CW50 - The Bands Edition - Nos 30-21
Highest Position: 2nd
Their agrammatical eschewing of the definite article in their name isn't the only thing wrong about (the) Pixies. Their lead singer is a tubby, balding sci-fi obsessive raised in an evangelical Christian household who rejoices in the decidedly un-rock'n'roll name of Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV & their female bassist, the only quarter of the group to have even modicum of *** appeal or star quality, is a chippy alcoholic who'd never played her instrument before the band coalesced and who remains to this day bitterly resentful of the perceived undervaluing of her role. & finally, after their initial blaze-of-glory demise after four unimpeachable albums, they reformed a little over a decade later not to stoke their creative furnace, but to tour the old material on the lucrative festival circuit.
There was and is something magically singular & right about the Pixies. Their welding of a punk sensibility to folk harmonies, surf rock and pop hooks sounds so wonderful and obvious that, from the vantage of twenty five years' hindsight, it seems incredible no-one had done it before. Of course plenty have done it since and it's the innovator's lot to have lesser talents borrow their best ideas. & even a genuine stellar genius like a certain angel-faced kid from a logging town in the Pacific North-West was gracious enough to acknowledge the debt “Smells Like Teen Spirit” owes to the Pixies' blueprint.
Playing John The Baptist to Nirvana's Jesus wouldn't be a bad epitaph for the Pixies, but it also sells short their own achievements and talent. It's easy to attempt to define just what made them so special; one could point to the happy kismet of a teenager raised on folk and Christian devotional music sharing his university room with a punk obsessed Hispanic kid & feeling compelled to form a band together. Or one might suggest finding a female bass player who fitted their criteria of being into both Hüsker Dü & 60s folkies Peter, Paul & Mary and who could harmonise like a angel. In truth however it's about the music they made and the chemistry the four Pixies share. As occasionally inspired as their post-Pixies careers have been, nothing they've produced has been quite as compelling or majestic as “Gigantic” or “U-Mass”, melodic as **** whilst incongruously abrasive as hell.
The self-awareness that lead them to call their comeback tour “Pixies, Sell Out” does, I think, make the band's constituent parts realise the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, despite what Joey Santiago calls their still extant “friction”. If, to paraphrase Harry Lime, brotherly love gives us the cuckoo clock, then long may they rub.
Write-up by BoyBrumby
29. Stone Roses
Highest Position: 1st
The Stone Roses were the Bob Massie of rock. Questionable haircuts; not known for their singing ability; and possibly, but very fleetingly, the best there ever was.
Let’s get the singing out of the way first. No-one bar the deaf or demented would pretend that lead singer Ian Brown was among three best singers in this four-piece band. He somehow combined the nasal, the warbly and the mumbly, and above all the spectacularly tuneless. His singing was so bad that it seriously marred early studio numbers (All Across the Sands, Sally Cinnamon) and his live performances were often nothing short of shambolic. It is a testament to the group that it managed to succeed in spite of that apparent handicap. And it is also a testament to Brown himself that he was, despite everything, a completely credible front-man: he lent a charismatic presence to the group and formed half – albeit one suspects the less gifted half - of a brilliant songwriting partnership with John Squire.
By contrast with Brown’s squawked vocals, Squire’s talents on lead guitar were clear to hear; but the most gifted musician in the group was perhaps Reni, whose funky and understated drumming was a feature of just about every Stone Roses track, and whose all-round musical talents were such that Mani, the band’s acclaimed bassist, commented that Reni could "piss all over me on bass."
And their music?
The band’s greatest work was their eponymous 1989 debut album. It was a truly great album. It is great-album-production-by-numbers: (1) begin by sucking in the listener with a strange creeping builder (I Wanna Be Adored); (2) end with a rambling soaring edifice of wonder (I am the Resurrection); and (3) in between pack in a batch of all-time classics, not least She Bangs the Drums and (Song for my) Sugar Spun Sister. But for me the greatest highlight of the album is This is the One, which is now, depending on your standpoint, either famous or notorious as the song to which the Manchester United team has for some years trotted onto the pitch at Old Trafford. The only weak points are Brown’s absurd warbles (“Soomtimes I-I-I-I… fantasi-i-i-ise…”) on the otherwise excellent Made of Stone and the regrettable backwards experiment of Don’t Stop (Don’t stop; fast forward).
Apart from that first album, their commercial success came with Fool’s Gold: a 9 minute and 53 second anthem for a generation of stoned indie kids who were starting to fall ecstatically in love dance music: a Heart of Glass for the late 80s. Brown averted disaster by wisely electing to whisper rather than sing. And turn that epic over and you will discover an upbeat guitar-led monster of a track, What the World is Waiting For. (If you haven’t seen the Obama / Bush youtube version of this, you should).
The greatest album ever made; the greatest double-A-side ever made. The musical equivalent of 8-84 and 8-53 at Lord’s. Sadly, like Massie’s, their star faded rapidly, and their attempts at comebacks were uninspiring. It is for that reason, coupled with the disturbing prospect of Ian Brown’s live vocal performance, that we await their Third Coming this summer with expectations that can best be described as guarded. But, at the same time, with a little bit of nostalgia, and a little bit of excitement.
Write-up by zaremba
28. Foo Fighters
Highest Position: 6th
Dave Grohl and his crew were faced with the challenge of emerging from the shadow of a band who are arguably the greatest influence on rock music in the last two decades, and they succeeded.
He started with just himself. In 1994 he recorded the lot; vocals, guitars, bass and drums. He signed band mates. Some stayed, some left, but 18 years later he is the front man for arguably the biggest rock band in the 21st century.
Originally Posted by wiki
I must admit the Foo Fighters are hit and miss for me. I either love their song or skip it, but when they hit the right note for me it is so damn good. I enjoy this band more than I enjoy Nirvana, and despite the sad circumstances, I'm very glad the stage was set for the Foo Fighters to form.
Of all their efforts, my favourite song has to be Everlong. Everything about the song is pure awesome.
Write-up by Flem274*
27. The Beach Boys
Highest Position: 7th
The Beach Boys started out as a surf group in southern California in 1961, comprising brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love and close friend Al Jardine. Initially management duties were handled by Murry Wilson, father of the three Wilson boys, a somewhat Machiavellian personality who at one time attempted to force the group to record his own songs. The original group name was The Pendletones, named for the button-down shirt popular at the time, however they were renamed without their knowledge by the record label when their first single was released. Early output was distinctly surf-pop, e.g. "Surfin' USA" (over which Chuck Berry sued for its similarity to his hit "Sweet Little Sixteen"), "Little Deuce Coupe" and "I Get Around", all notable for the close harmony vocals. Brian Wilson's creative songwriting skills led the group to experiment with more complex musical arrangements, culminating in the universally acclaimed "Good Vibrations", which song was featured on the 1966 album Pet Sounds, along with one of the best pop songs ever written to these ears, "God Only Knows". That album initially proved a disappointment particularly to Brian as it was released around the same time as The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, with a resultant negative impact on chart position. However, it has subsequently come to be regarded as one of the best albums of all time, being ranked as high as #2 in the Rolling Stones 500 greatest Albums of All Time (behind, ironically, Sergeant Pepper).
At this point Brian, who had stopped touring in 1964 due to his mental health issues, was struggling with substance abuse which loosened his control of the group, resulting in the follow up album, Smile, being cancelled (this would not emerge until some 35 years later) - during this period Brian's touring spot was variously taken by Glen Campbell and Bruce Johnston. The rest of the band was becoming increasingly frustrated at the complexity of Brian's songs, which they felt would be challenging to play live, and they withdrew from a planned appearance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Subsequent singles and album sales dwindled with Brian playing an increasingly smaller role in the band, though a brief return to form with Surf's Up was not as commercially successful relative to earlier releases.
The band did not trouble the chart compilers for several years after that, however in 1976 Brian released a solo project, "15 Big Ones" (the title referring to both the number of tracks and his number of years in the business) which rekindled interest in the band. However they were not able to capitalise on this and the late '70s and early '80s were significant mainly for Dennis' spiralling personal problems, resulting in his untimely death by drowning in 1983. The group remained a popular live act, however and enjoyed a world-record attendance of 750,000 people in Washington DC in 1985. David Lee Roth's cover of "California Girls" and their appearance in the Fat Boys video of "Wipe Out" led to a further resurgence of interest, with the result that the band enjoyed their first number one for 22 years with "Kokomo" in 1988, the same year they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Much of the '90s and '00s was spent resolving legal issues, partly as a result of Brian's mental health issues, however their popularity was always relatively high and in 2012 the Beach Boys embarked on a tour to celebrate their 50th anniversary.
Write-up by chasingthedon
Highest Position: 2nd
When Muse first appeared on the music scene, it's safe to say that not too many people took a great deal of notice to them. Angsty lyrics mixed with thrashing minor-key riffs and Jeff Buckley inspired vocals was all well and good, but to many people it all seemed a bit... familiar. After all, OK Computer had only been released a couple of years before the release of the Devon trio's debut album, Showbiz, and the similarities were merrily and repeatedly paraded by music critics all over. One could see why - terse outbursts of meaty guitar, rippling piano motifs and a vocalist that had a penchant for falsetto similar to Thom Yorke's. "Radiohead boiled down into punkish radio nuggets". Hell, they'd even used the producer from The Bends to produce their album!
It wasn't quite so simple, however. Yes, the vocals were similar, but in most part that was due to Bellamy and Yorke sharing a similar inspiration (Jeff Buckley), and whilst it was true that Showbiz did score quite highly on the Radiohead scale of angst, it was a different sort of angst - angst derived from teenagers living in a dreary, lifeless little English town . More pertinently, however, whilst Radiohead were rapidly moving away from a traditional rock band, Muse were heading towards it. This was instantly evident in their live sets, where they started to build their reputation and open some eyes. Frenzied, aggressive and blatantly catering to the headbanger crowd, this was very much a rock band at its heart. An angry one.
The raw, unprocessed anger that was beginning to build their reputation and their reliance on that rock staple, the riff, was what led to the much greater success of their second album, Origin Of Symmetry. Now Muse's distinctive style was beginning to evolve - complex, distorted guitar meshing with aggressive, wide-ranging vocals, underpinned by driving bass. Moreover, it was very clear that this was a band which was striving for a sound that could only be described as "big". 'Megalomania', for one, was recorded on church organs and, along with the multi-tracked vocals, made no apologies for this fact. "Space Dementia" takes a sample of Rachmaninoff's 2nd Concerto (a piece Muse would base quite a number of songs on) and turns it into driving, intense bass-driven rock. "Plug In Baby" takes part of Bach's Toccata and Fugue and turns it into one of the most recognisable riffs of modern times. Clearly, this was a band with ambition.
And 'ambition' became the keyword when looking at their third album, Absolution, released in 2003. This was most definitely not Radiohead - this was just rock on a collossal scale. That was evident from the opening notes of the album opener, Apocalypse Please, a song built almost entirely of crashing, Rachmaninoff-esque chords and lyrics which more or less reflected the title. There was very little time to be overly subtle or small-scale here, especially not with things like a full-blown piano cadenza thrown in the middle of guitar rock songs (Butterflies and Hurricanes), or the like. Their live performances got suitably larger-scale too, culminating in a no-holds-barred Glastonbury headline performance in 2004 to tens of thousands.
It simply got bigger from there. Black Holes and Revelations shot to #1 in four countries in 2007, and contained some of Muse's most ambitious as well as some of some of their most 'accessible' songs to date. In the latter were songs such as Supermassive Black Hole, featuring dirty, highly distorted guitars fused with a dance-like groove. In the former lay Take A Bow, a synthesiser-based opener with rather foreboding lyrics and Knights Of Cydonia, a six-minute long, a Spanish/Wild West-inspired fusion of space-rock effects on guitars, distorted typical-Muse riffs, a rhythm derived from galloping horses, brass and outright insanity. In many ways it is a song that defines what Muse is - endless ambition, immense scale and absolutely no apologies for the blatant over-the-topness of their style. A style which translated perfectly into the realm of stadium rock, which Muse entered after the release of this album, doing a global tour to packed arenas, headlined festivals and did two shows at the newly-rebuilt Wembley Stadium which sold out tickets in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. Far from being a band that would remain tied to their better-known predecessors, Muse had very much made it as their own, "big" thing.
Now, very little about that has changed. They remain one of the most large-scale bands in the world, effortlessly selling out the largest arenas and a hugely successful stadium tour which featured a setup that could only be matched by U2 in the scale, cost and pretty-lasers department. Their latest album, The Resistance, though in many ways a broadening of their sound into pop and electronic, remains what it always was: heavy, riff-driven rock that draws strongly from Romantic-era classical music with an anti-establishment vibe that lacks no ambition at all. The last three tracks of the album? "Exogenesis: Symphony", 13 minutes all-up of orchestra, piano and space rock which comes far closer to actual classical in inspiration, construction and in concept than most rock bands would ever dream of contemplating.
But then again, Muse has never been afraid to push a few boundaries.
Download these songs: Sunburn, Plug In Baby, Citizen Erased, Stockholm Syndrome, Butterflies And Hurricanes, Supermassive Black Hole, Knights Of Cydonia and MK Ultra
Write-up by Spark
25. The Doors
Highest Position: 8th
I met a man once who was born on the day that Jim Morrison died. He was, apparently, convinced that the soul of the legendary Doors frontman had entered his body during his passage into this life. I never knew him at all well, but did see him often enough to realise that he did genuinely believe he was Morrison's reincarnation. It was of course a quite ridiculous idea, although when he was killed in a road accident on what would have been Morrison's 57th birthday, I did wonder.
But it wasn't just that one individual. In the 1970s the Doors had more than their fair share of fanatical followers, and almost all of them were too young to have been fans in the band's all too short heyday, between 1967 and 1971. There were six studio albums released over that period, classics all. First was an eponymous debut album, followed by "Strange Days", "Waiting for the Sun", "The Soft Parade", "Morrison Hotel" and "LA Woman". The first and last are arguably the best, but there is no real alternative to owning all six.
Although the remaining band members continued for a couple of years after the tragic death of Morrison in Paris in 1971, supposedly from a heroin overdose (although in the absence of an autopsy there has always been controversy about that), the post-Morrison Doors achieved little and can be disregarded.
At least the band had the pleasure of enjoying the fruits of their success while it was happening. Their first single, the well-known "Break On Through (To the Other Side)" was not a bestseller, but its follow-up, the classic "Light my Fire" went to number one. Both tracks came from the debut album. The band had one other single that reached the top of the charts, the slightly less well remembered "Hello I Love You". "Touch Me" was the band's only other top ten hit but other songs like "Love Me Two Times", "The Unknown Soldier" and the haunting finale of the Morrison era, "Riders on the Storm", all enjoyed great success.
Did Morrison's untimely demise seal the status of his band amongst rock's immortals of the sixties? Or did it just rob their fans of a succession of high class material that would have carried them into the 21st century? Given Morrison's continual struggle with alcohol and opiates, and his frequent brushes with the criminal law, it seems likely to me to have been the former, but either way The Doors' musical legacy is a compelling one.
Write-up by fredfertang
24. Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Highest Position: 1st
More polarising than a sledger multi, these blokes are simultaneously one of the most loved and one of the most hated bands of their generation. In my experience, you either love them or you run from the room screaming.
Part of this is probably the variable nature of their music. One minute Kiedis is belting out an eight minute *** rap as crudely as possible and then he's telling us all about how drugs are bad with an acoustic ballad, and then next song no one is quite sure what exactly he is talking about. Acoustic ballads, stadium rock, funk, rap, pop and random wtf songs like If are going to attract a wide variety of listeners and clashing tastes.
They were mainstays of the California underground for years in the eighties before hitting it big with their fifth release Blood Sugar *** Magik, a record that sits comfortably in my top ten albums of all time.
In saying that, I always prefer to listen to this band live over studio recordings. I love the change ups, jams and other variations they add to their songs when they have an audience. They sure know how to put a show on.
John Frusciante's influence on the band's sound and success while he was with them is already well said elsewhere. He is one hell of a guitarist. I do think though, that Flea and Chad deserve more credit than they usually get. Flea's bass lines are always infectious and Chad can drum like a beast.
If you like an entertaining read, Kiedis's autobiography Scar Tissue is great fun. Bloke is nuts.
Write-up by Flem274*
23. The Who
Highest Position: 1st
“Maximum R’n’B” was the byline of The Who in the mid 1960s. They began their career with a series of hit singles such as “My Generation”, “I Can’t Explain” and “Substitute”, but the group, and particularly the main songwriter Pete Townshend, never wanted to be pigeon-holed as a singles band, and towards the end of the 1960s it became clear that they had greater plans.
In 1968 the rock opera “Tommy” emerged, based around the story of a deaf, dumb and blind “Pinball Wizard”. Tommy received huge critical acclaim, although I have to confess it has always, for me at least, been some way from being the band’s best work. It does however remain a landmark achievement in rock music, and is justifiably revered as a result.
A second such project, “Lifehouse”, never saw the light of day, although the best material from it emerged in the 1971 album “Who’s Next” which, in my book, vies with 1975’s “The Who by Numbers” for the accolade of Townshend’s finest hour. Despite the enduring appeal of the ultimate expression of Maximum "R’n’B", the classic “Substitute”, “Baba O’Riley” from Who’s Next gets my vote as Townshend’s single greatest contribution to rock music.
1973 saw the appearance of Townshend’s other major project, “Quadrophenia”, a tale of Jimmy the Mod, and the recurring theme of the battle between the Mods and Rockers that was waged, on an occasional basis, throughout the mid 1960s and which was briefly revitalised in 1979 in the wake of the release of the superb movie that starred Phil Daniels in the role of Jimmy, and Sting as “The Ace Face”. Certainly to this writer Quadrophenia far outstripped Tommy on all fronts, and songs such as “5.15” and “Love Reign O'er Me” are right up there with the band's best work.
And then there was the largely forgotten Who By Numbers – why it is so often overlooked is beyond me. Perhaps it is the fact that it spawned a hit single, “Squeezebox”, that was somewhat lightweight, but that apart the other nine tracks on the album are all superb and, 35 years on, do not, as with all of Townshend’s best work, sound in any way dated.
There were three more albums in 1978, 1981 and 1982 but like so many of his contemporaries, and indeed successors, as Townshend moved into his 30s he could no longer touch the heights that he did in his pomp. None of "Who Are You", "Face Dances" and "It's Hard" were dreadful, but at the same time they contained nothing outstanding and the band were clearly on the decline.
In 1983 Townshend left and, their creative figurehead gone, that was effectively the end of The Who. Original drummer Keith Moon, one of rock music’s most outrageous characters, had died in 1979, and in 2002 original bassist John “The Ox” Entwhistle also departed this mortal coil. For Moon an early death was surely inevitable for the man who, more than any other epitomised the sort of man Townshend must have had in mind 13 years earlier, when he penned the famous line from My Generation - "I hope I die before I get old"
So there were only Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey left when “Endless Wire”, an album of new material that was released more than two decades later in 2006 appeared. Again it was a reasonable effort, and demonstrated Townshend’s skills and versatility but, of course, it could not reproduce the edge that he had in his 20s when, for a time, he was as influential a songwriter as rock music has seen.
Write-up by fredfertang
Highest Position: 3rd
Metallica was my avenue for anger. And the band seemed to play to this emotion almost they knew there was a niche market for it. These lines from Wasting my Hate seem tailor made:
“Ain't gonna waste my hate
Ain't gonna waste my hate on you
I think I'll keep it for myself”
Metallica has evolved from a Hard core heavy metal band with Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets, to a hard rock band with the Black Album, to a rock band with Load and Reload, and then more recently has tried to go back to a harder edge.
When enter the Sandman and the Black Album was released it took them more mainstream. “The album (the black album) was a massive crossover hit, bringing Metallica firmly into the mainstream, and it was with this album that the band first encountered significant accusations of having "sold out." Charges of selling out would follow Metallica throughout the 1990s. These cries intensified with Load but for each disappointed headbanger that regarded Load as Metallica's worst offering, there was a new listener who had been grabbed by it and saw it as their best.” source Biography of Metallica bio, history, career, evolution, heavy metal music
Sandman was one of those songs you just couldn’t get enough of when it came out. My brother claimed he went to the local 7/Eleven two days after it came out and saw two rough as guts guys in a White Van in the parking lot repeatedly playing Enter the Sandman on loop and blasting their horn three times while they rewound the cassette.
For fans their documentary as they made their St Anger album is a must see. The band comes across as being incredibly intelligent and well spoken . They picked their new bassist on the documentary in part because he picked the song battery for the try outs as opposed to some of the newer stuff IMO.
The first time I saw them the song I enjoyed the most was One Metallica - One - YouTube The lighting was fantastic flashing like gun shots during the staccato delivery of these lines
Darkness imprisoning me
All that I see
I cannot live
I cannot die
Trapped in myself
Body my holding cell
The second time I saw them was with my deaf friend. He said he could feel the vibrations go through him and that is how he enjoyed the music.
Final word goes to Flea :
“1984, I was on tour with my band, somewhere in the middle of America. It was around 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. We're all crammed into our van, with all our equipment. It was raining. We were tired, we'd been on the road. And this music comes on the radio. I couldn't believe that it existed. My mind was being blown by this beautiful violence that was unlike anything I'd ever heard before.
It wasn't punk rock. It wasn't heavy metal. It was precise and explosive and heavy. It was aggressive and intense, and it had these really wild and bizarre rhythm changes. But it still held together as a bitchin'-ass song. I was singin' along with it by the end, though it certainly wasn't using any conventional pop-song pattern that I had ever heard. That song was "Fight Fire With Fire." And it opened up my mind to the mighty force of nature that is Metallica.”
Read more: 100 Greatest Artists: Metallica | Rolling Stone
Write-up by Hurricane
21. Pearl Jam
Highest Position: 1st
Key Album: Ten (1991)
Noted Songs: Alive (1991 - Ten) Rearviewmirror (1993 - Vs) Spin The Black Circle (1994 - Vitalogy)
Closely linked to the early 90's Grunge Movement, Pearl Jam have managed to outlive their contemporaries, and with 9 albums (all making the Billboard top 5), 60 million sales and a whole host of awards, can rightfully claim to be one of the top rock bands of modern times.
Coming to prominence with the rise of the 'Seattle Sound' in 1991, debut album Ten propelled the band to stardom. With a sound more influenced by Rock classics such as The Who, Neil Young (who they later collaborated with on his album Mirror Ball) and Hendrix, Ten didn't quite make the splash the likes of Nirvana did, and took over a year to reach no 2 on the Hot 100. That was not an issue for their follow up, with Vs selling close to a million copies in its first week.
However at this time Pearl Jam's legacy for putting the fans before the fortune began. A long running boycott of Ticketmaster and their venues, due to their price fixing and handling charges on fans, affected their public prominence. Their refusal to create music video's after Jeremy also kept them out of the limelight. The band are known for releasing sanctioned bootlegs of almost every gig they do since 2000, and freely allow fans to record their own copies at gigs. Its this devotion to their fans which has kept them at the forefront of rock music for 20 years.
Write-up by cpr