Sunday, November 22, 2020

My 100 All-Time Favorite Artists of Popular Music - 2020 Edition

Theoretically I should've published this back in July; it's not like I didn't have the time.

It's the latest iteration of a list I first created in 2005 and updated in 2010 and 2015--in July or early August.

I can't really cite good justification for having skipped it until now, but in being not only a fan of recorded music but also--typically rather prolifically--live concerts, there is a certain wistfulness, perhaps even ruefulness, in citing so many great artists whose tour plans have been shelved until who knows when (if they're even still with us.)

I expect absolutely no one to agree with this list, and not just because I've never fully agreed with ANY list (that's really not the point of list making).

But this is MY list. Of MY favorites.

I'm not saying these are the best, or should be your favorites. And quite knowingly, with a foremost affinity for guitar-driven rock, this doesn't cover a vast idiomatic range even within the constructs of "popular music."

I certainly like, would've considered eligible and may have included some acts representing blues, country, folk, soul, R&B, pure pop, Motown, disco, rap, hip hop, funk and other popular musical styles. (And jazz, classical, opera and very much so Broadway, though it's beyond the purview here.)

So my choices--and rankings--come with no insistence or preaching, but also no apologies. Keep in mind, too, that while I did take the sequencing seriously, in some ways it's kind of arbitrary and could easily change day to day, if not year to year.

Some who look at the past lists will see that R.E.M.--while still in the Top 10--has slid somewhat, but I really can't say I like them any less than before. But perhaps their retirement has prompted me just feel like I like other legends a bit more. 

Perhaps, sadly, death helps as well, as David Bowie made my Top 10 for the first time and Prince jumped from #84 in 2015 to #36 now. 

But great concerts also factor in, and helps explain why Depeche Mode has jumped nearly 50 spots.

As in 2015, I've generally opted to include solo acts who derived from major bands as part of the band's entry, whether in auxiliary (e.g. The Beatles + the members' solo careers) or joint (Black Sabbath/Ozzy Osbourne) fashion. But where this really didn't make sense (Nirvana and Foo Fighters), I listed them separately. 

It certainly isn't perfect, but especially in this crazy year, just go with it.

My 100 All-Time Favorite Artists of Popular Music - 2020

1. Bruce Springsteen
2. The Beatles (+ solo, Wings)
3. Led Zeppelin (+ Robert Plant)
4. Nirvana
5. The Rolling Stones
6. The Who
7. U2
8. David Bowie
9. R.E.M.
10. The Kinks (+ Ray Davies) 

11. Pearl Jam 
12. The Jam (+ Paul Weller) 
13. The Smashing Pumpkins (+ Zwan, Billy Corgan) 
14. Midnight Oil 
15. AC/DC 
16. The Clash 
17. The Replacements (+ Paul Westerberg) 
18. The Ramones 
19. Jimi Hendrix 
20. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers 
21. Cheap Trick 
22. Neil Young (+ CSNY, Buffalo Springfield) 
23. Rush 
24. Queen 
25. Van Halen 
26. Depeche Mode 
27. Bob Seger 
28. Elvis Costello 
29. Bob Dylan 
30. Arcade Fire

31. Hüsker Dü/Bob Mould/Sugar 
32. Soundgarden 
33. Blur 
34. Radiohead 
35. Dinosaur Jr. 
36. Prince 
37. Talking Heads (+ David Byrne) 
38. Pink Floyd 
39. Guns 'N Roses 
40. Green Day 
41. Foo Fighters 
42. Elton John 
43. Steely Dan 
44. Warren Zevon 
45. The Killers
46. Stevie Wonder 
47. The Wildhearts 
48. Stereophonics 
49. The Police 
50. Aerosmith 
51. Black Sabbath/Ozzy Osbourne 
52. Creedence Clearwater Revival (+ John Fogerty) 
53. Johnny Cash 
54. Simon & Garfunkel (+ Paul Simon) 
55. Eric Clapton/Cream/Derek & the Dominoes/Yardbirds 
56. Fleetwood Mac 
57. Willie Nile 
58. The Waterboys 
59. Peter Gabriel/(early) Genesis 
60. Billy Joel 
61. John Mellencamp 
62. The Zombies 
63. The Cure 
64. Maxïmo Park 
65. Garbage 
66. Buddy Guy 
67. Electric Light Orchestra 
68. Jackson Browne 
69. Metallica 
70. Wilco 
71. Van Morrison (+ Them) 
72. Bob Marley 
73. System of a Down 
74. Smoking Popes 
75. Blondie 
76. Liz Phair 
77. Elvis Presley 
78. The Cars 
79. The Doors 
80. Beach Boys 
81. Santana 
82. Stevie Ray Vaughan 
83. The Byrds 
84. Stone Temple Pilots 
85. Bee Gees 
86. Leonard Cohen 
87. White Stripes/Jack White 
88. The Pretenders 
89. Coldplay 
90. Buddy Holly 
91. Manic Street Preachers 
92. The Supremes/Diana Ross 
93. Nine Inch Nails 
94. Velvet Underground/Lou Reed 
95. Sex Pistols 
96. Aretha Franklin 
97. Smokey Robinson/The Miracles 
98. Ash 
99. Alejandro Escovedo 
100. Dire Straits

The Next 30

Material Issue 
Chuck Berry 
Red Hot Chili Peppers 
Taylor Swift 
The Flaming Lips 
Rod Stewart/The Faces/Jeff Beck Group 
Social Distortion 
Def Leppard 
Sly & the Family Stone 
ZZ Top 
The Monkees 
Alice Cooper 
The Struts 
The Pixies 
The Tragically Hip 
Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry 
Rage Against the Machine (+ Tom Morello) 
Graham Parker 
The Bangles

Sunday, November 01, 2020

All the Madness, for Now

 The latest...and all the rest to date:

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Uh, Just Some More Madness

I actually had been working on a blog post, with words and stuff, but it's kinda been forestalled. So to keep you up to date, here are the additional Madness tournaments I've coordinated on Facebook:

And just now underway: 

Monday, August 03, 2020

The Madness Just Won't Stop

To date, on Facebook, I've created and overseen a dozen "Madness" tournaments, à la the NCAA Basketball Tournament known as March Madness. I actually started them in March as something of a substitute for the frenzy.

Several past posts have shown previous tourneys, but here are the latest three, now completed.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Remarkable Alternate Universe of Emitt Rhodes (1950-2020)

On April 17, 1970, Paul McCartney--having a week prior announced his departure from the Beatles and essentially, to the public, breaking up the best rock band ever--released his first solo album, titled simply McCartney

I was only 18 months old at the time, so can only imagine the hubbub of "PAUL QUITS THE BEATLES" headlines coming amidst contentious scheduling conflicts with the release of not only the last official Beatles' album, Let It Be, but also Ringo Starr's solo debut, Sentimental Journey.

Stung by John Lennon's private departure from the Beatles the previous fall, it was a rather audacious move for the 27-year-old McCartney, who was for 7+ years officially half of rock's greatest songwriting duo--although in the Beatles' latter years he and John largely wrote separately.

Paul would record the McCartney album at home and, excepting some minor contributions from his wife, Linda, played all the instruments on it.

Though McCartney sold well--going to #1 in America before ceding that spot to Let It Be--and contained some gems ("Maybe I'm Amazed," "Every Night," "That Would Be Something"), it was far from a masterpiece filled with the type of ear candy brilliance Paul regularly wrote with the Beatles.

By the end of 1970, George Harrison (All Things Must Pass) and John Lennon (Plastic Ono Band) would release solo albums that were--subjectively, though in the minds of many--superior to McCartney.

So too would a handsome 20-year-old, who had left behind a band he fronted, The Merry-Go-Round, and within his parents' home in Hawthorne--the same SoCal burg that birthed the Beach Boys and their transcendent songwriter, Brian Wilson--played all the instruments on what would be his official, self-titled debut album:

Emitt Rhodes

Now, certainly, we can agree that Paul McCartney was--and remains--an insanely great pop songwriter, possibly the best ever.

And we might also agree that, while it has its moments, his 1970 solo debut album is lesser than releases that year by not only John Lennon, George Harrison and The Beatles but also Van Morrison (Moondance), Neil Young (After the Gold Rush), Derek & the Dominoes (Layla and Assorted Other Loves Songs), Creedence Clearwater Revival (Cosmo's Factory), The Kinks (Lola Versus Powerman), Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Déjà Vu), Simon & Garfunkel (Bridge Over Troubled Water), James Taylor (Sweet Baby James), Randy Newman (12 Songs), Elton John (Tumbleweed Connection), David Bowie (The Man Who Sold the World), Led Zeppelin (III) and likely records by Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Traffic and many more.

So, hey, no one bats 1000.

But take a listen to this; a prime cut from Emitt Rhodes called "Fresh as a Daisy:"

Doesn't it sound McCartneyesque?

And if you're intrigued, take a listen to Rhodes' entire solo album, which I culled from a longer retrospective on Spotify.

Now, to be clear, regardless of the "Paul is Dead" rumor that surfaced a few years prior and which I enjoyed exploring about a decade later, I'm in no way suggesting that Paul McCartney was Emitt Rhodes, or ever recorded in his name. (Or vice-versa.)

Nor am I saying that, in the whole scheme of things, Emitt Rhodes was as anywhere near as great or important a musician as Paul McCartney.

That would just be stupid.

But maybe I'm amazed that in the year Macca (McCartney's nickname) officially ended the Beatles in order to put out his solo debut on the day he wanted, a little-known musician--Emitt Rhodes did go to #29 on the Billboard charts so wasn't completely ignored--who sounded rather similar released a solo debut album that was even better.

I don't know if its apt to use the term "alternate universe" or "alternate reality" or "crazy coincidence" or "unknown treasure" or "hidden genius," but I'm fairly certain that there are insanely gifted people living among us whose talents will barely be known.

In this, I'm not referencing--necessarily--supremely talented co-workers whose true gifts are never tapped (nor even much shared) while toiling in mundane jobs, though I've known many.

And though I don't rule out the possibility, I've yet to see evidence of X-Men type mutants, or unrevealed superheroes.

But I swear a college friend of mine who never played organized prep sports could throw a baseball 90 MPH, serve a tennis ball at 120 MPH and hurl a football 80 yards on a rope. I'm sure he's not the only one.

Once I attended a party where talented musicians were jamming, then one dude showed up in a well-worn Honda Civic and routinely tossed out guitar solos that sounded every bit as good as prime Clapton.

And I have to assume that there are professional or Olympic-caliber athletes who perhaps don't even know their own talents, and/or will never be "discovered."

So Emitt Rhodes, who passed away on July 19 at the age of 70, just fascinates the fuck out of me.

Oddly, news of his death reminded me that I had once heard of Rhodes and his unlikely brilliance, but then forgot about him.

Having worked in creative environments for much of my career, frequently on a short-term, freelance basis, I've had the pleasure of knowing many skilled musicians, painters, filmmakers, comedians, actors, authors, etc., etc., who had other day jobs.

At one stop, where I actually wound up twice, I got to know a guy named Todd, a copywriter by day and also a singer/songwriter under the guise of Hop on Pop, with which he's made a few albums. (At the linked Bandcamp page, check out "Here" from the Chicken on a Bicycle album, among other fine tunes.)

Todd is also probably the best-versed musicologist I know, at least in rock realms.

Over lunch one day, during a gig that for me last 2 weeks, Todd told me about Emitt Rhodes and his brilliant first album. He may have even played something for me.

I was impressed, enough to note Rhodes in my iPhone's Notes app, but the debut album wasn't readily available on Amazon--it still isn't--and if on Spotify was perhaps part of The Emitt Rhodes Recordings 1969-1973, as it remains.

So I came to know of Emitt Rhodes, but not really his music, and essentially forgot about him.

Until late last Sunday, when I saw a post on Facebook--not from Todd--about the passing of Mr. Rhodes.

Obviously, I wasn't the only one who found him a fascinating footnote in rock history.

In 2009, a fan and filmmaker named Cossimo Messeri had made a documentary about Rhodes titled--as others had referenced him--The One Man Beatles.

Within the past week I found the 54-minute film on Vimeo and enjoyed it, but it seems to have been taken down. 

It showed Rhodes--residing in a friend's home in Hawthorne, across from his childhood home and parents until they passed--older, heavier, bearded, speaking of his having depression, but with a Brian Wilson-like innocence, NOT bitter regret. 

And still a gift for knocking out a catchy tune. 

The Bangles, Michael Penn and noted producer Keith Olsen are among the notable Emitt Rhodes fans interviewed in the documentary. And although I didn't know it until this week, in 2016 Rhodes released Rainbow Ends, a new solo album featuring contributions from Susannah Hoffs, Aimee Mann, Jon Brion, Richard Thompson, Nels Cline of Wilco and others. 

Somewhere in this long piece I should probably have mentioned that Rhodes initially played drums in a band called The Palace Guard, that The Merry-Go-Round had some nice tunes and minor acclaim in the late-1960s and--in part due to legal & financial troubles with record companies before & after going solo--his last album prior to Rainbow Ends came in 1973. (Find his Wikipedia entry here, AllMusic bio here and several fine tributes since his passing, including this one from the L.A. Times.)

I should also note, as several of the obits of Emitt Rhodes did, that director Wes Anderson used one of the debut album tracks, "Lullabye," significantly in his 2001 film, The Royal Tenenbaums.

Anyway, so far I've mainly (re)focused on Emitt Rhodes, the rather obscure 1970 solo debut that, IMHO, matches that of Paul McCartney. Or probably even surpasses it.

But from a listen to Rainbow Ends and some songs Rhodes was shown tinkering with in The One Man Beatles, it seems clear that his prodigious pop songwriting talent wasn't just a long-forgotten fluke. Or something that just went away, as he seemed to.

Even minus the proverbial pot o' gold at the end, Emitt Rhodes' alternate universe seems to have legitimately covered quite a spectrum.

And clearly, there is so much untold brilliance than can conceivably be found and savored, perhaps just biding its time somewhere beneath the surface.

Or unwittingly walking among us.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Mourning the Passing of Nick Cordero (1978-2020)

Although I go to -- or at least used to go to -- a bunch of theater, in Chicago and occasionally on Broadway in New York, my database indicates I'd only seen the musical actor Nick Cordero once.

That was in the jukebox rock musical Rock of Ages, in Chicago in 2010. But I have followed news of his critical condition at the hands of COVID-19, and was quite saddened to learn of his passing yesterday.

So to serve as a Facebook cover image, I felt compelled to make this. (The actual GoFundMe link can be reached here)

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

And Yet Even More Madness

See this post to understand why I'm posting the latest completed tournament...

...and the opening bracket of the current tourney: