Friday, November 30, 2007

Greatest American Rock and Roll Musicians

A Take on William's Post

Many, many years ago, there was a peculiarly American musical form called Rock and Roll...

A disclaimer: I like straight-up Blues better than Rock and Roll anyway, so my choices are likely to be weighted towards a certain era and towards guitar-based bands. More bands from the 50s should probably be on here, like Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and I’ve probably given the Punk bands from the 80s short thrift. I know I should rightly have bands on here like Nirvana, Metallica, and Soundgarden too, but to tell you the truth, I know next to nothing about them. In fact, I’ve found hardly anything worth listening to since the early 90s, so without further ado…

1. Elvis Presley The King. I’m sorry, you have to give it to him. With his bold crossover move, he essentially invented Rock and Roll. In addition, he really did have a great set of pipes. The caveat here is, all credit is due for that he did before he went into the army. Almost everything he did afterwards was awful. It’s hard to imagine anyone in any walk of life who was managed worse than he was, with the possible exception of Mike Tyson.

2. James Marshall Hendrix We talk about him a lot. There was a way that people played guitar before Hendrix, and there was a way that they played it afterwards, but nobody ever played it quite like him. That’s all there is to that.

3. Chuck Berry He was the paradigm for the guitar and for showboat antics for a decade before Hendrix. He set the standard and his influence lives on today.

4. Aerosmith The American version of the Rolling Stones, except they’ve been better in the long run. Steven Tyler has more talent than Mick Jagger (especially now), and Joe Perry has more talent than Keith Richards (especially now). They have the same kind of longevity that the Stones have had, but (just barely) have not shown the same kind of Picture of Dorian Gray effects… yet.

5. Bruce Springsteen Honestly, I’m not a fan. I recognize him as a great lyricist, I just wish he’d write them for someone else to sing and play. The only song of his that I really like is Fire. Enough people that I really respect, however, assure me that no one can put on a show like he can. I can’t deny the depth of his appeal.

6. Jackie Wilson ”Mr. Excitement”. This is my wild card pick. He had enormous influence on the guys who came after him on Motown and Stax. I think he was an incredible talent. Another guy who got on the junk and died too young. Here he’s shown below on “Shindig” doing Baby, Work Out. Here too, is an unexplainable animated piece based on his Reet Petite.

7. Bob Dylan When I think of Bob Dylan, I think “folk singer”. A guy who managed somehow to make a strength out of a poor voice. Not fair, I know… but I don’t automatically think of a Rock and Roll star. William made such a strong case for him, though, I have to give him a Top-Ten spot. He is another guy whose wide influence is undeniable.

8. James Taylor He’s not Rock and Roll either? He belongs on the list anyway. If you don’t believe me, you can argue about it with your wife if you want to.

9. Creedence Clearwater Revival These guys had a great run of hits, as William pointed out so well. I love John Fogerty’s distinctive, “swampy” style of vocals and guitar too… “I like the way you woke. I like the way you toke. I like the way you walk, I like the way you talk, Suzie Q.”

10. Ray Charles ”I say Hey… Ho…” He deserves to be on the list even if just for his version of America the Beautiful.

11. Santana These guys almost singlehandedly integrated Latino culture into the mainstream visibility of American life. Carlos Devadip Santana is a great player and a great ambassador. He genuinely seems to be a great guy, helpful to lots of other musicians over the years.

12. Sam Cooke Lots of fun, fun songs, delivered with vocals as smooth as ice cream. I posted about him once here.

13. The Allman Brothers I wanted to put The Band in this spot, but some of them were Canadians. The Allmans created the Southern Rock genre, and Duane Allman was the best slide player since Elmore James. Their Fillmore East show in 1971 featured Statesboro Blues and Must Have Done Somebody Wrong, which are two of the best live recordings I’ve ever heard.

14. Billy Joel He’s talented. You have to admit it. He’s sort of the Elton John or Paul McCartney of the USA, and you can take that however you like. He’s extremely versatile, although I’d still like to give him a smack for singing Only the Good Die Young at Providence College when he’d promised the friars that he wouldn’t.

15. Steely Dan Walter Becker and Donald Fagen weren’t the most pleasant guys in the world, but they always had the best of the sessions musicians working for them, like Jeff “Skunk” Baxter on Reelin’ In the Years, which brings me to…

16. The Doobie Brothers Just the Tom Johnston years, please! Not the Michael McDonald years… I state that most emphatically.

17. Bob Seger Some might consider this a strange choice… I think he was a great rocker and a great lyricist who put his multiple anthems into an easily accessible format for the public.

And I remember what she said to me
How she swore that it never would end
I remember how she held me oh so tight
Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then

Against the wind
We were runnin’ against the wind
We were young and strong, we were runnin’
Against the wind

I think everyone has a way to relate to that in one way or another.

18. The Doors Truly unique. Somehow they build a new following with each generation that comes along.

19. The Talking Heads My nod to CBGB’s and the whole Punk/New Wave scene. For me, they were the best of that lot. I liked David Byrne’s sense of humor.

20. REM I regret that I didn’t really start to get interested in these guys until their popularity started to wane. A solid decade of making albums every year, each of which had at least one great song on it.

Bonus Choice: The B52s Well, maybe Rock Lobster, an old staple of college parties, was undanceable, as undanceable as the other songs it was inevitably sandwiched in between - Spirits in the Material World, and Rock the Casbah - but Love Shack, now THAT was a danceable tune…


crystal said...

The Doobie Brothers - Jesus is just alright :-) I like the Doors and Santana too. Good list. I do think James Taylor has a good voice - there was an episdoe of the Wesrt Wing that had him guest, singing a song to honor Sam Cooke.

cowboyangel said...

Good list, Jeff. I'd quibble with a couple of choices, but that's what's fun about this.

[But I want to be there in Heaven when you encounter Ray Charles and have to explain to him why Aerosmith and James Taylor were better! :-)]

I won't mention the Michael McDonald slight to La Reina - she might come looking for you. There's been more than one "discussion" in our house about early Doobies vs later Doobies. I've received bruises for singing "Minute by Minute" in a less than generous manner.

Your take on Elvis echoes this book I'm reading right now - Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America. (Which, as a Beatles fan, I recommend you pick up at some point.) Elvis was the one who turned most of them on to rock and roll, and there's a particularly good section about his influence on the young Lennon. But the post-army Elvis was a huge disappointment to the Fab Four. In fact, they were so appalled by what they saw as his downfall that it influenced how they conducted themselves. They were determined not to go down that same path. Just read the part of the book on the one and only meeting between El and the Beatles. It was not the summit of giants that the Dylan-Beatles meeting was. "The encounter was marked by considerable electricity but little warmth," the author says. One of Elvis' guys couldn't figure out who was who among the four Brits, so he kept calling out, "Hey Beatle." George, however, did share a joint and discuss Hinduism with Elvis' haridresser and "spiritual adviser." This was in the summer of '65.

Santana and REM were definitely ones I thought about. Carlos has had kind of a strange career, almost vanishing for a long time there. Not sure why I'm not as big on REM these days. I really liked them a lot back in the day. Maybe I should listen again.

cowboyangel said...

Oh, I loved the Bill Haley intro. Had to look that up at YouTube. From the movie Rock Around the Clock (1956), which I've read about but never seen. Hilarious stuff. Not sure it makes me want to watch the whole movie, but the clip is great.

Jeff said...

Hi Crystal,

The Doobie Brothers - Jesus is just alright :-)

China Grove, Listen to the Music, Black Water.. :-)


But I want to be there in Heaven when you encounter Ray Charles and have to explain to him why Aerosmith and James Taylor were better!

Ray was irascible. If he can see in Heaven, I'm sure he'll punch me out for that. He resented Elvis greatly. I'm sure he's already decked him.

I'll point out gently, however, that you left Ray off your list altogether.

Re: Michael McDonald. I' m willing to suffer the consequences. :-)

"Trake vris mwessage to my bwotha... you can fwind him evweyhweyah..."

I hear that the Beatles and Elvis put together a recording at Graceland, but I'm not surprised to hear that the meeting was chilly. Didn't Elvis offer to Hoover and Nixon to spy on the Beatles for them?

Oh, I loved the Bill Haley intro.

Isn't that great? The "square" WWII vets who aren't getting it...

"Later man, later. I'm gone now, I'm not diggin' nuthin'."

I laughed out loud.

It's good to be reminded that this stuff was meant to be danced to. I wanted to put this clip up, but I thought better of it.

cowboyangel said...

Jeff, I forgot to thank you for the link to my post. And it's great to see you do your own list.

I put Ray in the "not really rock and roll" category, like Marvin Gaye or Johnny Cash. I mean Ray did jazz, country & western, r&b, gospel . . . pretty much everything. Otherwise he definitely would've been on the list.

Love the Juvenile Delinquent trailers!

Jeff said...


No problem, sorry I took so long to get around to it.

Regarding Ray (and others). I know what you mean. Some of these are a tough call.

Love the Juvenile Delinquent trailers!

Ha. They were quite the simmering pot boiling over, the 1950s.

jackjoe said...

Gads, you guys hate "On Eagles' Wings" but go mad over The Doobie Brothers. Just joking. Jack

Jeff said...


Are you unwilling to abide by the conditions I've set for your participation here?

Actually, those terms have been expanded. Not only would you have to tear down the posts you've made about Mike, but you'd have to apologize to calling everyone else here sycophants.

By the way, have you ever written a book?

jackjoe said...

Apologize to Mike? You've got to be crazy. What is it with you and Mike? Bar me. Jack

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