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Simply the best
Top 10 Artists
Member Name: Mauri
Top 10 Artists
Advantages: All produced great music and were influential for other artists
Disadvantages: Difficult to compile a list of ten
Top Ten list one of the most pointless exercises on opinion site but also one of the most interesting to write. Of course trying to condense to a list of ten your favourite artist is impossible but I’ll do it anyway.
The ones I’ve chosen follow some simple criteria, firstly they are among my favourite artists but they also have been hugely influential in their musical sphere and they have lasted long enough and produced enough material to be properly considered as classic acts, so not many artist from the recent past have been included, maybe looking back in a few years time they might be.
So in no particular order here goes.
1) JIMI HENDRIX
Hendrix was the best rock guitarist there has ever been but that’s not why he’s on the list, amongst his admirers you can list Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Pete Townsend and Carlos Santana. Hendrix more than any other artist symbolised the birth of heavy rock in the late sixties. Yet his version of the music was a much more subtle mixture of psychedelic, blues and jazz. He was the proto type rock star, critically acclaimed for hi virtuoso performance but also idolised by young fans of both sexes. As any rock star in the 60’s did he lived a hedonistic lifestyle fuelled by drugs and eventually he succumbed to the dangers tragically dying from a drug-induced accident when he was only 28 years old. With his death around the same time as Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Brian Jones the sixties spirit seemed to die and a harder more cynical attitude pervaded music and society in general in the seventies. Hendrix’s influence musically is huge, he showed that the electric guitar could be the focus of rack music rather than the background sound, he pioneered the showman ship of the rock performer and being the first important black rock performer also gave a lead for others to follow.
Are You Experienced
When he turned the American national anthem into an anti Vietnam War protest at Woodstock 1969.
2) BOB MARLEY
There are very few people let alone music artist that could be said to have influenced world events and that made a positive contribution to society, but Bob Marley can make these claims. Marley started making music in Jamaica in the 60’s a growing number of artist who had begun to develop the traditional Ska sound into something a little more soulful known as reggae. Marley and his two musical buddies Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston then collectively know as the Wailers were not the first people to play Reggae but they were the first to bring this new vibrant music to the attention of a world audience. What made Marley special was his eloquence as a songwriter that allowed him to express quite serious subjects in a musical medium that on the surface seems as easy going and relaxed as the sun drenched sandy beaches that Jamaica is so often associated with. But if you look at Marley lyrics they are about poverty, civil rights, war, and the struggle for people to free themselves for oppression. His music became the soundtrack to the struggles against apartheid in South Africa and Zimbabwe. He had a profound effect on the politics in Jamaica by refusing to condone violence common amongst followers of the rival political parties something that led to an attempt on his life. His music was always spiritual in the real of the world, a deeply religious man he always preached a message of tolerance and unity amongst different people and races. Musically he defined what we now think of as Roots Reggae and it is hard to imagine any other reggae bands achieving any mainstream success with Marley. Although Marley died in 1980 only aged 40 his legacy has lived on.
Catch A Fire
During a concert at a time of political violence in Jamaica leading up to the elections he managed to get the leaders of the two main political parties who were bitter adversaries on stage with him to emphasise the need for and end to violence. Only Marley had the influence to achieve this
3) THE BEATLES
Maybe it’s become commonplace nowadays to ignore the Beatles’ importance, I suppose success does breed contempt and it’s almost fashionable now to not like them. However you simply can deny the importance of their music.
I’m not going to outline all their merits, but simply speaking they elevated the idea of the pop record to a serious art form. Once they had achieved all the success the could ever wish for in the chart they developed their music constantly innovating the recording techniques and their compositions to push back the boundaries of what people thought was possible in pop music. The quality of their output in a 7-year career is outstanding and I don’t think is matched by any other artist. Their songs are now part of our culture and it is a testament to their quality that they have been recorded and adapted by artist in widely differing musical styles. Their influence on many, many bands, which came after is undeniable and most obviously seen today in the Brit pop bands.
Playing on the roof of the Apple building in London.
4) PINK FLOYD (pre-1980)
When you think of Prog. rock concept albums you think of Pink Floyd and such classics as Dark Side of the Moon (DSOTM) and Wish You Were Here and the not so classic (IMHO) ‘The Wall, but the Pink Floyd go back further than this and you could argue they were at their most innovative in the 60’s when Syd Barrett was still their main creative output. The Floyd just like the Velvet Underground in the US had a bigger vision for their music; their sound was a complex mix of innovative instrumentation fantastical lyrics and arty stage shows. They were never a pop group but were more like performance artists. The ‘fuel’ behind the musical concept were of course drugs especially LSD and they quickly established themselves as the leading exponents of psychedelia. Of course the drug abuse mainly by Barrett coupled by the changing times meant that the band had to develop or split, Barret was finally asked to leave and ever since has been living as a virtual recluse in a house in the country, David Gilmour joined the band and Pink Floyd were re-born as a much harder rockier outfit without losing any of their enthusiasm for experimentation with the possibilities of the recording studio as is best shown on DSOTM. Some of their later output as Roger Waters effectively was running the group creatively became too self indulgent and although there are some great tracks on ‘The Wall’ is signalled a decline in the bands music.
I suppose we should blame as much as praise Pink Floyd for their legacy of Prog Rock but I wonder if bands like Radiohead would be around if not for them.
The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
Dark Side Of The Moon
Wish You Were Here
Playing in the ruins of Pompeii at the height of their musical inventiveness.
5) BOB DYLAN
Just like Bob Marley and Reggae Dylan can lay claim to have if not invented certainly been the most influential musician in the development of a new musical genre, Folk Rock. But this is not his most important claim to fame.
Dylan came out of the American folk tradition and his earliest work was simply and extension of music that had been pioneered year earlier by the likes of Woody Guthrie. However Dylan soon began to make a distinctive impact on the world of folk. He developed the art of song writing and gave it a literary depth that had not been seen before, his songs were poetry and could stand serious scrutiny. With the development of the Anti War protest movement in the 60’s Dylan’s music started to include a political edge and soon he became the leading light of the 60’s counterculture. Dylan however realises that he couldn’t be constrained by the limits of folk and that his talents needed to be expanded beyond the genre. He experimented with electric instruments added new complexity to his songs, lost many of his flak fans on the way but gave rise to a musical hybrid known a folk Rock that led to a whole musical revolution with band such as the Byrds, Mama and Papas, The Band and Joni Mitchell. Bob Dylan could be considered the first intellectual of Popular music and he elevated the filed so that musician and songwriters could now be considered serious artists.
The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
Bringing It All Back Home
Blonde on Blonde
Blood on the Tracks
Live at Budokan.
6) THE SMITHS
Way before Madchester really got going there was another musical revolution brewing in Manchester. Out of the remains of Punk and New Wave The Smiths were producing a brand of intelligent guitar based pop that was to revolutionise the indie scene. The creative fulcrum for the band was the song writing and musical skills of Morrissey and a Marr. The songs were very much based in English pop culture and were about ordinary everyday events and situations but lyrically they showed humour and intelligence beyond most bands of the time. The distinctive sound of the Marr guitar sound also became the template for many other bands and greatly influenced The Brit pop scene to follow. Fun but intelligent pop you could dance to! I’m still not sure about the Gladioli though.
Hatful Of Hollow
The Queen Is Dead
Morrissey on ‘Top of the Pops’ camping it up with flowers sticking out of his back pocket.
7) DAVID BOWIE (pre -1982 and maybe a little recently)
The peace and love vibe of the sixties lead to the hedonistic excesses of the 70’s, the drugs became harder and the music became raw and cynical. Rock grew up and developed an edge. David Bowie more than most managed to ride this new wave of cynicism and chameleon like adapt his music and his persona to suit the times.
Starting off as a performance artist in the late sixties he had a good understanding of showmanship and he realised that in the coming decade image was going to be as important as the music you played. So began a series of reincarnations from major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and The Thin White Duke, which at various stages saw him embracing, and developing Traditional Rock, Glam Rock, Electropop, New Romanticism and a brief foray into MTV friendly 80’s dance. Things went a little wrong in the mid 80’s and 90’s (Let’s forget about Tin Machine!) but recently Bowie has managed to recapture some of his old self. Bowie introduced a campness to rock music and his androgynous personas challenged accepted views of rock artist and managed to shock many people whilst allowing other who came after to also experiment with image and sexuality.
Along with all the other choices on my list Bowie is a great songwriter and his brand of rock has influenced mane of the indie groups of the last 20 years.
The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
Station To Station
Ziggy Stardust live show.
8) NEIL YOUNG
Young a Canadian born singer songwriter came out of the folk rock scene where he first made an impression in the band Buffalo Springfield in the 60’s soon he was top go solo and achieved a lot of success with his brand of politically tinged but still very personal ballads, after a brief spell collaborating with Crosby Still and Nash he entered his most creative phase in the mid 70’s/80’s where he experimented with varying degrees of success with different musical forms from Blues, Jazz, Swing and Electrorock. In the 80’s his music developed rawness, especially in the use of the electric guitar, which predated the arrival of Grunge and Young is one of the influences cited by Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain.
Over the years Young has been responsible for some great songs that seemed to capture the emotions of the time from the protest of ‘Ohio’ to ‘Southern Man’ and more recently ‘Rocking in the Free World’. His output has been patchy but overall his influence and talent cannot be denied.
After the Gold Rush
His appearance in the Last Waltz a docu/film of The Bands last concert directed by Martin Scorsese.
9) THE CLASH
Punk came and went quite quickly and most of the bands that we think of, as punk didn’t stay around very long or to be honest apart from the energy they brought to their songs weren’t very good. The Clash were different, musically and lyrically they were a cut above the rest and this is they survived punk and developed into one of the best bands and influential bands of the early 80’s.
The clash’s version of Punk was always a little bit more refined than say the Sex Pistols, the attitude and angst was still there by the bucketful but the talent for song-writing and performing was also evident.
As the rawness of their original sound mellowed they assimilated other musical influences like Reggae and Ska that had always been associated with punk, into their material with songs like ‘Rudy Can’t Fail’ and ‘Police and Thieves’. They even ventured into overtly politicising their music with the release of their anti US album ‘Sandinista’.
The Clash’s influence can be seen everywhere most distinctly in the Wave of American nu-punk bands like Green Day, Offspring, Blink 182 and many of the current crop of Brit Pop bands.
The cover of ‘London Calling’
10) LOU REED (VELVET UNDERGROUND)
Velvet Underground was probably the most influential band in alternative rock and Lou reed was the song writing force behind them. The band were originally set up by 60’s artist Andy Warhol as an experiment is art trying to combine music, visuals and performance in to one shocking and challenging package. Much of the communal living, drug fuelled exhibitionism and arty performances of that period seem dated and too staged today but the musical output of the band that led to the ‘banana cover’ album was outstanding. Combining Reed’s song-writing skills, John Cale’s musical experimentation and Nico haunting vocals the album is a milestone in rock.
For this alone Lou Reed deserves a place in rock history but on the break up of the Velvet Underground Reed went solo and with his first Album Transformer he produced another classic. Like Bowie and Young Reed has never been happy to stand still and he continue to experiment with his music throughout the 80’s and 90’s. His songs are always very personal and sometimes his compositions are extremely difficult to engage with but it’s always interesting. Predating Punk and Grunge his music has always displayed and attitude and in recent years he has developed into the musical embodiment of the seedier side of New York.
Rightly considered as the godfather of alternative music it would be easier to list the bands that have not been influenced by Reed and the Velvet Underground.
The Velvet Underground And Nico
Seeing him play live!
Well that’s my lot, I suppose no real surprises, I could have included others on another day and the newer groups will have to wait their turn, we are supposed to be listing the top ten artists ever after all!
Thanks for reading and rating this review.
© Mauri 2005
Summary: My favourite ten artist who have been most influential in rock and pop.