Thursday, August 17, 2006

WXPN's 885 Greatest Artists Of All Time

WXPN, 88.5 FM, public radio from the University of Pennsylvania, is asking listeners to vote for their ten favorite artists of all time. This is the third year in a row that WXPN has asked their listeners to participate in one of their fun polls. Two years ago we voted for our ten favorite all time songs for the 885 Greatest Songs Of All Time, and last year we voted for our ten favorite albums for the station's 885 Greatest Albums Of All Time, a radio event that was even more enjoyable. This year’s artist poll may not top last year’s three week countdown but I’m still looking forward to it.

Here is how the voting works. Your favorite artist receives ten points, number two gets nine points, and so on down the line. This year the station has expanded the voting by allowing fans to post an additional ten entries who will all receive one point. Vote by visiting the station's Official Website.

I’m sure many voters will decide how to best compile their lists using different criteria. I have set two guidelines for myself. Any artist who has no more than three studio albums to their name can not be ranked as among the greatest of all time because of their meager total output. For instance, as much as I love Los Lonely Boys only two studio CDs their body of work is not large enough to judge their total worth. How do we know if they will do anything significant beyond these two albums? The other rule I am using in compiling my list is that each artist must be able to place at least two of their albums on my personal, mythical, 100 Greatest Albums Of All Time list.

After the voting concludes I'll post the results and how my choices fared.

So with out further comment here are my annotated picks for my top 10, my listing of numbers 11-20 in alphabetical order, and a list of other artists who mean a lot to me, some who may have made my list on another day.

1. The Beatles – So much has been written about the former Fab Four that it would be redundant to add anything more here. To quote the All Music Guide, "a substandard Beatles record is better than almost any other group's best work." This band simply was the best!

2. The Beach Boys - As great as their early and mid-60s beach and car songs were most people have never even heard their best music. With only a couple of exceptions their albums, beginning with Pet Sounds in 1966 through Holland in 1973, are some of their very best.

3. Stevie Wonder - Wonder is one of the most eclectic, melodic, and innovative composers and musicians in pop music history. He deserves this ranking based on his 70s output alone even though his 60s "Little" Stevie Wonder period produced some fine pop hits and his 80s output, for which he was often criticized, is underrated. Whether he was playing jazz, funk, pop, or romantic love songs, few people, if any, can do as much as Wonder does and do it well. For the entire decade of the 70s the man had few peers.

4. Chicago - This vote is for their first eleven albums only. I never believed Chicago got their due when they were at their peak. Their decline may have started with VIII in 1975 but after Terry Kath died, and James William Guercio was dismissed as producer 3 years later, it all fell completely apart quickly. Listen to those early albums again. You will never convince me that Robert Lamm couldn’t write songs, or that Kath couldn’t play guitar, or that the horn section couldn’t be jazzmen when they tried. From 1975 and onward they consistently set their sites too low and they suffered for it. See the Album by Album Analysis of the Terry Kath Era.

5. Jackson Browne - The late rock critic Lillian Roxon once called Jackson Browne, "the sad sack of rock n' roll." It's a fitting description but he still managed to let some fun shine through his early music. He is a much better stage performer than his albums would lead one to believe. His concerts are what reeled me in.

6. Billy Joel - I never could figure out why the critics hated Joel. While some may have thought he was a lightweight his lyrics often contained insights I believe rock critics would love. Works such as "Summer Highland Falls," "Goodnight Saigon," "I've Loved These Days," and of course his signature song "Piano Man," all conjur up vivid images while listening to them. Hugely underrated!

7. Michelle Shocked - Shocked has said she considers herself an activist first and a musician second but she is much better at her second career. As with all of the artists on this list musical diversity is a hallmark of her catalogue. Beginning with her wonderful first offical album, Short Sharp Shocked eighteen years ago to the three CDs she issued together last year in a package called Threesome, most of Shocked's work has been superlative. Shocked is great in concert too.

8. Black 47 - Led by singer-songwriter and Irish immigrant Larry Kirwan Black 47 plays a loud mixture of reggae, Celtic folk music, and punk rock punctuated by Irish revolutionary politics. If you can visualize Bob Marley and the Wailers, The Chieftans, and The Clash all playing on stage together in the same band, you get the idea. To find out more of what this great band is all about see my interview with Larry Kirwan.

9. Blackthorn - Blackthorn is a hugely popular, Philadelphia based Celtic-rock band virtually unknown outside of the area but they deserve large scale national success. They have released five CDs. They are adept at covering classic Irish rock or writing and recording their own excellent songs. Larry Kirwan calls himself a fan and even wrote liner notes for one of their CDs. They are far more mainstream than Black 47.

10. Mark Knopfler - There are three Mark Knopflers: Dire Straits, the singer-songwriter, and the soundtrack composer. He excels at each. From the very beginning, with Dire Straits and "Sultans Of Swing," to his most recent album dueting with Emmylou Harris, Knopfler proves he can do anything he wants to musically. For pure guitar playing there is no one better.

Since each of these artists only get one vote a piece here are my second 10 listed in alphabetical order:

11. The Allman Brothers Band
12. Joan Baez
13. Nat King Cole
14. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (I wish I could have worked them into my Top 10)
15. The Eagles
16. Los Lobos
17. Poco
18. Elvis Presley
19. Bruce Springsteen
20. Steely Dan

Finally, deep apologies to all of you semi-finalists who were considered for my list.

Blood, Sweat & Tears
Dave Brubeck
The Byrds
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Del Amitri
John Eddie
Duke Ellington
Ella Fitzgerald
The Four Tops
Benny Goodman
Billie Holiday
The Hooters
Shelby Lynne
Sly and The Family Stone
The Mamas & The Papas
Glenn Miller
Peter, Paul & Mary
Kim Richey
The Saw Doctors
The Supremes
James Taylor
Lucinda Williams
World Party

1 comment:

  1. Charlie,

    I just did my top 10 picks:

    1) Toto (both Toto and Chicago released new albums in 2006-- Falling in Between was fantastic, XXX put me to sleep, here's a band that's been around 29 years and isn't afraid to keep taking chances and stretch themselves musically)
    2) Chicago (for much the same reasons they made your list)
    3) Dream Theater (the Godfathers of Progressive Heavy Metal. Not too many other groups blend elements of jazz and classical music with metal)
    4) Billy Joel (probably the most accomplished American pop songwriter)
    5) Asia (They put out 3 great albums in the early 80s. The church choir-esque vocals the stunning guitar work of Steve Howe and Mandy Meyer, Carl Palmer on drums, Geoff Downes on keys... but best of all John Wetton on vocals)
    6) Bad Company (Paul Rodgers is one of the best vocalists in rock & roll history, they'd be higher on the list but when it came to lyrics they weren't as good as some of those I rated higher on the list)
    7) Sons of Champlin (They'd have been rated much higher if not for their lengthy hiatus and some "missteps" in the 70s)
    8) Little River Band (Australia's answer to the Eagles. A bit more laidback and mellow, and the vocal harmonies are, I daresay, a bit tighter than the Eagles were)
    9) Hunters & Collectors (Little known outside their native Australia-- this was one kick ass pub band with horns. Their songs are full of piss and vitriol. Mark Seymour's impassioned gritty vocals and a tight rhythm section that grabs by the balls and doesn't let go)
    10) Quicksilver Messenger Service (the late John Cipollina is one of the most underrated guitarists in Rock & Roll history, listening to some of their lengthy jam instrumentals shows just that)

    Honorable mentions (in no particular order):
    Jimmy Barnes
    REO Speedwagon
    Cold Chisel
    Al Kooper
    The Firm
    King Crimson
    Emerson Lake & Palmer+