clip of “Aqualung” over and over again. I couldn’t quite make sense of it then. Can’t really now, either, but there’s a cool youtube clip of these guys playing with Fela Kuti, and that’s gotta count for something.

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