As a highly acclaimed “humor” columnist, I have always felt that it is important to stay in touch with my loyal readership. So I recently contacted both of them to discuss a problem I’ve been having. We “humor” columnists call it “writer’s block”. But it’s more commonly known as “having nothing worthwhile to say.” So we started to brainstorm about ideas. Actually, more of a drizzle. Ok, a light misting.
Well, for starters, since it’s a humor column, shouldn’t it be … humorous. In a perfect world, yes, I agree, but judging from my prior articles, its not an absolute requirement. OK, shouldn’t it be topical, casting a humorous light on current events? Again, in theory, yes – but you try to write a funny article about Coronavirus.
But then it came to me: just give the readers, the people, what they want. Even if they don’t know they want it. Even if they adamantly deny that they want it. (They lie.) And what do the people, you people, want? Of course! Another article about septuagenarian musicians. OK, now I’m making progress. But what exactly should I write about these musical septuagenarians? Let’s see, shouldn’t it be something that has been done countless times before, and by people with much more knowledge and expertise than me? Yes! And something anyone could instantly pull up on the internet (assuming you were interested)…? Exactly! Let’s see…a list of the 10 top rock stars/bands of all time…Brilliant!
My website posts an excellent, interactive discussion of the selection process, with multiple links to archival documents and source materials. Sure, you could waste your time with that (but I wouldn’t recommend it). Or, I can boil it down to a few sentences.
First, anyone who came to prominence before 1960 is excluded. That leaves out some greats like Elvis and Chuck Berry, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.
Next, they’ve got to be guitar (primarily electric) oriented. Basically, what I think is known as “Classic Rock”.
Last, they have to have cranked out a ton of great songs.
3. The List ( in inverse order)
10. Eric Clapton
Probably the original guitar hero, he was known as “Old Slowhand” for his seemingly effortless playing style. Originally more of a blues guitarist, Clapton burst onto the rock scene with the Cream album “Disraeli Gears” in 1967. They didn’t have “memes” when he came to prominence in the late 1960s (they didn’t know how lucky they were), but if they did, his would have been “Clapton is God”, which was spray painted on walls all around London. He wrote many radio staples still played frequently to this day (although everyone switches stations when the “slow part” of Lalya comes on).
9. The Eagles
A hit machine, the Eagles had a laid back “California sound” with a twinge of country. They basically invented “Easy Listening”. At one point, the Eagles’ Greatest Hits was the biggest selling album of all time, and that was before Joe Walsh and Hotel California. Don Henley and Glenn Frey were the founding members and wrote most of their hits. Frey died a couple of years ago, but the gap has been filled by a combination of country star Vince Gill and Frey’s own son, Deacon. At least prior to Walsh, probably the least “electrified” of the top ten.
8. Tom Petty
Petty died a couple of years ago which was a huge loss. Like Springsteen and Young, he was the total package, equally at home with the acoustic ballad and the electric rocker. Mercifully, Petty never tried to “address” big issues like social justice, inequality or war. He stuck to the rock-n-roll staples. He and his band, the Heartbreakers, really broke through with the album Damn the Torpedoes in 1979. In terms of straight-forward, intelligent but unpretentious rock music, Petty was arguably the best.
7. Neil Young
The melancholy rocker. A personal favorite, but definitely an acquired taste. He was part of what was probably the first “super group”, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but was always the weightiest of the four, with a reclusive, enigmatic persona. He’s primarily recognized for his wracked, high-pitched voice and acoustic songs like Heart of Gold and Old Man, but he teams up with his band Crazy Horse (basically a souped up garage band) to create a thundering sound with a uniquely jagged edge. Never a huge popular favorite, he’s always been greatly admired by his peers, kind’ve the “lawyer’s lawyer” of rock stars.
6. Bruce Springsteen
The Boss. Many would put Springsteen at number 1, and I can’t really argue with that. A great songwriter and smoking lead guitarist. He first hit it big with Born to Run in 1975 but he really exploded onto the cultural map with the release of Born in the USA in 1984. He’s known for his high energy, marathon performances- but bleak, burned out factory towns and (defiance in the face of) broken dreams usually lurk just beneath the surface of his songs. During the 1980s he was a cultural force almost on par with The Beatles and Dylan at their respective peaks.
5. The Who
Along with the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, The Who was part of the original English Invasion. They’re probably most famous for their epic arena rock anthems. Their 1971 album Who’s Next was an instant and enduring classic. With a frenetic, windmilling Pete Townsend on lead guitar, wild man Keith Moon on drums and singer Roger Daltrey hitting and sustaining seemingly impossible notes, The Who was always the “biggest” (and certainly the loudest) show in rock and roll.
4. Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin was like a passing thunderstorm. They weren’t around that long, but blew the doors off everyone else while they lasted. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but there was something qualitatively different about their sound. There was a weight, a mass, a crunch that’s never been duplicated and which earned them the moniker “Hammer of the Gods”. Their songs never lectured or tried to teach you anything, just pinned you against the back of your seat.
3. Bob Dylan
You could argue that Dylan is more folk than rock (early in his career he was booed by the folkies for playing the electric guitar), but I’m sticking him here, near the top of the rock pantheon. He was the first big star to write his own lyrics about socially relevant material. Agree or disagree with his politics, there is no doubt that he had a cultural impact. With his nasal, almost atonal voice, he (along with Young) would have been run out of Juilliard on a rail, but his uniquely evocative voice is a classic example of turning lemons into lemonade. His 1971 album Blood on the Tracks is on anyone’s list as one of the top albums of all time.
2. The Rolling Stones
Unlike many of the others on this list, The Rolling Stones have never really cared about delivering a “message” or offering relevant social commentary. They’re the consummate “party” band, and make no bones about it. With Richards’ famous guitar riffs and Mick Jagger’s preening, their concerts are like a Mardi Gras parade set to rock music, a true spectacle. But behind all of the bombast lies an almost unequaled catalog of rock classics.
1. The Beatles
Picking The Beatles as number 1 is sort of boring because it’s so obvious, like picking a dark suit as the best thing to wear to a wedding or a funeral. You’d kind of like to pick something different for a change, but you know you really can’t. They were the leading edge of the British Invasion and became a cultural watershed, pretty much dominating the charts until they broke up in 1970. Not a great concert band (I don’t think they toured all that much), but the sheer quality and quantity of their hits simply overwhelms all comers.
Steve Barton is a shareholder in the Memphis office. He has a wide practice in civil litigation and has successfully tried cases in state and federal courts.