Years ago, Steve Rushin (then of Sports Illustrated) wrote a typically sensational piece listing history’s greatest athletes, letter by letter, from A to Z. Without shame (but with attribution) I stole the idea some time later for a riff on the University of Missouri’s greatest sports heroes. An unrepentant recidivist, I’m swiping the set-up again, this time for my all-time favorite rock and roll acts.
All right, kids, it’s time for the ABC’s, Teenage Kicks style, where I list my fave rock and rollers from A to Z. Alphabetical and (you may think) heretical, this pantheon is mine alone. Feel free to create your own. At the top, A stands for audacity, which when blended with electricity, makes rock and roll. And nothing says audacity and electricity more than AC/DC, the Aussie aces who are cordially invited to have a drink on me.
B, bluntly, is a bitch. Who could be bigger than the Beatles? Badder than Berry? Better than Bowie? Brown, James Brown – whose badass bass and beats were the building blocks for the best rock and soul.
Let’s C, the Clash was cataclysmic, but Elvis Costello has been this year’s model of consistency, creating classic after classic. Dawdling over D, thoughts drift to Ian Dury, Devo, the dB’s . . . and, oh. Dylan. Done.
Like Giants fans, I loathe the Eagles. Still, E has a little of everything, from Earth, Wind & Fire to Brian Eno and the Everly Brothers. But the award for extended excellence (alt.country division) goes to Steve Earle. F: I love the Faces and Funkadelic, but for forty years the feminine face of funky delicacies, quite frankly, has been Aretha Franklin.
I’ve never been all that grateful for the Dead, and anyway, our greatest G-men are giants of the soul era. Al Green deftly mixed the sacred and profane, but Marvin Gaye gets the nod for making the profane sacred, elevating booty calls like “Let’s Get It On” into deeply spiritual experiences.
Looking for Hendrix in the hierarchy? Holy hoodrats, Holly! ‘Round here, H is for The Hold Steady. As for I, I’m impressed by the Impressions, and I’ve listened in excess to INXS, but it’s the Isley Brothers who make me wanna shout.
After a string of Yanks, we cross the pond to find a veritable British Empire. J is for The Jam, who cleverly updated the sound (and occasionally covered the songs) of The Kinks, my K, a band whose power chords paved the skies for Led Zeppelin, rock’s most legendary L.
M: Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and Curtis Mayfield might carry the day with a lesser letter, but none led a worldwide movement like the natural mystic, Bob Marley. N: After years of watching Seinfeld, the thought of a randy Newman gives me the willies (like Nelson and Nile). And nevermind Nirvana, give me Neko, Carl Newman and the rest of the New Pornographers.
In rock and roll, O is a fairly barren landscape, save for one gleaming Oasis. P, however, is packed with possibilities, and though Presley was preternatural and the Pretenders precious, I’ll proffer a preference for Prince, whose purple precipitation provided the principal preoccupation of my post-pubescent period.
Q is no quandary – its king is Queen – but R is ridiculous, a rarefied realm where the Replacements and Ramones reside – and get routed – by the Rolling Stones. S, though, is simply Springsteen, while T is a tête-à-tête that sees Talking Heads top Television.
U: Undisputed. U2 (sorry Undertones). V: A virtual tie. Velvet Underground (sorry Van Halen). W: Wide-open, with Lucinda Williams winning by a whisker (sorry Wonder, Waits, Wilco).
X x-udes more x-cellence than you’d x-pect, from X to X-Ray Spex, but the choice is a band whose output is sheer XTC. And there’s no questioning Y. Neither youth nor middle-age was wasted on Neil Young, who reached his prime early and stayed there forever (old man, take a look at your life, there’s a lot to like there).
A single Z ends the alphabet, and a pair of them ends every record bin. Accidentally like a blogger, I almost put those Z’s here, too, until it occurred to me that someone tops ZZ: Warren Zevon. Ze end.