Tuesday, July 27, 2010


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.


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