69 to 50
69. Indigo Girls
T: They’re in over their head here, but the Indigos were pretty ballsy for two girls with acoustic guitars. I wouldn’t want a steady diet and lord knows they could be a little didactic, but the catalogue reveals some quality tunes.
M: Ho hum. Sure, they have some skills with a song. But shouldn’t we expect more at this stage of the list?
T: I still remember hearing the opening salvo of “Keep Yourself Alive” as Brian May’s guitar ping-ponged between speakers. Queen rode massive crunch, choir harmonies and Freddie Mercury’s vocal gymnastics to take over the world.
M: It takes some immense talent to do what Queen did without it coming off like overindulgent camp. And between real songwriting chops, Brian May’s blazing skill, those glorious harmonies and Freddy Mercury’s supernatural power as a singer (have you noticed that everyone who ever tried to sing a Queen song fell disastrously short), they had the talent to make it timeless.
67. Counting Crows
T: The debut’s a classic and Hard Candy is pretty darn good, but Adam Duritz seems like such a smacked ass, I’m docking the Crows 500 spots.
M: For me, it’s like counting sheep. I really loved August and Everything After until I saw the band on that tour, and they gave a performance so uninspired that it cured my affection for the album. I bet I haven’t listened to it three times since. And I’ve not heard anything in the intervening years to make me reconsider (OK, “Hangin’ Around” was pretty good).
66. Lucinda Williams
T: Her 1988 self titled release, Sweet Old World and Car Wheels on a Gravel Road are my favorite three records by any one female artist. It’s the ache in her voice, the knowing details, the desperate longing… she gets to me.
M: I saw her on the last night of her Essence tour, loose, a little reluctant to let it end, and in full control of her power. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Lu is the truth, a songwriter of immense skill and a singer capable of fully inhabiting her songs.
65. The Cure
T: It wasn’t until I saw ‘em live that I understood… kings of the post-punk mopes. I can’t quote you Cure chapter and verse but I can say their Staring At the Sea: The Singles is one my favorite 80’s records.
M: Robert Smith somehow managed to make it not look silly. I remember seeing the video for “In Between Days” on that show that Lisa Robinson used to host on the USA Network (what was it called?), and knowing I had to hear more.
64. Dire Straits
T: Like Chris Isaak, I’ve always considered Dire Straits a one trick pony. You only need to have one record by these guys – and that record is Making Movies, their no doubt about it classic.
M: Like the Police, Dire Straits appealed to me most before their greatest success, when they let their idiosyncrasies elevate their songs, especially on Making Movies and Love Over Gold. When Mark Knopfler made that guitar talk, made it sing, and when he took his own sweet time getting through the songs.
63. Aretha Franklin
T: The Queen of Soul… the gospel grace of her late 60’s/early 70’s Atlantic side still shines brightly, doesn’t it?
M: Talk about a lack of respect! The greatest singer we’ve known, with a string of bedrock-solid soul smashes (is there a funkier song than “Rock Steady”?), and she can’t crack the top 50? Chain, chain, chain, chain of fools.
T: On record a pastiche artist who can come across as a freeloading carpetbagger, Beck’s music confounds you with stops, starts and u-turns… often in the same song. At his worst – mildly interesting, at his best – adventurous sonic explorer. In concert last night… a friggin’ dynamo.
M: It would have been easy for him to follow the goof-rock template after the success of “Loser,” but then he shot off in a multitude of interesting ways, shocking a lot of folks (me included) with his endless supply of ideas.
T: Currently the second biggest band in the world (behind Radiohead), they are benignly pleasant. But it really makes you pine for a time when being the world’s second biggest band meant you were the Rolling Stones.
M: Aural Novocain. Demand more, people.
60. Stevie Ray Vaughan
T: Not being the biggest blues fan, my admiration for Stevie Ray has always been at arm’s distance. But I’d be hard pressed to name a better guitar player in the last 25 years.
M: Most guitar players rely on stock phrases and runs, constructing solos that come apart after a few bars. SRV spoke in tongues, allowing the music to pour through him endlessly and seamlessly. He also sang the blues like they were his, with ownership every much as legit as his hero Albert King (speaking of Albert, how did he miss the list?).
T: From alt-country torchbearers (A.M., Being There) to Beach Boy/Big Star acolytes (Summerteeth, their career best) to critic’s darlings (the last two – which are really overpraised wannabe classics), it’s amazing that getting dropped was the best thing that ever happened to them.
M: When Jeff Tweedy was the kid bass player in Uncle Tupelo, it was impossible to fathom that he would blossom into what he has become, the genius leader of what is possibly America’s best band.
58. Janis Joplin
T: Cheap Thrills and Pearl are the cornerstones, but can I say that her desperate, vocal chord shredding voice was often just too much? I just did.
M: I don’t know much about golf, but I know that sometimes you can strike a putt hard enough to power it through the break. All too often, I think, Joplin powered through the blues, blasting through the feeling of the song with her histrionic delivery. But when she showed restraint – like on Kris’s “Me and Bobby McGee” – she demonstrated a true gift for interpretation.
57. Frank Sinatra
T: Nobody held the throne as long as Frank.
M: Still the epitome of sophisticated cool, there simply is nothing better than hearing Frank sing “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road).”
T: My wife and her family love Santana so I’ll give Cathy, Tommy and Jeff a shout out for this entry. Me… “Everybody’s Everything” rocks my world.
M: The career has been a bit too wildly uneven for me to count Santana as a favorite, but when locked into a Latin groove and a fluid line, Carlos can be a uniquely enjoyable player.
T: I didn’t hate them during the Gabriel years, but I do remember getting quite the giggle when I discovered that “Supper’s Ready” was 23 minutes long. The Ramones first album clocks in under half an hour. Guess which one I like better?
M: When I was a kid, my best friend’s older brother duped me into believing me that Genesis was cool, prompting me to invest in the full catalog, only later to discover that “The Return of the Giant Hogweed” doubles as woman repellent.
T: I smell Phraud.
M: Lord knows I’ve tried. I bought the four-disc set of the Halloween show where they played Remain in Light in full (the Talking Heads tunes were good), and I spent 90 minutes taking in a late-career concert extravaganza on one my high definition channels, and my reaction is always some combination of bewilderment and boredom. You had to be there, I’m sure, but what did they ever do to make me wanna go?
53. The Beach Boys
T: Just go buy Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys… it’s got just about all the Beach Boys you’ll ever need and it’s the best box set ever.
M: “Don’t Worry Baby,” “God Only Knows,” “Good Vibrations,” “Heroes and Villains,” “Surf’s Up.” You don’t need any commentary. Just list the songs.
52. The Kinks
T: The most British of the British Invasion bands, Ray Davies keen eye for detail and social commentary plus Dave Davies’ iconic guitar riffs set the template for the next 40 years of Britpop. Radio favors “You Really Got Me” and “All Day And All of the Night”, but god damn how good are “Waterloo Sunset” and “Better Things”?
M: Though I’m charmed by their arch conceptual records about English life, it’s the early singles – “You Really Got Me,” “I Need You,” “A Well Respected Man” – that make my head spin most. And, of course, “Waterloo Sunset” and “Better Things,” two of the best slabs of pop music ever reduced to tape. (ed.- really, we swear, these things are written separately and without prior knowledge).
51. Simon & Garfunkel
T: Soft rock superstars who made great records (Paul Simon is quite the songwriter, no?) and had the decency to break up before the suck settled in.
M: Art Garfunkel sure won the boyhood friend lottery, but the relationship wasn’t completely one-sided. It’s hard to imagine that Paul could have found anyone better to give voice to “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
T: Full disclosure: I am president of the “I Hate Sting” fan club.
M: I’m not going to pretend he doesn’t belong on the list somewhere (Nothing Like the Sun is sublime, and the other albums have their moments), but I can’t even begin to comprehend that some people – apparently a lot of people – ranked him ahead of the Police.