CW50 - The Bands Edition - Nos 40-31
40. Black Sabbath
Highest Position: 8th
In Motley Crue’s autobiography The Dirt, Nikki Sixx writes of a parent’s feelings in the 70s when their teenager got black lights in their room, “You know at that point that child is longer yours. Goodbye Beatles and chocolate chip cookies, hello weed and Iron Maiden.”
I imagine my old man could pinpoint you the equivalent moment for me; I was sat across from him as we sat watching a bit of VH1 Classic one afternoon. On came a video of a band playing live in the studio. The singer was young, but looked evil, with his platform boots and devilish long straight hair. But it was the riff that grabbed me first, instantly familiar as if you’ve heard it a million times before. And then, that scary singer started to actually sing, “Finished with my woman, ‘cause she couldn’t help me with my mind…”
In these times, Black Sabbath aren’t the first heavy metal band kids tend to listen to, but they are easily the most important and you aren’t a metalhead unless you at least appreciate them. With influences such as The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, they were playing a brand of music that had never really been done before, like blues rock, but, you know, different. Scarier. In fact the former’s influence is entirely appropriate given Sabbath’s undoubted status as The Beatles of heavy rock.
Sabbath’s classic line-up consisted of satan himself, Ozzy Osbourne, on vocals, Tony Iommi on guitar, Geezer Butler on bass and Bill Ward on drums. Line-up changes occurred over the years, including the amazing Ronnie James Dio taking Ozzy’s place on vocals for a long time, but play ten people a Sabbath track without Ozzy singing and at least half of them wouldn’t know it was them.
The band’s high point is debated; for me Paranoid stands above most albums ever distributed, with the title track probably not even amongst the best two or three tracks; Iron Man changed music forever as much as any band who has followed them has managed to do, and while singing along to a particularly catchy riff may be commonplace at gigs and festivals these days, it is a trend with roots stemming from the slow sound of doom that is its intro. Other fans will point you to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath or their eponymous debut; whichever your preference, there is a wealth of material there to discover.
While they may sound tame when compared to the advancements in all forms of metal that have followed them, their legendary status is secure.
PS – Earlier this year, Tony Iommi was diagnosed with lymphoma. Early indications are that he may well make a recovery, but I’m sure you all join me in wishing him well.
39. The Strokes
Highest Position: 11th
In 2001, something happened in indie-rock. Loads of bands started using The at the start of their name, as though it was the 60s again, and what’s more, these bands became really popular in a time where pop, hip-hop and nu-metal dominated in equal measure. At the forefront of this movement was New York City’s The Strokes.
The Strokes records sounded like they were recorded in a basement, or perhaps rather a garage. Their debut album Is This It was met with universal acclaim, featuring songs which are instantly recognisable, melodic garage rockers like Last Nite and New York City Cops stick in the mind long after you’ve heard them.
The Strokes subsequent albums have received none of the same fanfare or praise as the debut but much like is the case with punk rockers the *** Pistols, it doesn’t really matter. They could have retired as soon as Is This It was released as an album that good guarantees you legendary status for life. Despite this, 2011’s Angles was heralded in many quarters as a big return to form, and there may be plenty more gas left in the tank yet.
38. The Offspring
Highest Position: 1st
All the way back in 1998, I heard a song called Pretty Fly for a White Guy on the radio, and for the very first time I was motivated to own an album (for our younger members, albums came on CDs in those days). Pretty Fly is awesome, and probably their most well known song, but I fell in love with the entire Americana album, which hits the nail on the head lyrically and brings a variety of punk rock styles and beyond to the table. My pre-pubescent self also appreciated their efforts in opening up a wide vocabulary of new swear words to me. Have You Ever, The Kids Aren’t Alright and Pay the Man are my personal highlights from the greatest album ever written.
The Offspring burst into the spotlight in 1994 with Smash, which became the highest selling independent record of all time (16 million sold), and were instrumental (pun intended) in bringing punk rock back into the mainstream along with Green Day, Bad Religion, NOFX, Pennywise and Rancid. Without Smash, many of the bands I love and you hate might never have made it to your ears.
The Offspring are still kicking about today, and songs like Hammerhead show they’ve still got it. If you want to try this band out, I recommend giving the under-rated Ixnay on the Hombre a listen. It’s a pretty solid representation of their sound.
Write-up by Flem274*
37. The Killers
Highest Position: 4th
The mid-00s were a good time to be a fan of (glamorous) indie rock and roll, with an array of bands emerging. One band that stood amongst these bands, but also apart, was The Killers. Influenced heavily by Joy Division/New Order, but also Oasis and the Pet Shop Boys, they rose to fame with a top-heavy anthem-stacked debut Hot Fuss. Featuring catchy songs like Mr Brightside and Somebody Told Me, they welded their rock and synthpop influences to do something a little different to the rest of the bands appearing on the scene at the time.
More popular in the UK and elsewhere than in their home country of America, they were termed by some journalists to be ‘America’s best British band’ and duly responded with a very American album Sam’s Town. Following some of the debut formula but at the same time taking a more personal and therefore emotive approach, it was frontman Brandon Flowers’ way of telling his critics that however British his influences, he was American to the core (“And I’m so sick of all my judges, they’re so scared of letting me shine”). The album divided critics and fans, but stands out for me as their best work to date.
This was followed in 2008 with Day and Age, a less guitar-focused album which didn’t have the cultural impact of the first two but bore probably their most popular mainstream track to date, Human. A new album is due later in the year, and Flowers and co have promised a more guitar-oriented approach this time round.
36. Arctic Monkeys
Highest Position: 4th
Exploding out of Sheffield, via MySpace, in 2005, the Arctic Monkeys were barely out of school by the time they were Britain’s latest superstars. In a country that is always looking for the next big thing, the people of the UK longed for another band to come along and sing songs about real life, like Oasis had done a decade previously. It wasn’t always destined to be that way as Alex Turner grew up listening to hip-hop, but he heard The Strokes and Libertines and a rock and roll star was born.
Arctic Monkeys appeal is easy to spot if you’ve ever listened to their debut; the album is filled with a barrage of guitars and anthemic choruses, the lyrics are predominantly about a night out, whether it’s the pseudo-misogynistic fun of trying to pick up girls who don’t have much going on upstairs in Still Take You Home or meathead bouncers looking for fights in From The Ritz To The Rubble. Amidst all the fun, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not managed to discuss prostitution in the infectious When The Sun Goes Down, which, along with the appropriately titled floorfiller, I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor got the public’s attention and propelled the album to #1 in the UK, taking Oasis’s record for fastest selling debut album in the process.
The second album, Favourite Worst Nightmare showed progression while remaining very familiar to the first offering, and remarkably managed to find every single track charting in the UK Top 100 thanks to digital downloads. If the second album showed progression, the third, Humbug displayed reinvention as they explored stoner rock, bringing Josh Homme along for the ride as producer. It turned away chunks of their audience but won them new fans in the process. And the fourth, Suck It And See went the complete opposite way again, showing a much softer side, with songs about pipes and slippers, amidst some trademark Arctics riffage. Each album demonstrated a broadening musical palette, the three remaining original members are all only 25 and still discovering what came before them, with acts like Nick Cave and The Smiths providing heavy inspiration on the more recent releases.
One of the biggest selling points has always been Alex Turner’s lyrics, a field on which he stands alone amongst his contemporaries (in my humble opinion of course). He captured the hearts of the teen and early 20s crowd by managing to make a taxi ride ‘via Hillsborough please’ sound like the world’s greatest tale and in Piledriver Waltz which he released both on his own as part of a film soundtrack, and on their most recent album (both versions differing from one another) he sings ‘If you’re gonna try and walk on water make sure you wear your comfortable shoes.’ Nobody could ever accuse him of exploting clichés.
It’s not all about Turner of course, his guitar interplay with lead axeman Jamie Cook provides some of the bands finest moments, and there are few drummers about who can sound as ferocious as Matt Helder without overpowering the song itself.
As is said of many British bands, the Arctics have never really ‘cracked’ America but they have admirers everywhere else, and continue to grow and evolve; recent standalone single R U Mine hints at a heavier direction for the next album. Whichever way they end up going, you can’t help but think they are only just getting started.
35. The Ramones
Highest Position: 1st
Ramones - It's Alive (The Rainbow) 1977 HQ - YouTube
There’s no stoppin’ / the cretins from boppin’
On the whole, rock’n’roll takes itself way too seriously, but once in a while someone breaks the fourth wall. The Ramones carried their audience through that fourth wall, and we loved them for laughing at us, until we discovered they weren’t really laughing at us at all. What appeared to be a brainless 3-chord romp with moronic words turned out to be a beautifully crafted slice-of-life portrayal of the futility of existence in the late-70s. They captured and encapsulated the energy of their audience; and, ultimately, isn’t that the only thing music can hope to do?
2nd verse (same as the first)
The art of writing lyrics for a rock song is to express deep and universal emotions concisely, in a way anyone can associate with. Forget your ‘Yesterday’ or your ‘Stairway to Heaven’ or your ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – who can beat the sublime, visceral intensity of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre / took my baby away from me” – especially when you can make it rhyme. Shakespeare is eating his heart out.
3rd verse (different from the first)
1960 was, on the whole, a pretty crap year to be born. You got to experience the 60s, the Beatles and all that stuff, but you were wearing short trousers. And then, years later when you were finished with education, you found yourself on Thatcher’s scrapheap of 4 million unemployed, and even when you could have some fun you risked contracting AIDS. But, it did mean you got to be 17 in 1977. And, all things considered, it was probably worth it.
GABBA GABBA, we accept you, we accept you, one of us
Write-up by nick-o
Highest Position: 3rd
On the face of things Bury's Elbow have one of the more prosaic band names. What is more per diem than the hinge joint where the humerus meets the radius and ulna? However, the revelation of how they took their moniker goes some way to helping one understand the magic of the group. Michael Gambon's titular character from “The Singing Detective” says “elbow” is the most sensuous word in the English language; not for its meaning but for how it feels to say. That perfectly encapsulates Elbow the group; their stock in trade is finding the exquisite in the everyday.
I've seen Elbow play live on four occasions now. Each time they visited Cambridge on the tours promoting their first four albums I parted with my hard earned. However on their trek around the country for their most recent long player “Build a Rocket, Boys!” I was unable to make it five from five as the tickets sold out in a morning in wake of the Mercury Music Prize-winning success of the preceding “The Seldom Seen Kid”. I relate this not to paint myself as Piggy to Elbow's Ralph (“I was there when they found the conch & now they're doing the BBC's Olympic theme tune”), but show how the mainstream has come around to their way of thinking. Their richly-deserved and hard-earned success hasn't come at the cost of artistic compromise, rather they've ran their own race and the world's caught up.
Elbow are a band that occasionally require a little effort from their listeners, but this effort is repaid thousand-fold. The textures and dynamics of their sound reward repeated listens, each new harkening uncovering the subtly hidden brush strokes on their sonic palette, from the single sustained keyboard note running through “Presuming Ed (Rest Easy)” to the cod-mariachi handclaps that herald “A Mexican Standoff”.
It would be remiss of me to close without doffing the cap their exceptional (in both senses of the word) frontman Guy Garvey too. Garvey has a physical presence that is decidedly ursine and a demeanour that demands description as “bluff” and “northern”. He is, in short, a straight, thirty-something bloke. The kind of bloke one could imagine sharing a pint with whilst discussing the merits of a flat back four. He feels but like many who share his background and upbringing he struggles to express these feelings. However unlike most of us he can articulate this battle & turn it into art. His throat-lumpening eulogy to the late Bryan Glancy on “A Friend of Ours” illuminates this ever-so-English halting hesitancy,
“Never very good at Goodbyes
So, gentle shoulder charge
Love you, mate
Love you, mate”
Write-up by BoyBrumby
33. Rage Against The Machine
Highest Position: 2nd
Formed in California in 1991, nu-metal innovators Rage Against The Machine fused funk, punk, hip-hop and metal to launch a left-wing tirade against corporate America. Over the course of the 1990s they became one of the most popular and influential hard rock acts, appealing to an idealistic argument.
Taken from 1992’s self-titled debut, it was Killing in the Name Of which saw Rage rise to prominence. A track which broods, builds, then explodes, it is built around the premise of not doing what you are told, albeit expressed somewhat more bluntly. Full of profanity, it caused a stir when BBC Radio 1 accidentally played the explicit version on the Top 40 one Sunday afternoon.
Their debut was followed up by 1996’s US chart-topper Evil Empire and another successful outing occurred in 1999 with Battle of Los Angeles. The band released an album of covers the following year before disbanding when frontman Zac de la Rocha surprisingly quit to pursue individual projects. The rest of the band formed a supergroup Audioslave with Chris Cornell, when they too parted in 2007, Rage reformed and played on the festival circuit that year. They have continued to do so since but have not recorded any new material.
In 2009, a young man entitled Joe ‘Marcuss’ McElderry, led by Cheryl Cole of surprise CW50 omissions Girls Aloud, stormed past superstars like Olly Murs, Danyl Johnson and Jedward (another pop sensation overlooked by the CW masses) to the coveted X Factor Season Six title. And as everybody knew, X Factor had a monopoly on the UK Christmas Number One. A couple on Facebook had other ideas and started a campaign to have Killing in the Name Of hit the festive top slot instead. Gaining support from musical giants like Paul McCartney and Dave Grohl, it was a massive success and Christmas in blighty was one of censorship, the song with seventeen f-words sitting pretty at the top. Breaking the record for most downloads in a first week in the charts in the process, RATM repaid the country with a free concert at Finsbury Park the following year, with tickets allocated by lottery and using photographic ID to prevent touting.
32. *** Pistols
Highest Position: 1st
Like most teenagers with a Kurt Cobain obsession, I started to explore some of his roots and discovered that he was a fan of UK Punk. “Three chords and lots of screaming” was what had enticed him, I once read. So, one Friday night at my dad’s, I was rooting through his CDs when the rest of the house slept, which was my favourite way to discover music, and there lay a compilation entitled Kiss This containing the whole of Nevermind the Bollocks… and a few other tracks. Suffice to say I was enticed.
The next morning I interrogated my dad on them and it turned out he and my mum had once been the proud owners of tickets to see the *** Pistols in Birkenhead. Unfortunately, the council banned the Pistols; upon compiling this top 50 it has become apparent they were doing what many councils at the time did. It all seems quite surreal now, hell it seemed it in the late 90s, for a band to be banned, in the west. Lands of freedom on the other side of the iron curtain and all that. All because they swore a lot, and shook up the establishment.
Musically, the Pistols were no Beatles. In terms of impact though, bands work their whole careers without coming close to them. Songs like God Save The Queen spoke to the youth then and continue to do so today; it will be in heavy rotation come this June’s jubilee celebrations. It wasn’t all anarchy and overthrows though, the sheer horror of abortion song Bodies is chilling, delivered by frontman Johnny Rotten with such aggression that you are literally terrified whilst listening. And the riff at the start of Pretty Vacant – that’s just special.
Sure, there were other releases - Sid Vicious’ take on My Way is something else – but as debut albums go, it is right up there. They came, they saw, they conquered, and it wasn’t just punk rock that they influenced. The Pistols changed the rules, and for the better.
31. The Jam
Highest Position: 4th
Englishness is an idea, not a race. Many of those who sit at the first table of English songwriters have a very particular take on the notion of their national identity. Paul Weller, the singer, guitarist, principle lyricist and tunesmith of The Jam wrote songs that were English to the marrow, infused with the anger of their near contemporaries the punks and
yet had a resigned affectionate tribal loyalty to his native land the year zero nihilism of punk didn't quite allow its adherents to have.
Two of The Jam's most famous cover versions are instructive; they took on The Kinks' “David Watts” and “Heat Wave” by Martha & The Vandellas. Their sound owed almost as much to the latter's Motown gospel pop harmonies as to the former's English guitar pastoralism. Early on in their career Weller, never shy of an opinion or backward in coming forward, felt the music press made altogether too much of his band's influences and took to the stage wearing a placard around his neck bearing the legend “How can I be a ****ing revivalist when I'm only 18?”.
It would be disingenuous to claim The Jam were unaware of what had gone before though; “In The City”, the title of their debut album and single, shares its name with a Who B-side and the bassline from “Start” was so indebted to that on The Beatles' “Taxman” that Weller felt obliged to run it past George Harrison before release. Harrison, very sportingly in light of his own legal difficulties with “My Sweet Lord”, considered imitationthe sincerest form of flattery and acquiesced.
Whatever their genesis however, The Jam produced a run of form rarely bettered in pop music. Their songs gave eloquent voice to a disenfranchised generation, from the wry class warfare of “Eton Rifles” through the exquisite two-chord kitchen sink frustration of “That's Entertainment” to the full-on soul groove of their deific closing shot “Beat Surrender”. Even the only Bruce Foxton composition to make it to an A-side has found posthumous fame as the theme to “Mock The Week”.
Thirty years after their untimely demise (it's faintly incredible Weller was only 24 when he pulled the plug) The Jam still matter. & they ****ing rocked.
Write-up by BoyBrumby