The S and T’s of Rock – Top 100

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The Commentary

sir-rocknuts-500Our philosophy at Rocknuts is “I like what we have so much, I want more”. So, here’s even more commentary on the nearly-famous Rocknuts Top 100 list. Undaunted by criticism (and the begrudging praise), Sir Rocknuts blunders on once again with the quest to publish his shallow and cursory comments on each of the artists in the top 100 list plus the “also-rans”; now dealing in the letters S and T. 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 very beginning – with commentary on A through R already out there in the universe somewhere. Now, let’s go on from there and see the prose and the cons of S’s and T’s….

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S

73. Santana

carlos

(1966 – ) Timbales and congas added to rock ended up distinguishing one of the savants of our list; no one ever played a more creatively melodic guitar than has Carlos Santana. The music itself was a pastiche of Latin-infused rock, jazz, blues, salsa and African rhythms. The initial band of Santana was a personal favorite/project of event producer Bill Graham and he arranged to have the as-yet-unreleased group play a set at Woodstock in 1969. That catapulted them into the rock stratosphere. For a group that de-emphasized vocals (not their strong suit) and didn’t prize lyrics (some almost ludicrous), the arrangements and Santana’s power with lead guitar made them an almost mystical experience. Drugs and a further infusion of spirituality caused a rift in the band and Carlos Santana went his own to many new experiential projects…

74. Boz Scaggs

(1965 – ) He’s still pumping out the tunes some fifty years into a career that has seen him perform straight-up rock and roll with Steve Miller, croon with heart-rending ballads, play a form of soft jazz with veteran sessions players, create his own mellow rock and even become the reference for a prototypical rocker in “Basic Instinct”. Boz had a fertile creative period from 1976-1981 that was also fruitful for him commercially as his massively popular “Silk Degrees” album spawned four top hits. After two similar efforts, he took almost a decade off, running a San Francisco nightclub before climbing back into the musical saddle. With recent releases being new songs and covers of his unique preferences, he’s not done yet…

75. John Sebastian/Lovin’ Spoonful

(1965 – ) John Sebastian’s best music was the early stuff with the Spoonful, including his soft skiffle-rock hits leading up to “Summer in the City”. Skiffle and jug band music tells you how basic this stuff was but he also crafted classic simple songs, appealingly sung. Lovin’ Spoonful were only together about three years but dropped the best of Sebastian’s folk-jug-rock hits on an American audience. Sebastian grew up around music, including his family friendship with Woody Guthrie and he was a masterful harmonica player (as was his father). That “roots” approach was inflected in his tuneful craftsmanship and joy that emanated from his career songbook.

76. Bob Seger

(1961 – ) Bob Seger always seemed to be on the verge of becoming a big star and then you look around and – voila – he really was a big star. Up on the stage – playing star again; a seemingly humble guy who just played straight-over-tackle rock without a lot of garnishment. Not many artists on this list have been around (or have been as successful) as Bob Seger with his no-holds-barred rock sounds and singular raspy “shouting” voice that mellowed a bit over time. He was proud to show off his Detroit roots and the Silver Bullet Band was his backing group (from there) for decades. Seger never seemed to be in it just for the money as he won’t license his music to streaming services or even put out “greatest hits” packages. But he was the total rocker package all along.

77. Simon and Garfunkle/Paul Simon

(1963 – ) There’s an argument to be made that Paul Simon is as good a composer as we have heard over the last fifty years. And another argument that he played and sang as many good songs – both with Art Garfunkle and without – as any other artist in the biz. Rhymin’ Simon had an uncanny ability to write meaningful songs with lifelong impact and tunes that seemed to have a life of their own. Impact? He was named by Time Magazine as “100 people who shaped the world”. Better than your average rocker, there. He had numerous #1 hits and #1 albums both with and without Artie, wrote a really bad Broadway musical (“The Capeman”) and followed up his most hallowed album with Graceland, an album inspired by South African township music. He set trends rather than followed them. His huge and evolving body of work (including acting) created an event whenever he performed or recorded.

78. Sly and the Family Stone

(1967-1983) Before Sylvester Stone hit the drug/mental incapacitation wall, he was the formative master of funk-rock. And before even that, he was unparalleled in creating funk/rock masterpieces. And before he was creating and playing and funking up the place, he first was an ace producer for other early rockers. Sly Stone (Sylvester Stewart) began his career as a prodigal multi-instrumentalist and record producer for Autumn Records, producing for San Francisco-area bands such as The Beau Brummels, The Mojo Men, Bobby Freeman, and Grace Slick’s first band, the Great Society. His integrated soul-based fusion rock group, the Family Stone set the music scene on its ear in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s and implied a limitless creative talent. That was not to be; the music got darker and so did Sly as he slipped into an all-too-familiar trend of drugs and abuse. He became as famous for not showing up to live gigs (or leaving before they were complete) as for the music itself. And, as for his music, and the balance of his years, we have been listening to tributes and tribute bands do the stuff he created.

79. Smiths/Morrisey

(1982 – ) The Smiths stand in here to represent all the Brit/indie/alt acts of the 1980’s. And Morrissey stands in to represent all the angst-driven front guys in those bands. Critics have called The Smiths the most important alternative rock band to emerge from the independent music scene. Q magazine’s Simon Goddard argued in 2007 that The Smiths were “the one truly vital voice of the ’80s; the most influential British guitar group of the decade” and the “first indie outsiders to achieve mainstream success on their own terms”. Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr wrote the tunes and then Morrissey decided to write them alone, demarking his awkward transition with a first album “Viva Hate” that was meant as much for the other Smiths. And on and on he went…

80. Social Distortion

(1978 – ) Mike Ness is a hero of honest rock; maybe with a snarl and maybe as a woeful cynic and with an exaggerated beaten-down personae of a world-weary guy. He got those chops the hard way, being influenced by Sex Pistols’ type punk yet writing such catchy songs that his “style” almost seemed a dichotomy. After slipping into (and then kicking) a violent drug habit, Ness either recorded on his own or with a revolving cast of Social Distortion lineups. He is more of a roots music guy, as comfortable covering Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” as creating fuzzed out post-punk rock. The titles of his songs give an insight into his muse: “Mommy’s Little Monster”, “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell”, “Prison Bound”, “I Was Wrong”, and “White Light, White Heat, White Trash”. Ness elevated the Los Angeles hardcore scene into something more creative and lasting.

81. Bruce Springsteen

(1972 – ) Was it Elvis, was it Buddy Holley, was it the Stones or was it The Boss that ascended to the throne of rock and roll? If I had to pick one, I would pick Bruce, who brought a new literate style of song writing to muscular rock and roll. The only thing that exceeds the pleasures of a Springsteen album is a Springsteen live show and those of you (a diminishing number…) that haven’t borne witness had better get there in this incarnation. He came out to over-blown adulation as “the new Dylan” (see what literary chops can get you?) but was so different and so much more, with his powerhouse E-Street band. His poetic working class songs are revered like church hymns and he continues on a path that he set himself. Too many great traits to innumerate here…

82. Spoon

(1994 – ) And now for something, well…a little different; we have Spoon. Early comparisons when the band broke mid-nineties were to Wire and The Pixies (I would listen to any group that came packaged as such). Not only was that analysis initially inaccurate, but Spoon evolved quickly into a band whose influences grew murkier and their influencing grew profound. No one quite has the sound of this Britt Daniel fronted outfit. The name Spoon was chosen to honor the 1970s German avant-garde band Can, whose hit song “Spoon” was the theme song to a 1985 movie. The band itself describes Spoon’s music as “psychedelic.” But with a thumping twist. It would be more accurate to call it “indie art rock” but it’s structured and stripped down melodies grab you along with great bottom punkish feel. They continue to experiment with rock and pop and almost all their experiments bear fruit.

83. Steely Dan

(1972 – ) This top 100 list would certainly have less credibility without the jazz and fusion and often outright tuneful rock licks of the inimitable Steely Dan. And if Spoon is described above as “something different”, Steely Dan has been fitting that description – in a great way – for more than four decades now. I can’t say which of the two (Walter Becker and Donald Fagan) had more musical influence on the unique stylings of Steely Dan but if you listen to a Donald Fagan’s “solo” album (I am thinking “Morph the Cat” here…), it sounds like a prototypical Steely Dan album. Great session musicians came and went over the year as the painstaking duo hired at least 42 studio musicians and 11 engineers to make just two of their albums. The group only toured from 1972 to 1974 before retiring to their first love – the studio. The “band” became a “disband” for long stretches and Becker and Fagen followed diverse muses that always included intricate production, flashes of jazz, a straight rock feel and clever lyrics.

Runners-Up

Cat Stevens

(1967 – ) I tried to put Yusef/Cat into the upper deck of the list but in searching for two great songs to use as examples of his rocking cred, I came up well short. That is, they are great songs – and a lot of them – they just aren’t rock. Cat Steven’s version of folk rock was so entertaining that we forgive him the fact that his nursery rhymes and little stories belong on here in this category…

Others the mainstream would consider: Supertramp – My love affair with Supertramp was brief but intense. Art-prog rock in the beginning, they were simply just tuneful and fun by the end…Strokes – Indie rock forerunners, their musical chops became glossier production as they evolved into an arena sound…Patti Smith – More of an icon than a star, she turned poetry into punk rock and became a counter-culture symbol of cool…Sex Pistols – Would there be punk without The Pistols? Would we have missed an entire generation of amateur musicianship? The answer to both is “yes” but the diversion and racket they caused at the time are worth noting here…Rod Stewart – Which Rod? The rocker or the crooner or the cover specialist or…sounding like he always needs to clear his throat, he turned that sound into selling a whole bunch of records while also seeming like he sold out to that form of popularity…Scorpions – Guilty pleasures of the sort that heavy metal and anthemic rock can also be fun to listen to with hooks and melodies and everything you could want in a rock group…

Artists not fully appreciated: Sloan – If I can have a favorite non-commercially successful group, it is likely Sloan They remind me of the Beatles in sound, scope and honesty if not in overall talent (natch)…Smithereens – Even with just one song (“Blood and Roses”), they were shoe-ins for this list…SemiSonic – One great song here, too: “Closing Time” – the fact that Dan Wilson wrote hundreds more (some of them treacly goop) just tarnished the star a bit…Solipsistics – The most obscure of my most-loved groups; check out “Jesus of the Apes” for melodic and inspiring indie music…Henry Lee Summer – The only rocker who can scream in tune, Henry Lee was a massive natural talent and performer that just sort of disappeared on the scene; think of an even friendlier rockier John Cougar…Savoy Brown – Boogie band that begat Lonesome Dave and Foghat and played pleasure music without any seeming ulterior motives…Steppenwolf – If you like hard rock/metal, it all feels like it goes back at some point to Steppenwolf and “Born to Be Wild”; probably made the film “Easy Rider” popular, too. John Kay still rocks it 40 years later…Sleater-Kinney – Truly rockin’ “girl group” without any pretenses of playing to a demographic other than fans that like it loud and musical…Spooky Tooth – Imaginative early 70’s rock from an imaginatively named band that also went edgy with “You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw”; the group introduced us to Gary Wright, later of “Dreamweaver” fame…Strawbs – Talented and creative with a unique folk rock sound that preceded prog; wonderfully long-lived and unjustly not rewarded for their long-term quality and vision…Matthew Sweet – What a talent! In his own group or playing with others, a power pop giant that evoked Big Star, Badfinger and even the Beatles at times…

T

84. Talking Heads

(1975-1991) A whole new kind of music (at the time), David Byrne always sounded refreshingly original. Were they new wave? Were they faux punk? Or avant-garde or even art rock? It didn’t matter. In what seemed a little like a gimmick in the beginning – a la Devo – the band evolved instead and grew into something profoundly musical. David Byrne’s stylish whelps and guttural funk noises often obscured lyrics that were both neurotic and whimsical but always fit to a beat. Producer Brian Eno added his own unique aesthetic and bandmates Jerry Harrison (from Modern Lovers), Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth (from design school!) made as much of a cultural statement as a musical one. Ever-innovative, they funked it up, too, and played powerhouse R&B disguised as art rock for 16 glorious years.

85. Richard Thompson

(1968 – ) One of music’s great songwriters and perhaps its most under-appreciated guitarists, Thompson’s unique Irish baritone has been heard for six decades now, first as a founder of Fairport Convention (something of a folk rock super group), then with songstress/wife Linda) and finally – and triumphantly – on his own for the past twenty years. He lights up both electric and acoustic guitars with an inimitable style and uncanny runs of counter-pointal slew of notes. The urbane and clever lyrics mix with a traditional folk blend to create a richness of songs that have few comparable artists. A sneaky wit belied his massive chops – a guy who can so it all and can do it all well…

86. Jethro Tull

(1967 – ?) You couldn’t get through the seventies without being a Tull fan, it seemed. How cool was Ian Anderson, standing on one foot and playing a – what? – rock flute solo!? Charismatic, courtly and seemingly in a parallel rock universe with a pronounced pomp-religiosity almost rooted in passion plays; that was Anderson and Tull. The a minstrel vibe that they produced stayed consistent even though Tull became a rotating band of talents and influences around Anderson that – nonetheless – that changed the face of rock. The songs? One biographer proclaimed: “A mix of hard rock; folk melodies; blues licks; surreal, impossibly dense lyrics; and overall profundity defied easy analysis”. The critics frequently derided Anderson’s often tongue-in-cheek efforts but with sparkling live shows, their legions of fans adored them.

Runners-Up

N/A

Others the mainstream would consider: T. Rex – Marc Bolan was flamboyant glam rock until he became an alt-metal demi-god…Thin Lizzy – Two more songs like “The Boys Are Back in Town” and “Jailbreak” and they would have been higher on this list… Temptations – “Papa was A Rolling Stone” almost got them included but, seriously now, they will just have to be remembered as great voices doing other people’s stuff…George Thorogood – He called it “high energy blues boogie” in which every song sounded like it was live arena rock; known for “I Drink Alone”, “Move It On Over” and “Who Do You Love”…

Artists not fully appreciated: The Tubes – Confession here: I love “The Tubes” and their outrageous theatrical approach to rock music; I even joined their fan club in San Francisco. The Tubes were the Cirque du Soleil of rock with an added dash of sexual energy…Ten cc – Clever and tuneful almost to ad agency smoothness, the group still put out great and creative songs (“I’m Not in Love” and “Rubber Bullets”) before dissolving to concentrate on videos and other people’s tunes…The Turtles – Flo and Eddie were happy together as the alter ego vocalists that once played with Zappa and then titillated American ears with a string of Top Forty hits…Television – Considered avant-garde punk, Television had three now-legendary musicians in the band: Richard Hell, Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, adding a lot of ideas to a batch of edgy New York music…Tool – Art rock metal? Sometimes easier to admire than to enjoy, Tool’s aggressive assault was dark, bleak and frequently intense…

Check out commentary on letters P-Q-R here.

Photo Credit: Carlos Santana 123176

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One comment on “The S and T’s of Rock – Top 100
  1. John Sebastian’s a curious case. Outside of “Welcome Back”, what happened to his career after the Spoonful? Where did all that creativity go? We shouldn’t underestimate Zal Yanofsky’s contribution to the band. He brought the rock to compliment Sebastian’s jug band, and his guitar solo in Do You Believe In Magic is an example of how simplicity can make perfection.

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