The P-Q-R’s of Rock – Top 100



The Commentary

sir-rocknuts-500If too much is never enough, then here is “too much” and even more commentary on the almost-famous Rocknuts Top 100 list. Undaunted by criticism (and the rare instance of praise), Sir Rocknuts soldiers on with his commentary quest on each of the artists in the top 100 list plus the “also-rans”, now dealing in the letters P, Q and R. Check here for the whole list of the hundred top artists or groups plus twenty-nine “runners up” (could have gone either way) plus another hundred or so rock musicians that “the mainstream would consider” or “artists not fully appreciated”.

Again, the list is alphabetical and not in some sort of order from best to worst. Each “Top 100” qualifier has at least two songs to which you can link that demonstrates a sampling of their wares and each of the runners-up has one song. Some get a lot more discussion than others and we can’t really always explain why.

We started at the beginning – with commentary on A through O already out there in the universe. Now, let’s go from there and see the prose and the cons of minding our P’s, and Q’s and R’s…

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P

59. Tom Petty

(1976 – ) Abundantly versatile and a consistently great, Petty is a musical tastemaker of the highest order. The Heartbreakers are a superb band, featuring guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench. Petty and the boys made sounds and songs that were instantly recognizable and justifiably popular. Lumped in at the time as “heartland rock” musicians – along with other greats such as Bruce Springsteen and perhaps Bob Seger, Petty created statements that only those two other band leaders could match. Consistently creative and bending lyrics and delivery to his unique style, there are few rockers that can craft better songs – and few that ever did. Along with three solo albums – sounding remarkably similarly to The Heartbreakers – Petty has never stopped touring and has never stopped picking up new fans in new venues. His side project with the Willbury’s was similarly fruitful…

60. Pink Floyd

pf

(1965 to whatever) Rock was tweaked and changed with Syd Barrett and when acid changed him, rock moved on again with the new Floyd. Archetypally great rock lyrics mixed with David Gilmour’s stunning guitar and Roger Waters songs of deep and unique introspection, it all worked in the grandest sense. For a certain tranche of rock fans – and for a certain era – Pink Floyd was the greatest band in the world and their work reflected and justified all the accolades. Themes of madness and ego were woven into a tapestry of their successive concept albums that became the biggest selling albums in music history. The band has sold an unimaginable 250 million+ records, an achievement only exceeded by their elaborate stage shows. Waters acrimoniously broke with the group and they have made snide remarks and been basically uncooperative for almost thirty years now, exposing all the Pink Floyd fans to their true dark side…

61. Police

(1977-1984) Was it all Sting? It was not. The shimmery guitars of Andy Summers and the jazz drum licks of Stewart Copeland added to the glamorous fusion reggae band, undertaken with visions of world dominance. More international celebrities than simply musicians, they introduced a lot of listeners to both soft reggae and to a form of soft jazz. Some described them as punk but – especially, in retrospect – they were catchy pop with great hooky melodies and compressed songs that you thought you had heard before, even the first time around.

62. Pretenders

(1978-2008 to ?) What a voice! And what a pretty great “backing” group to go along with it. The Pretenders lived through two bandmates succumbing to drugs but Ohio-tough Chrissie Hynde is still working the mike and strutting her stuff with a recent solo effort. Hynde is my kind of do-everything female, uh, role model. She emigrated from Ohio to England, worked as a music journalist and then at the infamous Malcolm McLaren’s store – the SEX boutique. She formed The Pretenders, writing semi-autobiographical material and became the long time live-in with the Kinks’ Ray Davies. With a trail of millions of albums sold behind her/them, she moved back to Akron despite the attempted exorcism of her song: “My City Was Gone”.

63. Procol Harum

(1967 – ) What greater accolade can I give other than calling Procol the best group of all time? For those that got hung up on “Whiter Shade of Pale” or the heavier early songs, well…get over it already. Here’s a band that has never had a bad album and – despite only a few hit singles – has the best combination of lyrics (Keith Reid), tunes (largely Gary Brooker), vocals (same), guitar (Robin Trower) and drums (BJ Wilson) in the history of rock. That’s right, I said it. The songs are masterpieces, the lyrics are rock poetry and the band alternates styles to fit their moods. The amount of material in the Procol archives is not nearly as impressive as the amount of truly great songs, which you could play forever…

Runners-Up

Prince

(1979 – ) A big range of material, theatrics, song-writing talent and vocal abilities, Prince is almost his own category and some of his songs do, indeed, rock. After 100 million records have been sold worldwide, it is assumed that his “cult status” must have changed to something more commercially acceptable. He played funk, he played pop and he played music that didn’t fit comfortably into any category. He even had a name for a while that had no pronunciation. But one of the biggest compliments that can be bestowed is that his music evolved and got better as he went – a great challenge met.

Others the mainstream would consider: Pearl Jam – The more commercial grunge follow-up to Nirvana with Eddie Vedder being an acquired taste; they led the second surge of grunge into the mainstream…Phish – Supplanted The Dead (no one could replace them) as hip music fans’ pre-eminent jam band with endless technically proficient noodling and parties that followed; the albums got better over time but the live shows have always been the way to go…

Artists not fully appreciated: Pavement – Influential low-fi indie outfit that served as taste-magnets to a huge swath of similarly bent musicians in the 1990’s…Robert Palmer – Very stylish pop-rocker whose sexy videos made him more famous than his songs; a couple of huge suave hits (“Addicted to Love” and “Simply Irresistible”) became signature calling cards…Graham Parker – A scene-ster that defined “music cool” for a number of years; known for his pub rock, high energy and searing sarcasm…

Q

64. Queen

Love them or hate them, Queen was rock spectacle. Lead singer Freddie Mercury used to say he wanted to create “rock ballet”; and like some of Zappa’s quotes, that’s too much for me to comprehend. A lot of what Queen produced was simply, well…“too much”; hence the ample and often venomous criticism they endured. But to criticize them for being “too good” or “too popular”? They were simply great at what they did with other-worldly guitar work from Brian May, Mercury’s unique vocal stylings, heavy and pounding-yet-often-lovely songs and a new level of anthemic rock that the world had not quite been prepared to assimilate. Extraordinarily polished productions – for both their records and their shows. In the beginning, Queen was brilliant hard rock – almost metal – and transitioned over time to “arena rock” and more of a pop and mainstream sheen. Eighteen number one albums and eighteen number one singles later lead to sales of as many as 300 million records before Freddie could no longer keep himself alive…

Runners-Up

N/A

Others the mainstream would consider: None

Artists not fully appreciated: Quicksilver Messenger Service – They were there from the beginning (1965) when psychedelic rock in San Francisco was just finding its groove; two catchy tunes (“Fresh Air” and “What About Me”) established their legitimacy and underscored their next two decades of work…

R

65. Ramones

(1974 – 1996) What would punk rock be without the Ramones? A lot less fun, for one thing. They somehow spun punk into “mainstream” with hooky 2-minute blasts of straight-ahead three-chord (at most) rock songs. Never designed for commercial success, they were really a live act that played close to 2500 shows in their 20 years together. Truly “disbanding” in 1996, all of the band’s original four members—lead singer Joey Ramone, guitarist Johnny Ramone, bassist Dee Dee Ramone and drummer Tommy Ramone – had died by then. But the music and the Ramones live on…

66. Rascals

(1965-1972) How can I be sure…that The Rascals deserved to be on this list? I couldn’t see them here in the beginning and couldn’t imagine them left off in the end. This was rocking blue-eyed soul before there was a name for it. They had a string of enviable #1 hits, classics like “Good Lovin'” (1966), “Groovin'” (1967), and “People Got to Be Free” (1968), as well as big radio hits such as the revered “How Can I Be Sure?” (#4 in 1967). The Rascals created a new hit formula that might have been closer to soul than pop at the time. They wrote most of their own material and were early on in using the Hammond organ as a backbone to their blended sound. As they got away from their roots, their later stuff became more MOR meh and they truly blended in, then, before ultimately checking out…

67. Otis Redding

(1962-1967) A soul rocker? Perhaps. Otis Redding’s voice and impact was so strong that he just had to be included on the list. And as with Buddy Holly and Sam Cooke amongst others, his untimely death cheated us out of a huge body of work that assuredly would have followed. Otis was an American singer-songwriter, record producer, arranger and even talent scout. Long considered one of the greatest singers in the history of American popular music with roots in soul and rhythm and blues, he expanded existing forms to write and belt out new pure melodies. He became a huge fan favorite after appearing at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and then Redding wrote and recorded his iconic “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” with Steve Cropper. That song became the first posthumous number-one record on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts after his death in a plane crash.

68. Lou Reed

(1965-2013) To many of us, Lou Reed was rock as he changed it from something safe to something edgy and dark – the way it could be. Should be? He presaged punk and glam and even forms of hard rock. He introduced a new sexual energy and element to rock and roll. The bisexual Reed received electroconvulsive therapy as a teenager, intended to cure this “perversity”. Famously, it didn’t work and – instead – it became the font of much of his music and personae (“Walk on the Wild Side” and “Kill Your Sons”, as examples). Velvet Underground was an act more than it was a band and Reed stated that he wanted to use music to write the great American novel. The Velvet Underground could be called a commercial failure in the late 1960s, but the group gained a considerable cult following in the years since its demise and has gone on to become one of the most widely cited and influential bands of the era. Brian Eno said that while the Velvet Underground’s debut album only sold 30,000 copies, “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.” Reed was solo for 40 years after that but never alone when it came to an appreciation of his influences…

69. REM

(1980 – ) For many of their legion of fans, R.E.M was simply the greatest band in the world. And there is an argument to be made there; with their topical yet typically opaque songs, a cultural icon lead singer (Michael Stipe), a great guitar slinger (Peter Buck) and tunes that were stickier than what you thought at first hearing. Social and political issues formed the backbones of their strategic lyrics but the propulsive music drove the tunes. Popular? Over 70 million records sold. Kurt Cobain once said, “I don’t know how that band does what they do. God, they’re the greatest. They’ve dealt with their success like saints, and they keep delivering great music.” Sounds like just another one of the R.E.M faithful.

70. Replacements

(1979 – ) Could rock have evolved without The Replacements? Sure – but would it have kept its whimsy and sense of humor and garage feel? Likely not. While “The Placemats” have been considered the founders of alternative music, their influences ran even deeper. Front man Paul Westerberg’s “raw-throated adolescent howl,” with his self-deprecating lyrics, became a new anti-icon that other singers aspired to become. The Replacements were a notoriously wayward live act, often performing under the influence of alcohol and playing (fragments of) covers instead of their own material. It all sounded good and it lasted as long as they could stand it and each other.

71. Rolling Stones

(1962 – ) The prototype rock band, still sneering and swaggering more than a half-century later. You might be able to start and end this rock list of influence and power with the Rolling Stones. Those that influenced them and those that they influenced pretty well cover the spectrum of our favorite idiom. They were instrumental in making blues a structural part of rock and roll, and of changing the focus of blues culture to the simpler form as typified by artists such as Muddy Waters, writer of “Rollin’ Stone”, the song after which the band is named. Musicologist Robert Palmer attributed the remarkable endurance of the Rolling Stones to being “rooted in traditional verities, in rhythm-and-blues and soul music” while “more ephemeral pop fashions have come and gone”. There’s not much play in going into deep analysis or descriptions of the Stones here as rock fans have their own deep-set feelings about the boys and have had for six decades now. And if you don’t know Mick and Keith and the rest of the band, you probably don’t care about such things as a Top 100 list anyway…

72. Todd Rundgren

(1972 – ) Those who knew the work of “Runt” from his catchy commercial jingle singles (“Hello It’s Me” and “I Saw the Light” and “Bang the Drum All Day”) still only glimpsed part of the picture. Todd wrote and sang and played and produced across the entire frontier of rock. He was an under-stated multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and record producer. Hailed in the early stages of his career as a new pop star, Rundgren engineered and/or produced many notable albums for other acts, including Badfinger, The Band, Grand Funk Railroad, Meat Loaf, New York Dolls, and XTC. He formed synthesizer-based rock groups (Utopia) and experimented with heavier sounds and remarkably middle-of-the-road stuff. He did it all and made it all work.

Runners-Up

N/A

Others the mainstream would consider: Smokey Robinson – Smokey is considered here more for his writing chops than his rocking chops; he helped create the Motown sound, though, which spilled over into soft-rock territory…Righteous Brothers – Like the Rascals, early devotees of blue-eyed soul – without the funk; great harmonies and classic melodies written by others with Phil Spector’s extravagant wall-of-sound behind it all… Rush – Something also of an “acquired” taste, perhaps rock’s first blues/science fiction trio and famously unloved by music critics, which only added to their allure, of course…REO Speedwagon –  High on the list of rock’s guilty pleasures, if these power pop guys weren’t so successful, they would have been an archetype great cult group, what with their rocking ballads…Radiohead – Started as a hugely popular alt-band and morphed into a peculiarly acceptable experimental ambient noise group about whom critics continue to rave…Red Hot Chili Peppers – An updated good-time post-everything band big on rock-funk and personality(ies)….

Artists not fully appreciated: Bonny Raitt – The great blues and slide guitar woman (there are not many…), with a seductive voice and clear-chiming guitar licks…Leon Russell – Having covered the entire spectrum of rock music from composer to piano maestro to group leader to aged veteran and icon, Russell might have hit the ultimate rock cool with his Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour…Rancid – “Platinum punks” with an unusually pleasing fusion of funky reggae and low-key politicking and a big bass sound…

Check out commentary on letters M-N-O here.

Photo Credit: “Pink Floyd (1971)” by Capitol Records – Billboard, page 25, 30 October 1971. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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2 comments on “The P-Q-R’s of Rock – Top 100
  1. Pingback: The S and T’s of Rock – Top 100 | Rocknuts

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