Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Next Tier

Bob Luder was a hell of a runner and once up a time was a pretty good sports writer for the Kansas City Star.  He also possesses a really good feel for good music.  Bob always impressed me with his ability to appreciate mainstream artists but I most admired his quest to leave the beaten path and seek out performers and bands that are worth knowing and a more important, a listen.  I pay close attention to his Facebook posts about music.

So when Bob offered up Tom Petty and Jeff Tweedy from Wilco as worthy for consideration, I knew that I needed to dig deeper.  I also realized I was out of my depth when it came to music over the last 20 years.

Now, about the only "new" singer-songwriters that I've consistently followed since 1990 are Jakob Dylan and Ben Folds, so I knew I had to set some parameters.  I mean I really don't know enough about guys like Tweedy, or Beck or Rivers Cuomo (Weezer) to make solid judgments.  Plus, I think longevity should matter.  So I decided to limit myself to singer-songwriters eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The first thing I did was wade through the list of inductees.  First of all, the Rock HOF is complete crap.  The Hall is filled with arguably great artists who have nothing rock, folks like B.B. King and Johnny Cash.  Don't even get me started on hip-hop artists or why a band like Blondie are in there.  I think I just threw up in my mouth.  And hey, Joni Mitchell, a great singer-songwriter, is a folk artist, never really a rock and roller.

Anyway I came up with an initial list of 28 singer-songwriters worthy of consideration.  It includes no way types like Alice Cooper to incredibly great writers of music like Randy Newman.  Don't get me wrong, I like Alice and have even seen him in concert, but we're talking Mount Rushmore here.

Then there are some great rockers out there, John Mellencamp, Bob Seeger, John Fogerty, who have made great music for a long time.  There's a whole class of pop/rock types like Neil Diamond, an incredible song writer and Billy Joel and I would throw the great Michael Jackson in there.  Although I think Jackson had a lot of help from producers with song crafting, which is why I won't even consider Madonna as a great singer-songwriter.

There are the guys in country, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams that are worthy of discussion.  Williams career was cut short.  Cash was really a rock-a-billy artist who went to country and then got tossed out.  Willie, like Cash, was a major cross-over artist and was about as big as it gets in the late 70's.

Then you can stretch back way back to the guys that actually invented rock and roll, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Buddy Holly.  Their catalogs are pretty amazing.  But even though their music built the foundation for a lot of artists to come, they were missing from the radio airwaves by the time the Beatles invaded America.

But let's get to it.  Yes, I figured my Mount Rushmore of singer-songwriters could be use four more names, a Magnificent 7 if you will.  That leaves me four more names to join Dylan, Springsteen and Young.  My guts tell me the deserving are, Brian Wilson, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Prince.  As much as it pains me I can't put Tom Petty, James Taylor or the great Carole King up there with these four.  And I love Tom Petty, love him to death.  Seeing Petty live with Bob Dylan 25 years ago was like a spiritual awakening.

I struggled with Brian Wilson.  He collaborated a lot in his writing.  That gets into the whole Michael Stipe/REM thing.  Wilson wrote one of the seminal rock albums ever.  "Pet Sounds" is incredible.  His resurrection of "Smile" is remarkable.  Yes, he had a writing partner with Mike Love, but I think we know that Wilson was doing the heavy lifting here.  He would be the first one I would knock off for Petty if forced to. 

Paul Simon stayed relevant for 25 plus years.  From his days with Art Garfunkel to his efforts in bring world music to America, he matters.  Plus he's still out there making good music.  My God, "The Boxer" and "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" are two of the greatest songs ever written.

Stevie Wonder owned the 1970's and he was a star long before "Songs in the Key of Life" came along.  Wonder is probably the only artist that can come close to Dylan when it comes to having his songs covered by other artists.  Plus, Stevie is still out there making music.

And then there is Prince.  He's a one man wrecking crew.  Prince is the best musician in the group and his songwriting is top notch.  His performance at the Super Bowl is the best I've ever seen at that major event, period. 

Let the arguments begin.  I've probably left some folks out.  Yes, I love Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne.  It pains me not to have them amongst the greatest of the greats.  And that's what makes this so hard.  Knock my choices, because I can't hold a candle to the musical knowledge of a man like Bob Luder, nor could I run a sub 30 10K like he could!

1 comment:

  1. Hi John, what I find interesting about Tom Petty is that he writes the simplest and yet some of the prettiest "pop/rock" music I've heard. I beg the pardon of Tom Petty connoisseurs out there because I can judge him only by the top forty hits he sprinkled across the pop topography of the 1980s. His first hit "Refugee" is probably the most complex song he published (and it's not very complex) after which he successively pares down the melody line reaching minimalist limits with songs like "Face in the crowd"; I shouldn't be surprised by this phenomenon, of course, Mozart and Chopin composed pieces of astonishing beauty and charm with the simplest of elements (no attempt here to compare Tom Petty to Mozart, btw) but it reflects the mystery of music; a few inspired notes can convey great feeling and grace. Thanks for your blog, kind regards, Mason