Saturday, October 21, 2006

199 to 150

199. New Order

T: Do I look like the kind of guy who’d like new wave, synthy dance pop? Good. But these guys took a cold, mechanical beat and put just enough fire in it to get a slow burn going. I’m partial to Power, Corruption & Lies and Low-Life.

M: The band that informed the underground that dancing is not only permitted, but encouraged. Phenomenal.

198. Brian Eno

T: Is there anything Eno hasn’t done? Roxy Music charter member, ace producer, ambient innovator, solo artist, technology geek…he’s been involved in many of your favorite records over the last 35 years.

M: How hard is it to tag exactly what it is that Eno does? I once saw him credited with “Enossification” on another artist’s album. He has an unparalleled ability to move the background to the fore.

197. Nanci Griffith

T: Spinning poignant tales about intimate truths, Nanci Griffith shines just as bright as her Texas contemporaries like Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Robert Earl Keen. (Note: Did the all the Flatlanders get shut out in the countdown?) Extra credit: what top 885 artist wrote a tribute simply titled “Nanci”.

M: She has so naturally inherited a tradition that I used to think that “It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go” was her version of a Stephen Foster tune. Except, um, she wrote it.

196. Nat King Cole

T: A staple in my house growing up, this is real dim the lights music. I’ll assume songwriters lined up to have him sing their songs.

M: In the sixth grade, I danced with a girl to “Mona Lisa.” Life has never been the same.

195. Nina Simone

T: My exposure to her music has been limited, but what strikes me is the passion… for my money the most important ingredient in great music. Michael?

M: One of the most fearless and least orthodox artists on the list. Whether she’s giving a traditional reading to a classic like “I Loves You Porgy” or putting an indescribably modern spin on “Funkier than a Mosquito’s Tweeter,” the remarkable Nina Simone (isn’t that name perfect?) was always firmly in control.

194. Black Sabbath

T: Since no one has real proof otherwise, I’m giving Black Sabbath credit for inventing heavy metal. The monster riffs, the yowling vocals, the massive backbeat… it’s all there from the beginning. Hard to believe now post-MTV, but they made ominous, malevolent music laced with enough black magic references as to actually scare people.

M: In rock’s history, no other act has conveyed such a palpable sense of menace. “Iron Man” still scares me a little.

193. Randy Newman

T: A Tin Pan Alley craftsman, his cynical songs fisheyed the underbelly of the American dream. If all you know is “Short People”, “I Love LA” and the kiddie movie songs, you’re shortchanging yourself. The guy’s an American original.

M: Ever find yourself singing along to “Sail Away” and not being able to believe the words coming out of your mouth? That’s one of Newman’s great gifts – slyly slipping the unspeakable past you and allowing it to incubate in your brain for optimal effect.

192. Bela Fleck & the Flecktones

T: Banjo band leader that flirts with traditional bluegrass and jazz fusion? And people willingly listen? How about that?

M: Banjo fusion. Ain’t the array of music on this list great?

191. k.d. lang

T: There’s no denying her vocal prowess, but I prefer her when she’s shading rather than coloring the whole page. Sometimes less is more.

M: I’ve enjoyed her at every step, from torch n’ twang to chic chanteuse to slick pop funk (All You Can Eat is a terribly underappreciated effort). And I’ve met so many nice people named Barb and Tanya at her shows.

190. The Black Crowes

T: Hey I like the Black Crowes… but if they’re ahead of both Rod Stewart and The Faces, then it’s possible for Klaatu to place ahead of the Beatles. That first Black Crowes record still burns brightly.

M: When you expected them to make a career revolving around the Stones/Faces axis, they made a hard turn into NORML country, flying the freak flag for all who want their jams to crank them up, not bring them down.

189. Norah Jones

T: Seemingly invented in a laboratory to sell to Starbucks de-caf drinkers, think back before the radio ubiquity and dozens of wannabes. Come Away With Me was a nice little record that sounded like nothing currently happening, but I’ll bet Norah herself would be a tad embarrassed to sit here six spots ahead of Nina Simone.

M: Accidentally famous, she tapped into a need we didn’t know we had.

188. Belle and Sebastian

T: As Jack Black cracked in High Fidelity, this is “sad bastard music”. Sometimes too delicate to bear, their twee foppishness and precious songwriting are actually quite appealing. Fans of 60’s psych-pop could do worse.

M: Great scots! Purveyors of insistent, delicate melodies, their most recent effort (The Life Pursuit) muscles up the rhythms and makes for one of the 2006’s most rewarding listens.

187. Gram Parsons

T: Inventor of alt country with the Byrds on Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the ache in Parsons’ voice belied his privileged upbringing. Teaming up with Emmylou Harris, the resulting GP and Grievous Angel set an impossibly high standard for all those who followed in their wake. Indispensable.

M: Remember when that group of anthropologists traced all of humanity back to an African woman they called Eve? Meet the Eve of, the man who invented Cosmic American music.

186. Lauro Nyro

T: Initially aware of her songs via others’ hit versions, discovering Nyro’s own recordings shortly after her death was nothing less than a revelation. Think Norah Jones with some cajones and brilliant songwriting chops.

M: I’ve never failed to be impressed, but never been moved to invest.

185. Rufus Wainwright

T: First family of folk scion, his music is steeped in Broadway drama, lush orchestration and confessional, wistful lyrics. Hasn’t really created a masterwork yet, but you could do worse than his debut, where he sinks his adenoidal tenor around some drop dead gorgeous melodies.

M: His keening tenor can be tough for me to take for extended periods, but his gift for creating cabaret pop music is impressive. So why don’t we hear more of it and less of his cover of “Hallelujah?”

184. Alison Krauss

T: Crossing over from bluegrass to contemporary country hitmaker and then back again, Krauss is an engaging singer but not one I go to for an inspired listen.

M: Contemporary bluegrass queen, I wish she’d drop the restraint every once in a while.

183. Sheryl Crow

T: While Tuesday Night Music Club sounded fresh, vibrant and rootsy in 1993, since then it’s been a long, slow climb to the middle.

M: Proud alum of my alma mater (Go Mizzou!) and the homecoming grand marshal a couple of years back. I’ve always loved “My Favorite Mistake.” Kennett, MO is in the house!

182. Tracy Chapman

T: Opened the singer-songwriter floodgates back in the late 80’s. I’ve lost track of her since, but that debut was an A+…I need to dig that out tonight.

M: Remember how audacious her debut sounded back in 1988? She never scaled those heights again, but for a brief moment, she was it.

181. Steve Winwood

T: I’m sorry, but his solo work is bland MOR pop. Today we call this kinda stuff John Mayer. The things we do for love – went to a Steve Winwood concert in the late 80’s with the girlfriend’s family and couldn’t keep my eyes open.

M: This smells like lifetime achievement, which is fair. The guy really was a huge talent as a writer, singer and player, but his wanderlust has kept him from staying with any one project for long.

180. AC/DC

T: For Those About to Rock We Salute You. Single mindedly driven by the massive power chord, these guys put the rock back in rock and roll. Confession: In Angus’ honor, I wore my school uniform (complete with shorts and beanie) until age 37.

M: The Thunder from Down Under, this was one badass rock and roll band. And the thing that separated them from the pack (in addition to the Brothers Young’s massive riffage) was their funk. Phil Rudd’s swinging jackhammer two and four propelled them to highest heights and dirtiest depths, done dirt cheap.

179. Steve Earle

T: Without Steve Earle, I would never have considered listening to Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and George Jones. Without the genre bending Guitar Town (1986), I’m sure I would have missed so much. Since hitting rock bottom in the early 90’s, he has been possibly the finest American songwriter over the last 10 years. His comeback from a severe drug addiction and a jail term have been one of the great second acts in pop music. My # 9.

M: The man who reinvented outlaw country has stared down drugs, prison and serial divorce and come out the better for it, doing what he wants, when he wants, and doing it well. Guitar Town and I Feel Alright are the acknowledged classics, but check out The Mountain – his original bluegrass masterpiece – which may be the best of the bunch.

178. Pete Seeger

T: I appreciate rather than truly enjoy his work, but I honor his tremendous influence on the last 60 years of folk music. No relation to Bob.

M: I always thought of Seeger as old-timey folk that didn’t interest me much until Bruce Springsteen turned him into a rock star.

177. The Byrds

T: Country rock godheads who melded Beatle zing and harmonies to a bedrock folk foundation and became world conquerors. This time for real – the American Beatles.

M: Imagine, you’ve got hall of famers Gene Clark, Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons all writing songs from within a band that also happens to be the preeminent interpreter of Bob Dylan’s work. It adds up to one of the richest catalogs in American rock and roll.

176. Tool

T: Who’s a bigger Tool – me for sitting through 2 songs or the knucklehead voters. Survey says….. me.

M: Metal + Prog = Way out of my strike zone.

175. Sam Cooke

T: He Sends Me. After digesting Never A Dull Moment for the 700th time and desperate to learn more about Rod Stewart’s inspiration, it was Sam Cooke’s soul perfection that opened up a treasure trove of 50’s and 60’s rock and soul that I’m still trying to digest today. I’m forever grateful.

M: He sends me.

(Ed note: I guess that one was too easy.)

174. Chicago

T: Their first two records are swinging, rollicking jazz-rock landmarks. It was a quick and sad decline into MOR balladeers. Word on the street is their next release, Chicago CCLXVII, is a return to their roots.

M: The die-hards say they were something to behold when Terry Kath was alive, but it all sounds like second-rate blue-eyed faux soul to me. And that’s only the beginning of what I’m going to feel forever.

173. Sufjan Stevens

T: As ornately pretty as mid period Beach Boys, I can’t help feeling current critics’ darling Stevens is just shy of greatness. I hear gorgeous, complex tunes… I’d like a little more soul. Next up is 5 disc box set chronicling Washington, D.C.

M: He’s impressive, but hard for me to embrace. It’s all just so self-conscious. But anyone who can work the Lincoln-Douglas debates into a song gets bonus points.

172. Nine Inch Nails

T: Taken a song at a time, I can hack the pulverizing electronic beats of this industrial megastar, but if I could sit through a whole album I’m gonna need at least Nine Inch Nails to pop my eardrums.

M: Pretty Hate Machine was industrial bubblegum, heavy machinery you could hum along to. But as the music got more sinister, it became harder to like and impossible to ignore. One of the most disturbingly entertaining acts I’ve ever seen.

171. John Mayer

T: The Mayer of Simpleton.

M: You’re not the only one who wants to scream at the top of his lungs, John.

170. Metallica

T: I dig these guys for their thing… dug it more back when it was called Black Sabbath.

M: I remember playing a mix tape that included “Sad But True” in the law review office way back when. The women on the editorial board did not rock.

169. The Temptations

T: “I Can’t Get Next to You” and “Just My Imagination” are two of my favorite songs ever… wanna see do the funky chicken – pop on “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”. I often thought if I could go back in time and see one show it would be either Elvis circa 1957 or Let It Bleed era Stones. I change my vote to the 1966 Motortown Revue – and a chance to the Supremes, the Miracles, the Four Tops and the fabulous Temptations in their prime.

M: The perfect vocal group, the Temps possessed startling range, making believers with the sweet pop of “My Girl” and the hard funk of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.”

168. Cat Stevens

T: Tea For The Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat are near the pinnacle of sensitive singer-songwriterdom. Yeah… they’re that good.

M: OK, so the songs are good, really good, but the delivery is so earnestly delicate that I just wanna . . . whoa, I drifted off there for a minute.

167. Roxy Music

T: Those first five records are art glam manifestos (not to be confused with 1979’s Manifesto, which is lame disco pop). Written off for dead they returned with the lush, ultimate deal closer Avalon. Mad props for the original Country Life cover, which is probably still stashed under the mattress of my teenage bed.

M: What a band! From the off-kilter art pop of Country Life and Siren to the noir make-out music on Avalon, Ferry, Manzanera and company unleashed an unprecedented suave sophistication on rock and roll.

166. John Lee Hooker

T: Tell ‘em Michael.

M: There’s so much to love about the Hook, but one of my favorite things is the absolute disregard for song structure. The chorus wouldn’t go there if anybody else were playing, but that’s where JLH wants it.

165. Lynyrd Skynyrd

T: Rebellious southern rock at its finest, this bunch of redneck miscreants fought their way from the bars of Jacksonville,FL to world domination. The magic died tragically but the legend lives… “What song is it you wanna hear?”

M: I wouldn’t mind if I never heard “Freebird” again, but the guitar lick that opens “Sweet Home Alabama” defines Southern rock. And what is that smell?

164. Depeche Mode

T: Honestly, I Just Can Get Enough.

M: My last semester in college, the guy in the apartment next door blasted “Personal Jesus” non-stop. I wanted to give him a personal ass-kicking for ruining a terrific song for me.

163. Natalie Merchant

T: All right – I conceded a grudging respect for 10,000 Maniacs, but no way Natalie gets the same latitude. Give me a little Beth Orton or Patty Griffin rather than this mush.

M: These are the days I think why would anyone vote her ahead of the Maniacs?

162. They Might Be Giants

T: At heart a singles band. I wouldn’t want a steady diet, but these guys have a few dozen worthwhile songs. Melodic nerd pop for the 12 year old in all of us.

M: Trivia time: The guy with whom I shared the “Personal Jesus” apartment (A.J. Schnack) went on to direct the TMBG documentary Gigantic. He has a little birdhouse in his soul.

161. Sublime

T: I missed their whole career and have nothing to offer.

M: It’s amazing the impact they had with such limited output, especially given that their one major release followed Brad Nowell’s death. Haven’t pulled them off the shelf in ages.

160. Oasis

T: Stormed out of the gate with two definitive Brit-Pop albums. Classic sibling rivalry (re; Kinks, Crowes, Everlys) combusted in high energy blasts of classic rock masquerading as alt rock, all topped off by Liam’s sneering vocals. In 1994-1995… the English Beatles.

M: In the first song on their first album, they declared themselves rock stars, and no one has ever doubted it.

159. Morrissey

T: He hates it when his friends become successful.

M: Morrissey – Marr = Morose

158. Roy Orbison

T: The original loner, Roy Orbison’s spooky quaver could reach operatic heights. Incredibly influential… and Springsteen certainly took notes.

M: As we climb higher and the artists (on the whole) get better, the ability to snark has all but gone out the window. I mean, it’s Roy Orbison, for goodness’ sake.

157. Pat Metheny

T: I certainly don’t know very much of his work, but what I’ve heard seems to fall mostly in the “smooth jazz” category. Music for Airports?

M: Another Kansas City local hero, Metheny’s sonic explorations can conjure up a rare beauty.

156. Melissa Etheridge

T: Out and proud, a wee bit of subtlety could do wonders for this heartland rocker. And please... could someone make it illegal to play her cover of "Refugee" on the radio?

M: Yet another KC homey (actually from just down the road in Leavenworth, KS), Etheridge’s overdone meat and potatoes are not my thing.

155. Foo Fighters

T: They craft concise, hook heavy singles but larger doses set my mind wandering. They’re about due for a greatest hits… I’ll be first in line.

M: Off the top of my head (and I’m ridiculously sick at the moment and not thinking so clearly), I can’t come up with a precedent for Dave Grohl, going from drummer in one prominent band to front man for another. Phil Collins doesn’t count; he got promoted from within.

154. Ben Harper

T: For some a reason a JamNation favorite, Harper’s warmed over bluesy folk rock leaves me cold.

M: “Burn to Shine” gets me going, but most of Harper’s modern stoner rock, well, doesn’t.

153. Bruce Cockburn

T: I’ve heard plenty of his songs that are easy enough to embrace, but his more strident efforts prove once again how difficult it is to make moving, accessible music with a message (see Browne, Jackson).

M: If I had a rocket launcher, I’d blast him off the list, or at least down a few hundred spots. It’s not that the Canadian Dylan doesn’t have skills, it’s that he’s so friggin’ earnest. It’s OK to laugh from time to time, eh?

152. Death Cab for Cutie

T: Yes, we know they’re your 16 year old niece’s favorite band. Doesn’t mean they’re not any good – check out Transatlanticism or Plans, delicate dream pop for the whole family.

M: I’ll give XPN’s audience this – they’re certainly willing to embrace the new. This band has talent, but I’m not sure they’ve put it all together yet. I think there’s a great album in there somewhere.

151. Los Lobos

T: They’re an American band…and a god damn good one. From their full length rock debut How Will the Wolf Survive up to this year’s The Town and the City, they’ve embraced rock, pop, blues, soul, trad folk, Tex-Mex and just about every other music genre. I love these guys.

M: Unassailable. One of the best, most principled, most consistent bands ever, with versatility to burn. Way, way better than, say . . .

150. Barenaked Ladies

T: See… they’re not naked and they’re not ladies. Isn’t that hysterical? If I Had $1,000,000? I wouldn’t spend a dime on these guys.

M: Leave it to the Canadians to make the thought of naked ladies unappealing. And are our neighbors to the north showing up in reverse order? I’m expecting Triumph soon.

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