Let The Music Do The Talking

I spend a lot of time on facebook.  Probably too much.  It’s a by-product of my job.  As I travel all over the country trying to scratch a living out of the dirt, I’m alone in the car, alone in my hotel room, and when I finally get to a venue I’ll drive the person who hired me crazy by talking their ear off.  I’m alone way too much and the loneliness can get to me sometimes.  So I go on facebook a lot, because in the absence of real human contact, fake simulated human contact has to do.

I’m home after a triumphant performance at a college in Highland Hills, Ohio, where they absolutely loved me, and after a few hours of sleep, I’m up trolling facebook.  I ran across an article that my cousin shared (she’s just as much a facebook junkie as I am) about 10 bands that your kids need to know.  I was interested in reading the article, because I’m a life-long music fan, have worked in radio, and consider it to be one of the areas where I’m most knowledgeable.  Also, I’ve been participating in a pilot program where I try to introduce music to my 10-year-old daughter Harmony that she might not otherwise hear as my wife, though charming and beautiful, doesn’t have the depth of knowledge in this area that I do.

Now before all of you go jumping on me for bagging on my wife, I will defend myself by telling this one short story.  Pamela once said to me, “I know the names of all the guys in U2, but I only know Keith Richards and Mick Jagger from the Rolling Stones.  Why is that?”  And my response to her, which I believe to be correct, was “Because you don’t care about the Rolling Stones.”  When it’s your music, the music you grew up with/fell in love with/identify with, you spend a little more time with the rock magazine article, you buy the album, read the liner notes, put the poster on your wall.  You learn the names.  When it’s somebody else’s music, you might be aware of it, the same way that you’re aware of anything that’s advertised or talked about, but you’re not invested in it and you don’t learn it.

Stones

“I know the guy in the middle, but who is that next to him?  His accountant?”

I had to stumble upon the music I love, which is the heavy metal/hard rock stuff that came to prominence in the mid to late 1980’s, and I’ll talk to you all day about Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Motorhead.  And while that stuff is great and I love it dearly, there’s more to learn about to know what’s going on in the world of music.  Everyone who plays in a band today listened to something when they were younger and were influenced by it, and if you have the least bit of curiosity, you’ll want to follow the stream all the way back to the source.

The original blogger’s article is here:  http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/moms/blogs/tubalub/2014/03/10_bands_your_kids_need_to_kno.html

It’s a lovely list, but like any list, it doesn’t go far enough.  And what is particularly irksome to me about this gentleman’s article is that he just offers up a grocery list and doesn’t explain why these artists made his list.

I take it back.  It’s a terrible list.  It reads like an 80’s pop retrospective with some sentimental favorites mixed in.  His list isn’t essential at all.  It’s a list of artists his kids should know, because then they would know what CD’s to buy him for Father’s Day.

Here’s the real list of artists your kids should know, and I’ll back it all up for you with logic and common sense.

1.  The Beatles

Beatles

“So John, I heard you met a girl….”

2.  Rolling Stones

3.  Led Zeppelin

4.  The Who

These four British bands are the cornerstones that any rock radio station is built upon.  You can argue back and forth about whether or not your station shouldn’t be playing Billy Joel and Elton John because they’re too soft, or whether your station shouldn’t be playing Iron Maiden and Metallica because they’re too hard, but you can’t argue with these titans.  The Beatles and Led Zeppelin are known for having careers cut short but going through many different sounds and phases in their time.  “Rubber Soul” doesn’t sound like “The White Album” just like Led Zeppelin III doesn’t sound much like “In Through The Out Door.”  If your child listens to enough of either of these bands, they will find something they like, it’s almost a given.

The Rolling Stones and The Who serve as perfect foils to the Beatles and Led Zeppelin.  John Lennon and Paul McCartney were the nice guys (until Bob Dylan introduced them to pot), and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were the bad guys (who probably would have sold them pot).  Led Zeppelin were the band with the cock-swinging attitude, bordering on arrogance, and the Who, while easily able to match Zeppelin’s bombast, were the introspective, self-doubting kids driven by Pete Townshend’s shoe-gazing lyrics.  Put Zeppelin’s “gonna give you every inch of my love” next to “nobody knows what it’s like to be the bad man, to be the sad man, behind blue eyes” and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

5.  Marvin Gaye

MarvinGaye

“So you say this Robin Thicke fellow writes songs, huh?”

6.  The Temptations

7.  Diana Ross and the Supremes

8.  Smokey Robinson

9.  Stevie Wonder

10.  Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five

Studying Motown is an amazing way to understand what was happening in America during the 1960’s and 1970’s.  It was a sound all it’s own, from the girl groups to the purveyors of soul music, from the harmonies to the sheer energy of the dance tracks.  And of course, Michael Jackson blossomed into a musical force all his own, and I challenge you to find someone more influential, more important to music….unless you’re talking about

11.  Elvis Presley

Elvis-Presley

“Red, bring me some barbiturates and a chocolate shake to wash them suckers down with, wouldja?”

Well, he invented the whole darn thing, didn’t he?  The hits just kept coming and coming and when he died in 1977, the nation shed tears like they hadn’t shed since John, Bobby and Martin were assassinated.  He could rock (“Blue Suede Shoes,” “All Shook Up”), he could bring it down and sing for the heartbroken (“Are You Lonesome Tonight?”, “Love Me Tender”), and he could stir emotions like no one else (“American Trilogy,” “In The Ghetto”).  He was THE KING, and for a damn good reason.

12.  Frank Sinatra

Sinatra

“If Joey the Nose calls, tell him he’ll get the envelope when I’m damn good and ready.”

Before the King, there was the Chairman of The Board.  Frank unseated Bing Crosby as the bobbysoxer’s crooner of choice in post-World War II America, and become the hub of the Rat Pack, the whole Vegas scene of the 1950’s and 1960’s.  While you’re digging into Frank Sinatra’s amazing body of work, have a listen also to

13.  Dean Martin  and

14.  Sammy Davis, Jr.

15.  Bob Dylan

Bob.Dylan-1966

“I wear this scarf so I don’t get a sore throat.  When I get a sore throat, it makes my voice sound funny.”

Bob was the core of the anti-Viet Nam war movement, and his songs have been covered thousands of times.  His discography motivated young people of conscience during the 1960’s to pay attention to what their parents were doing to America and to the rest of the world.  “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “The Times They Are a’Changin’,” “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” and “Masters of War” still resonate today, and Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” helped introduce us to a hard-working blues guitarist named…

16.  Jimi Hendrix

jimi

“Ah, man…when I put this shirt on, I was so high it sounded like a good idea…”

…who forever changed the way guitarists would approach their instrument.  Jimi emptied the tank on every live performance, and his set at Woodstock goes down as one of the best ever.  His rendition of the National Anthem (with the quote of “Taps” in the middle), complete with dive-bombing pick screeches, muddy feedback and hypnotic wails stirred hearts and provoked anger from older generations who dismissed it as disrespectful.  No matter;  Jimi ran the gamut from top 40 radio hits like “Crosstown Traffic,” “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Foxy Lady” to unrestrained rockers like “Watchtower,” “Manic Depression” and “Purple Haze.”  And he did it all left-handed!

17.  B.B. King

BB-KING_612x380

“Why am I so blue?  Diabetes testing supplies are EXPENSIVE!”

18.  Muddy Waters

19.  John Lee Hooker

20.  Robert Johnson

Well, there’s more names to mention than just these ones, right?  After the avalanche of late 20th century artists who made more than a living capitalizing on the back catalog of American blues musicians, you’d be well in your right mind to listen to as much of it as you can.  Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, The Allman Brothers and so many more did, and it’s the roots of rock music today.

21.  Eric Clapton

Clapton

“This is a G# major ninth chord…I came up with it in the shower this morning.”

“Slowhand” was the centerpiece of The Yardbirds, Cream, Derek and the Dominos, The Bluesbreakers and Blind Faith.  His own solo career racked up hit after hit, and when fans declared “Eric Clapton is God,” they meant it.

22.  Louis Armstrong

LouisArmstrong

“If this music is so cool, why am I sweating so much?”

23.  Miles Davis

24.  John Coltrane

25.  Billie Holiday

26.  Charlie Parker

27.  Dizzie Gillespie

28.  Count Basie

29.  Charles Mingus

30.  Dave Brubeck

You’d be remiss if you didn’t let your kids listen to jazz.  If you don’t want to pick up some kind of instrument after listening to any of these artists, you have a tin ear or no soul.  Jazz is said to be the only true American art form, and I believe it.  The ability to improvise is crucial to jazz, and the music changes based on the mood of the performer.  It’s rich, it’s intricate, it’s challenging, and the fact that the focus of jazz is more often on the solos than on vocals means that your mind can paint a picture of anything, and not just an interpretation of the lyrics.

31.  Johnny Cash

JohnnyCash

“‘A Boy Named Sue’ was actually about my lawyer.”

The Man In Black had a career that couldn’t be constrained by the genre that we call Country Music.  Cash worked in that format with the “train-chugging-along” rhythm of his guitar, the dark honey baritone of his voice, and the lyrics just this side of the jailhouse bars.  “Killed a man in Reno just to watch him die?”  Pure poetry.  The mariachi sound of “Ring of Fire” (the Preparation H folks had been bidding on that song to use in a commercial for decades but Cash wouldn’t budge, and now neither will his estate), the vow of faithfulness in “I Walk The Line,” the happy, lilting guitar part to “Folsom Prison Blues,” and the pop-ballad tribute to hangovers in “Sunday Morning Coming Down” all contribute to a musical legacy that will remain unmatched for a long, long time.

32.  Elton John

EltonJohn

“At night, I patrol the city as my alter-ego Birdman.”

A certified hit machine, Elton John and his writing partner Bernie Taupin have six Grammies and a list of top 40 singles as long as your arm.  “Rocket Man,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” and “Your Song” are just the start of it; there’s probably an Elton John song being played on a radio station, right now, somewhere.  I’d bet a rhinestone jacket and a feather boa on it.

33.  The Sex Pistols

SexPistols

“What’s wit’ the tie, then?”  “I got jury duty after the gig.”

34.  The Clash

35.  The Ramones

36.  Black Flag

I’m probably not going to let my daughter listen to some of this stuff until she’s older, but Punk Rock, which always favored attitude over ability (the mirror opposite to Classical Music), was the next wave of protest music, the backlash to the disco era and the beginning of the DIY (do it yourself) era of music.  Punk Rock was three chords, spitting vocals, lyrics that found the line, jumped over it and pissed on the other side.  Songs were delivered like gunfire, strafing the enemy in short bursts and leaving nothing standing.  And speaking of music I might wait a while before I introduce my daughter to;

37.  Public Enemy

PublicEnemy

“We are definitely going to need a bigger dressing room.”

38.  Tupac Shakur

39.  Eminem

40.  Notorious B.I.G.

41.  Jay Z

This list is a blog in itself.  Chuck D. of Public Enemy once called rap music “CNN for black people,” but rap and hip hop have found themselves a place in the ears of white America, too.  For every thug rap act, you can turn around and name a positive one, so I’m not even going to go down that street.  But you cannot deny that rap artists have the best lyrics (and please don’t write to me with the hinky ones, I’ve heard them, believe me).  They tell stories from their life, they call people and institutions out with no fear, they press people to move and take action, they tell people to party a little bit, and they tell you to hold ya head up, but keep ya head down.  Misogyny and glorification of drugs and alcohol aside, I think Langston Hughes would be proud.

42.  Kiss

kiss-band-photo

“That chicken was finger-lickin’ GOOD!”

43.  Aerosmith

44.  Alice Cooper

You know that genre of music that includes Motley Crue, Poison, Twisted Sister, Dokken and Guns ‘N Roses?  Those three artists started all of that.

45.  Judas Priest

JudasPriest

“Long story short, TSA stopped us at the metal detector.”

46.  Deep Purple

47.  Black Sabbath

You know that genre of music that includes Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Slayer and Anthrax? Those three artists started all of that.

48.  David Bowie

49.  Madonna

MadonnaBowie

“You better take my blouse, you look cold.”

Fashion is tied inexorably to popular music, and these two artists did it better than anyone.  Constantly evolving, changing looks, changing characters, changing sounds and keeping everyone on their toes, David Bowie and Madonna can boast as many imitators as they can hit singles.  It takes a genius to create a persona that everyone likes, much less half a dozen or more.

50.  Bruce Springsteen

Springsteen

“And now here’s a song about a car.”

I almost hesitate to mention The Boss because of my personal bias in favor of his work, but you can’t deny his work.  Bruce possesses the power of being able to tap into the emotions of the blue collar backbone of America, and even though his populist lyrics don’t always paint a pretty picture, he never lies to you.  Love hurts, cars break down, times are tough and the things we put our trust in can disappoint us.  Friends die, but the show must go on, so clock in and get to work.  And if that means putting in overtime, so be it.  “The River,” “Born In The USA,” “Thunder Road,” and a few hundred more songs that Bruce sweat over can make you cry, make you cheer, make you decide to work a little harder, love a little more, and maybe even forgive someone because they’re small and weak and just as scared as you are.

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I don’t mind feedback.  I’m sure that my exclusion of any Classical music or my breezing over of a genre is going to create the illusion that I don’t care for that music, and the simple truth is that I might just not be a fan, or have enough information about that genre to speak intelligently about it.

But I will close in saying this; if you have kids, give them the opportunity to explore the music that came before the pop music that they’re listening to, encourage them to be curious, and maybe they’ll discover Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, or Rage Against The Machine, or Dion and the Belmonts, or the O’Jays, or Blondie, Pat Benatar, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, or any of the thousands of musical artists who put their work out there, and maybe they’ll thank you for it.