Monday, November 9, 2009

My top 10 artists of the last 20 years

Continuing my reflections at the end of a decade, I now turn my attention to the top artists of the last 20 years. This was a particularly difficult list to put together. First, I really started getting into music in 1993, therefore grunge had a huge impact on my taste. On the other hand, most of the grunge bands didn't make it out of the 90's, making their lasting effect a little more difficult to judge. But still, I am happy with my list. My criteria again:

Quality: Obviously, you had to be good. Since quality is subjective, I will again proclaim my affection for Rock and Alternative music. 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 both 90's and 2000's. 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.

My choices:
1. Dave Matthews Band: One of those bands that the first time I heard them I knew they were special. The depth of their music can take in anyone. Dancers/partyers love them. Those who just want a catchy tune love them. If you love great solos and progressions you love them. And nobody sounds like them. Nobody has the guts to try. You can identify a Dave song pretty quickly and chances are by the end of the song you will enjoy it. In fact, the only reason people don't like DMB is because they are too popular. People used to say that about the Beatles. Didn't make sense then, doesn't make sense now. Here is a video of DMB playing Ants Marching live in Central Park.

2. Nirvana: Quite simply, Nirvana changed the rules of the game. They took powerful/distorted guitars and laid some great hooks to them. But instead of making it pretty, they went with the emotional ridden screeching vocals that caused a generation to realize that music was more than teeny bopper pop music. I am still sad that Kurt Cobain had to die so early. I understand he had troubled life and it would have been hard for him to survive. But he was a musical genious. Nobody has made the quality of grunge Nirvana did. And since bands have been trying to replicate that magical sounds for almost 20 years, that's saying something.

Here is a video of Nirvana playing the 1992 MTV VMA's. They started playing "Rape Me" just to make MTV mad, then went on to play a classic version of "Litium." Watch the most epic fail of a bass toss at the end.

3. Red Hot Chili Peppers: I feel there are two categories of RHCP songs. Those that rock hard (Give it away Now) and those that rock soft (Under the Bridge, Scar Tissue). Both have a huge infusion of funk that is carried by the music of bassist Flea and guitarist John Frusciante. It is this use of funk and great melodies that makes the Chili Peppers a great band. They're one of those bands I always catch myself listening to on the radio. I never change it because they always brings quality. Again, nobody sounds like these guys because they do it so well.

4. Pearl Jam: My personal favorite band, these guys are still rocking almost 20 years later. How to describe why I love them? Their music is timeless to me. No matter how much I listen to an album the progressions and riffs still speak to me. Plus Eddie Vedder's lyrics are always heart felt and well thought out (even if you don't understand a word). Two things Pearl Jam did to last this long. First they make music for the music, not for sales. They write stuff they enjoy and hope others enjoy it, instead of trying to write hits. Second, they follow their hearts which leads them to be politically active. When Pearl Jam started most "hair bands" were singing about sex drugs and rock n roll. Pearl Jam didn't just write from the heart, but they followed it in their lives supporting their causes. It's something that didn't exist back then, and I'm glad they spoke their minds. It made me make up my own.

5. Green Day: Green Day made Punk popular. They took fast/sloppy music and put some great melodies and hooks to them. Later they showed their writing abilities with songs like "Time of your life" and "When September Ends." They too chose to become politically active late in their careers, which to me shows a sign of maturity. Who would have used the word maturity to describe Green Day when they released "Dookie?" Not me, but that's why they are successful. They allowed themselves to grow.

6. Jay Z: Poser alert: I do not listen to much rap. But I know talent. Jay Z is on a very short list of Rap artists I can listen to. Mostly because I hear music when I hear his songs, not just a rapper trying to draw attention to himself. Fun Fact: Jay Z has the most number 1 albums of the last 20 years.

7. Weezer: When Emo bands started becoming popular earlier this decade, I was unimpressed. Mostly because Weezer had already done it 10 years ago. Distorted guitars with downer lyrics? Please that was soooo 1996. Although Weezer is a little more hit and miss with their songs and albums, their hits are legendary. Sweater Song. Buddy Holly. Hash Pipe. Beverly Hills. Pork and Beans. All quality above and beyond what most bands reach. They have a special place in my heart, and every good alternative fan better have the Blue Album. Their video for Pork and Beans cleverly utilizes youtube and its popularity.

8. Radiohead: I admit, I am just now getting into these guys. And I am impressed. It's like a grunge time capsule I just got to open. Crazy good songwriting, crazy good vocals. Probably a little off-the-wall for the average fan. But if you want 15 years of solid gold grunge, Radiohead is a great place to turn.

9. Mariah Carey: I know she went crazy. But she has 18 number 1 hits. Eighteen! That's the most for any female artist, and second only to the Beatles. Some day, when they crazy fades away a new generation will discover her only to say "why doesn't anyone ever talk about her?" Well, crazy does that. Unless your Michael Jackson. Then we talk more.

10. Foo Fighters: They rock hard, and I love it. Another group that every time I hear them on the radio I never change the channel. Their hits are just that awesome. Their biggest knock: As much as their singles rock, the rest of each album sucks. Sorry guys, but just not enough quality all the way around. Still, Foo Fighters carry the banner of Hard Rock well. That's enough for my list.

Special Mention: Dave Grohl The man amazed me. He was the drummer for Nirvana (who changed music as I mentioned) then goes on to have an amazing career and a singer/songwriter. Not many people not named Ben Folds can do that.

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