As those who have been reading Teenage Kicks over the past few weeks may have noticed, we, ahem, disagreed with some of the selections on the XPN list of 885 All-Time Greatest Artists. And we were mortified at some of the exclusions. Note to world: Anyone who thinks that Jason Mraz is better than Solomon Burke should burn his or her CD collection and start over. In an effort to correct the historical record, each of us will now present his own list of the Ten Most Obscene Omissions from the countdown. Feel free to add your own list in the comments.
10. Jesse Malin – Once I get through converting everyone I know to Hold Steady fans, Jesse Malin is next. He gets at least one thumb up, waaaaay up, from Teenage Kicks. If you never saw Springsteen in a club or theater show, relax, you’ve got a chance to make up for it. Jesse Malin is the best club show going, delivering rock fervor mixed with radio ready mini-classics. He believes and you should too. Next time he plays in your town… ya gotta be there. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
9. Mink DeVille / Willy DeVille – Rising out of the CBGB punk scene, Willy DeVille’s heart belonged to Ben E King’s Spanish Harlem and New York’s doo wop street corners. Taking punk’s energy and mixing it with classic soul songwriting, Mink DeVille were cooler than cool. And who doesn’t swoon for “Storybook Love”, the title track from greatest movie ever The Princess Bride?
8. Peter Case – From the raucous power pop of the Plimsouls to the hobo folk of his first two solo classics, on to folk blues and now storied troubadour, Peter Case makes my heart ache – for the beauty of his songwriting and for the criminal neglect of his career. Let’s all meet at the North Star 11/16 and pay tribute.
7. Slade – Rock so simple, mindless and brilliant as to make Kiss seem like Gnosis Project favorites. Play It Loud.
6. The Rave Ups – Are they one of the greatest 885 artists of all time? Maybe, maybe not. But three sterling records of alt country rock made them one of my absolute favorites. Jimmer Podrasky is the best songwriter nobody knows. Small tales of losers and fraying relationships sung in a smart ass drawl will suck you in and until you realize the phenomenal hooks have been permanently imbedded. If memory serves, their masterpiece The Book of Your Regrets was, at the time, Epic Records all time worst seller. Leave a note here and I’ll gladly send you a copy of my Rave Ups burn… it’s killer.
5. Jackson Five – Seeing a 10 year old Michael Jackson sing “I Want You Back” on the Ed Sullivan show in 1969 was one of the pivotal moments of my musical life. The opening burst of that song says more about rock and roll than anything I could write. Listen to the Jackson Five’s Greatest Hits today… you deserve it.
4. Jason & The Scorchers – Like Joe Ely, it’s the live shows that leave their mark. The first song I heard was the scorching cover of Dylan’s “Absolutely Sweet Marie” that they played like their hair was on fire. Country punk Gomers that rocked harder than 1,000 Wilcos.
3. Joe Ely – He’s so good he taught the Clash how to rock a bit. He deserves inclusion list not only for a series of excellent rock country records (his self titled debut and Honky Tonk Masquerade are classics), but for his blistering live shows. City Gardens 1986 – my buddy (to remain anonymous since he disappeared into the parking lot for most of the show) not only adds a last minute date to our scheduled trip but adds a date for me too. There’s only 30 people in attendance and since I’m not driving, I’m loose. I keep screaming requests, Joe Ely keeps playing them. I feel like I’m the only one there and I’m making quite the spectacle… one of my favorite shows ever. Apologies to anyone else that may have been there that night.
2. The Persuasions – Formed in Brooklyn over 40 years ago, the Persuasions have carried the a cappella torch with their breathtaking, thrilling vocal arrangements. Lead singer Jerry Lawson is an R&B blues shouter in the great tradition of Otis Redding… you owe it to yourself to check out his singing at least once. (Personal note: When my wife and I got engaged, we went to see the Persuasions a few weeks later in a small club. We scrawled a request on a napkin noting our recent engagement. The band brought us up on stage, sat us on chairs and promptly serenaded us with an astonishing version of the Dreamlovers’ 1961 hit “When We Get Married”. Pretty cool.)
1. David Johansen – Referred to by one wag as a “fun junkie”, David Johansen was the linchpin of the mythically brilliant and influential New York Dolls. While sometimes tagged as a second rate Mick Jagger, David Jo is Mick’s equal as rock showman. His first solo cd alone would merit his inclusion on any top artist list, with unfathomably great songwriting including the great Dolls breakup song “Donna”, the celebration of music that is “Frenchette” plus the blistering side openers “Funky But Chic” and “Cool Metro”. Essential.
I limited myself to artists in the rock and roll and rhythm and blues traditions from the 1950s forward. Otherwise, I could just rip down a list of jazz giants (Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, etc.) and be done with it. Initially, the idea was to rank these omissions from least obscene to most obscene, but that task proved too great. Justice Potter Stewart gave time-honored wisdom at spotting obscenity (“I know it when I see it,” he said), but he offered no instructions on ranking it. Anyway, here are ten artists who should have made the cut.
The Undertones. Yeah, they gave the world the song that gave this blog its name, and that alone qualifies them for inclusion. But they did so much more, cranking out irresistible singles like a punk rock jukebox. “Get Over You.” “Here Comes the Summer.” “You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It?).” They were either the Irish Ramones or the Irish Temptations, and they’re the reason that my son would have been named “Feargal” but for my meddlesome spouse.
Booker T. & the MG’s. This is, without doubt, one of the great bands ever assembled. Booker T. Jones. Steve Cropper. Donald “Duck” Dunn. Al Jackson. Each a legend in his own right, and collectively, the very sound of southern soul in the 1960’s. Their own hits – “Green Onions,” “Hip-Hug Her” – guaranteed a certain fame. But the fact that they were the house band for Stax Records and cooked up dozens of smoking tracks for Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Wilson Pickett (among others) guarantees nothing less than rock and roll immortality. And add in that Cropper wrote or co-wrote classics like “In the Midnight Hour” and “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay,” and it’s clear that the MG’s were one of the most potent forces in the history of 20th Century music.
Sam & Dave. Motown had the smooth, urbane vocal groups that connected with the masses. Stax had Sam & Dave, the gritty, gutbucket Southerners who went straight to the souls of the kids who wanted to bust loose of the chains that bound them. My dissertation on Stax’s house band is above, and while the MG’s went to the darkest, loneliest places with Otis Redding, they scaled the highest, hottest, most spectacular heights with Sam & Dave, who made some of the most joyful noises of the 1960’s. “Hold On! I’m Comin’.” “Soul Man..” “I Thank You.” These polls seem to undervalue soul. But how they can miss out on acts like this is a mystery.
Phil Spector. The auteur of the teenage experience, Phil Spector was the rare producer who transcended his performers, who was every bit as important to his records as a film director is to a movie. For Spector, the Ronettes, the Righteous Brothers and the Crystals served the same purpose that Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci serve for Martin Scorsese, the hand-picked vessels through which his vision came to life. Spector co-wrote the songs and created the trademark Wall of Sound that gave his singles a unique punch and sophistication. A true titan.
The Drifters. The sides these guys cut from 1953 to 1964 are nothing short of magical, and they belie that old canard about how there was no good music between Elvis’s induction and the British Invasion. Slick and soulful, the Drifters actually got better after Clyde McPhatter went solo, and they provided the perfect vehicle for the era’s best songwriters, teams like Pomus/Shuman and Goffin/King. “Up on the Roof,” “Under the Boardwalk,” “On Broadway.” If a prepositional phrase became a great song, you can bet it was done by the Drifters.
Big Country. This one’s personal. There are few albums I love from beginning to end quite as much as The Crossing, which has been a constant companion now for close to a quarter century. With the brilliant, explosive, underappreciated rhythm section of Mark Brzezicki and Tony Butler providing the foundation, Bruce Watson and bandleader Stuart Adamson supplied the band’s signature twin bagpipe-guitar sound that elevated good songs into grand anthems. Their second album, Steeltown, was merely very good, and their third, The Seer, something less than that. But for a brief moment, Big Country was one of the best bands going, far better than their undeserved “one hit wonder” reputation could begin to suggest.
Public Image Ltd. This is where post-punk – or even post-rock – begins, with the iconic figure of punk’s most iconic band rejecting his past and reshaping the future. By retaining the Sex Pistols’ penchant for thunderous guitar noise, and embracing space, abstraction and reggae/dub rhythms, John Lydon (no longer Johnny Rotten), along with compatriots Keith Levene, Jah Wobble and Jim Walker, led a sharp turn into a new world, culminating with their mind-exploding second album (Second Edition to most of us; Metal Box to the lucky few who own the original audacious packaging and format). The moody, atmospheric record sounded like a culture falling apart, and the original lineup did just that, disintegrating before later incarnations of the band became little more than the Johnny Rotten Experience.
Pere Ubu. Rarely has a band that sold so few records cast such a large shadow, but Cleveland’s “avant garage” pioneers were rare, indeed. Often hard to digest even for the converted, Pere Ubu took industrial noises and absurdist points of view and made music possessed of a certain grotesque beauty, especially on The Modern Dance and Dub Housing, two great monuments of the early punk era (the subsequent albums are so deliberately stand-offish that only the most rigorous avant rockers need apply). But even before those two albums came a string of independently released singles that cemented Pere Ubu’s legacy, including the powerhouse “Final Solution,” which distills the band’s fury into four minutes and fifty-seven seconds of almost unbearable intensity.
The Jackson Five. You know, there really aren’t that many great Jackson Five songs. But the best of them – “I Want You Back,” “The Love You Save,” “ABC” – are so dynamic, so explosive, so inexplicably brilliant, that the J5’s inclusion is a no-brainer (and if you include The Jacksons – and I can’t think of a principled reason not to – the catalog of timeless tunes only grows). The bass line from “I Want You Back” alone is enough to put them here. But what everyone remembers, what no one can forget, is the sheer magnetic force of the young Michael Jackson. One of my very first musical memories was watching this kid and being completely transfixed. He went beyond precocious, straight to prodigious. In a world of pre-fabbed, meticulously-managed pop stars, I can’t imagine seeing another twelve-year-old like that again.
Dionne Warwick. Like Audrey Hepburn in the movies, Dionne Warwick projected an unassailable elegance, while demonstrating a disarming vulnerability. And she was the perfect vehicle for Hal David and Burt Bacharach’s songs. When, in her most famous tune, she sings “If you see me walking down the street/And I start to cry/Each time we meet/Walk on by,” the effect is devastating. Her voice has a character that serves the songs, elevating them without overwhelming them, and allows the melodies to shine through. And her take on “I Say a Little Prayer” is so flawless that even Aretha Franklin’s later version of the song pales by comparison, and there aren’t many singers about whom you can say such a thing.