Saturday, July 31, 2010


I'm done with this. Feel free to investigate these artists at your pleasure.

15. Frank Sinatra
14. James Brown
13. Fats Domino
12. Hank Williams
11. Miles Davis
10. Rogers and Hammerstein
9. Bessie Smith
8. Woody Guthrie
7. Robert Johnson
6. Louis Armstrong
5. Ray Charles
4. George Gershwin
3. Bob Dylan
2. Elvis Presley
1. Aaron Copland

Thursday, July 29, 2010


20. Irving Berlin

Berlin took the volume approach to fame: he wrote 1,500 songs. Some of them had to be hits.

But more than 'some' became hits. He became the most important American songwriter of the 20th century. Popular music would be a vastly different place without him. He's the only artist on the list not born in the U.S. He is so quintessential there's no getting around his inclusion.

He started with ragtime, and 'Alexander's Ragtime Band' became a world-wide smash. This was a major national development. Gershwin states, "by introducing and perfecting ragtime he had actually given us the first germ of an American musical idiom." He was nominated for numerous Academy Awards, the tail end of a show tune legacy begun in the age of the Follies. His scores range from 'Annie Get Your Gun' to the Marx Brothers. He gave us 'Blue Skies,' 'White Christmas' and put on the Ritz. It would be tremendously exciting if there is ever again such a songwriter in the next century. Exciting, but perhaps unlikely.

Key tracks: Alexander's Ragtime Band (1911), There's No Business Like Show Business (1946), God Bless America (1938), which show the astounding range of a man who kept up with every trend.

Alexander's Ragtime Band

There's No Business Like Show Business

God Bless America

19. Chuck Berry

I tend to think that three people invented rock: Bo Diddley, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry. But for longevity and on-going relevance there's only Berry.

The electric guitar came out of jazz (Charlie Christian, for example). Bo Diddley let his guitar show off, and Berry established it as the rock instrument it is now. He gave the guitar solos and brought rock and roll out as distinct from rhythm and blues. And invented how to be a rock star.

His type of songs dominated rock until the Beatles: songs of teen romance and consumerism. Berry will forever be tied to fast cars, high school, and jukeboxes. It was a formula, but it worked very well for nearly 30 top hits (about equal to Elvis). No matter. Berry is still performing and duck-walking to his classics, forever secure with the knowledge that he made rock and roll move. They're all indebted to him, and know it.

Key tracks: Maybellene (1955), Roll Over Beethoven (1956), Johnny B. Goode (1958), which celebrate car chases, the new teen sound, and the democratic potential of Rock and Roll.


Roll Over Beethoven

Johnny B. Goode

18. Muddy Waters

T Bone Walker created electric blues and took it to L.A. Muddy Waters amplified it and took it to Chicago.

Too bad for T Bone. In American music there are certain places that are the hubs of musical development: New York, San Francisco, Nashville, Detroit - they all have their legacies. For Chicago it's blues, and for Chicago it's Muddy Waters. Muddy is probably the most influential bluesman of the second half of the century.

Muddy Waters more than anyone else was an inspiration for the British Blues explosion. Chicago blues, for many, is redundant: there simply is no other kind. Most of the best come from Chicago, and owe something to Waters either directly for their careers or for paving the way. His classic songs are simple pieces of struttin'. Waters' music will be around so long as bravado and blues go together: always.

Key tracks: Hoochie Coochie Man (1954), I Can't Be Satisfied (1948), Rock Me (1956), which let him brag and simmer.

Hoochie Coochie Man

I Can't Be Satisfied

Rock Me

17. Ella Fitzgerald

Ella's songbook interpretations are the starting point for many. She is the foremost vocalist of her type.

"With a vocal range spanning three octaves, she was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing and intonation, and a 'horn-like' improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing." Her voice is incomparable. Music critics worldwide cite her accuracy as the best ever. Period.

Ella recorded all the best with most of the best. She found a musical soul mate in Louis Armstrong, matching her voice to his. Their rendition of 'Porgy and Bess' shows off Fitzgerald's incredible abilities. To call her a jazz singer is a little limiting: she could take on anything that came her way.

Key tracks: Oh Lady Be Good, How High the Moon (1947), Someone to Watch Over Me (1950), which give a slight glimpse of her prodigious talent.

Oh Lady Be Good

How High the Moon

Someone to Watch Over Me

16. Jimi Hendrix

Hendrix was America's best guitarist. He was also one of the best rock stars.

"Jimi Hendrix is one of those extraordinary hubs of music where everybody lands at some point." Hendrix has as much cred in blues as psychedelic rock. He had the technical prowess and the crazy sound effects. His songs are all over the map: but all purely Hendrix. Few can pull that off.

He was the most talented of the American psychedelic singers. Electric Ladyland lets him jam out in ways that no one else had ever tried, or thought of. Much can be made of his eccentricities (upside-down and backwards playing, flaming guitar, fashion) but that would lose sight of his masterful abilities. As a man who could write blues as effectively as pop, rock out and do stuff so out there it was inimitable, Hendrix will remain a musical cornerstone.

Key tracks: Purple Haze (1967), All Along the Watchtower (1968), Star-Spangled Banner (1969), which are amongst his best shorter works.
Purple Haze
All Along the Watchtower
Star-Spangled Banner


25. Patsy Cline

Even those who don't like country surrender to Patsy Cline. It's a fitting legacy for a performer who herself surrendered to a genre she didn't care for: pop.

Cline's early recordings sound like Judy Garland is trying to be a cowgirl. She provides show tune-style finishes to sweet little ballads. Eventually she figured out the pattern of her hits: more tuned to cocktail dresses than spurs. For better or worse Cline brought country further away from Hank Williams and closer towards the mainstream.

She had been a regular on the Grand Old Opry, but she also brought country women to places they'd not been before: Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl and a show in Vegas. For the latter she was willing to undergo another costume change: sequins. But that's why Cline endures; she would adapt to anything so she could get her voice out there. Her tragically premature death at her fame's height leaves the obvious question as to what boundaries she would have crossed next.

Key tracks: Walkin' After Midnight (1957), I Fall to Pieces, and Crazy (1961), which are her best known ballads.
Walkin' After Midnight
I Fall to Pieces

24. Billie Holiday

She insisted people call her 'Lady'. She changed how jazz is sung.

Billie Holiday is well recognized these days for her voice. It wasn't a particularly strong voice. She used that great voice, however, to change vocal phrasing and tempo. Not only that, but she gives herself away with the amount of emotion she imbues in her songs.

For those accomplishments alone she would be a classic. Those developments allow for the careers of plenty of artists as varied as Sinatra (phrasing and tempo) and Joplin (a weak voice getting by on emotion). Further, still, her songs have become part of the American standards collection. Most jazz singers have to cover a Holiday song practically as a right of passage. They can try all they want: they'll never match the Lady's performances.

Key tracks: God Bless the Child (1941), Strange Fruit (1939), and You Go to My Head (1952), which provide a range of interesting takes.

God Bless the Child
Strange Fruit

You Go to My Head

23. John Williams

Williams is the best American film composer. His soundtracks, instantly recognizable, have become the model that most composers try and follow.

It helps that Williams has worked with two of the most successful directors: Lucas and Spielberg. But it's honestly questionable how successful some of those classics would have been without their music. Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park - each is immediately identifiable by its music. The music, indeed, is as iconic as the visuals.

Williams has plenty of accolades and achievements to back up his credentials: Kennedy Center Honors, millions of dollars, twenty-one Grammys, and the second-most Academy Award nominations ever. He is the best in his field.

Key tracks: The Raiders March (Indiana Jones Theme) (1981), The Imperial March (1980), and The Theme from Schindler's List (1993), which are instantly recognized the world over.
The Raiders March
The Imperial March
The Theme from Schindler's List

22. Aretha Franklin

Franklin has become more than an artist. She has been elevated into an American icon.

For most of American history Aretha Franklin would have been the absolute antithesis of success. She achieved that success singing and accompanying herself on piano: not exactly an original combination. She achieved that success during the 1960s when talent was abounding and competition particularly fierce. She did it by honestly emphasizing who she was: a talented young black woman.

Franklin blended her gospel roots and impeccable sense of arrangement into an R&B revolution. There had been talented black gospel singers and jazz singers. But she broke through into soul and R&B in a way women previously hadn't. She has become a living national treasure: for many a civil rights figure as elementary as Rosa Parks, for artists an inspiration and high water mark.

Key tracks: Respect (1967), Chain of Fools, and A Natural Woman (1968), which emphasize everything that is associated with Franklin's career.
Chain of Fools
A Natural Woman

21. Sam Cooke

Cooke provided the songs. As soul singers go he was the best.

That's why everyone copied his songs: Redding, Franklin and all the rest. Cooke's songs were some of the best written in the century. His love songs are a cut above. Besides these, 'A Change is Gonna Come' became the civil rights anthem. Cooke was great in that he could be put in a studio with oodles of strings or whip up a crowd on the chitlin circuit.

Two very different documents give a full picture of Cooke's abilities. Portrait of a Legend shows off Cooke in the studio with all of his popular hits. Live at the Harlem Square Club puts him in front of a live crowd with the polish removed and sounding more like James Brown. Cooke's career was cut short far too soon. But his songs will keep bringing joy for ages to come.

Key tracks: Somebody Have Mercy (1963), Cupid (1961), and A Change Is Gonna Come (1964), which allows Cooke to shine in studio and live.
Somebody Have Mercy
A Change Is Gonna Come


29. Henry Mancini

We can't forget that the 20th century was also the century of film. But where would those films be without music?

He started with monster movies in the 1950s, generating the now well-accepted standards of what to do when the creature is approaching, or an ominous development occurs. Working with Blake Edwards he was able to show off his versatility for scores from pop to jazz. Looking back Mancini did a fair bit, better or worse, to bridge the gap between those two.

"Mancini was nominated for an unprecedented 72 Grammys." And 18 Academy Awards. The soundscape of the 1960s would have been very different without him. He helped to ensure that 'incidental' music became 'indispensable'.

Key tracks: Moon River (1962) and The Pink Panther Theme (1963), which were instant classics.

Moon River
The Pink Panther Theme

28. Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder was the best. The classic years of Wonder's career are to be held up as one of the more impressive musical achievements of the century.

Given that this incredible output was in the middle of one of music's more incredible decades adds to the remarkable nature of the undertaking. Wonder won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1973, 74, and 76 (releasing no album in 1975). Before his 'classic' period he already had a series of great hits under his belt. ('Uptight', 'My Cherie Amour', 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours' et al.)

Those classic albums, though, are legendary for good reason. Wonder's songwriting and lyricism are superb. His arrangements are inspired. He can jam on a groove for ten minutes, or he can quickly tour through fifteen genres in fifteen tracks. Innervisions, I think, is the best of this lot: and considering that Wonder's songs are personal such an endorsement isn't out of place. If you prefer Talking Book or Songs in the Key of Life that's okay - they're all brilliant.

Key tracks: Superstition (1972) and Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing (1973), which are inescapably groovy.

Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing

27. John Coltrane

Coltrane was at the eye of the storm. He was there when it all went down: and since he was one of the best he got to direct which way it would go.

Three albums give a good picture of Coltrane. Starting with Blue Train you get a picture of an artist who has mastered hard bop. Giant Steps show off his signature 'sheets of sound' and some harmonic dexterity now named after him, 'Coltrane changes'. If that weren't enough (helping to reconcieve one of music's oldest concepts) he then recorded A Love Supreme.

Supreme puts 'Trane in the land of modal jazz (a realm in which there are but two masters). It is also one of the most moving and finest albums to come from the jazz world. Afterwards he continued into the world of free jazz, and thrived there as well.

Key tracks: Blue Train (1957) and Acknowledgement (1965), which display one of the catchiest hooks ever and a supremely beautiful composition.

Blue Train


26. Duke Ellington

Ellington was one of the finest composers of the 20th century, period. Jazz would have been entirely different without his contributions.

Jazz had been dancing music before Ellington. And that's okay. But Ellington approached jazz like a classical composer and elevated it to a new prominence. He wrote voluminously and is the most recorded of all jazz figures. Of all the jazz composers and performers none reflects the special time of the Harlem Renaissance like Ellington.

The Duke made a point of saying that his was 'American Music' - his music wasn't just for a small group of people in New York City. Like Basie he lead his band for fifty years, leaving a collection of studio and live performances that evolve and keep experimenting. He was one of the first to explicitly blend in Spanish and African elements. Picking up on the sounds he encountered travelling he would release an album such as Far East Suite and further expand and broaden his band's musical horizons.

Key tracks: Mood Indigo (1930) and Take the 'A' Train (1941), which shows off an intimate and big band take on two of his most recognized hits.
Mood Indigo
Take the 'A' Train


34. The Everly Brothers

The Everly Brothers did two things: they helped meld country and rock into 'skiffle' and they established how harmonies are supposed to sound.

Paul Simon easily acknowledges the debt Simon and Garfunkel had to the Brothers, as have the Beatles and Beach Boys. Considering that is probably the harmonizing line-up that's saying something. As duos go they are amongst the most successful.

The Everly Brothers haven't, it doesn't seem, shared the same long-term popularity as some of the others from the late '50s. That's a shame because, based solely on talent, the Everlys were around the top of the pack. They didn't stay at the top of the charts back then for nothing.

Key tracks: Bye Bye Love (1957) and All I Have to Do Is Dream (1958), which showcase their harmonies.

Bye Bye Love

All I Have to Do Is Dream

33. Count Basie

Scott McCloud pointed out that Basie understood the importance of negative space. Albeit, it in sonic, rather than visual, terms.

Considering Basie lead band for 50 years this may seem like an odd assessment. But the assessment isn't of the band, but the man. The band works their tails off, Basie solos for a few simple bars, and the crowd goes nuts. Basie balanced his band with small flourishes and solos.

He recorded with just about everyone (except Armstrong). He heaped on large helpings of blues into his jump style, and helped blur those distinctions. He stayed pertinent past the jump and jitterbug, through swing, and well into bop. Basie retained, and grew, his popularity as years went on. No Goodman or Miller could make such claims for their careers.

Key tracks: One O' Clock Jump (1937) and April in Paris (1955), which show off Basie and his band.

One O' Clock Jump

April in Paris

32. Johnny Cash

Cash defies categorization. Rock n rollers and country types both want to claim him as their own.

But Cash's roots are of Sun Records stuff: pure rockabilly, like Perkins et al. Cash started to be more of a pure country act, perhaps, when he began touring prisons. To his credit At Folsom Prison remains one of the best live albums ever laid down in any genre.

Cash tried many sounds while cyclically returning to roots and rockabilly. Finally, in the 1990s Cash, like Dylan, benefited from a resurgence in popularity and proved that nothing was taboo for recording: a later cover of Trent Reznor's 'Hurt' sounds like a bizarre joke, but is a beautiful execution.

Key tracks: I Walk the Line (1956) and Folsom Prison Blues (1968 ver.), which are typically Cash.

I Walk the Line

Folsom Prison Blues

31. Nat King Cole

Before Cole was a crooner, and one the best, he was a jazz pianist. And one of the best.

Jazz can be pictured a number of ways: big bands in full swing, divas in cocktail lounges, and all degrees in between. Cole created what first comes to my mind: the jazz trio: guitar, bass and piano. With some tweaking you have the basis of most small jazz groups that have flourished ever since. This development was when big bands were still popular: Cole stuck it out and insisted a small set would sell big.

Then, of course, you have the man's baritone. As a singer Cole is head and shoulders above most of the competition. He recorded voluminously when he learned he was dying: and people ate it up. He is still considered one of the most popular entertainers of the last hundred years, and that honor shows no sign of disappearing.

Key tracks: Just You, Just Me (1957) and Unforgettable (1951), which represent both the trio and the voice.

Just You, Just Me


30. Michael Jackson

It's funny: the two most obvious pop icons both came out the 1980s. But, unlike Madonna, Michael Jackson was straightforward from the start.

With the Jackson Five people fell for his pleading vocals in songs like 'I Want You Back'. By the time he was an adult he made the one musically ambitious piece of disco recording: Off the Wall. And, of course, his follow-up is the most popular album ever made.

Thriller changed everything, and I've spoken about it previously on the site. Part of what is so impressive is how much is now taken for granted. To me, at least, it is more timeless than much of that decade. Jackson may be the king of pop, but what is so important is how much R&B he tried to infuse into it, and how successful he was at it.

Key tracks: Rock With You (1979) and Billie Jean (1982), which show off his peaks stylistically and as a performer.

Rock With You

Billie Jean

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


39. Bing Crosby

"Bing Crosby was the first hip white person in America." He definitely helped close the gap.

It's a little difficult to think of someone so white as being hip so early. I mean, 'White Christmas' and 'Pennies From Heaven'? But Crosby was the best-selling artist until rock was well underway. Let's not overlook, too, that back in the 1930s he became one of the first cross-over acts. Nowadays it seems every singer wants to be an actor. But Crosby was the biggest star of the 1940s, and the biggest radio personality of all time.

Crosby can be seen as directly responsible for Sinatra, Como and company. He could sing any genre he liked: jazzy, pop, country, show tunes, whatever. The American musical story would be very different without Bing. He brought swinging sensibilities into fashion. Miles Davis claimed to be responsible for The Birth of Cool, but really, Crosby was way ahead of the game. At his peak he was declared "the most admired man alive".

Key tracks: White Christmas (1940?) and Pennies From Heaven (1936), which cannot be avoided, really.
White Christmas
Pennies From Heaven

38. Dr. Dre

If it weren't for Dre hiphop would've stayed in the territory of Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest. Dre brought it to the forefront of American music.

Dre's legacy is a mixed bag. Before he and his crew came through hiphop was on the sidelines and now it gets equal time, or more time in the mainstream than anything else. The difficulty comes in his message and values, which were instantly criticized. Dre produced 'Fuck tha Police' for N.W.A. at the start of his career: and he was just getting started.

Few artists have the dubious distinction that their music lead to actual bloodshed. Gangsta rap, with it's trio of guns, bling and bitches, definitely woke up the public to the power of hiphop and made itself relevant, albeit in a destructive capacity. That age is, thankfully, over. Pausing to reflect on all the rappers launched by Dre (Snoop, Eminem, 50 Cent and the Tupac-Biggie rivalry's relevance) it helps to balance the equation of careers with chaos. Whether that balance is equally weighted doesn't matter: Dre's legacy is omnipresent on tv and radio.

Key tracks: Express Yourself (1988) and Nuthin But a 'G' Thang (1993), which show Dre solo with NWA and behind the scenes with his protege.
Express Yourself
Nuthin But a 'G' Thang

37. Willie Nelson

Nelson has become a distinctly American icon. He took the cowboy with heart, updated him, and made him an outlaw.

Outlaw country was the predominately Texan response to the Nashville scene of Gram Parsons. It wanted to bring country back to its roots (listen to Waylon Jennings' Honky Tonk Heroes for an example of how stripped down that could be). Of the members of this roots movement Nelson has enjoyed the longevity.

As a songwriter many popular and country standards were from his pen. He pulled off a country concept album, Red Headed Stranger, and then kept the hits coming for two decades. Nelson's voice is immediately recognizable: for many it probably is the voice of country. Perhaps what made him so liked was that, through Farm Aid and a fondness for weed that endeared him to Ben and Jerry's types Nelson is indisputably a hippy, and a bit of a rugged softy. As he said, 'Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys'.

Key tracks: Time of the Preacher (1975) and On the Road Again (1980), which show off his songwriting, and popularity.
Time of the Preacher
On the Road Again

36. BB King

King did not invent the electric guitar solo, which has become so crucial to understanding American music. He just came up with the type of solo everyone else copied.

Many of the best are based in blues: Clapton, Page, Richards and company. Electric blues didn't originate with King either. His technique, however, was the inspiration for many. He is generally recognized as one of the all-time best guitarists whose ever played. Live at the Regal remains the definitive live electric blues performance.

King found success not only in the blues, but crossed into R&B and pop. With this type of crossover ability he helped show the importance and influence of blues in other genres. While his career peaked probably in the 1960s, he enjoyed three decades of success and, incredibly, as of this writing, is still playing.

Key tracks: The Thrill is Gone (1969) and Help the Poor (1965), which allow King to show off in studio and live.
The Thrill is Gone
Help the Poor

35. Madonna

Madonna is pop. If asked to name a pop star Madonna would certainly be the first name to come to my mind.

This isn't a bad thing. Pop is a valid genre alongside all the rest, with it's icons and failures, flash-in-the-pans and musicians of merit. Madonna is certainly in the latter category, and certainly an icon. She took pop and bent it to subjects it would never have dealt with before. There were those who were shocked, and many more who listened.

She was initially a sex icon, the first major musical one, I dare venture, since Marilyn Monroe. 'Like a Virgin' was her starting point, and she then upset everyone again with 'Like a Prayer'. She kept herself in the 'Vogue', and closed out the century with Ray of Light showing her actual personal and serious side. The fact that she had such a huge impact in such a short space of time speaks to her genius at making herself a key piece of American music.

Key tracks: Like a Prayer (1989) and Drowned World/Substitute for Love (1998), which shows her being irreverent and popular and atoning for her earlier career.
Like a Prayer
Drowned World/Substitute for Love

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


44. Glenn Miller

What is interesting about Glenn Miller is that he has endured. Miller's swing became so popular that folks are still listening to it today.

Miller's longevity is remarkable, but remarkable, too, is the initial brevity of his career. Miller stands as the archetypal big band for many, which considering he was recording for such a short period is pretty incredible. Standards that began with him are 'In the Mood' and 'Chattanooga Choo Choo' amongst many others.

In four years Miller became a huge sensation, and then dropped off the face of the earth (quite literally). Goodman paved the way, and Miller brought big band to it's broadest white audiences. Soon the black artists reclaimed the genre and took it to dizzying new heights. But, briefly, Miller was the flavor of the week.

Key tracks: In the Mood and American Patrol, which typify Miller's big band sound.

In the Mood
American Patrol

43. Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker is the super-star of bop. List off the first few jazz musicians that come to mind, and Parker stands a very good chance of being named.

And not, of course, without reason. Pre-bop jazz had two great fathers: Armstrong and Ellington. Bop, more or less attributable to Parker, launched everyone else. Miles and Trane came out of bop (after working with Parker). As jazz goes, bop is so fundamental many modern listeners would likely suggest it is the heart of jazz.

Parker was the first great saxophonist, and his talents set the high bar for all to follow. Culturally Parker was the musician of choice for the Beat counter-culture. His improvisation was very sophisticated stuff, from a theorist's point of view. He made the jazz musician an artist.

Key tracks: and Moose the Mooch (1946) and Just Friends (1950), which show off Parker in familiar territory and backed by strings.

Moose the Mooch
Just Friends

42. Stephen Sondheim

We often forget that the musical of today is an essentially American creation. Sondheim exemplifies the strength of such an assertion.

Paired with Bernstein he is responsible for West Side Story. On his own he has won more Tonys than any other composer, for such shows as Sweeny Todd, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Into the Woods. Blending music and theater is as old as performance gets. Sondheim has kept this tradition relevant on Broadway for the second half of the century.

Sondheim didn't invent the musical, or sell the most tickets. But his songs have been a consistent and dependable source of entertainment for over 50 years. Few others on this list have such continuing relevance in their field.

Key tracks: Send in the Clowns (1973) and Something's Coming (1957), which show off his scoring and lyricism, respectively.

Send in the Clowns
Something's Coming

41. The Beach Boys

"The Beach Boys showed the way, and not just to California." As American rock bands go none top the Beach Boys.

They were popular, and shifted the music of the country from the east to west coast. But once Brian Wilson got control of the studio they took it to a whole new level. Wilson saw the Beatles as upstarts and rivals. When they got creative with Rubber Soul and Revolver Wilson countered with Pet Sounds: blowing Paul McCartney away. (Who, incidentally, cites it as the best record ever.)

Everyone was blown away. Hardly a musician in the last fifty years who heard it wasn't inspired or stunned. The Beach Boys made the studio important in a way no one else had: not even Phil Spector's wall of sound offerings could compete. This was due in large part because Spector glorified the trite, while the Beach Boys evolved to real emotions and post-adolescent ideas.

Key tracks: I Get Around (1964) and God Only Knows (1966), which both have amazing harmonic power backing different stages of development.

I Get Around
God Only Knows

40. Cole Porter

Porter is the first solely songwriter on this list. Yet to speak of the last century of American music and omit Porter... well!

Porter is one of Tin Pan Alley's best for a few reasons. First, he wrote his lyrics and music. Second, his songs are sophisticated and timeless. Third, his songs are also delightfully bawdy and irreverent. That's what makes them so timeless.

Porter's tunes have the smack of standard, which is unfortunate, but to be expected. Who wouldn't want a crack at one of the best? It's hard not to grow accustomed to his songs, they are so pervasive in the right circles. So long as their are cocktail bars and Broadway revivals I think Cole Porter is safe.

Key tracks: Anything Goes and I Get a Kick Out of You, which have become high-water marks of their class.
Anything Goes
I Get a Kick Out of You


49. The Coasters

The Coasters are one of the most successful doowop groups. They are one of the few who claimed multiple successes.

Given the importance of doo wop in American music it is surprising how few artists had lengthy careers. Most of the best had a handful of hits, at best. The Coasters enjoyed slightly better conditions. They could do serious and silly, finding welcoming audiences, and DJs, with both.

Their five-part line up, like other doo wop artists, would morph into the Motown mold. Their songs would be covered for decades. Still, on the radio, you're more likely to hear a Coaster's track than another doo wop group's.

Key tracks: Yakkety Yak (1958) and Young Blood (1957), which show off the serious and silly.

Yakkety Yak

Young Blood

48. Howlin' Wolf

Howlin' Wolf began his career late, but made an instant impact. More than a few artists in the 60's and 70's copied his songs.

Well, not that they were his songs. His versions, however, became the definitive stuff. It helped that artists as varied as Etta James and Cream were both using his material. Wolf's own albums were quite popular in their own right: early party albums of sorts. His albums from the 1950s are actual albums - every track is a winner.

And Wolf could be original. Just listen to 'Smokestack Lightning', which has now become a standard. His performances, apparently, were the stuff of legends. Which is to be expected from a larger than life figure like the Howlin' Wolf.

Key tracks: Moanin' at Midnight (1959) and Smokestack Lightning (1956), which are typically spooky offerings.

Moanin' at Midnight

Smokestack Lightning

47. Louis Jordan

Jordan helped create rock n roll, undoubtedly. No other black artist has ever spent as many weeks at #1 as Jordan.

Recording in the 40s and 50s, at peak popularity, Jordan made the jukebox a thing. The jukebox kings of the 50s would later be rock and roll idols. Before them Jordan established the importance of the thing, and in doing so lent quite a bit to the rhythm that rock and R&B embraced.

Jordan's songs are terribly catchy and fun. Not only that - they were truthful and conscious of the times. "At the end of 'Saturday Night Fish Fry,' they all windup in jail. Everybody is having a good time, then the cops arrive. That's a powerful statement about racism, too."

Key tracks: Saturday Night Fish Fry (1949) and Is You Is O Is You Ain't My Baby (1944), which display his funny rockin'.

Saturday Night Fish Fry:

Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby:

46. The Allman Brothers Band

Duane was one of the best guitarists ever. With his brother Gregg providing the vocals the two brought the south to rock.

Given the important part the south has played in American music it was only natural that they develop a specific rock sound. Flip through the country rock stations and you will hear many permutations of Duane Allman's style. They helped to create/remind people of the highway mentality as integral to the southern sound.

Their performances At Fillmore East in 1971 are unquestionably some of the best live rock captured on vinyl. With nods to jazz greats and improvisation that is inimitable the Allman sound will be standard until someone can meet and match Duane: and that may never happen.

Key tracks: Jessica (1973) and Hot 'Lanta (1971), which prove their improvisational style in studio and live cuts.


Hot 'Lanta:

45. Little Richard

No one can hold a candle to Little Richard. Not really.

Richard growing up was looking for something louder than 'Pennies From Heaven'. "...I didn't know where to find it. And I found it was me." He was the first of the rock and roll legends. Had his career not been cut short so early he would've been one of the all-time greatest. Many of his incidentals became blueprints for what rock would be, and have stayed part of the expectation.

The screaming teens started with Richard. The flamboyance and grandeur started with Richard. He established the piano as the percussive force that is periodically rediscovered. Every 'shooby-doo' and 'na na na' owes something to Richard's inspired 'A wop bop alu mop, a wop bam boom!' His music is timeless, and will continually admired by new generations.

Key tracks: Tutti Frutti and Long Tall Sally (1957), which show off all his raucous, loud energy.

Tutti Frutti:

Long Tall Sally:


54. The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground is known best for the reverberations it has caused. No serious rock connoisseur has a complete collection without them.

The Velvet Underground and Nico was a definite watershed. It was miles away from the other most important release of 1967: Sgt. Peppers. Nico may have the last laugh, however. The inspiration and new directions some musicians took following the Velvets lead to the music that would arise in the Beatles' aftermath.

Key track: Heroin, 1967, which has Lou Reed being so frank as to underscore the 'underground' aspect of their act.

53. Metallica

Metal is now considered respectable, in large part, to Metallica. Whether that is a benefit to the genre is debatable.

Metallica's musicianship helped make metal less of a peculiar sub-genre and brought it into household vernacular. Most Americans, if asked to name a metal band, would first think of Metallica. And that's not a bad thing: that same musicianship helped revitalize rock with some much needed energy at a critical moment.

Key track: Enter Sandman, 1991 which launched them into international stardom.

52. Public Enemy

Of hip hop acts in the 80s there are many fine choices to choose from: yet Public Enemy is the one which sounds least grounded in the 80s.

It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is one of the peaks of the whole genre. Let's be honest: before Illmatic it was the peak. Chuck D and Flavor Flav were a weird duo: D would bring a steady stream of politically-conscious truth bombs, and Flav... "I don't know what he brings, but he brings something" D rightly stated. Their influence is practically second to none.

Key track: Bring the Noise, 1987 which has D responding to critics who said hip hop was 'just noise'.

51. Frank Zappa

Zappa was to music what Mort Sahl was to comedy. Although I'm not sure he'd appreciate the comparison to the cardigan-wearing comic.

To Zappa's credit he was much stranger than Sahl: they did not run in the same circles. But the need to expose and turn a mirror on society was what links their endeavors. Zappa's mirror, though, was of the fun house variety. He also was a master guitarist and had some interesting studio chops, leading to some of the most experimental, artful and fantastic music of the century.

Key track: Trouble Every Day, 1966 which lead to the creation of the first concept album, Freak Out!

50. The Grateful Dead

The Dead have long since passed from musical act to experience. The fact that Deadheads still are looking for rare track is a testament in its own.

The Dead practically invented the concert jam. In the studio they displayed beautiful little standard folk-rock songs. Live they whipped them into half-hour behemoths. To my knowledge they're the second biggest act ever inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with a dozen people. Anyone who contributed to their experiment deserved recognition.

Bands like Phish will be forever indebted to the Dead's particular brand of musical experiment. They not only created new paths in musical recognition and experience, but they formed a whole American sub-genre of people.

Key tracks: Friend of the Devil, 1970, and Turn On Your Love Light, 1969, which show off their studio and live prowess.

Friend of the Devil

Turn on Your Love Light and part 2:


59. The Doors

Jim Morrison fancied himself a poet. Thankfully he had a powerful band backing him.

The Doors were eerie. They weren't upsetting like the punks or N.W.A.: they were profoundly disquieting. They had a particular type of blues-infused sound that is immediately recognizable. Their songs were not radio-friendly and made no effort to be. The fact they got airplay anyway opened new...

Key track: Light My Fire, 1967, which is one of their catchiest tunes showcasing the full band's potential.

58. Thelonious Monk

"Monk is the second most recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington, which is particularly remarkable as Ellington composed over 1,000 songs and Monk wrote about 70."

Monk created an improvisational piano style now taken for granted not only in jazz, but in many areas of music. His concert with Coltrane at Carnegie Hall is one of the most enjoyable jazz performances. He helped create bop, but was so unique that few can follow, though many have tried. Equally at home with silence and thunder, Monk's legacy will not soon be lost.

Key track: Monk's Mood, 1956(?), which clearly illustrates his piano prowess.

57. The Ramones

Punk was, admittedly, perfected by the Clash and Sex Pistols. The Ramones started it, though.

"We didn't write a positive song until 'Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue'" said Dee Dee. Their teen blahs never quite took off. They didn't chart like they wanted. In retrospect their popularity surpasses that of their heyday. But give credit where it's due: the Ramones brought back the teens in leather coats. This time around, though, they were edgier still.

Key track: Blitzkrieg Bop, 1976, which is typically raucous and two minutes long.

54. Professor Longhair

The Professor was a real weirdo at the piano. Honestly, 'Tipitina' sort of sounds like a cat is being strangled.

His music, though, was an uptempo gumbo of New Orleans piano. His rhumba is the basic backbone of all New Orleans piano: and that is quite enough legacy in itself. If that weren't enough his 'Go to the Mardi Gras' is the official tune of the celebration. Considering the importance of Louisiana in music, Longhair's importance to Louisiana musn't be overlooked.

Key track: Mardi Gras in New Orleans, 1949, which was the first song he wanted to record.

55. Philip Glass

Considering he is one of the main proponents of the style it's interesting that Glass avoids the term 'minimalist'.

The second-half of the 20th century saw a very definite move towards minimalism in classical music. This was not always an audience-friendly development: Glass' pieces were the stuff of many a raised eyebrow. If there weren't so many following in his footsteps it would be easier to shake him off.

Key track: Train 1, 1976, which has Glass taking a stab at opera.


64. The Temptations

The Temptations were Motown's classy act. They also were hit-makers who could evolve.

From their earlier love songs like 'My Girl' they morphed into a different, but still popular sound. With Cloud Nine they more or less created psychedelic soul (and earned a Grammy for the effort). The Temps were so solid that such a radical departure didn't scare them: they could do no wrong.

Key track: Get Ready, 1966, which is incredibly infectious.

63. Buddy Holly

Holly was responsible for the day the music died. The tragedy was compounded by Valens and the Big Bopper, but really, Holly was the incredible loss.

Considering the success and innovation of such a short career Holly would, probably, have gone on to amazing heights. His songs were his own: Holly was one of the first rock singer-songwriters. This was a leap away from the Tin Pan Alley and studio executive model that had been prevalent since, ever. His songs are so well-known it is doubtful they'll ever lose favor.

Key track: That'll Be the Day, 1957, which has become the definitive Holly track.

62. Benny Goodman

Goodman had many aces up his sleeve. One was ferocious drummer Gene Krupa.

The other was a willingness to integrate, and bring a blended swing beat to the masses. When Benny Goodman's band performed at Carnegie Hall in 1938 it showed that swing and jazz had arrived. Nowadays Goodman's clarinet is seldom found in jazz lineups. Yet his legacy of making jazz respectable was nearly incalculable.

Key track: Sing Sing Sing, 1938 ver., which is one of the all-time best pieces of swing.

61. Bruce Springsteen

Springsteen is the perennial everyman. His songs are about long-shot odds on the highways of America.

'Born to Run' may be one of the century's great anthems, and certainly there are many lesser songs like it. Springsteen tried to capture the power of a live performance with studio perfectionism. Pumping all of the excess and extra energy he could muster into the delivery gave a glimpse at achieving impossible odds.

Key track: Dancing in the Dark, 1984, which exemplifies later, synthesizer-friendly Springsteen.

60. Run DMC

Run DMC made hip hop serious. They ushered it out of it's infancy and into new sonic territory.

Previously hip hop had been strictly club and dance-oriented. Very few artists made songs with a message ('The Message' being a notable exception). Run DMC were often funny, but had a little more of an edge than, say, the Sugar Hill Gang. When they paired up with Aerosmith and released 'Walk This Way' they also showed that hip hop and rock weren't so far apart.

Key track: It's Tricky, 1986, which gives them space to have fun.


69. Etta James

Etta James brought back the strings to soul. But she could also provide a far rawer sound when she needed to.

James is very hard to classify: she sings songs that are soulful, bluesy, jazzy, and nearly anything else you can think of. This versatility has won some admirers, but made her a tricky package to sell. "There's a lot going on in Etta Jame's voice - a lot of pain, a lot of life but, most of all, a lot of strength."

Key track: At Last!, 1961, which is one of the more triumphant songs of a great decade.

68. Lead Belly

Lead Belly brought the American blues songbook to the forefront. In the 1940s he was one of the first to reintroduce the folk songs of yesteryear to a new generation.

His timing was critical. Blues was in the process of electrifying, and many of these old standards, while predating Lead Belly, are considered definitive when given his treatment. His 12-string technique has also passed down as the standard. His songs keep getting covered: Nirvana's treatment of 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night?' (also known as 'In the Pines') was arguably their best performance.

Key track: In the Pines, c. 1944, which exemplifies his status as torch-bearer.

67. Marvin Gaye

Gaye was the poet laureate of Motown. What's Going On is easily one of the greatest albums of the century.

Gaye's legacy is three-fold. First: as a clean Motown act, exemplified by tracks like 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine' and his work with Tammi Terell. Second: as the first of the bedside standbys, with Let's Get It On. Third: as a socially conscious soulful poet. And while the second achievment came after the third, it is for this awareness, backed with visionary studio work, that will be long-remembered and most admired.

Key track: What's Going On, 1971, which is priceless.

66. The Byrds

The Byrds were the strongest American counter to the British Invasion. In the long-run, against the Beatles and Stones, they could never really compete.

Yet the Byrds weren't cheap immitators. On every album they'd cover some songs, usually at least one Dylan tune, but reworked them into interesting new hits. They evolved alongside the Invasion artists: the tour through psychedelica wasn't half bad (unlike some of the British offerings). When Parsons joined them and released Sweetheart of the Rodeo they then did what no Brits could: create a totally new American genre.

Key track: It's No Use, 1965, which shows off the Byrds' ability to counter the Brits.

65. Dolly Parton

Nowadays Parton has become something of a charicature. Perhaps it was Dollywood.

Dolly Parton's career might be effectively dead, but her legacy in country music is still very much alive. Few female country artists don't acknowledge her influence. Until alt-country came along Parton was the model: whether you loved it or hated it, it all still revolved around her.

Key track: Coat of Many Colors, 1971, which is Parton's own favorite of her repertoire.


74. The Supremes

The Supremes, with lead Diana Ross, were one of the reasons Motown was the hit factory. They weren't particularly adept musicians: but you can scarcely find an oldies station that doesn't regularly feature them.

Queen's songs always had a great unique beat: with The Supremes each song has a stellar unique intro. Within two seconds you can identify it, and choose whether or not you want to stick around and sing along. The songs (so many songs!) have become part of the American Songbook, and are likely to remain so for a long time.

Key track: You Keep Me Hangin' On, 1966, which showcases the Supremes at their height.

73. Scott Joplin

Joplin created rags. His 'Maple Leaf Rag' is now confirmed as the biggest hit of ragtime.

Joplin's ragtime tunes were created at just the right time: thanks to the invention of mass production. Joplin ended up writing over 40 rags, and set the tone for where up-tempo music was headed in the rest of the century. His work crops up in so many places and is so easily recognized that 20th century music would be unidentifiable without him.

Key track: The Entertainer, 1902, which is easily Joplin's most identifiable tune.

72. Nina Simone

Nina Simone inspired so many people, not just musicians, that her legacy will probably only rise with the years. 10,000 people paid tribute to her on Human Kindness Day.

Simone's jazz/gospel/soul songs were incredible performed live. In studio her music still thrived. She brought a consciousness to her music that blatantly inspired the likes of Aretha Franklin and others. Whether listening to her civil rights songs of her later years or her early set of standards, Simone is likely to inspire.

Key track: To Be Young, Gifted and Black, 1970, which tries to get the message across simply.

71. Otis Redding

Redding's reputation is still strong. Otis Blue is still regarded as a classic.

Redding, however, was not exactly an original artist: his songs were almost always covers. His style and singing were 'adapted' from others, especially Sam Cooke's live performances. He was undoubtedly talented, and with more time he might've developed more. As is his career is notable, and his reputation, for now, is secure.

Key track: Dock of the Bay, 1967, which is the most original thing Redding ever did.

70. Joan Baez

Joni Mitchell gave people flack for calling her the female Bob Dylan. Joan Baez is the American Joni Mitchell.

To be fair Baez was an original songsmith. Her songs, being topical, were great stuff for the folk revival. Her voice is distinct and moving. Still, I find it difficult to disentangle her from the rest of it. Even her biggest hit is about it all.

Key track: Diamonds and Rust, 1975, which details Baez's experiences with Bob Dylan.


79. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

"I wonder how Smokey is going to sound with no drums!" mused Eddie Murphy's Mr. Robinson. Smokey probably would have pulled it off.

I'll let Bob Seger provide: "Smokey wrote his own stuff, so he had an originality or individualism that maybe the other Motown greats didn't. He was a lyric man, as well as a melody man, a musician's musician." The Miracles put out so many hits they kept Motown alive. They were constant and dependable: easily recognized and always in demand.

Key track: I Second That Emotion, 1967, which shows off Smokey's up-tempo side.

78. John Lee Hooker

Hooker talked the blues. One of the first electric bluesmen his early recordings became genre standards.

Hooker managed to take boogiewoogie piano sensibilities and translate them to guitar. He's been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, received the Lifetime Achievement Grammy, and his songs have been preserved and revered pieces of our soundscape.

Key track: Boogie Chillen, 1948, which has been preserved as one of the Songs of the Century.

77. Simon and Garfunkel

Simon and Garfunkel sang about weird stuff. The subjects of their songs were not teen romance. Who else could pull off a eulogy to Frank Lloyd Wright on an Album of the Year?

The harmonies stick out at the forefront of their work. The stories they convey are, upon reflection, very unique to that which had come before. Which is odd, since they sound perfectly at home in the tradition of musical storytelling. Their relatively brief tenure would yet launch many artist's careers.

Key track: America, 1968, which, according to Simon and Garfunkel, is typical of Simon and Garfunkel.

76. Janis Joplin

Joplin's voice sounded like Southern Comfort: raspy, yet smooth; subtle, but carrying a punch. Her bluesy songs couldn't be questioned for authenticity.

Janis Joplin has been the inspiration for so many singers I doubt they'll ever let us forget who they are indebted to. The fact that she was regarded as a great singer when she had a voice that was admittedly unpolished had everything to do with emotion. The emotion infused every song she recorded, and created a new possibility for female singers.

Key track: Me and Bobby McGee, 1970, which has become a standard American story.

75. Judy Garland

Garland's voice got better with age, which is rather remarkable. Judy at Carnegie Hall held at number one for three months.

Judy Garland had one of the more impressive set of pipes in the business. Her dual acting/singing career launched numerous standards which singers try, without success, to cover. 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' has become one of the nation's trademarks, and there is simply no other version than Judy's.

Key track: Somewhere Over the Rainbow, 1939, which shows off Garland's incredible voice before it matured.

Monday, July 26, 2010


84. The Stooges

The Stooges were the punk godfathers. Their sound was the basic stuff of hard rock.

Iggy Pop would snarl and whoop through songs in such a way that you were either instantly turned off or inspired to whoop and holler along with. Years before the British punk invasion the Stooges contained all of the energy and ferocity that movement would cherish and blast to the forefront of rock.

Key track: Penetration, 1973, which growls with raw power.

83. Les Paul

Les Paul's work will always be more influential as an inventor than as a performer. He created the solid body guitar and multi-tracking. For those, alone, he rivals in innovation behind-the-scenes icons Scratch Perry or Phil Spector.

Yet his guitar development was backed by playing power. Early success was found recording with Mary Ford, and later he was a revered soloist. It's not surprising that his work has left a legacy of great electric guitar.

Key track: Vaya Con Dios, 1953, which exemplifies his hit-making collaboration with Mary Ford.

82. Booker T. and the MGs

Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett and dozens of artists were backed by Booker T and the MGs. They were the Memphis sound.

Arguably one of the finest backing bands ever Booker T. and the MGs enjoyed success in their own right and refined a bit of American sound that is instantly recognizable. Blending blues bars and soul the four-part integrated band created a pallet from which many would draw.

Key track: Green Onions, 1962, which was their biggest hit, and typifies their style.

81. Roy Orbison

Orbison was the last of the early rockers. His sound is pre-invasion. His ballads are not lyrically magical, but they didn't need to be: his voice was remarkable.

While his leather and shades made him look like the early rockers, he definitely didn't sound like them. No one else but the Righteous Brothers could pull off his high-vibrato aches. Unlike the Righteous Brothers, though, Orbison's songs aren't covered in a veneer of smugness.

Key track: Crying, 1961, which should give you chills.

80. Beastie Boys

"Helloooo Brooklyn!" the Beasties cry out on Paul's Boutique. In the late 1980s the Beasties were one of the best. Which is saying something, considering the competition.

They could be serious or playful, and had lyrical rhyming prowess backed by punk sensibilities. They opened the color barrier of hip hop for some pale imitations early on, and then for actual talents like Eminem in the late 90s and beyond. Whatever they were singing they brought full energy to it.

Key track: High Plains Drifter, 1989, which showcases their street cred.


89. Pete Seeger

Seeger was a peacenik before there were peaceniks. His simple songs were charged with hope and reflection.

As one of the leaders of the folk revival Seeger had a nice track record working with the Weavers when the 1960s began to echo messages he'd been singing for decades. His cheery tunes, like 'The Hammer Song' and 'Turn, Turn, Turn', were meat and potatoes for a vast army of folkies.

Key track: Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, 1955, which is typically aimed at poignancy.

88. Creedence Clearwater Revival

CCR's music is straight from the swamps. Which is interesting, since the band wasn't. Yet they succeeded in creating an electric swamp rock and highway sound.

CCR could do both laid-back 'keepin' it easy' and politically-charged songs. Equally at home rebranding blues standards and writing new material they have long since become radio standards with their catchy songs powered by striking guitar.

Key track: Fortunate Son, 1969, which is less swampy but a more recognizable hit.

87. Fats Waller

Waller's piano pieces were the perfect stuff for showbiz. In Stormy Weather he rightfully performs alongside Cab Calloway and Lena Horne. His songs have become standards, recorded countless times.

His songs typify a unique slice of Tin Pan Alley tunes. He was so popularly successful that Al Capone's men kidnapped him to play for Scarface's birthday. He helped usher in a new piano jazz sound.

Key track: Ain't Misbehavin', 1929, which, like Waller, is slick and winking.

86. Prince

Prince is inherently 80s. He continued recording in the 90s, sure. But for roughly a decade he was one of the most interesting Pop/R&B artists.

Purple Rain was a smash hit that proved that Prince could write infectious tunes backed with sonic muscle. Later, Sign O the Times showed that Prince could be as versatile as he wanted. His songs, seemingly effortlessly, went from dirty sex to high-minded religious contemplation. Yet it all seemed to be a fitting blend.

Key track: When Doves Cry, 1984, which, as all commentators are quick to point out, has no bass line.

85. Albert King

King didn't become popular until mid-life, in the 1960s. He served as an inspiration for dozens of musicians with his blues in the midst of the heady psychedelic movement.

Had King released only one album, Born Under a Bad Sign, his reputation would probably have been secured. His ability to remind rockers of the Southern blues undoubtedly helped in the formation of blues rock.

Key track: Born Under a Bad Sign, 1967, which is King's signature.


94. Charlie Mingus

Of the great jazz musicians Mingus' reputation hangs, for most, on the incredible Mingus Ah Um. This is a bit unfair, for Mingus could be very diverse. The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady released three years later is a jazz ballet.

His work is mostly in the bop and post-bop field, but therein he excels. His songs are emotionally charged and grounded in time and place. This doesn't date the work, but instead adds authenticity.

Key track: Goodbye Porkpie Hat, 1959, which captures jazz at a crossroads.

93. Stevie Ray Vaughn

Vaughn's musical career was cut short with a premature death at the age of 35. This was a great loss for in the 1980s it seemed to many that Vaughn was the new guitarist standard-bearer. And boy, could he play.

Rolling Stone places him as the 7th greatest guitarist of all time. He was the only other guitarist Albert King would share a stage with (King had been Vaughn's idol as a 'skinny kid'). It would have been interesting to see where his prodigious talent would have taken him.

Key track: Life By the Drop, 1989(?), which shows how good Stevie could be even in acoustic territory.

92. Gram Parsons

Gram Parsons created country rock. He called it 'Cosmic American Music'. Compared to the country rock of today, Parsons' work is easily identified as the fore-runner, and miles away in sound.

Given that Parsons was fusing two very divided camps the sound works well. The 'country' elements are very Hank Williams, and the rock is very late-1960s psychedelic-influenced. The latter is the reason why Parsons sounds so different with his 'Cosmic American Music' from the poseurs of country rock today. At the time there were immediate imitators.

Key track: Christine's Tune, 1969, which epitomizes the initial country-rock crossover with his band The Flying Burrito Brothers.

91. R.E.M.

As far as alternative rockers go R.E.M. are probably the most successful. Not, perhaps, in terms of album sales, but definitely in terms of longevity and influence.

Starting in the 1980s with albums like Murmur which showcased singer Michael Stipe's inaccessible lyrics they slowly warmed up to the public. Then they crossed-over into the mainstream, charted hits, and helped usher in the rock sound of the 1990s that would succeed Grunge. These later albums, such as Automatic for the People, had huge hits that still retained Stipe's ambiguity and sly humor of his early songs.

Key track: The One I Love, 1987, which was one of the least-understood hits ever, in perfect fitting with intentions.

90. Santana

"Carlos Santana's music is a family thing for Chicanos. It's what listen to when you're all hanging out: Drinking some beers, listening to 'Oye Como Va' and cooking some barbecue is the best thing in the world."

Santana's pioneering Latin rock, however, need not be an exclusively Chicano enjoyment. His electric Latin sound was the first major breakthrough since Ritchie Valens. It came at the right time: the late 1960s era of experimentation, gaining him a performing ticket at Woodstock and quick-selling albums. His late 90s Supernatural showed that he was still relevant and creative thirty years on.

Key track: Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen, 1970, which blends splendidly electric guitar and Latin beats.