Well, music lovers, I survived the weekend. About once a quarter of a year or so, my wife and I have our niece’s kids over. Now, it was much easier when there were only two of them to worry about. But, now we have four over, aged two to eight, and it’s a madhouse! It’s fun, but very exhausting. The crazy thing will be when their six-month-old will be old enough to come up too. That’s right! This young couple has FIVE children! Now, I am not sure how many kids my boys are planning to have, but I am pretty sure that it’s NOT five or more. Now, being the former coach, I would prefer to run a tighter ship with the kids when they are over, but my wife wants to have “fun.” So, I am allowed to retreat to the music when I suffer from sensory overload (you see, I AM ADHD and, as my wife teases, somewhere on the very mild autistic spectrum, which may have been why I was always something of a pied piper for the autistic kids in school – they flocked to me as a teacher). Needless to say, we survived, although we are spent. Next weekend, we will get to have our granddaughter over for a night for her first sleepover without her parents! Now, that will be different since she is only one, but she also has part of my genetics, so she is more comfortable in our surroundings than let’s say the great-nieces and -nephews are.
This week, my wife and I are going to see Elton John for his Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Farewell Tour. This will be my third time to see him and my wife’s second time. First time I saw him, he was slowly sinking from his commercial peak. It was 1980, and Elton was touring behind a hit single, “Little Jeanie”, from the album 21 at 33. This was the period during which Elton wore a Donald Duck costume onstage. Although he was no longer Captain Fantastic, he was still damn good, although ticket sales were very soft, and the arena in Indianapolis was far from sold-out.
When my wife and I saw him, he was performing in an intimate setting at a Ryan White Foundation fundraiser in Indianapolis. He performed many of his great songs with just him on the piano with no band. It was a terrific way to see him perform, but it also made us pine to see him with a full band. So, now, we will get to see Sir Elton once again but in a more rocking environment – the way he was meant to be seen.
So, today, we enter my Top 50 Artists countdown, as we work our way to number one. So, without any further adieu, let’s get this countdown going!
50. Heart – Ann and Nancy Wilson are perhaps the greatest sister duo in rock history. Ann has, hands down, the greatest hard rock voice of all-time, and Nancy is one of the finest guitarists in rock history. I especially love Nancy’s 12-string guitar play during the band’s early days. Her guitar sound is pure and precise, with loads of feeling. And, how do I ever begin to describe Ann’s vocals? Some of the high notes she hit during a 1982 concert I attended are part of the cause of hearing loss in my left ear (Brian May’s 1982 guitar solo during Queen’s Hot Space Tour gets some credit as well). I have always loved it when current strong-voiced singers sing then call Ann to come out, and she just blows them away. I would love to witness her in a sing off with Mariah Carey, Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga, Pat Benatar, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Mahalia Jackson, Whitney Houston, Carrie Underwood and any other woman to determine the greatest vocalist of all-time, because my money is on Ann to win. Favorite Album: Dreamboat Annie. Favorite Song: “How Can I Refuse”.
49. The Beach Boys – The oldest act in my countdown, the Beach Boys possessed some of the finest vocal harmonies anywhere on earth or heaven. And, when Brian Wilson began to take control of his songwriting and production powers, the band was difficult to top. Favorite Album: Pet Sounds. Favorite Song: “Good Vibrations”.
48. The Smiths – Often derisively referred to as Mope Rockers, The Smiths may sound as though they revel in melancholia. However, this great guitar band of the Eighties possessed a wicked sense of humor lyrically and musically. Sure, Morrissey’s vocals are a little mopey, but they were counterpointed by Johnny Marr’s innovative guitar licks. Favorite Album: The Queen Is Dead. Favorite Song: “How Soon Is Now”.
47. AC/DC – The genius of AC/DC lay in the seeming simplicity of their guitar riffs. Along with the Ramones, AC/DC brought rock back to its basics and just pummeled listeners with riff after jackhammer riff. Rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, the author of many of those most famous riffs, was the band’s true secret weapon. It will be interesting to see if Angus, the band’s diminutive, school uniform-wearing lead guitar can keep the Rock & Roll Train chugging now that Malcolm has passed away. Favorite Album: Back in Black. Favorite Song: “Thunderstruck”.
46. Billy Joel – Although Joel has been often referred to as the American Elton John, he is so more his own man than that. Joel captured all that was great about New York City’s musical past and present, from Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, Brill Building songwriters, street corner doo wop groups and rock music, and concocted an amalgam all his own. We sure could use some new Billy Joel music these days. Favorite Album: Songs in the Attic. Favorite Song: “Leave a Tender Moment Alone”.
45. Ramones – There may have been others that came before them, but none of them personified punk rock as the Ramones did. They popped on the scene at a time will rock was getting fat and bloated with prog rock, jazz rock and lumbering heavy metal. The Ramones took bubblegum music’s simplicity, added chainsaw-sounding guitars, and played as fast as they could, sans a guitar solo. And like the hard rock brethren from down under, AC/DC, Ramones brought rock back to its most beautiful basics just when it needed that swift kick, setting the stage for another dynamic twenty-five year of great tunes. Favorite Album: Rocket to Russia. Favorite Song: “I Wanna Be Sedated”.
44. Peter Gabriel – Believe it or not, I discovered Peter Gabriel the solo artist long before I heard him as a member of Genesis. So, when I think of Gabriel, his third (“Melting”) and fourth (“Security”) eponymous titled albums were my initial exposure to his dark genius. As a matter of fact, I still think that his “Intruder” song is one of rock’s scariest songs, while “In My Eyes” is one of rock’s most heartfelt. Favorite Album: Peter Gabriel (3 or “Melting”). Favorite Song: “Sledgehammer”.
43. Bob Dylan – I remember loving it when I heard the radio play “Like a Rolling Stone” or “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”, that I would crank the radio on my old “all in one” stereo system, attempting to decipher the lyrics of each song. However, it wasn’t until I was in college that I really came to understand Dylan’s full genius. The great thing about Dylan is that he never fully reveals himself on one album; it’s as it you need to be a completist in order to gain that insight. And, even then, Dylan is such an enigma that he will send you on wild goose chases when attempting to pin him down on a subject. That’s why I find his Bootleg Series so enjoyable as I get to discover him at the same time as others since he was beginning his elder statesman phase of his career when I was just learning about rock history. Favorite Album: Highway 61 Revisited. Favorite Song: “Like a Rolling Stone”.
42. Pink Floyd – It is my firm belief that EVERY teenage boy should go through a Pink Floyd phase during his teenage years. No other band shows such an innate understanding of the craziness of life and the angst it causes than Pink Floyd. Plus, you can experience a drug trip without taking pharmaceuticals just by listening to their music. Fortunately, I got to see The Wall performed live. Unfortunately, it was only Roger Waters and not the whole band. It just proved how great their music is, as it stands up with great session musicians playing it in the place of the creators. Favorite Album: The Wall. Favorite Song: “Comfortably Numb”.
41. Neil Young – My wife cannot stand his voice, but this man has written some of the most beautiful melodies in the history of music, not just rock. I honestly believe that Young is underrated as a songwriter. He’s not the lyricist that Dylan is, nor is he the pop melody writer that McCartney is. Yet, some of ballads can just send shivers up and down your spine without a word ever being sung. And, remember that everyone from Power Poppers to Alt.Country artists, from Grunge to Alternative artists, from Folk to Country, from Blues to Rock, all list Neil Young as a major influence. Few artists have influenced more rock genres than Neil Young. Favorite Album: Rust Never Sleeps. Favorite Song: “Comes a Time”.
That wraps up 60 artists on my list, meaning that the Top 40 begins tomorrow. The numbers get smaller, but the artists get bigger in my eyes (and ears, and, even more importantly, my collection). Have a great day!