100 Greatest Artists
In 2004 — 50 years after Elvis Presley walked into Sun Studios and cut “That’s All Right” — Rolling Stone celebrated rock & roll’s first half-century in grand style, assembling a panel of 55 top musicians, writers and industry executives (everyone from Keith Richards to ?uestlove of the Roots) and asking them to pick the most influential artists of the rock & roll era. The resulting list of 100 artists, published in two issues of Rolling Stone in 2004 and 2005, and updated in 2011, is a broad survey of rock history, spanning Sixties heroes (the Beatles) and modern insurgents (Eminem), and touching on early pioneers (Chuck Berry) and the bluesmen who made it all possible (Howlin’ Wolf).
The essays on these top 100 artists are by their peers: singers, producers and musicians. In these fan testimonials, indie rockers pay tribute to world-beating rappers (Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig on Jay-Z), young pop stars honor stylistic godmothers (Britney Spears on Madonna) and Billy Joel admits that Elton John “kicks my ass on piano.” Rock & roll is now a music with a rich past. But at its best, it is still the sound of forward motion. As you read this book, remember: This is what we have to live up to.
By Dave Sitek
When I was a kid, I was really into hardcore punk. Hardcore was very rigid. Talking Heads was the first band I remember telling my punk friends about, saying, "Yo, check this out! This four-chord thing we're doing? We're missing out on something!"
The first song I really liked was "Once in a Lifetime." MTV had just started to sink its claws into people, and that song was like an anthem for coked-up adults trying to make sense of their world. Remain in Light was this combination of ambient music and strong lyrics and incredibly inventive percussion and bass parts. I was a kid, but I still thought, "I should have been involved in that record!" It's amazing.
They had so many things going on. If you listen to a Talking Heads bass line, you think the song's going one way, and then you listen to the drums and you think it's going a different way, and then you listen to David Byrne's lyrics and you're like, "This is a completely different song from what I thought it was going to be." And then the guitars come in, and then the ambience comes in — it's like several songs all blending into one. If Talking Heads were around a cool idea, they would make it their own. I feel like they saw Brian Eno, their producer, as another instrument.
The town that I grew up in was called Columbia, in Maryland. It was a planned community with man-made lakes. David Byrne's parents lived there for a while. It presented this facade that everything around us is solid and real and going to be here forever, even though we know we created it. Byrne's lyrics spoke to the artifice of the American landscape. The American Dream has a lot of back alleys, and he was showing those things, and I felt like, here's a guy trying to talk to me about something I had seen firsthand.
I think the artist's primary responsibility is to reflect what life was like in their time. Talking Heads did that. I'm all over the map emotionally and spiritually, like most people are, so different Talking Heads records speak to me at different times, but with Remain in Light and Fear of Music, the grit of modern living is there. What they're addressing still applies.
They weren't always complex, either — there's some stuff where it's just bare-bones essentials. "This Must Be the Place" is probably one of the most important songs in my entire life. I find the lyrics really calming. The song is simple, but when you look at all the elements and how they're put together and where the downbeat is, it's kind of … clever is not even really the word. Genius, maybe?
By Tom Petty
Carl Perkins' songs will outlive us all. On tracks like "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Honey Don't!" he took that country-picking thing into the rock world. He was an amazing guitar player: If you want to play Fifties rock & roll, you can either play like Chuck Berry, or you can play like Carl Perkins.
Considering how important he is to rock history, many people don't know about him. But the right people did. The Beatles covered five of Carl's songs on record. Carl was actually there in the studio when the Beatles cut some of them. Listen to the guitar break in "All My Loving": George Harrison told me that the Beatles would study the B sides of Carl's records to learn everything they could from him.
Carl was the real deal — a true rockabilly cat. He told me about picking cotton when he was a kid and learning the blues from an older black field hand he knew. Carl would go home from the fields, be practicing a Roy Acuff country type of thing on his guitar, and then he would start bending the notes. He told me his father would actually get mad, saying, "Play that thing right, boy, or don't play it at all." But it was organic with Carl. He took it to the honky-tonks — the real honky-tonks where people would be drinking out of a jug. It sounds like a cliché now, that rock music was born out of cornfields and honky- tonks, but with Carl it was all true.
He didn't get the breaks he deserved; hard luck seemed to follow him around. He had a terrible car crash on the way to The Ed Sullivan Show when "Blue Suede Shoes" was breaking really big. Elvis ended up covering the song and took a lot of the glory there. Some people might not know that Carl played guitar with Johnny Cash for 10 years on the road. At a certain point in the Sixties, things got tough for Carl — he had a drinking problem, which he eventually overcame — and he went back into the lead-guitar business.
Carl himself was a very bright guy, and very funny. He once told me, "Tom, I like you so much — if I lived by you, I'd cut your grass." That warmth and wit came through in his music. He was not the kind of guy to blow his own horn; he was very humble. When we did a long stand at the Fillmore in the late Nineties, I talked Carl into sitting in with us. Backstage, Carl was very nervous about coming out with us. He said, "They may not know who I am." I told him, "Carl, they're going to know you and love you." When Carl hit the stage, he just ripped the room apart. Neil Young was there that night, and he was shaking his head. Carl was that good.
By Boz Scaggs
If, in the late Fifties and early Sixties, you were drawn to that place on the AM radio dial where the rhythms, the grooves and the beautiful sounds of African-American soul were playing, you would have found Curtis Mayfield. Many of us first heard him as backing vocalist in the Impressions behind Jerry Butler, singing "For Your Precious Love." But he really came into focus in Butler's next big hit, "He Will Break Your Heart," which was written by Mayfield and features his strumming electric guitar to a saucy tango beat that you can hear echoing in Ben E. King's "Spanish Harlem."
After that he was front and center, singing the lead about a "Gypsy Woman" in an exotic brew of castanets and dark minor chords. At one point, after the lyric "She danced around and round to a guitar melody," he fired off an accent on his guitar that resonated for years for many of us who tried to emulate him — she cast her spell and he followed, with the rest of us close behind. You can clearly hear his influence in the monumental "Little Wing," by Jimi Hendrix.
But it was his voice that reached the higher ground. It burned with the abandon of the blues singer and an almost feminine longing, at once powerful and deeply personal. Women responded overwhelmingly to his profoundly respectful and sensitive approach. When he sang "The Wonder of You," the vulnerability and passion got in real close. They knew he knew.
At first, he made a gospel-like call to rise up, get on board, get ready. "I know you can make it," he exhorted to soul-stirring harmonizing. He later took the voice of activism, calling out diseases of urban America and challenging people to see what was going on, a plea Marvin Gaye would take up, too. The full range of his powers can be heard in the soundtrack to Superfly. It hits you in waves: driving rhythms with brass and strings countered by down-in-the-alley funk.
He was a dynamic performer right up until he was disabled in an accident onstage in New York in 1990. I only met him once, after a show in San Francisco. He was funny, gracious to all, had a beautiful smile and a genuine way about him — a gentle and humble man at heart.
By Colin Meloy
I first heard R.E.M. in 1986, a song tacked on to the end of a demos collection of a Eugene, Oregon, band that my uncle, then in school at U of O, sent to me for Christmas. The song was called "Superman," a bit of meticulously crafted bubblegum that was so simple and honest and funny that my entire nascent library of cassettes (chiefly: Yaz, Scritti Politti and Depeche Mode) seemed to be rendered obsolete in the span of the track's three minutes. I was fully hooked. Little did I know: Becoming enamored with indie bands in Helena, Montana, in the late 1980s was kind of like developing a taste for beluga caviar in rationing-era postwar Britain.
By the time Lifes Rich Pageant was gracing the yellow Sony Sports boomboxes of the world, R.E.M. was totally a going concern. The following year brought Document, and that landed them a video on MTV, even. Still, in Helena, being an R.E.M. fan meant being part of a tiny community. A community that, as far as I could tell, consisted of exactly one person. Then Green came around, and suddenly this band was on a major label, playing arenas, and every human in America with two ears and access to radio was being demanded to "Stand." I listened to Chronic Town — procured on a recent family vacation to Los Angeles — on my Walkman backstage during rehearsal for the school production of Guys and Dolls, rehearsing the conversation in my head:
"What are you listening to?" they'd ask.
"R.E.M.," I'd reply.
"Oh — they do that song 'Stand.'"
"Yeah," I'd reply casually, "I'm not really into that song — this is their first EP. It's, like, from 1982."
It was well-rehearsed, but it never actually happened. I had to suffer the philistines — stealing my band — silently. But still: To be an ardent R.E.M. fan, happy to venture beyond the pale of the radio singles, was a rare thing. Middle school was brutal for me, and I clung to my music like a life raft. Murmur, Reckoning … even Dead Letter Office, with its beer-soaked goofs and discarded B sides, provided a much-needed insulation against the cruel, Queensrÿche-and-Garth-Brooks-listening world. "When I was young and full of grace/And spirited, a rattlesnake/When I was young and fever fell/My spirit? I will not tell…." However inscrutable Michael Stipe's lyrics were, they always gave language to this weird, agonizing metamorphosis taking place in my head. I was desperately searching for like-minded kids, but with every semester that went by, I felt like my isolation only grew.
My parents, at a loss, suggested I get involved in the local community theater's after-school program. I was initially skeptical, but I agreed to give it a shot. As I climbed the stone steps toward the theater's entrance, the doors flew open and out walked a girl I'd never seen before — someone from the high school, maybe — wearing a gauzy sundress and a notable lack of hair spray in her long hair. But the thing that caught my eye: She was wearing a Fables of the Reconstruction T-shirt. I was floored. She smiled shyly — probably more embarrassed at my gaping than anything — and walked by.
I'd been given the signal. A wayward fugitive, stumbling through the door of some Provençal cafe, his hat and coat soaking wet from the journey. The customers turn and look, each more untrusting than the next. Till a flash of a badge or the wave of a ribbon can be seen from the farthest table, and he knows: This is it. You're in the resistance now, son.
Diana Ross and the Supremes
By Antonio "L.A." Reid
For almost 30 years — my entire career, really — all I've been doing is trying to discover another Diana Ross. I obviously still have my work cut out for me. She was gorgeous and skinny — and this was back in the Twiggy days, when skinny was new — and she had that big, beautiful hair. And, of course, she was glamorous: I remember all those furs, diamonds and early bling-bling. Everything about her — her mannerisms, her look, her aura — exuded stardom.
The Supremes were the epitome of the Motown sound. People look at Ross and say she had great songs, she was a good-looking girl, behind her she had Berry Gordy — who, in my book, is the greatest record man who ever lived — she had all these things. Holland, Dozier and Holland were amazing songwriters, just pure melody men. As we all know now, the unsung heroes were the Motown house band, the Funk Brothers. They could take those great songs and give them sound. "Where Did Our Love Go," "Baby Love," "Come See About Me," "Stop! In the Name of Love," "I Hear a Symphony" — at the time, people thought those songs were disposable. And now we realize that they're true masterpieces. They're so alive. Everything about the songs was great, even the intros — every one of them had a distinctive, memorable intro, which was a hook in and of itself. And, of course, there were two other wonderful singers in the Supremes, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard.
But at the end of the day, Diana Ross' voice would come on the air and give you chill bumps. It had such presence, terrific tone, and was so identifiable. She didn't sing like Aretha Franklin — she wasn't a gospel singer — but she was a stylist, and you always believed her. She was captivating, romantic. When she asked, "Where did our love go?" she sounded like she was begging.
To this day, I believe that her voice could work on contemporary radio. She set the road map for the success of Janet Jackson, Madonna — anybody who could sing but wasn't a real crooner like Aretha or Patti LaBelle or Gladys Knight. I still ask artists in the studio to "sing this like Diana Ross would." So far, no one has.
By Al Kooper
In 1972, the radio was logjammed with progressive rock like you wouldn't believe — Yes, Pink Floyd, Genesis — I was searching for a great three-chord band to produce. And so, that year, I heard Lynyrd Skynyrd making their Atlanta debut at a very dangerous club on Peachtree Street called Funocchio's. They were playing a weeklong engagement, and each night I'd hear another great original song from them and knew I'd found the band I was searching for.
As I got to know them, I marveled at their work ethic. They had a shack on the swamp in their native Jacksonville, Florida, where they rehearsed constantly, honing their original material into polished, shining steel. They may have had three guitar players, but they understood restraint. Of all the bands I'd come across in my life, they were the finest arrangers. "Sweet Home Alabama" sounds like seasoned studio musicians twice their age.
Ronnie Van Zant was Lynyrd Skynyrd. I don't mean to demean the roles the others played in the group's success, but it never would have happened without him. His lyrics were a big part of it — like Woody Guthrie and Merle Haggard before him, Ronnie knew how to cut to the chase. And Ronnie ran that band with an iron hand. I have never seen such internal discipline in a band. One example: These guys composed all of their guitar solos. Most bands improvised solos each time they performed or recorded. Not them. Ronnie's dream was that they would sound exactly the same every time they took the stage.
After three or four albums, Lynyrd Skynyrd transcended the Southern-rock tag. They became one of the greatest rock & roll bands in history. They feared no one. On their very first national tour, they opened for the Who. And got encores!
When Ronnie went down in that terrible 1977 plane crash, the forward progress of the band ended. After the survivors all healed, they miraculously reassembled. Ronnie's kid brother Johnny took over, and you had to rub your eyes to make sure it wasn't Ronnie. But while the band could duplicate the majesty of past live shows (and still can), the heart and soul of the band was gone forever.
Nine Inch Nails
By David Bowie
When the gods of nasty sounds tacked audition cards to the trees around town encouraging the brutes of industrial rock to brawl for the crown, a small lad with a tuba was probably not what they had in mind for a contender. His name was Michael Trent Reznor, and he also played sax and piano and learned early in life how to engineer a recording-studio console. He produced a terrific debut album called Pretty Hate Machine. Melodically oriented — and, because of record-company contractual problems, supported by what became a three-year tour — it birthed the first real mainstream breakthrough for industrial rock, selling over a million copies.
Following Brian Eno's example, Reznor unpacked his synth and threw away the manual. In making The Downward Spiral, he encouraged the computer to misconstrue input, willed it to spew out bloated, misshapen shards of sound that pierced and lacerated the listener. As a companion piece to Baudelaire's "To the Reader" — the preface to his Flowers of Evil — and second to the Velvet Underground, there has never been better soul-lashing in rock.
I had a strange dream a few years back. Lou Reed, myself and a friend known as Warren Peace were having dinner in one of those old-style Greenwich Village places where Pollock was supposed to have fought other painters. Our meal was served by one of the members of Einstúrzende Neubauten. I slowly became aware of the house music and that it was infuriatingly familiar. Our waiter, Blixa Bargeld, leaned in to me and whispered, "The music is a birthday surprise for Lou. Trent Reznor remixed this version of Metal Machine Music as a present."
As he said this, strands, splodges and blots from a Pollock early-Fifties "drip" painting materialized in front of our faces. While the music got louder, the paint hurtled around us faster and faster till we ran nauseous from the cafe, chased by infernal screaming lavender, blue and black snakes.
And that is it, really. Trent's music, built as it is on the history of industrial and mechanical sound experiments, contains a beauty that attracts and repels in equal measure: Nietzsche's "God is dead" to a nightclubbing beat. And always lifted, at the most needy moment, by a tantalizing melody.
I cannot believe that Spiral was released nearly 20 years ago now. It still sounds incredible today. And, no, no one ever calls him Mickey.
Booker T. and the MGs
By Isaac Hayes
Booker T. and the MGs had that Southern funk flavor. Motown took care of the North with their polished sound, but the MGs were gritty and raw, and they could really groove. You can hear their sound reverberating throughout the whole industry today — especially since hip-hop guys sample so much of what they did back then. They were an integrated band — half white, half black. There was a "cotton curtain" back in the Sixties: Bands were all segregated in Memphis. But the MGs were like a family. That integration was a sign of things to come.
The MGs made a name for themselves with all those great instrumentals, like "Green Onions," but they were the house band at Stax/Volt, so they had real adaptive ability. Otis Redding had his sound, Sam and Dave had theirs, Albert King had his own thing. But it was always Booker T. and the MGs playing. When I did my first sessions at Stax, I learned everything about record production from those guys.
In the MGs, Steve Cropper and Donald "Duck" Dunn were the rock & rollers, but they also had the country thing covered, as well as the blues. Most guitar players like to go crazy, but Steve picked his spots, and when he spoke, it was profound. Duck was a great bass player, and very funny — one of them good old Southern beer-drinking boys.
Al Jackson's father was a drummer, so Al had a background of rhythm. Al had a little jazz flavor along with those R&B grooves. You know when I did "Shaft," with those 16th notes on the high-hat? That was actually a break Al played on Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness." That stuck with me.
Booker T. pioneered a lot of sounds on the organ. When you heard him play, you knew it couldn't be anyone else. I remember one time, Booker accidentally had two dates booked at the same time, so he took some other band and went somewhere in Kansas, and I went with the MGs to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where I had to go pose as Booker T. Halfway through, some guy yells out, "Hey, man, that guy ain't no Booker T.! He ain't got no hair!" We said, "Oh, shit." But the groove took over, and that calmed them down.
Guns n’ Roses
By Joe Perry
Guns n' Roses revived our kind of rock. I remember someone handing me a copy of Appetite for Destruction and saying, "You've got to hear these guys — they're the new big thing." Bands like Bon Jovi and Whitesnake were big then, but Guns n' Roses were different. They dug down a little deeper into rock's roots. I heard a lot of Aerosmith in them, which meant I also heard a lot of bands that came before us. And I remember being a little jealous, because they were really hitting the nail on the head.
They opened up for us in 1988, and one of the things that impressed me was how much personality they put across, even when they weren't playing. Axl knew how to work an audience. They used to have to go out there and tape foam rubber around everything that Axl could touch — from his teleprompter to his mic stand — to make sure he wouldn't break anything, or hurt himself. I think people saw that he was basically just let out of the cage. Part of the thrill was wondering what he was going to do next.
They were called metal at the time, but they weren't: Metal isn't sexy, but rock is. To put it another way: You can have the rock, but you need the roll. Songs like "Paradise City" and "Welcome to the Jungle" were just simple enough; the chorus lines came right when you wanted them. Slash plays what's needed for the song, as opposed to trying to make the tune a showcase for his technique. Guns n' Roses' music wasn't full of the overblown gymnastics that a lot of guys were doing then — their stuff is just very tasty. Duff McKagan is like the bass player in AC/DC: His parts were fairly simple, but they made the band an unstoppable force. Izzy Stradlin was also important. Guns n' Roses played as a gang, which is just what you want.
Guns n' Roses are still an example of how a band can move rock forward. Sometimes you think, "How can you top anything by the Yardbirds, or Zeppelin, or the Stones?" And then you hear Guns n' Roses, and it's inspiring. You can think that it's all been written, but it hasn't. There's another way to twist those three chords around, to make it sound new, fresh and rebellious.
By Stevie Nicks
In 1976, I'd been in Fleetwood Mac for about a year when I heard Tom Petty's debut. I became a fan right then. I loved the way Tom's Florida swamp-dog voice sounded in cahoots with Mike Campbell's guitar and Benmont Tench's keyboards. Tom had the same influences we had — the Byrds, Neil Young, Crosby, Stills and Nash — but he dropped in lots of serious old blues. And Tom is such a great singer and so charismatic onstage. I became such a fan that if I hadn't been in a band myself, I would have joined that one.
When I started doing my first solo album, Bella Donna, my first thought was, "Who produces Tom Petty?" When they said Jimmy Iovine, I got Jimmy, because I wanted my solo work to be as much like Tom's as possible.
I first met Tom in the studio, and he was pretty much what I expected. There's not a fake bone in his body. Jimmy and Tom decided to give me "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," which they had written with Campbell. When they showed it to me, I was like, "Is this the right thing to do? I only get 11 songs and one of them won't be mine." And both Tom and Jimmy said to me, in a brutally honest way, "You don't have a single on this record. And here's a single for you."
Tom is a great and loyal friend, but he's also honest like that. In 1994, I had just gotten out of rehab, and Tom and I had dinner. I wanted to make a new record but I was scared. I said to him, "Will you help me write a song or two?" I didn't really expect the reaction I got, which was, "No, I won't. You are one of the premier songwriters in this business. Go home and turn off the radio. Don't be influenced by anything. Just write some great songs — that's what you do." He reinforced that I was still Stevie Nicks. I wrote a song about him I've never recorded, but I will someday. It goes, "Sometimes he's my best friend, even when he's not around."
In 2006, I did 27 shows with him. Tom made me a little platinum sheriff's badge that had 24-karat gold and diamonds across the top and said "To Our Honorary Heartbreaker, Stevie Nicks." On the back it says "To the Only Girl in Our Band." I keep it on my black velvet top hat. It goes with me everywhere. It's probably the most beautiful piece of jewelry a man has ever given me, ever.
By Henry Garza of Los Lonely Boys
Carlos Santana's music is a family thing for Chicanos. It's what you listen to when you're all hanging out: Drinking some beers, listening to "Oye Como Va" and cooking some barbecue is the best thing in the world. His music hits right to the pump — right to the heart. He's a pioneer of Latin rock & roll: His music was something new, but it was intertwined with everything else that was out there at the time — Sixties rock, Latin jazz and more. We're trying to do the same thing with Los Lonely Boys — make a lot of different types of music into something our own — but he did that first. He incorporated his culture into the music, and he mixed English and Spanish in the lyrics.
Everything on a song like "Black Magic Woman" works: the keyboards, the congos, the drums, the vocals. Carlos isn't the lead singer, but he is the maestro. Of course, the best thing about all his albums is his guitar. He's one of the greatest players who ever lived. His guitar has a very distinctive sound — it's like a fingerprint. His tone just bleeds through everything. His playing is both simple and complicated — he can communicate with just one or two notes. He speaks languages through his music that people can understand in any country, any language.
Those first three albums — Santana, Abraxas, Santana III — are really special to me. You could hear his ethnicity in his music — even when he's playing like some blues cat, he still sounds like Santana. And his music always has that rhythm. It makes you want to get your girlfriend and go to a dance in your lowrider. Some people were confused after that by his Seventies music, when he became jazzier. But he was just experimenting, learning more. And then his comeback with Supernatural shows how enduring his talent is.
Santana has a really good message to send to the human spirit. He once said to us, "You want to be like emissaries of light. When you're up on that stage or when you record, you want to be a tool that light shines through to everybody."
You don't want to dwell in darkness. You want to go toward the light. And Santana is the light.
By Steven Tyler
Listen to "Somebody," a song I wrote for Aerosmith's first album: It's all from the Yardbirds. They were the shit to us, out of all the British bands in the Sixties. The Yardbirds were a bit of a mystery. They had an eclecticism — the Gregorian chant-ness of the vocals, the melodic diversity, the way they used guitar feedback. I loved that weirdness.
In the Sixties, I was in a band called Chain Reaction. We got to know the Yardbirds because they played at Staples High School in Westport, Connecticut, in 1966. We had a friend, Henry Smith, who had been our manager for a while, and he had gone to school there. He called me and said, "Steven, the Yardbirds are playing here, and you can open up." It was the lineup with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, who was playing bass on that tour. We waited all day for them to arrive. I grabbed their amps, they grabbed ours. We carried each other's gear in, because back then, that's what you did. Hence began the rumor that I was a roadie for the Yardbirds.
They did "Shapes of Things," "Beck's Boogie," among other songs. I was in such awe. They played like no other band. They weren't concerned with clothes or looks or hit singles. Their thing was "What do we do with these sounds?" They did things with harmonics — minor thirds and fifths — that created this ethereal, monstrous sound.
You hear it in every song — the way they could take the blues and turn it into a pop song like "For Your Love," then something psychedelic like "Shapes of Things," which has that weird middle. You can hear the click when Beck hits his fuzz box. Page, in the end, was the one who took those ideas all the way with Led Zeppelin. The two shows I remember where I just sat with my mouth open was that Yardbirds show, and Led Zeppelin at the Boston Tea Party in 1969.
As a singer, the thing I got out of the Yardbirds was that you don't have to have a great voice. It's all about attitude. He was a white boy who pushed it to the max. And he was a great harmonica player. You never heard Jagger hanging out on a single note the way Keith Relf could.
The shame is, I know how great the Yardbirds were. But I don't think everyone else knows it. The Yardbirds' music is a gold mine waiting to be stumbled upon. Aerosmith did, because we grew up in that era. The riff in "Walk This Way" is just us trying to explore the blues in the Yardbirds model. What the Yardbirds did is something you don't hear in today's blue-plate-special, cookie-cutter music. Everything is so canned and sliced up now. This was back when a band was a band. You had all those personalities, and they were all truly playing together. And I don't hear that today. The day of those bands, that wild stepping out, is gone.
By Ezra Koenig
Somewhere between LOL and FML there was "TRL." MTV's Total Request Live debuted in September 1998. The early TRL charts were dominated by 'N Sync, the Backstreet Boys, Korn and their respective biters. Then, six weeks in, Jay-Z's "Can I Get A … " video debuted at Number 10. It wasn't the beginning of his career as a rapper, but it was the beginning of his career as a major force in pop music.
Mainstream radio and TV presented the late-Nineties teenager with a weirdly extreme choice between aggro rock played by men in tank tops and mushy ballads sung by slightly smaller men in tank tops; Jay-Z presented a much-needed alternative. This is not to say that Jay-Z never wore tank tops, but he was (and continues to be) an exceedingly rare combination of intelligence, weirdness, seriousness and pop appeal. Go look back at those TRL charts and it's not hard to tell why a generation of musicians, critics and fans became so deeply connected to the lyrics of a dude who, supposedly, was describing a world that at least 50 percent of his fans "couldn't relate to."
In my lifetime, Jay-Z has, by far, been the most artful and exciting musician to consistently make hits, and I mean real hits — Top 10 singles deep into his career, like "Empire State of Mind." How many artists make it 15 years without embarrassing themselves, let alone while maintaining their relevancy?
I remember getting chills watching him perform "On to the Next One" at Coachella. He was wearing all black and standing in front of a giant video wall. I interpret that song as both an ode to creative ingenuity and a critique of infinite-growth capitalism. Admittedly, I was reading a lot about peak oil at the time, but c'mon, who else can inspire a crowd of 100,000 to throw their arms in the air while offering each individual brain in that crowd the opportunity to think critically about language and the state of the world today?
His lyrics are deep enough to demand exegesis (see: Decoded), at times, cute and playful enough to be memorized by every "mean girl" at my high school (see: his verse on Mariah Carey's "Heartbreaker"). On "Public Service Announcement," he described himself as being like "Che Guevara with bling on." Some people found this to be in bad taste, but it doesn't feel too off the mark to me. At the very least, I don't think anyone will take issue with the next line: "I'm complex."
By Keith Richards
Like I know the blues, Gram Parsons knew country music — every nuance, every great country song that was ever written. And he could express it all — the music from Nashville and Bakersfield, California, the stuff from Texas — in his singing and songwriting. But he also had intelligence and honesty. That's the kind of guy I like to hang with. Also, he loved to get stoned. At the time, that was an added plus.
I first met Gram in 1968, when the Byrds were appearing in London — I think it was a club called Blazes. I knew the Byrds from Mr. Tambourine Man on; the Stones had worked some shows in California with them back then. But when I saw them at Blazes with Gram, I could see this was a radical turn. I went backstage, and we hooked up. Then the Byrds came through London again, on their way to South Africa. I was like, "Man, we don't go there." The sanctions and the embargo were on. So he quit the Byrds, right there and then. Of course, he's got nowhere to stay, so he moved in with me.
Basically, we hung around together, like musicians do. We'd spend hours and hours at the piano, swapping ideas. Gram and I both loved the songs of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant — the Everly Brothers stuff they wrote. We both loved that melancholy, high-lonesome shit. We were always looking for the next heart-tugger, looking to pull that extra heartstring.
As a songwriter, Gram worked very much like I do, which is to knock out a couple of chords, start to spiel and see how far it can go, rather than sitting around with a piece of paper and a pen, trying to make things fit neatly together. But he would also work very hard — harder than I ever did — on honing it down.
Mick and Gram never really clicked, mainly because the Stones are such a tribal thing. At the same time, Mick was listening to what Gram was doing. Mick's got ears. Sometimes, while we were making Exile on Main Street in France, the three of us would be plonking away on Hank Williams songs while waiting for the rest of the band to arrive. Gram had the biggest repertoire of country songs you could imagine. He was never short of a song.
The drugs and drinking — he was no better or worse than the rest of us. He just made that one fatal mistake — taking that one hit after he cleaned up, still thinking he could take the same amount. And it was too fucking much. But he didn't get into dope because of us. He knew his stuff before he met us.
I think he was just getting into his stride when he died. His actual output — the number of records he made and sold — was pretty minimal. But his effect on country music is enormous. This is why we're talking about him now. But we can't know what his full impact could have been. If Buddy Holly hadn't gotten on that plane, or Eddie Cochran hadn't turned the wrong corner, think of what stuff we could have looked forward to, and be hearing now. It would be phenomenal.
In a way, it's a matter of lost love. Gram was everything you wanted in a singer and a songwriter. He was fun to be around, great to play with as a musician. And that motherfucker could make chicks cry. I have never seen another man who could make hardened old waitresses at the Palomino Club in Los Angeles shed tears the way he did.
It was all in the man. I miss him so.
By 50 Cent
Every rapper who grew up in the Nineties owes something to Tupac. People either try to emulate him in some way, or they go in a different direction because they didn't like what he did. But whatever you think of him, he definitely developed his own style: He didn't sound like anyone who came before him.
My favorite Tupac album is The Don Killuminati. It was recorded after he was shot and spent time in prison. It was like a doctor told him he was going to die, and he was trying to get it all down on paper. That's something the average rapper just could not do: build an entire album around that concept, and stay in that negative space. Everybody knows that they're going to die. But after you're in a life-threatening situation, you think about it a little more.
Tupac's aggressive records are my favorite. "Hail Mary" is just perfect: "Picture paragraphs unloaded/Wise words being quoted." Most artists now just aren't smart enough to write that, or honest enough to write a line like, "I ain't a killer but don't push me." These days rappers will just tell you, "I'll kill you."
Tupac was like a camera. It's incredible how much he wrote — how much he documented. To me, 'Pac was more of a poet than a rapper. You can always tell when you're hearing Tupac verse. He wrote those lyrics without any music. Notorious B.I.G. was more melody-driven — I'm sure he wrote his shit without a pen, and over the music — but 'Pac was just hashing out his life. The thing was, he was doing that when the public eye was on him, and everything he was hashing out just expanded, and that's when things got out of control.
All of us on the East Coast loved Tupac. The music was all that mattered. That East Coast/West Coast feud was just personal beef. Now that he's not here, he's bigger than ever. I can still listen to two or three Tupac CDs straight. Sometimes I put on Tupac's best songs, followed by Biggie's best songs. Then I get ready to go into my next project.
Laurence Fishburne told me once that he didn't like Tupac. He told me it was because Tupac was so much smarter than everyone around him. He said he didn't like the way Tupac behaved because he knew that Tupac knew better. I understood what he meant. But I still gave him a look like he was bugging.
By Dave Navarro
Black Sabbath are the Beatles of heavy metal. Anybody who's serious about metal will tell you it all comes down to Sabbath. Any hard-rock band that ever tried to write a crazy twelve-minute operetta owes them a debt. There's a direct line you can draw back from today's metal, through Eighties bands like Iron Maiden, back to Sabbath.
All the compelling themes are on Black Sabbath's records: beauty, atrocity, the seven deadly sins. Their music can make you think of walking on the beach with your wife, or of locking yourself in your room with your big toe on the trigger of a shotgun — sometimes within the same song. The title song of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath has all of the stuff I'm talking about: It's rebellious and dark and wicked, but it's also gorgeous.
A lot of deep records — like Pink Floyd's The Wall or Nine Inch Nails' The Fragile — are dense, long journeys. Every time you listen to them you hear something new. Sabbath records do that for me, too, but they're simple. When Sabbath wanted to convey a different message, they didn't need to pick up an acoustic guitar or call in the London Philharmonic. They could do pretty much anything with just bass, drums, guitar and vocals.
Black Sabbath's rhythm section doesn't get enough props. If you listen to the way that Geezer Butler and Bill Ward play off of each other, that's the core of the heaviness right there. Add to that Ozzy's amazing voice and one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time, Tony Iommi, and it's an unstoppable force. They're a fucking piece of the mountain coming down behind you, and you can't do anything about it.
I was 11 when I first heard Sabbath. Vol. 4 was the album, and it quickly became one of my favorites. At an early age I looked to music to take me out of my reality, and Sabbath does that better than any hard-rock act I know. In Jane's Addiction, we were into a groove that was very repetitive, riff-oriented and hypnotic — similar in a lot of ways to a song like "War Pigs," off of Paranoid (my favorite Sabbath album). And of course, both bands have a singer with a really high-end voice that cuts through all the chaos below. I'm still coming up with stuff that is a complete and blatant rip-off. There's just no escaping them.
By Art Garfunkel
I sing to James Taylor before every show I do. I warm up in my dressing room to "Handy Man," "Sarah Maria," "Song for You Far Away," "Sweet Baby James," "Copperline" and about 20 other favorites. Then I go from James' bass-baritone to tenor singing with the Everly Brothers — first Don, later Phil.
While I'm unisoning with James, my reverence rises; my heart and mind become engaged in the sober intelligence of the song and the beauty of the singing. James' accuracy of pitch is like a trader's honesty. To me, it has always been paramount in singing. There is an illuminating love of living things — all of them here on earth — that lies within the tenderness of his line readings (listen to his song "Gaia," from Hourglass). If vocal-cord vibration were like surfing off the swelling of the heart, James would be my favorite rider on the cusp — a little in the air, sublime in the spray.
It's no accident that the Beatles' Apple Records signed James Taylor at its inception. He is the finest of us Americans. I know the "folk music" he must have listened to (I, too, had been wand'ring early and late…). I have experienced the thrill of collaborating with him numerous times as we have invited each other into our respective albums. I recall our trio arrangement of "(What a) Wonderful World" with my Paul — we met up at Paul's apartment (of course). It was '77. Two extraordinary artists were giving me the gift of their vocals and guitar parts for my album, Watermark. I must have done something right. What is memorable today is the ease and efficiency with which we three found our harmonies. There was a mutual musical sensibility and a serious mutual respect.
James is so fine. His exactitude with the Note is simple, impeccable musicianship. Call it his refinement or the civility of intelligent life. Hear the innate dignity of James' tribute song to Martin Luther King Jr. ("Shed a Little Light"). Some people have a hard time with the self-consciousness of perfectionism. But I think "perfect" is the best review.
I hope he reads this tribute of mine and recognizes what a great personal value his existence is to one of his colleagues. And I hope he breaks into another grin from ear to ear as he feels "that's why I'm here."
By Elton John
When Eminem and I did "Stan" at the Grammys in 2001, we got together to rehearse out in the Valley. We had never met or really spoken, so I was a little intimidated. When we started to do the song and Eminem made his entrance, I got goose bumps, the likes of which I have not felt since I first saw Jimi Hendrix, Mick Jagger, James Brown and Aretha Franklin. Eminem was that good. I just thought, "Fuck, this man is amazing." There are very few performers who can grab you like that the first time — only the greats.
Eminem is a true poet of his time, someone we'll be talking about for decades to come. He tells stories in such a powerful and distinctive way. As a lyricist, he's one of the best ever. Eminem does for his audience what Dylan did for his: He writes how he feels. His anger, vulnerability and humor come out. That's why we look forward to listening to Eminem's lyrics and finding out where the hell he's headed next.
Eminem lives, sleeps and breathes music — he's a bit like me in that respect. He's pretty much a recluse. I think he's enthralled with what he's doing; he's intimately involved with his art. There's a mystique about him. From the start, I have always admired Eminem's thinking. That's the reason I wanted to appear on the Grammys with him when I was asked, despite all the nonsense talked about his being homophobic and crap like that. The Boy Georges of the world all got up in a twist about it. If they didn't have the intelligence to see his intelligence, that was their problem.
Eminem has the balls to say what he feels and to make offensive things funny. That's very necessary today, when irony is becoming a lost art. Artists like Eminem who use their free speech to get a point across are vitally important. There just aren't many people in the world with balls that big and talent that awesome.
Creedence Clearwater Revival
By Stephen Malkamus
My parents had basically nine vinyl albums, all greatest hits: the Beatles' red/blue albums, Carpenters, Neil Diamond, Elton John, the Beach Boys' Endless Summer, Jim Croce, Gordon Lightfoot … and Creedence Gold. Creedence was the one I took. It has perhaps the Dullest Expensive Album Cover ever, with the foldout profiles of the band members, but it sat proudly next to Devo, Kiss, the Yardbirds, the Stones' early albums (they were cheap), the Decline of Western Civilization soundtrack and the Dead Kennedys' Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. I was pretty much just into "Suzie Q" and "Born on the Bayou" back then, but I came to appreciate almost everything they ever did.
The songs are great. You have swamp-boogie numbers of varying length ("Green River," "Born on the Bayou"), catchy energy bursts ("Fortunate Son," "Sinister Purpose"), pop ("Have You Ever Seen the Rain," et al.) and the soul numbers ("Long As I Can See the Light"). They are all arranged well, have catchy melodies and solid rock lyrics.
John Fogerty has an inimitable voice. He puts it to the test over and over — and wins. The rhythm section is rad. You try to play this stuff and you'll see they had chops. The rhythm guitar kicks, too. Fogerty plays what I would if I was 22, more talented and into the blues.
The records have their own vibe — performance-based, few overdubs, like if some Memphis/Booker T.-type band moved West and got a youth-culture injection. The focus is on the songs and not the rock star BS that was taking over back then. But they weren't afraid to create a mood. When Cream came out, everybody started a power trio. But basically, "Suzie Q" has all the drama you would ever need. John Fogerty wrote more classic songs in a three-year stretch than anyone other than the Beatles.
Thank you, Creedence, for being popular and timeless enough to be on CD jukeboxes. Keep on chooglin'.
By Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Over the years, the Drifters were a couple of different great groups and a whole bunch of wonderful guys. In a way, that upheaval may be part of the reason they recorded so many immortal songs over such a long period.
We were both fans of the Drifters even before we started writing, and later producing, for them. There was a real tradition of great singers in the group: Clyde McPhatter, Johnny Moore, Ben E. King and Rudy Lewis. Yet for all their fantastic records, the Drifters had the least stable lineup of any of the great vocal groups. They were in essence a band of hired guns, overseen by their management. Let's just say this wasn't necessarily a situation where guys were getting rich off the royalties.
Our first cut writing for the Drifters was "Ruby Baby," which Nesuhi Ertegun produced and Johnny Moore sang lead on, in 1955. We loved what they did with the song. Their management changed the lineup in 1958, and that's when the great Ben E. King came into the picture. The Drifters records that we're most associated with, including "There Goes My Baby," come from that era.
Ben E. King was this younger singer just coming up, yet he had this mature style that was so unusual. He was always wonderful to work with, and we had a truly great run together. People have said that "There Goes My Baby" was a very influential record because it helped set the stage for the Wall of Sound and Motown. Who are we to argue? Thanks to a great arrangement by Stan Applebaum, the song showed us how rock & roll and strings could really work together. When King left, we worked with him as a solo artist, and the Drifters kept on having hits too, first with Rudy Lewis as the new lead singer. Upon Lewis' death, Moore returned to the group in time for "Under the Boardwalk."
We wrote songs for the Drifters, but we also put the call out to all the best songwriters in our world. Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman came with perfect songs like "This Magic Moment" and "Save the Last Dance for Me." Gerry Goffin and Carole King wrote "Up on the Roof." We also put the Drifters together with Burt Bacharach — who met Dionne Warwick at our office for a Drifters session.
Through it all, the Drifters always had this exquisite vocal blend. It was warm and round and full and dripping with chocolate. Since we were involved in the Drifters' career, it's probably not our place to declare their music immortal. But you have to say, they did pretty well.
By Liz Phair
Elvis Costello writes novels in three minutes. He gets inside your head, and he doesn't let go. I'd pay a great amount of money to audit a course taught by him. If you love Elvis Costello, it's because you love what he's thinking — the depth and breadth of his notice is astounding. Sometimes I wonder if he watches people on the Strand in London and makes up entire histories for them. ("This person didn't pass the bar and has thyroid problems." "They're jogging because they just went through a breakup.")
When I was a teenager, it was a career aim for many of my friends to have a song written about them by Elvis Costello. His songs about women and girls are devastating, like arrows to the heart. There are very few artists who can depict a woman's life, her thoughts and desires and her failings, like he can. Most rock songs about women are from the outside looking in: They say, "Babe, you're so hot, come sleep with me." Elvis' songs say, "I see you, and I know what you're doing." He catches us at our tricks, and that's always thrilling.
He's a poet with a punk's heart. There's a Jerry Lee Lewis flavor to the way he just gets in there and lets it rip: His rocking stuff has a lot of raw power, a real physicality. Even when it's just him and a piano onstage, it's powerful. When I first heard him, I was blown away that someone could just spit those words out without even hitting the right notes, with no holding back and no shame. Of course, the Attractions were really important to his music — if you're going to cram a whole book into one song, it helps to have a steady groove.
Nobody sounds like him. People imitate Stevie Wonder or whomever, but how many people can do Elvis Costello? Not bloody many. His melodies weave in and out and all over the place, and you can tell they just spring out of him. Finally, Elvis is the definition of a career artist — he's always coming up with a different sound, always challenging himself. All of his music tells you: You could come along for the ride — but I'm not stopping.
The Four Tops
By Smokey Robinson
The Four Tops are a one-in-a-million singing group. They were the best in my neighborhood in Detroit when I was growing up. When I was 11 or so, my first group was an early version of what would become the Miracles. Back then the Four Tops were called the Four Aims. We all used to sing on the corners, at school functions and at house parties. Sometimes we'd have talent competitions. But all the groups in the neighborhood knew that if the Four Aims were going to be there, you were going to be singing for second place at best.
They were the first group from the neighborhood that sang modern harmony: They could sing like a gospel group but then do R&B like no one else. I love singers whom you can identify the first second they open their mouth, and Levi Stubbs is one of those; he's one of the greatest of all time. He has that distinctive voice, and his range is staggering. The combination of Levi, Obie Benson, Duke Fakir and Lawrence Payton was truly awesome.
When they came to Motown and teamed up with Holland-Dozier-Holland, there was no looking back. They performed some of the most dramatic records ever written: "Standing in the Shadows of Love," "Bernadette," "Reach Out I'll Be There," "I Can't Help Myself" and "Baby I Need Your Loving." Later, when Holland-Dozier-Holland left, I co-wrote "Still Water (Love)" with Frank Wilson for the Four Tops.
They were always great singers and great guys. When the Four Tops first came to Motown, the Miracles and I were the mainstays of the label, and the Temptations had just gotten there. But all the guys were very, very close. You'd come back to town from a 51-night tour, and the first thing you did was shower and head back to Hitsville. We'd play cards and shoot pool together into the early hours.
The Four Tops will always be one of the best groups ever. Their music is forever.
By Thurston Moore
For me, the Stooges were the perfect embodiment of what music should be — of wanting it to be alive, riding the edge of control. Their music was total high-energy blues, with the contemporary freakout of Jimi Hendrix and the free-jazz spirit of John Coltrane. Iggy wanted the Stooges to be what he'd seen in Chicago as a young guy — these old bluesmen playing so hard that, as Iggy once said, the music drips off you.
I was 14 when I first saw a picture of Iggy onstage: shirtless, with his body spray-painted silver. He was sweating — it looked like glitter sweat — and he had a chipped tooth. He looked young and on fire. Iggy's parents were intellectuals — his father was an English teacher — and that gave him an edge. He had focus. Iggy believed what he was doing was important — this self-reliant, anti-establishment art form.
The Stooges' sound was so evocative yet so simple. Scott Asheton played drums as if he was in an electric-blues band. On The Stooges and Fun House, while his brother Ron, the guitarist, was playing these loud bar-chord progressions, Scott was making the band rev and swing. And when I played with Ron for the soundtrack of Velvet Goldmine, the first week was a crash course on how to play Stooges songs. We went through those first two albums, and there was that Asheton swing again, the way he rocked the chord grooves.
Raw Power was made by a different lineup, with James Williamson on guitar and Ron on bass. It's the ultimate fuck-off. This is a band getting very strung out, putting so much blood and soul into what it's doing, and for the most part looked upon as trash. There's a damaged quality to David Bowie's original mix that is way ahead of its time.
Seeing the Stooges in reunion with Mike Watt from the Minutemen on bass was awesome. When they played their first gig, in 2003 at Coachella, the first thing Iggy did was start jumping in the air, flipping the bird to the crowd — "Fuck you, fuck you and fuck you." Then Iggy turned to the side of the stage, where the elite were standing — Sonic Youth, Queens of the Stone Age, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the other all-access rock stars — and he gave us the jerk-off motion. It was great. After all this time, he's still at war.
By Darryl "DMC" McDaniels
In the early days of rap, the conventional wisdom was that only black people were supposed to like hip-hop and only white people were supposed to like rock. But it wasn't like that. In Run-DMC, we were rapping over rock beats. The Beasties were a punk band listening to hip-hop.
I met the Beastie Boys in Rick Rubin's dorm room at NYU. What bugged me out about the Beasties was that they knew everything about hip-hop — the Cold Crush Brothers, the Treacherous Three and Afrika Bambaataa, all the old-school shit. In addition, they could rap, they could sing and they could play instruments.
Run-DMC gave "Slow and Low" to the Beastie Boys. The song was basically their blueprint. But then they started writing anita kunztheir own rhymes, and when Licensed to Ill came out, it went to Number One. They were writing songs we wished we had written, like "No Sleep Till Brooklyn." They put rock with rap like we did, but it made so much sense when they did it because they were punk rockers.
The first time we toured with the Beastie Boys was the Raising Hell tour in 1986: Run-DMC, Whodini, LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys. We were playing the Deep South — Crunkville, before there was crunk — and it was just black people at those shows. The first night was somewhere in Georgia, and we were thinking, "I hope people don't leave when they see them." But the crowd loved them, because they weren't trying to be black rappers. They rapped about shit they knew about: skateboarding, going to White Castle, angel dust and television. Real recognizes real.
One of the most significant things about the Beasties is their longevity. They've put out genius records for decades. When Paul's Boutique came out, it didn't sell as well as their debut. Now people realize it's one of the best albums of the Eighties.
Each of the Beastie Boys has a different personality. Mike D is the examiner: He looks around, he takes in all the information, he's a little laid-back. MCA was always the mature one, but he could be a fool when it was time to be a fool. And Ad-Rock is just full of life. He's approachable, affectionate and funny. But maybe my favorite thing about the Beastie Boys is that they're worldly. They taught me and many other people a lot about life, people and music.
By Paul Shaffer
The Shirelles had a "sound," a word that people from the Sixties vocal-group era use with a lot of reverence. Shirley Alston Reeves, who did most of the group's lead vocals, wasn't a gospel shouter like Arlene Smith of the Chantels. Shirley was more sentimental and street. When she said, "Baby, it's you," you thought, "Baby, it is me."
They weren't the first girl group, but the Shirelles were the first to have many hits. They influenced everyone from the Ronettes and Motown girl groups like the Supremes to the Beatles, who covered "Baby It's You" and "Boys." The Shirelles were given some of the all-time greatest songs to sing: "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "Soldier Boy," "Tonight's the Night," "Mama Said." But what's interesting to me is that they wrote their very first hit, "I Met Him on a Sunday," themselves, when they were still high school students in New Jersey. It was on this song that the group combined doo-wop with very accessible pop melodies: It began with the whole group singing, "Doo ron, day ron, day ron day papa, doo ron," then one of them would sing, "Well, I met him on a Sunday." It was the cutest thing.
The girl-group sound was everything to me. As a kid, I used to sit at home after school and just bang out those songs on the piano. Later in life, in the early Nineties, I witnessed a wonderful moment, when the Shirelles were honored by the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. The three living members of the group — Shirley, Beverly Lee and Doris Jackson — were at the awards ceremony. The fourth member, Addie "Micki" Harris, had died in 1982. I had heard that they hadn't seen each other in quite a while, so there was some apprehension when the three of them took the stage. They certainly hadn't planned to perform. But when Doris took her award in hand, she said, "This is dedicated to the one I love," and then they just started singing it.
They sounded fantastic. The band fell into place, and people in the audience just fell over. After that, Shirley, Beverly and Doris were having so much fun that they went into "Soldier Boy." This was a group that hadn't sung together in years, but they sounded heavenly. I was so inspired, I stood at attention and saluted. There was nothing else I could do.
By Sheryl Crow
The Eagles forever changed country and rock, but I just think of what they did as being great American music. It's amazing how one band could take all those influences — country and rock, of course, but also soul, R&B and folk — and still sound so distinctive.
The Eagles were a real band. After an album or two, Don Henley and Glenn Frey turned into one of rock's all-time great songwriting teams. But everyone contributed material and incredible musicianship to the effort: Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon, then Don Felder, and later Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit. They started out in the age of the sensitive singer-songwriter, and their music was as smart and sensitive as anyone's, but when they called upon it, they also had the power of a great rock & roll band.
The first song of theirs that I vividly remember hearing was "Take It Easy." Those lyrics — by Frey and Jackson Browne — could have been from any Merle Haggard or Willie Nelson song, but the instrumentation and energy were decidedly rock. The combination sounded so powerful.
I also remember being on a long cross-country family road trip as a kid, driving across the Texas desert at night. The only radio station we could get was a scratchy AM station from who knows where. The haunting opening strains of "Hotel California" came on the radio. My father thought that all of us kids were asleep; I immediately assumed that he would shut the radio off. But he didn't. He couldn't resist it any more than I could.
The Eagles provided the soundtrack to so many of my summers, and likely many of yours, too. Their melodies and harmonies have always been instantly familiar. "Desperado," "Take It to the Limit," "Tequila Sunrise" and "Best of My Love" are some of the best pop songs ever written. To this day, it simply doesn't get any better than that guitar riff from "Life in the Fast Lane."
When I sang backup for Don Henley in the early Nineties, it was a surreal experience, supplying vocals every night to Eagles songs. The audience's reaction to those classics cemented their value in my head. In my own way, I got to experience the power of the Eagles' music. But then again, we all have.
Hank Williams songs like "Lonesome Whistle" and "Your Cheatin' Heart" are wonderful to sing because there is no bullshit in them. The words, the melodies and the sentiment are all there, clear and true. It takes economy and simplicity to get to an idea or emotion in a song, and there's no better example of that than Hank Williams.
Hank had a voice that split wood. From his records, it sounded like he was projecting from a completely different place in his body. It was a voice that could play roadhouses without amplification, that could cut through barroom crowds. The places he played were so tough that he hired a wrestler, Cannonball Nichols, to be his bass player. Hank lived what would have been a rock star's life — full of touring, drinking and woman troubles.
I bought a 10-song Hank Williams collection on vinyl for $4.99. It was like I unlocked a box: His music spoke to me. His records are enormously important to country music, but I think I responded to them because they sounded so exotic. It's significant that Hank learned to play guitar from an elderly black musician: Hank is the ultimate hillbilly, but there's other stuff going on. For a while he was my only reference point; I've covered his songs for years. On Sea Change, I made a conscious effort to try to write songs as direct as Hank's.
I see more and more people getting into his music today. When I played his songs early on, I used to get really sick of everyone in the crowd yelling "yee-haw" all the way through. But I've noticed that there's been a rediscovery of the haunting quality of Hank Williams' music. People are listening.
By Dave Matthews
Every time I buy a Radiohead album, I have a moment where I say to myself, "Maybe this is the one that will suck." But it never does. I wonder if it's even possible for them to be bad on record.
It belittles Radiohead to describe their music as having "hooks." Their music talks to you, in a real way. It can take you down a quiet street before it drops a beautiful musical bomb on you. It can build to where you think the whole thing will crumble beneath its own weight — and then Thom Yorke will sing some melody that just cuts your heart out of your chest. There's a point on the album Kid A where I start feeling claustrophobic, stuck in a barbed-wire jungle — and then I suddenly fall out and I'm sitting by a pool with birds singing. Radiohead can do all of these things in a moment, and it drives me fucking crazy.
My reaction to Radiohead isn't as simple as jealousy. Jealousy just burns; Radiohead infuriate me. But if it were only that, I wouldn't go back and listen to those records again and again. Listening to Radiohead makes me feel like I'm a Salieri to their Mozart. Yorke's lyrics make me want to give up. I could never in my wildest dreams find something as beautiful as they find for a single song — let alone album after album. And every time, they raise their finger to the press and the critics and say, "Nothing we do is for you!" They followed their most critically acclaimed record, OK Computer, with their most radical change, Kid A. It's not that they're indifferent — it's that the strength of character in their music is beyond their control.
Seeing them perform makes me even angrier. No matter how much they let go in their shows, they never lose their clarity. There's no point where Jonny Greenwood or Ed O'Brien will suddenly look up and say, "Where the fuck are we?" There are no train wrecks in Radiohead; every album and performance is wrenching. God, these guys have suffered, or they can fake it like nobody else.
By Rick Rubin
When I was in junior high, my classmates all liked Led Zeppelin. But I loved AC/DC. I got turned on to them when I heard them play "Problem Child" on The Midnight Special. Like Zeppelin, they were rooted in American R&B, but AC/DC took it to a minimal extreme that had never been heard before. Of course, I didn't know that back then. I only knew that they sounded better than any other band.
For AC/DC, rock began with Chuck Berry and ended around Elvis. They poured their lifeblood into that groove, and they mastered it. Highway to Hell is probably the most natural-sounding rock record I've ever heard. There's so little adornment. Nothing gets in the way of the push-and-pull between the guitarists Angus and Malcolm Young, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd. For me, it's the embodiment of rock & roll.
When I'm producing a rock band, I try to create albums that sound as powerful as Highway to Hell. Whether it's the Cult or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I apply the same basic formula: Keep it sparse. Make the guitar parts more rhythmic. It sounds simple, but what AC/DC did is almost impossible to duplicate. A great band like Metallica could play an AC/DC song note for note, and they still wouldn't capture the tension and release that drive the music. There's nothing like it.
The other thing that separates AC/DC as a hard-rock band is that you can dance to their music. They didn't play funk, but everything they played was funky. And that beat could really get a crowd going. I first saw them play in 1979 at Madison Square Garden, before their singer Bon Scott died and was replaced by Brian Johnson. The crowd yanked all the chairs off the floor and piled them into a pyramid in front of the stage. It was a tribute to how great they were.
I'll go on record as saying they're the greatest rock & roll band of all time. They didn't write emotional lyrics. They didn't play emotional songs. The emotion is all in that groove. And that groove is timeless.
By Trey Anastasio
In the early years of Phish, people often said we were like "Frank Zappa meets the Grateful Dead" — which sounds very bizarre. But Zappa was incredibly vital to me, as a composer and guitarist. I think he was the best electric-guitar player, other than Jimi Hendrix. Zappa conceptualized the instrument in a completely different way, rhythmically and sonically. Every boundary that was possible on the guitar was examined by him.
I'll never forget the first time I saw him live, in New York, when I was in high school. He would leave his guitar on a stand as he conducted the band. And he would not pick up the guitar until everything was totally together. There would be this moment — this collective breath from the audience — as he walked over, picked it up and started playing the most ripping, beautiful solo. When he played, he was in communion with the instrument.
I also saw Zappa at Memorial Auditorium in Burlington, Vermont, on his last tour, in 1988. He did this guitar solo in "City of Tiny Lites" where everybody in the band dropped out except drummer Chad Wackerman. I was in the balcony near the side of the stage. When Zappa turned his back on the audience to play with Chad, I saw this huge smile on his face. But this was also the guy who did 87orchestral pieces like The Yellow Shark. It's hard to believe somebody could do so many different things.
Zappa was a huge influence on how I wrote music for Phish. Songs like "You Enjoy Myself" and "Split Open and Melt" were completely charted out because he had shown me it was possible. And when I played at Bonnaroo with my 10-piece band, we did two covers, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" and "Sultans of Swing." In both songs, I had the horn section play the guitar solos, note for note. I never would have thought of doing that if I hadn't seen Zappa do "Stairway to Heaven" in Burlington with the horns playing Jimmy Page's entire guitar solo, in harmony.
There is a whole generation of musicians coming up who can't play their instruments. Because of stuff like Pro Tools, they figure they can fix it all in the studio. With Frank, his musicians were pushed to the absolute brink. Phish tried hard to do that too: to take our four little instruments and do as much as we could with them. I would not have envisioned that without him.
Zappa gave me the faith that anything in music was possible. He demystified the whole thing for my generation: "Look, these are just instruments. Find out what the range is, and start writing."
By Brandon Flowers
Oscar Wilde said that an artist has succeeded if people don't understand his work but they still like it. By that standard, the Police were a huge success. Their songs are universal — they're part of all of our lives. You hear them on both pop and classic-rock stations, and they'll be played on the radio in Germany 100 years from now. At the same time, everything they did was really smart and worked on a few levels; you could love a particular song, then realize a year later that you had totally missed the meaning.
Take "Every Breath You Take." It's a great trick — it's impossibly catchy, people play it at their weddings, but it's a stalker song. "Roxanne" is blatantly about a hooker — it's not about how Sting loves her and broke her heart, it's just about how she's a hooker. People don't realize how unique that is. All of us are lucky to have heard songs as good as "Message in a Bottle," "Walking on the Moon" and "King of Pain" on the radio. Sting already had a career and a degree when the Police made it; he wasn't afraid of sounding like a grown-up.
My favorite is "Don't Stand So Close to Me," the one about the teacher and the young girl. That kind of storytelling has fallen out of pop music, for the most part. "Don't Stand" would be great to listen to no matter what the lyrics were — it could have just been about some girl — but the story makes it spooky and powerful. My favorite line is "Wet bus stop/She's waiting/His car is warm and dry" — he communicates the entire song with those 11 words.
Of course, the Police were amazing musicians. They were professionals who came up during the punk era and found their messages later on. I'm a big fan of how they used reggae. Bands like the Clash had already mixed it with punk, but the Police did it flat-out — it was like reggae for music geeks. Sting played bass and sang, which you don't see very often. He commanded both the rhythm section and melodies in the band. Stewart Copeland is a great drummer — you have to be to give songs like "Roxanne" and "So Lonely" their drive and also throw that reggae in there. Andy Summers has both great technique and rhythmic sense. It's amazing how many rock bands with serious grooves are made up of skinny English dudes.
The Police matured really quickly. All bands should pay attention to that. You should always try to keep moving forward.
By Peter Wolf
Jackie Wilson was key in helping bridge the gap between an old-style R&B and a new incarnation of soul. Even Elvis Presley knew why Wilson was called "Mr. Excitement": I heard that seeing Wilson perform made the King want to hide under the table. The most spectacular Jackie Wilson show I ever saw was at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater, around 1960. When he took the stage, adorned in a magnificent white suit, he spread his arms open wide, as if trying to embrace the entire room. He started singing the opening notes of his song "Doggin' Around." The audience broke into screams. Even the way he casually held his hands while singing was hypnotic. His dancing was spellbinding — twists and splits that left me in total disbelief. Quickly soaked in sweat (nobody knew how to sweat as good as Jackie Wilson), he took off his jacket and pretended he was going to throw it to the crowd, creating a pure sexual enchantment. There were real women in that audience who knew what they wanted. And what they wanted was Jackie Wilson.
He seemed destined for such greatness, and yet his life ended up playing itself out like some cheap B-grade film noir. There was violence — a crazed woman once shot him — as well as tax problems, drugs, divorce and mob associations that made demands he couldn't refuse. While performing at the Latin Casino, in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, he had a massive coronary and hit his head hard as he fell. At the hospital, he lapsed into a coma. He remained in that state for eight years, as the people around him fought over his estate, before he died in 1984.
I had the honor of inducting Jackie Wilson into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As I waited backstage to present my speech, I was approached by three women arguing with one another as to who should be the one to go onstage and claim the award that was to be given to Jackie. Mr. Excitement would still not have peace.
By Rod Stewart
I was on holiday with my parents in the late Sixties when I heard "I Wish It Would Rain." I lived in England, where it fucking rains all the time, so it was appropriate. But that's also when I fell in love with David Ruffin's tenor — it jumped out of the speakers and ravished my soul.
Whether it was Ruffin or Dennis Edwards or Eddie Kendricks or Paul Williams singing lead, the Tempts were always an all-star vocal band. Throughout the Sixties and Seventies, the Tempts had an unprecedented string of hits: "My Girl," "The Way You Do the Things You Do," "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," "Just My Imagination." Later on, they broke ground with the psychedelic soul of "Cloud Nine." I remember listening to the high-hat rhythms on that record over and over with the guys in the Jeff Beck Group. We'd try to change every one of our songs to try and capture their drumbeats.
When I got home from holiday, I immediately bought Wish It Would Rain. At that time I was very much into folk music and turning the corner into R&B, and I'll never forget seeing that cover, with all the Tempts dressed as Foreign Legionnaires, sitting in the desert. Their outfits were wonderful — I blame them for teaching me to wear loud colors. They also came up with the cutting-edge dance routines. Nobody moved like the Tempts.
I'd later become friends with David Ruffin — when our bands would play in Detroit, Ruffin would come to every show and we'd sing "(I Know) I'm Losing You," a Temptations cover off my album Every Picture Tells a Story. His voice was so powerful — like a foghorn on the Queen Mary. He was so loud.
My children grew up loving the Temptations, and we tried to see them every time they came to town. They would always pick me out of the audience with a spotlight, trying to get me up to the stage. But I never did. I'm too frightened.
By Roger Waters
I was in my third year of classes at a place in London called the Regent Street Polytechnic School of Architecture, which is where I met Nick Mason and Rick Wright. At the end of each term we would have a show, and this time we had Cream — in a small hall where I had once played Happy Loman in Death of a Salesman, which is beside the point.
The curtain drew back and the three of them started playing "Crossroads." I had never seen or heard anything like it before. I was simply staggered by the amount of equipment they had: by Ginger Baker's double bass drum, by Jack Bruce's two 4-by-12 Marshall amps and by all of Eric Clapton's gear. It was an astounding sight and an explosive sound.
Two-thirds of the way through their set, one of them said, "We'd like to invite a friend of ours from America out onstage." It was Jimi Hendrix, and that was the first night he played in England. He came on and did all that now-famous stuff, like playing with his teeth. That ticket cost about a pound or so. It might have been the best purchase I ever made.
After that, Pink Floyd started to go professional, and we would run into Cream on the road. They affected so many people. Jimmy Page must have looked at Cream and thought, "Fuck me, I think I'll do that," and then put together Led Zeppelin. Along with the Beatles, they gave those of us entering the business at that time something to aspire to that wasn't pop but was still popular.
I remember Ginger Baker was insane back then, and I'm sure he still is. He hit the drums harder than anyone I've ever seen, with the possible exception of Keith Moon. And Ginger hit them in a rhythmic style all his own that was extraordinary. Eric Clapton we don't have to talk about — it's obvious how amazing he is. Then there's Jack Bruce — probably the most musically gifted bass player who's ever been.
Cream were very innovative within the context of all the music coming from the West Coast of the U.S. at that time, from bands like the Doors and Love. Apart from being a great blues band, Cream had a real good go at so many other styles, even if some of it sounds a little silly now. There are songs on all the Cream albums that amaze me still, like "Crossroads," "Sunshine of Your Love," "White Room" and "I Feel Free." They were desperately trying to write material that was truly progressive and original. And they achieved that.
By Justin Timberlake
Al Green has helped overpopulate the world. He's got some serious babymaking music. But what makes him such an inspiration is the raw passion, the sincerity and the joy he brings to his music. People are born to do certain things, and Al was born to make us smile. You hear his voice and it lights everything up. Every time one of his songs starts playing — whether it's "You Ought to Be With Me," "I'm Still in Love With You," "Love and Happiness" or, of course, "Let's Stay Together" — when the stomp starts and the guitar comes in, you know you're in for something full of sweet love. His songs weren't as political as Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway. But if those guys were speaking to you, Al Green was speaking for you.
Al Green's voice will always remind me of driving the back roads of Memphis with my parents, listening to cassette tapes. Hearing Al as a kid made me want to become a singer and showed me that it was OK to have a softer, more falsetto voice. I really related to that, because I never had a big, boisterous, American Idol showstopping voice. Al, he was a crooner. The way he would squeeze out a note can't be trained and can't be imitated.
Behind him was this incredible band. On songs like "Tired of Being Alone," the horns are tasteful and restrained but completely funky. I always loved the way the mistakes were kept in on his albums, like the way the band is almost out of sync at the beginning of "Love and Happiness." Even his messes are beautiful.
Eventually I found out this man I idolized lived five minutes from me in my hometown. Then, years later, I went to the White House (back when Clinton was in office), and Al was there performing. He sang Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," and the audience wept. After I released my first solo album, I was doing a TV special in Memphis, and I called him and asked if he'd grace us with his presence. We sang "Let's Stay Together" on that stage, and it was a milestone in my short, unimportant career. I learned something incredible: Everything always has to be about the show. But Al Green is the show, and when you watch him perform, you see something honest and soulful and amazing.
By Peter Buck
I've got pretty much every note the Kinks recorded on my iPod — certainly everything through 1980. And it all sounds good. The Kinks are the only major band from the Sixties I can think of that didn't go psychedelic, didn't do any of that crap that all of the other big bands did at the time. When everyone was writing song cycles about Eastern mysticism, Ray Davies was writing about a two-up/two-down flat in some English suburb. Ray wrote songs about the things that were important to him. He invented his world and gave it life. And in that world, people weren't wearing Nehru jackets, smoking pot and jamming for 24 hours a day. The Kinks created a different world — and I'm glad they did it.
When I first heard Village Green Preservation Society, in 1971, I got this picture in my head of small-town English life: village greens, draft beer. But when R.E.M. went to England in 1985, I drove through Muswell Hill — and it certainly wasn't romantic-looking. I had this picture of a gorgeous vista — when it's really a kind of grimy area. I realized these songs were all acts of imagination, that Ray was commemorating an England that was slipping away. There is a great air of sadness in those songs.
I am amazed at how great the Kinks' records sounded — even though, when you listen closely, there is very little going on in them. Village Green is the best example: Unlike a lot of records of its time, it's not stuffed with a ton of instruments. And yet the songs are perfectly realized, well arranged.
Ray wrote "You Really Got Me" on piano. Then he gives it to his brother Dave, this teenage maniac, who turns it into a demented guitar part. I read that an interviewer once asked Dave if he thought the Kinks had gone heavy metal in the Eighties. He said, "It wasn't called heavy metal when I invented it." When R.E.M. started out, Dave's solo on that song was the only solo I knew how to play. So whenever I had to do a solo, I would just play that.
The Kinks slipped into rock history through the back door. All of those great albums that we talk about now, like Face to Face, Something Else by the Kinks and Village Green — nobody bought those records in the Sixties. But those of us who love those records — and a lot of us are musicians — have loved them for decades.
By Jerry Wexler
There are three kinds of record producers. The first kind is the documentarian — someone like Leonard Chess, who goes into a bar on the South Side of Chicago, sees Muddy Waters with a six-piece combo, then pulls him into the studio the next day and says, "Play what you played last night." The second is the type who serves the artist; I would be so brash as to include myself in that category, along with John Hammond, Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, and Bob Thiele — music fans who try to develop great singers.
Then there's the producer who does it all. Phil Spector could be the greatest of these. For Spector, the song and the recording were one thing, and they existed in his brain. When he went into the studio, it came out of him, like Minerva coming out of Jupiter's head. Every instrument had its role to play, and it was all prefigured. The singer was just one tile in this intaglio. Songs such as the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" and Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High" had wonderful singers, but they were tiles. Phil would get the track ready, then call upon the artist and say, "OK, now sing." There were songwriter-producers before him, but no one did the whole thing like Phil.
When I first met him, he was very young, sleeping on the couch at the Atlantic Records offices and using the switchboard after hours. He was brash, cocky and talented. I remember that if I would vouchsafe an opinion about something when we were together in the studio — a snare drum on a bridge of a song, or whatever — Phil would say, "Oh, man, I came here from California to make hits." It meant, "Shut the fuck up and get out of my face." But like Dizzy Dean used to say, "If you can do it, it ain't bragging," and Phil can do it: play piano and guitar, compose and produce.
His music is impeccable. Where it comes from, I don't know.
By Janet Jackson
Tina Turner has become more than just a musical superstar and sex symbol, though she is definitely both of those things. For me — and I imagine for millions of others — Tina now stands as an enduring symbol of survival and of grace. Her music is a healing thing.
Remember that famous introduction to "Proud Mary," when Tina talks about liking things "nice and … rough"? We all know that she faced some rough times in her life. But the reality is that life never threw her anything that she couldn't handle. One of Tina's big hits is called "We Don't Need Another Hero." Yet Tina has become a heroic figure for many people because of her tremendous strength. Tina doesn't seem to have a beginning or an end. I felt her music was always there, and I feel like it always will be.
The story of Tina's rise and fall with Ike Turner is well-known. You can see what it was like in the movie What's Love Got to Do With It. But I believe it's time to put the Ike story to rest. The truth is that when Tina came back in the Eighties, she became much bigger than she was the first time around. Tina's story is not one of victimhood but one of incredible triumph.
In the beginning, Tina's music was based on hard times and harsh realities. Think about a song like "Nutbush City Limits." That was her story. But over the years, her story changed, and her music reflected those changes beautifully. Tina has the ability to dream, get out, get over and get on with it. She's transformed herself into an international sensation — an elegant powerhouse. But wherever she may be, whether it's in Spain, Asia or Egypt, she's never forgotten her humble beginnings. Tina Turner knows who she is, and to this day, she remains one of the true greats. In every sense, the woman has legs.
Joni Mitchell is a bigger icon than she is a star. Bob Dylan and Keith Richards became so famous that they're stars and icons. Joni is still unknown to lots of people. The impact she had wasn't flashy. But she influenced people who became stars.
I remember a friend in high school playing me "A Case of You," from Blue. I could tell that Joni was a painter by the way she wrote lyrics. She describes smells and sounds and uses fewer words to transmit more feeling. Her melodies are about shapes. The singing lines are slow, steep plateaus. One of the things I learned from Joni: If you can tell the story and keep things moving, you don't need to return to the chorus on time.
What she writes is closer to journalism: On Blue, you hear everything she experienced, the highs and the lows. It's such a lonely album — not in the "I don't have any friends" sense but in the sense that you're a little bit removed, and always watching. It takes a lot of courage to be that honest, especially as a woman. When she did it, it was a fluffy time — pretty girls singing about pretty things.
Joni had an edginess that not many women expressed then. Joni Mitchell never made a big deal out of being a woman. She had such a strong sexuality, but she didn't feel the need to deny that part of her in order to be taken seriously. She also didn't play it up — although many of her songs are about sex.
I met her at a Vanity Fair photo shoot. Stevie Wonder introduced us. He took my hand — I guess I led him to her — and he said, "Joni, I'd like you to meet Jewel." I just shook her hand and tried to swallow. I didn't have anything to say to her. Her influence on me is so obvious. I hope she can hear it.
In 1984, I was on tour with my band, somewhere in the middle of America. It was around 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. We're all crammed into our van, with all our equipment. It was raining. We were tired, we'd been on the road. And this music comes on the radio. I couldn't believe that it existed. My mind was being blown by this beautiful violence that was unlike anything I'd ever heard before.
It wasn't punk rock. It wasn't heavy metal. It was precise and explosive and heavy. It was aggressive and intense, and it had these really wild and bizarre rhythm changes. But it still held together as a bitchin'-ass song. I was singin' along with it by the end, though it certainly wasn't using any conventional pop-song pattern that I had ever heard. That song was "Fight Fire With Fire." And it opened up my mind to the mighty force of nature that is Metallica.
When Metallica started in 1981, they didn't really take your typical path to success. I don't know if massive stardom and selling a zillion records were on their minds when they were getting the ball rolling. But if they were aiming at becoming one of the most successful rock bands of all time, they sure were going about it in a kooky way. Maybe they were thinking they were going to break into Casey Kasem's Top 40 countdown with their debut record, Kill 'Em All. They were definitely going for a hit single with the song "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth." A five-minute-long bass solo is a sure ticket to commercial success.
That song is one of the great moments in rock history for the electric bass guitar. Every Cliff Burton-based solo I've ever heard is a soulful, psychedelic, headbanging expression that rocks your world, trips your brain out and gets the house rockin'. It's a beautiful piece of music played by an awesome rocker of a young man who was a masterpiece of a human being. I can never listen to any Metallica record without thinking of him. It is clear that the gift he gave lives on in that band's music.
The fact that Metallica connected with the world in the way that they have is phenomenal. They have become a household name with music that is anything but mainstream. It's outsider music. And for it to do what it has done is truly mind-blowing. When I hear Metallica, I get this feeling that they're doing something that they have to do.
There is this thing in them wound up so tight that they have to let it out, let that thing uncoil; it has to be released. An infinite well of sadness, a hell of a lot of pain and anger, but mostly, a lot of love for the process of releasing this stuff. For the people who give it up and get rocked by Metallica, the world is a less lonely place. When a person gets rocking to their music, everything else disappears, and that person is just one with the rock. It is an inexplicable, awesome thing, and I bow down to it. Pain and hurt can be a muse for great art. It's one of the greatest rites of passage for any artist, and it's something that touches us most deeply. Anyone who has ever been to a Metallica show, and banged their head, and thrown up the devil horns, has been a part of something great. Rocking so hard to the brutal beat of Metallica for those couple of hours, in a way, is as healthy as any spiritual exercise — group meditation, any love-in, anything.
Metallica's career is a huge, dynamic thing, and they have done it all. They have worked their way up from nothing, and written the jams that rocked the world. Metallica are fucking rad! The music is bitchin'! It is unbelievable! And they continue to rock on. Whatever gets thrown at them, they persevere and they get stronger; they are a family. And they are as intense and inventive as ever.
The Sex Pistols
By Billie Joe Armstrong
The Sex Pistols released just one album — Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols — but it punched a huge hole in everything that was bullshit about rock music, and everything that was going wrong with the world, too. No one else has had that kind of impact with one album. You can hear their influence everywhere from Joy Division to Guns n' Roses to Public Enemy to the Smiths to Slayer. Never Mind the Bollocks is the root of everything that goes on at modern-rock radio. It's just an amazing thing that no one's been able to live up to.
It's a myth that these guys couldn't play their instruments. Steve Jones is one of the best guitarists of all time, as far as I'm concerned — he taught me how a Gibson should sound. Paul Cook was an amazing drummer with a distinct sound, right up there with Keith Moon or Charlie Watts. There are bands out there still trying to sound like the Sex Pistols and can't, because they were great players.
The difference between John Lydon and a lot of other punk singers is that they can only emulate what he was doing naturally. There was nothing about him that was contrived. As far as the bass player goes, I don't think it was necessarily a mistake to replace Glen Matlock with Sid Vicious. Matlock was cool, but Sid was everything that's cool about punk rock: a skinny rocker who had a ton of attitude, sort of an Elvis, James Dean kind of guy. That said, there's nothing romantic about being addicted to heroin. He was capable of playing his instrument, but he was too fucked up to do it.
The things that Lydon wrote about back in '76 and '77 are totally relevant to what's going on right now. They paint an ugly picture. No one ever had the guts to say what they said. The only person who did anything similar to it was Bob Dylan, and even Bob Dylan was never that blunt.
When I first heard them, I was 14 or 15 and into a lot of heavy-metal and hard-rock music. I think I was at a girl's house. I remember hearing those boot stomps to "Holidays in the Sun." And then the guitar came roaring through like thunder. By the time Lydon's vocal came in, I definitely wanted to destroy my past and create something new for myself. That's sort of the impact that they always had on me and my music. When I'm trying to create something, I always refer to the Sex Pistols, because they show you what the possibilities are in music. You don't have to emulate them, but thanks to them, you can take it anywhere.
I don't think this generation has a clue what classic Aerosmith was all about. But they were the template for what I do, as well as plenty of bands that came after Guns n' Roses: Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam all owed a serious debt to old-school Aerosmith.
My big awakening happened when I was 14 years old. I'd been trying to get into this older girl's pants for a while, and she finally let me come over to her house. We hung out, smoked some pot and listened to Aerosmith's Rocks. It hit me like a fucking ton of bricks. I sat there listening to it over and over, and totally blew off this girl. I remember riding my bike back to my grandma's house knowing that my life had changed forever. Now I identified with something.
The key to Rocks is the first two songs — "Back in the Saddle" and "Last Child." That combination just ripped my head off. But my favorite song on the record has always been "Nobody's Fault," which is the second song on the B side. Aerosmith had an aggressive, psychotic, drugged-out vibe, but at the same time they had a Stones-y blues thing going on. There was just nothing cooler than Aerosmith coming out of America at that point. What else was there? Foghat?
When I was just starting to learn how to play guitar, Aerosmith gave me the shove I needed. I identified with Joe Perry's image, both soundwise and visually. He was streamlined in a way that reminded me of Keith Richards, was always wasted and had a careless guitar style that was really cool. But I was also totally into Brad Whitford's guitar solos, and he had a more direct influence on the way I play than anybody realizes. And anyone who sings needs to be exposed to Steven Tyler.
My first Aerosmith concert was in 1978, at a festival with Van Halen — they were incredibly loud and I barely recognized a note, but it was still the most bitchin' thing I'd ever seen. Soon after that, they broke up, which to me marked the end of Seventies rock. The next time I saw them was when they got back together six years later, and they were amazing. When Aerosmith are in the groove, they're just rock-solid. Not too long after that, Guns n' Roses were asked to open for Aerosmith on their Permanent Vacation tour. We went to their manager's hotel room, and while he was in the bathroom we ordered $1,500 worth of room service and trashed the place. But they must have liked us a lot, because they put us on the bill anyway, and I've known them ever since.
Parliament and Funkadelic
By Ice Cube
When I was going out in the Eighties, you could get your ass kicked if you put on Funkadelic's "(Not Just) Knee Deep" at a house party. Some DJs wouldn't play that song or "Flash Light," because a fight would start: The crazy motherfuckers at parties would become real crazy. "Knee Deep" was their coming-out music. At 15 minutes, it was so long and so good, it made you feel like now was the time. For whatever. George Clinton showed me that anything goes: You do what you feel.
Obviously, he had great musicians on those albums: Bootsy Collins on the bass; Bernie Worrell, the best keyboard player I've ever heard. Clinton would pull in people like James Brown's saxophone player Maceo Parker and anyone else he could find. The arrangements are always so unpredictable: high-pitched synthesizer sounds you never heard before, followed by straight-up beautiful music. He could turn the corniest things into funk.
My uncle Jerry was a DJ and introduced me to all the P-Funk records when I was a little kid: The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, Mothership Connection. I loved them because they reminded me of cartoons, but they were crazy and psychedelic, and the superheroes were black men. To this day they still have the best album covers I've ever seen; they would sustain you as much as a video would today. I remember just sitting and staring at the cover of Motor Booty Affair; there was that picture of Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk with a big-ass bird breathing down his neck. My favorite characters were Star Child and Sir Nose, even though Sir Nose was a sucker who didn't swim and didn't like the funk. I was too young to go to the concerts, but I'd hear about them from my older brothers and sisters — about the huge stage shows, and one story about a fan who stripped off all his clothes and ran the length of the arena. That bugged me out.
In the end, nobody described George Clinton's music better than the man himself: It is "Cosmic Slop," it is funkadelic — funky and psychedelic. You feel a mothership connection. Clinton was a great marketer, in the best sense possible: He delivered what he promised. He was no Geraldo Rivera — he was Muhammad Ali or LeBron James. His music never went away on the West Coast, and you can still hear his mark all over music today. Parliament and Funkadelic were 30 years ahead of their time.
By Warren Haynes
I didn't grow up a Deadhead. I didn't become a big fan until 1989. I first saw the band in 1979 — I was 19 — but my head was somewhere else at the time. My wife, Stefani, was a Deadhead, though, and after we met, in 1989, we'd go to see them every chance we'd get. One night, at Madison Square Garden, Bruce Hornsby — who was playing keyboards with them — pulled us up onstage and sat us behind his piano. We were 10 feet from Jerry Garcia, and you could see how that audience zeroed in on him. He was the focus of everything. There was a synchronicity between the Dead and the crowd, and it was mesmerizing to watch Jerry, in his own understated way, steering that ship — knowing it was a big ship that could barely be steered, but if anybody could steer it, it was him.
Obviously, most of today's jam bands are influenced by the Dead. But what disappoints me about a lot of current music is that you don't hear any history in it.
The Dead were aficionados of folk, acoustic blues and bluegrass — particularly Garcia. In the songs he wrote with Robert Hunter, and in Bob Weir's stuff too, you're also hearing music from 40 years ago. Everyone focuses on the magic of Jerry's guitar playing and the vulnerability of his voice, but his sense of melody and chord changes was unbelievable. The ballads especially connected with me: "Loser," "Wharf Rat," "Stella Blue." My song "Lay of the Sunflower," on the Gov't Mule album The Deep End, has a lot of Garcia's melodic sensibilities.
Before I joined the Dead in 2004, I played with Phil Lesh for about five years. He is one of the most original bass players ever. His background was in classical music; he looks at the bass guitar as a piece of the orchestra, like a low-pitch brass instrument. His job isn't just holding down the root notes — he and the drummers, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, are moving all over the place. A lot of the magic in the Dead's music came from Phil and Jerry learning how to play together, combining Phil's approach with Jerry's unique blend of influences.
Jerry is still one of the few guitarists where as soon as you hear him, you know instantly who it is. As a guitar player, that is the thing I strive for: the distinct, recognizable personality that comes out in every note. There was a humanity in Jerry's guitar work as well as his singing that drew you in. He was a very personal guitarist; he played with more heart and soul than technique. And to me, that's what the best music is made of.
As a band, the Dead also redefined success. They created this following that grew and grew, and they did it without compromising themselves. They survived in a world where survival didn't seem possible. They bucked the system and encouraged their fans to do the same: to be free thinkers. There are a lot of Deadheads who were completely different people before they connected with the Grateful Dead.
The Dead still believe in that message. When I'm with the Allman Brothers, the band always leaves it up to me how much of Duane's influence I should show. The Dead are like that too. They're never going to tell me, "Play it more like Jerry" or "less like Jerry." It's always, "Do what you think is right."
By Kanye West
Do hip-hop producers hold Dr. Dre in high esteem? It's like asking a Christian if he believes Christ died for his sins. Dre has a whole coast on his back. He discovered Snoop — one of the two greatest living rappers, along with Jay-Z — and signed Eminem, 50 Cent and the Game. He takes artists with great potential and makes them even better. I wonder where I'd be right now if Dre had discovered me.
I remember hearing Dre's music before I really knew who he was. I had a tape of Eazy-E's Eazy-Duz-It when I was 11 years old (until my mother found out it had curses on it and confiscated it). I didn't know what "production" was back then, but I knew I loved the music. The more I learned about producing hip-hop, the more I respected what Dre was doing. Think about how on old N.W.A records the beat would change four or five times in a single song. A million people can program beats, but can they put together an entire album like it's a movie?
When I was learning to produce, working in a home studio in my mother's crib, I tried to make beats that sounded exactly like Timbaland's, DJ Premier's, Pete Rock's and, especially, Dr. Dre's. Dre productions like Tupac's "California Love" were just so far beyond what I was doing that I couldn't even comprehend what was going on. I had no idea how to get to that point, how to layer all those instruments. The Chronic is still the hip-hop equivalent of Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life. It's the benchmark you measure your album against if you're serious. But it's "Xxplosive," off 2001, that I got my entire sound from — if you listen to the track, it's got a soul beat, but it's done with those heavy Dre drums. Listen to "This Can't Be Life," a track I did for Jay-Z's Dynasty album, and then listen to "Xxplosive." It's a direct bite.
I first met Dre in December of 2003. He asked me to produce a track for the Game. At first I was star-struck, but within 30 minutes I was begging him to mix my next album. He's the definition of a true talent: Dre feels like God placed him here to make music, and no matter what forces are aligned against him, he always ends up on the mountaintop.
By Steven Van Zandt
Eric Clapton is the most important and influential guitar player that has ever lived, is still living or ever will live. Do yourself a favor, and don't debate me on this. Before Clapton, rock guitar was the Chuck Berry method, modernized by Keith Richards, and the rockabilly sound — Scotty Moore, Carl Perkins, Cliff Gallup — popularized by George Harrison. Clapton absorbed that, then introduced the essence of black electric blues: the power and vocabulary of Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin and the three Kings — B.B., Albert and Freddie — to create an attack that defined the fundamentals of rock & roll lead guitar.
Maybe most important of all, he turned the amp up — to 11. That alone blew everybody's mind in the mid-Sixties. In the studio, he moved the mic across the room from the amp, which added ambience; everybody else was still close-miking. Then he cranked the fucking thing. Sustain happened; feedback happened. The guitar player suddenly became the most important guy in the band.
Intellectually, Clapton was a purist, although there was little evidence of it in the beginning. He supercharged every riff he knew, even things I remember as note-for-note tributes, like Freddie King's "Hide Away," on John Mayall's Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton. When he soloed, he wrote wonderful symphonies from classic blues licks in that fantastic tone, with all of the resonance that comes from distortion. You could sing his solos like songs in themselves.
I first saw Clapton with Cream, at the Cafe Au Go Go in New York in 1967 — sort of. I stood outside. It was sold out. I couldn't get in. But you could see them — the band was right in the window. And it was loud, even outside. In those days, musically, Clapton was a total wild man. He stood there, not moving a muscle, while he issued the most savage assault you had ever experienced, unless you were at the debut of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" and your seat was in front of the cannon. And when his creativity, passion, frustration and anger all came together, it was frightening. His solo in "Crossroads" on Wheels of Fire is impossible: I don't know how he kept time while he played.
I've never said more than a casual hello to Eric, so none of this is inside information. But I believe that his guitar playing changed radically in the early Seventies because singing and songwriting became more important to him, and Robert Johnson had a lot to do with that. Clapton was so moved by Johnson's music that he wanted to write and sing with the same passion, clarity and truth. You hear the frustration — of not being able to do that — in his Sixties guitar work. The first time I heard real anger and aggressive sexuality expressed in guitar playing was on that Mayall record. If the solo in "Have You Heard" isn't the sound of a cock ripping through trousers on its way to the promised land, I don't know what is.
Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes and the Band's Music From Big Pink started a move back to American traditional music, and those recordings were a big influence on Clapton. Around the same time, Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett were encouraging him to write and sing. You can hear how good he is at both on Eric Clapton, the album he made with them, as well as his change in tone from Gibson-dirty to Stratocaster-clean.
Layla was, for me, the last time everything — the singing, songwriting and guitar playing — were all at the same high intensity level. It's Clapton's most original interpretation of the blues, because the hellhounds on his trail had a face: unrequited love. But Clapton's guitar playing is still terrific. The thing is, he had seven years of the most extraordinary, historic guitar playing ever — and 40 years of doing good work. Being the best has got to wear you out. So he pulled back, like Dylan and Lennon did. The sprint is cool — the marathon is better. Clapton has followed in the footsteps of his mentors: He's become a journeyman.
Anyone who plays lead guitar owes him a debt of gratitude. He wrote the fundamental language, the binary code, that everyone uses to this day.
The day may come, if you're a young rocker, when you'll hear one of Clapton's mellow, contemporary ballads on the radio and think, "What's the big deal?" Put on "Steppin' Out." And bow down.
By Buddy Guy
That man was the natural stuff. When I first heard Howlin' Wolf's records, I thought that deep, scratchy voice was a fake voice, just the way he sang — until I met him. He said, "Hello," and I thought, "Uh-oh, this isn't fake. This is for real." Wolf's conversation was the same as his singing. Matter of fact, the first time I met him, I started tapping my feet as he was talking.
His first big records, like "Moanin' at Midnight" and "How Many More Years" — I'd hear them on the radio when I was still in Louisiana, on WLAC out of Nashville. We had an old battery-powered radio, and we'd listen to this half-hour program that came on at night. I'd hear the man's voice and try to picture what he looked like. I thought he was a big, light-skinned guy. Then I went up to Chicago — September 25th, 1957. The next year, I was meeting all of the great blues musicians: Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin' Wolf. And when I saw Wolf, yes, he was a big guy. But he wasn't light-skinned at all. Boy, was I wrong.
And he used to put on such a show. He would get down on the floor, crawl like a wolf and sing in that voice: "I'm a tail dragger." He would do this boogie-woogie thing, around and around — like the kids used to do with the hula hoops, where you had to go around and around at your waist, to keep the hoop going. That was the kind of shit he was doing. I'd see that and think, "Man, there goes the Wolf."
He was so exciting to be on a show with. Wolf was a big man, but he could really move. It was like when the Chicago Bears had that player the Refrigerator. People think football players can't move when they're that big. And people expected the Wolf, because he was such a big guy, to just sit in a chair and belt it out. No, man, he had all that action. He had everything you wanted to see. He'd crawl around, jump around. His fists were as big as a car tire. And he would ball that fist up. When I started getting calls to come and play on some cuts behind him, I'd think, "Oh, shit, I better play right." I'd heard he was mean. I was told that. But, you know, I never had a cross word with the man the whole time, right up to when he passed away.
The reason I got a chance to play on sessions with him — on songs like "Killing Floor," "Built for Comfort" and "300 Pounds of Joy" — and a lot of musicians better than me didn't get those dates, was because they would come in thinking, "This is my opportunity to blow the Wolf offstage." There was no way I could say that. This was my opportunity to learn something from the Wolf. But Wolf was not a demanding person. If you played something that made him smile, he would look back at you with that smile. When he did, to me, I was getting paid.
I played with Muddy, too, and it was so great to play with both of them. I heard a rumor that Wolf and Muddy didn't get along — I never saw that. Jimmy Rogers, who played in Muddy's band, used to laugh and joke about what Wolf had to say about Muddy and what Muddy would say back. But all of them talked bad about each other, calling everyone "motherfucker." That was their thing. With musicians, " motherfucker" was the love word. And when Wolf said, "Motherfucker, you can't play," what he was really saying was, "I'm gonna fire your ass up. If I tell you you can't play, then you're gonna bring it on." This is the way Wolf treated you. That would signify for you to show your shit.
Everything you wanted was right there, touchable to me, in that voice — even when Wolf wasn't singing. We used to have these Blue Mondays in Chicago that would start at seven o'clock in the morning. That's when we'd all get together after playing and just do a conversation, man. I would sit and listen to Wolf talk. It didn't have to be about music. He loved fishing, he loved sports. To me, it all sounded like music from heaven.
People don't know him the way they should now. When Muddy died, they interviewed me on television, and they asked me, "What should be done?" I said most cities with famous musicians, like Chicago — they end up naming a street or something after them. And they got the street that Muddy lived on most of his life named after him. But it never happened for Wolf. And the younger generation coming up now — if you don't talk about the music or the artists, they don't know them. My children didn't know who I was until they were 21 and were able to come in the clubs and see me.
We got to go back and do some digging. We have to let people know that Howlin' Wolf — and Muddy and Little Walter and all these cats — made Chicago the world capital of the blues. Chess Records is a landmark. But who made Chess Records? What about those people we done forgot about, like Wolf?
The Allman Brothers Band
By Billy Gibbons
In a way, their name says it all. It wasn't just about the fact that Duane and Gregg Allman had the same parents. The Allman Brothers Band was a true brotherhood of players — one that went beyond race and ego. It was a thing of beauty.
The Allmans were without question the first great jam band, and they took the jam to heights that it had not previously reached. They played traditional blues mixed with their own unique brand of rock & roll, and there was nothing but strength in that group.
Duane Allman played what he wanted to hear. There have been bottleneck-guitar players forever, from the Twenties through the Sixties, but Duane began doing things no one had ever done before. He had a tone and a style that were uniquely his. He was just a stunning and singular musician who was gone way too soon.
Then there was his kid brother, Gregg. His singing and keyboard playing had a dark richness, a soulfulness that added one more color to the Allmans' rainbow. The Allman Brothers had respect for the roots of this music. They learned from the blues, and they continued to interpret the form in their own manner. They took something old and made something new.
I was lucky enough to see the Allmans up close in the beginning. I first became aware of them when they were breaking out of Macon, Georgia. They had played Austin and made a tremendous noise down there. Word spread very quickly in those days. The next thing we knew we were on the road with these guys, opening up for them and Quicksilver Messenger Service, and witnessing music history.
We would linger by the stage after our set and listen to Duane and Dickey Betts play guitar together. It was like they were weaving a beautiful piece of cloth. Dickey was remarkable in his own right. Yet in the beginning, no one in that band — Duane, Dickey, Jaimoe Johanson or Butch Trucks — outshined the others.
There are a couple of moments on At Fillmore East that defy description — where the Allmans take the music to places it had never been. That extended version of "Whipping Post" is the all-time end-all for me. The Allmans were the great Southern-rock band, but they were more than that. They defined the best of every music from the American South in that time. They were the best of all of us.
By Gerard Way
My dad was a mechanic. He worked on a lot of bottom-of-the-rung cars that didn't have cassette decks. But they had 8-tracks. Somebody left an 8-track tape of Queen's Greatest Hits in a car — the one where they're wearing leather jackets on the cover, and Freddie's got the mustache. I loved it immediately, and I came to emulate Freddie both as a child and as an adult.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" is arguably the greatest song ever written. I'm sure people told them it was too long or had too many movements. But then it came out and just took hold of the world. When you're in a band and you find something that breaks every rule, it gives you creative hope. And Queen were always trying something new; none of their hit songs were paint-by-numbers.
When My Chemical Romance were making The Black Parade, we watched tons of documentary footage about A Night at the Opera, Queen's best album. We used Brian May amps and wrote songs with different movements. But we didn't try to make another "Bohemian Rhapsody." Whenever someone tries to do that, they fail.
I love the way Freddie performed. He would strike amazing poses; maybe he practiced them in front of a mirror, but he wasn't pretending to be somebody else. That was him telling the world, "This is who I am." I remember when the surviving members of Queen were looking for a singer a few years ago, I was like, "I would love to try it." Freddie's songs are just so much fun to sing, and he had such stamina. I would definitely have to quit smoking to be able to do what he did.
Queen fell in and out of being cool, maybe because they were so sincere. Rock music is all about being phony sometimes. And they weren't. They were obviously so psyched to be doing what they were doing.
They had a polarizing quality. I heard a story — maybe apocryphal — that Queen played a festival and got booed off the stage. Freddie vowed they would return as the biggest band in the world. And they did. When we played the Reading and Leeds festivals, we had to follow Slayer, and got bottles of piss thrown at us. I thought, "If we ever come back here, we're gonna headline it." I've always held on to the same dreams as Freddie.
By Wayne Coyne
When I was growing up in the 1970s, Pink Floyd were ever-present. My brothers and my older sister and all their friends constantly played records in their rooms while they smoked pot. Especially Dark Side of the Moon. You heard that every day of your life, for at least three or four years around then.
Turning 14 years old is already a heavy combination of things. For Dark Side of the Moon to be playing in the background during that time was perfect. As you looked deeper into their music, everything you find out leads to something interesting. Pink Floyd were always a group of great creative minds who did whatever the fuck they wanted and didn't worry about all the little rules.
They had an amazing ability to change between records. You don't realize how powerful that is when you're just a listener. But being a person who's made 14 records, you see how big a deal it is. They have a phase one, a phase two, maybe even a phase three and four. A lot of groups — if they're lucky — just have a phase one.
They started out with Syd Barrett writing these whimsical stories, these songs that were kind of surf-rock, kind of R&B, but in his own fucked up way. Later you had Roger Waters evoking these big, universal landscapes of human crises. And Pink Floyd came to embrace this idea of "We can play stadiums and we can fill them up with giant fucking pig balloons." Their music could just always hold that.
Yet, despite all these different pieces moving around, there is a lot of very simple musicality going on. Compared to the prog-rock groups they get thrown in with — King Crimson or Yes or Genesis — their music is actually very simple. You can grasp the chord progressions and melodies the first time you hear them. I love all those other groups but with Pink Floyd I understand the emotion.
Take a song like "Fat Old Sun," from Atom Heart Mother. Living in Oklahoma, I sometimes can't relate when English bands sing about English things. When David Gilmour sings about the sun going down, there's something simple about it. It didn't seem like the sunset was happening in some king's country, in some other world. It seemed like he was singing about me walking in the sunsets in Oklahoma.
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