As another decade comes to a close I like to reflect. And since I am a child of the 80's, I felt a recap of the artists of the last 30 years would be appropriate. My criteria:
Quality: Obviously, you had to be good. Since quality is subjective, I will say that I am a fan of rock and alternative. I can recognize good pop acts and have little experience judging country and rap. My apologies upfront.
Longevity: For this list you pretty much need to have had success in each decade. Exceptions to artists who couldn't make it due to death.
Trailblazers: If you changed music, you score bonus points. If you were able to change your own style and remain successful you get points as well.
Here is goes. Please feel free to argue in the comments. That's what top 10 lists are for!
1. U2: Is there any doubt? They've been the biggest band in the world twice! They made politically challenging music when nobody else was. They sneak Christianity into their music in a way that is meaningful for anyone. Oh, nobody sounds quite like them. In the 80's they created a fresh new sound. In the 90's they wrote music that will take us years still to understand. In the 2000's they came roaring back. I could go on. Here is a clip from their Superbowl halftime show in Feb 2002. I consider this the most meaningful live performance since the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.
2. Metallica: These guys have had 3 careers. In the 80's they defined metal. They played faster and harder than anyone, and most metal bands still can't compete. In the 90's they went more mainstream and managed to dominate in a way nobody thought metal could. In the 2000's I think they just started making music for themselves again with nothing to prove. If you want to dismiss them as just playing loud and fast, listen to some of their 80's stuff. They were totally into arpeggios and solos that are more musically interesting than any metal I've heard. This is the music video for their song "One." (of Guitar Hero fame) It tells the story of a man who loses his arms, legs, sight and hearing in war. And it has one of my favorite guitar solos ever.
3. Michael Jackson The King of Pop. Thriller is the highest selling album of all time by a lot. He could be the single most talented performer of the century. The only reason he's not at the top is because he went nuts somewhere in the 90's. Still, there's no denying he did what nobody did before and what only few dare to try now. This is the performance that put Moonwalk on the map and made Jackson a star above all the others.
4. Madonna: Before Madonna woman singers were talented, but usually stayed conservative with their music (outside of jazz, do some homework on that) Madonna pushed the envelope of what a female pop star could be, both musically and with her live performances. How good has she been? Well, most of the stars who have followed her have gone crazy from all the pressure of being so controversial. There have been better singers, but no better female performers. This is her famous performance of "Like a Virgin" at the 1984 MTV Awards (this is copied by Princess Fiona at the end of Shrek 1) (This also has the 2003 performance with Madonna, you can ignore that if you wish)
5. Bruce Springstein: The Boss. While his individual hits might not be as huge as some of these other artists, his body of work is pretty awesome. He was huge in the 80's, strayed away from the E Street Band in the 90's only to come charging back in the 2000's. His song "The Rising" was a great tribute to the spirit of America following 9-11-2001.
6. Weird Al: Why Weird Al? Not only was he the first to do the comedy parodies of songs, but he has been the best. So good that he owns the market all to himself. Quick, name another parody artist. No one. Weird Al created and perfected a genre in one fell swoop. Here is an example of his brilliance. In 1999 the whole country (world?) was super pumped about the release of the new Star Wars film The Phantom Menace. I mean crazy excited. So what did Weird Al do? He took "American Pie" by Don Mclean and sumarized the whole movie in "The Saga Begins." You can watch it here.
7. REM This band was pretty huge at the end of the 80's and beginning of the 90's. When hair bands and grunge were dominating the air waves REM took simple guitars and awesome melodies to make a variety of hits. Seriously, they had hits in "Shiny Happy People" and "Losing My Religion." Can't get much more different than that! Most alternative bands didn't survive the advent of grunge. REM did, and for that I salute you.
8. Queen: Ok, technically they were a 70's band. But they made some great tracks in the 80's and I feel their music still reaches us today. Bands will always be compared to Queen because Queen did it best. Freddie Mercury had a voice that is like no other. Seriously. I've only heard one that comes close. (Mika, duh) The rest of the band did their part too, providing great sounds to add to whatever bizarrely brilliant vocal tracks Freddie was working on. Freddie Mercury died of AIDS at the age of 45. Who knows what else he could have given to the world of music, but what he did give is still cherished today.
9. Prince I admit, I don't know Prince as well as these other artists. But when you are dubbed the next Jimi Hendrix, you still get some respect from me. He was a talented guitarist and could have written some killer rock songs. But he thrived in pop. He took all his musical knowledge and made pop songs that were interesting, not redundant. He has slowed up on the creation of new music lately, but his music still stands tall. By the way, partying like it's 1999 is soooo 10 years ago.
10. The Police If only they could have stopped fighting. Again, a band whose sound is still unparalleled. Combine a jazz guitarist to a creative song writer and add a dynamic drummer and you get the Police. Although the lyrics don't seem to fit the music, Sting wrote tunes that we are still singing today. And if I ever have to send out an SOS, you know it's gonna be a message in a bottle.