Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Favorite Music Artists of all time

(Elvis Presley won "favorite founding father of rock" in the last poll. Thanks.)

Well, it's about time. I am resisting the urge with all my might to make this a top ten mostly because after my top two there is a bunch of parity in my mind. I will save those top two for last.

Pink Floyd

I'm not that interested in anything Waters or Gilmour have done since the band broke up but when they were making music together it was by far the best in the world. Dark Side of the Moon is in my opinion the premiere rock album and Wish You Were Here is close behind it.


I believe until Larry Mullen Jr. hangs up his sticks for the final time U2 holds the title of "greatest band in the world" but Radiohead is by far the most talented, relevant, and creative. They are the heirs apparent in my opinion. Many great bands create one masterpiece, but each successive album Radiohead produces is a new groundbreaking tour-de-force. I look forward to many more years of inventiveness.

The 77s

Outside of Christian circles this band is virtually unknown. I have been following them since the early 90s after their "fifteen minutes of fame" when Island records released their self-titled third album. Mike Roe is over fifty now but continues recording with the new lineup. They've done every genre of music from New Wave, to blues, to hard rock, to rockabilly. I sometimes feel like the only person in their fanbase but I don't care. They are still one of my favorites.

Elvis Presley

I am unashamed in my admiration for "The King" even as it has become sort of a novelty. I feel like I'm on a mission to preach his worthiness to each new generation of doubters. He is NOT the first "Backstreet Boy" as someone recently said to me! When Sam Phillips first heard him sing "That's Alright Mama" and it's B-side, the Bill Monroe bluegrass standard "Blue Moon of Kentucky" he realized this was something new, something that would get people's attention. Not once did Sam think, "this dude sure has a pretty face, I think I'll make him famous."

I watched the Paul McCartney documentary "The Real Buddy Holly Story" recently and not only was Buddy Holly a huge fan of Elvis, but the original Crickets said they went to see Elvis when he came to Lubbock because "we didn't know what he looked like". They didn't even know for sure if he was white. It was all about the sound. The image came soon enough. Yes, he made lots of really bad movies and sullied that image some, but the raw talent was always there. I am a fan of the early Elvis, before the pills, before the rhinestone jumpsuits. Like Hank Williams less than a decade before and Robert Johnson a few decades before that, Elvis had a voice that cut through the fog, stood out among imitators, and forged a new era in music.

Elvis with fellow Sun Records star B.B. King

B.B. King

Although I am a huge Muddy Waters fan, I consider B.B. the undisputed "king of the blues". He crossed genres more effectively than any other blues artist but has always stayed true to his own style. The voice, the guitar, the songwriting are the best of all in the blues genre. He puts a passion into it that nobody else can match. As I've already mentioned on this blog I have seen B.B. live twice and those were experiences I will forever cherish. I love B.B. King!

Bob Dylan

He's a genius. Actually, we throw that word around way too much in our culture, but he is the only person on this list or maybe in all of modern music that can be accurately described that way. Dylan sees things in a way nobody else does and writes about them in a way nobody else is capable of. When David Crosby of The Byrds first heard him he said "what's so great about this guy? He doesn't even have a good voice" Then after reading the lyrics to "Mr. Tambourine Man" he quickly said, "Yep, he's a genius". Lyrically there is no equal to Dylan as a songwriter, and musically he's in very lofty company as well. Once in a while I need a Dylan fix and just about any of his early albums will do the trick, but my favorites I've already chronicled on this blog if anyone is interested in finding them.

Dylan with "The Man in Black"

Johnny Cash

"...The Memphis Flash, didn't smoke hash, woulda been a sissy without Johnny Cash!"
-Bono on Elvis in his poem "American David"
Johnny Cash is bigger than country. He's bigger than life. What makes him so awesome in my estimation is that, like Bob Dylan, he defies all conventions of his supposed genre and steams his own trail. There are no other artists comparable to him. When you hear a Johnny Cash song it is totally his. Unlike Elvis and others, The Man in Black cannot be imitated, he is too unique. He was and is revered in Nashville, probably because nobody else there could walk as tall or exude coolness the way he did. We miss you Johnny.

Hank Williams

I guess I'm just a sucker for "kings". I love the king of the blues, the king of rock 'n roll, and I love the King of Country. Hank is among the most important musical figures of the 20th century. His music crosses genres even though it was probably never intended to by him. Tony Bennett made "Cold, Cold Heart" popular in a jazz setting. Norah Jones has also recorded it. Beck is famous for performing Hank's songs in concert. Personally there are few things in life that can compete with a Hank Williams song in my book. I like them as much as chocolate or a good beer. A Hank tune will pick me up any time of day in any situation. His voice, like Elvis, is unmistakeable, powerful, soulful, beautiful. Every one else that every sang a country song pales in comparison, even country crooners like George Jones. I always sing along too, I just can't help myself. What's so amazing is that he was only 29 when he died and his career spanned all of four years. Like a comet. What a legacy!


My love for U2 stems from a perfect storm in my life. If I had not begun listening when I did they wouldn't probably be as important to me. But when Rattle and Hum first came to theaters I was an impressionable 14-year-old who up until that time listened to only Christian music or Top 40 garbage. U2 was my first experience with "real music" so to speak. Of course they have become extremely commercial since then and many have disowned them for that. I will always be a fan but I recognize most of their best work was done decades ago.

Anyway, back to the beginning. I saw the movie and then bought all of their music. I was an awkward and troubled young man with few friends so I would turn to U2's music as a refuge. I watched my own video of Rattle and Hum over and over. I watched Under a Blood Red Sky a bunch too. There are certainly more talented bands, there are more creative songwriters too, but U2 has an intangible quality, a "passion" that nobody in music can match for me. Bono is much loved and much reviled for his outspoken nature and his showmanship. I still think he's the greatest frontman rock has ever seen (with all due respect to Jim Morrison, Freddie Mercury, Roger Daltrey, Mick Jagger and many other greats)Whether they "sold out" or whatever I love them and always will.

The Beatles

Well, who else? I have always liked The Beatles. Even before my U2 "conversion" I was a Beatles fan. Now, I only liked their harmless early stuff, because like I said I was young and knew nothing about music. But in my late teens and early 20s I was die-hard into all of their music. I listened to "The White Album" and Abbey Road at least once a week. I worked with a guy who was a Beatles fanatic and he told me all of the stories he knew about them, the "Paul is Dead" clues and all that. I had a video of A Hard Day's Night the movie which I used to watch with my daughter (now 13) and she would ask to "watch Ringo" all the time when she learned to talk. I remember the cover of that video falling apart. We have it on DVD now of course as well as Help!. The importance of The Beatles to modern music would encompass way more than this blog post so I will leave it for now. But the simple fact is nobody is bigger than them, not even Elvis. And to me nobody is better than them although I love U2 just as much.
But I could go for a Hank Williams song right now....

Apologies to Led Zeppelin who almost made the list and I've decided to make a separate list for my favorite jazz artists. There are too many to list here.