|Call this a sequel to my "five worst" editorial. I wouldn't want to hear it said that I focus exclusively on the negative. Needless to say, a list like this is going to be terribly subjective. Everybody's list looks a little different. However, if you aren't familiar with an artist listed here, consider them a must-listen. One note before I continue: many of you may notice that the Beatles are conspicuously absent. Truth be told, this is simply because I have heard all of their songs so many times, whether i wanted to or not, that I have lost all interest.
10. Stone Temple Pilots
Many a critic is gnashing his teeth as I write this. Why? Because a band that looked for all the world like a poor man's Pearl Jam developed into an innovative, honest, unique, melodic and extraordinary band, equal parts metal, glam rock and psychedelic pop. Oh yeah, I forgot; they did it all in the space of one album. As time passes and consistently fine albums float by in the wake of "Purple", the elitist critics who obstinately refused to give STP their dues are starting to look more and more like they've been missing out.
9. Led Zeppelin
I could go on for ages about the tremendous influence Led Zeppelin have had on the course of rock music. Also, I could go on for ages about the phenomenal gifts of the Zeppelin crew, especially insofar as guitar and drums. However, I will content myself with saying that their music still sounds like it was custom built for soccer stadiums, all these decades later. Zeppelin were also a versatile, ambitious and hardworking band. Their albums are a legacy of solid gold.
8. Bruce Cockburn
Bruce Cockburn has had his share and more of artistic errors. That dreadful period of caribean pop in the eighties, for example. Usually, though, he's combining the best acoustic guitarwork that you will EVER hear with great charisma and songwriting, to say nothing of his earnest activist politics. "The Charity of Night" alone is as matchless a piece of folk/singer songwriter/rock/jazz music as you will ever hear.
7. T-Model Ford
Apologies to BB King, but to me, T-Model embodies the blues. Angry, raw, strange and totally earnest, he must be the best bluesman to ever get his start at age 75. There's nothing even remotely slick or contrived here, and T-Model only works with the best. That is to say, surviving blues legends from the delta and a rotating cast of fine, stripped back drummers. What's that, you don't like the blues? No, my friend, you only think you don't like it. Chances are, after one listen to "Pee-Wee Get My Gun", you won't be able to STOP listening to it.
6. King's X
King's X have earned their obscurity. In their early days, before bass player and singer Ty Gabor renounced christianity, there was a lot of overtly christian verbage in their music. The band was always totally accessible, but their anthemic, positive spiritual vibe scared the hell out of disk jockeys who wanted more than the ridiculously catchy "It's Love". Since, the band has evolved into the most sophisticated act ever to be ignored by the mainstream. Essentially, they're what happens when you put three very talented, skilled heavy metal musicians in a room, make them develop their deepest and most personal thoughts into lyrics then throw in great harmonies and melodies to boot. Nowhere else does hard music have this much class.
5. The Cult
The sporadically successful hard rock duo of singer Ian Astbury and guitarist Bill Duffy dates all the way back to the 70's. Their trademark is simply this: they employ the best backup musicians money can buy, then write the most over the top lyrics and biggest riffs in the business. Astbury (a practicing buhdist)'s bellowing singing style has earned the band a substancial cadre of irrate critics. This is not always unjustified. It's an on and off partnership, but when it's on the duo epitomize the kind of timeless hard rock first attempted by Zeppelin. So, why isn't Zeppelin farther up on the list? Because even they never wrote as tremendous a riff or lyric as you'll find in abundance on songs like "War" or "Little Devil". Their best album? It's hard to say. Beginners should go with "Love", "Electric" or "Beyond Good and Evil".
4. Van Halen
Firstly, Eddie Van Halen just may be the best guitarist in rock. More technically skilled than Hendrix, more influential than BB King, more versatile than Clapton. Secondly, David Lee Roth may be the deffinitive metal frontman, with lyrical cleverness and vocal gusto to rival Bon Scott. (I cannot stress enough that nothing produced after the departure of Lee Roth should be considered real Van Halen. With a much more synth ridden, commercial approach and a poor man's Lee Roth at the helm-I have nothing against Sammy Hagar, but David Lee Roth he ain't by a long shot-Van Halen's rhythm section and live show began to slip. The albums became less consistent and began to include filler). Finally, 1984 was the best album of the eighties. It inspired the entire, terrible hair metal genre. OK, so it didn't do us any favours, but it was just that good. Get the remastered version, and play it loud.
I'm willing to conceed that there was a period in the eighties when AC/DC was putting out poor records and putting all of their focus on touring. I also know for a fact that these albums were not as bad as many a critic would have it and that "Stiff Upper Lip" alone compensated for all of those half cocked records. Anyway, "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap", "Highway To Hell" and "Back In Black" are all important rock classics for a reason. No matter who was doing the singing (both Bon Scott and Brian Johnson are fine, charismatic singers) the band wrote the best hard rock riffs of their day, the most strutting and cleverest lyrics. What's even more important in that they knew how to frame their songs rhythmically so that they had maximum power, diguising the fact that the music was essentially barebones. They were their generation's answer to the Rolling Stones, but they were much more influential and a good deal more original. They could stand toe to toe with Mick Jagger and crew, because they'd found an even better way to interpret the blues. The recipe? Add power, strip it down and arrange it carefully until what you get shake's your foundations. Keep in mind, this is a band that has released a ton of albums and only ever recorded ONE ballad. Talk about believing in rock n' roll.
As a member of Judas Priest, Rob Halford was as influential as anyone in the development of heavy metal. You name it, he did it first. What's more, his phenomenally versatile voice could sometimes attain levels of sound so high pitched as to peel the paint off of a Jaguar. He's the best, insofar as metal vocalist's go. If he wanted to, he could have done opera. Nevertheless, the rest of Priest was not always a very worthy band. Furthermore, he had difficulty with lyrics. Problem soved with his exit from 'Priest, and the formation of Halford. The instrumental work here is universally exellent, especially the drumming. Meanwhile, a combination of layered production qualities and autobiographical lyrics (Halford has experienced a lot of crap as a result of being gay in the traditionally very conservative metal environment) gave us both his best singing and his best songs to date on his superb "Resurrection" album. "Crucible" was a worthy follow up. Simply put, this is the very best metal made since the invention on digital watches. Don't miss out.
1. The Tragically Hip
Let me put this simply. The Tragically Hip are the best band there has ever been. They have the best bass riffs and most powerful drummer. They have the best duo of guitarists and the best guitar compositions. Most importantly, they have the best songwriter and the best live show. Gord Downie's live lyrical improvisation, character acting and storytelling via music are just some of the more immediate outlets for his tremendous lyrical genious and energy. He's the deffinitive songwriter of our age, accurately described by allmusic.com as a "poetic madman". The Hip's live show is unbelievably tight and powerful, despite constant variations in the way any given song is played. Meanwhile, the Hip's albums are consistently excellent affairs, meticulously recorded as the bad continues to evolve and stay vital with every release. The Hip have so many incredible songs that durring any particularly long set of bulletproof material they are bound to omit an enormous number of great pieces. The best band there is, and just think; if you've been listening to american comercial radio these past few years you'd have totally missed out. A good place to start? Just about any of their albums will do. However, I would recomend that the unintiated stay clear of the Hip's first, self titles LP and "Music at Work". MaW is a fine album, but unusually layered and dense. It's the Hip's least accessible, most insular album. The LP is mostly very formative material, only really of interest to the collector. Insofar as the rest of their albums go, you really can't miss with any of them.