Monday, May 28, 2018

Playin' Around With My Top 25

This is one of those posts that might be of interest only to me, so feel free to skip it (not that you wouldn't feel free anyway -- you don't really need me to tell you that). A couple of posts ago, I talked about my 5-Year Project, and how I planned to go back over my Top 25 Artists of All Time and give them a re-listen, then write a little about each band (or solo artist) here. But before I start those essays, I wanted to go over my Top 25 list, and look at some trends. This will give you (or me) an idea of what I like in an artist, before I even start writing about what I like (and dislike) about each of them specifically.

So here's the list again. I'm going to break down some of their trends next to each (specifically year of first recording, country of origin, genre and the gender of the lead singer(s). So here's the list:

Jethro Tull -- 1968 - UK - progressive folk rock - male
The Who -- 1965 - UK - hard rock/progressive rock - male (male, male)
Pink Floyd -- 1967 - UK - psychedelic/progressive rock - male (male, male)
Yes -- 1969 - UK - progressive rock - male (male, male, male)
The Good Rats -- 1969 - US - hard rock - male (male)
Procol Harum -- 1967 - UK - progressive/blues rock - male (male)
Bruce Springsteen -- 1973 US - rock - male
Joni Mitchell -- 1968 - CAN/US - folk/pop/folk-jazz - female
The Cars -- 1978 - US - new wave - male (male)
The Police -- 1978 - UK - new wave/reggae - male
Blondie -- 1976 - US - new wave - female
Eurythmics -- 1981 - UK - new wave - female
The Smiths -- 1984 - UK - new wave - male
The Go-Go's -- 1981 - US - new wave/pop punk - female (female)
Fleetwood Mac -- 1968 (1975) - UK/US - female - female - male (male, male)
Rush - 1974 -- CAN - hard rock/progressive rock/math rock - male
'Til Tuesday -- 1985 - US - new wave - female
The Cranberries -- 1993 - IRE - alternapop - female
Nirvana -- 1989 - US - grunge/alternative - male
The Slant -- 1998 - US - alternapop/folk - female (male, male)
Future Bible Heroes -- 1997 - US - indiepop/lo-fi - female, male
Paramore -- 2005 - US - pop punk/alternative - female
Bayside -- 2004 - US - pop punk/emo/rock - male
Black 47 -- 1991 - IRE/US - Celtic rock - male
Blackmore's Night -- 1997 - UK/US - Renaissance/folk - female

And here are some breakdowns of the trends.

Year of first recording:

1960s - 8 (7)
1970s - 5 (6)
1980s - 5
1990s - 5
2000s - 2

No shockers here, given my age -- The biggest decade for me is bands who started in the 1960s, followed by bands that started in the 1970s. (I've half-shifted Fleetwood Mac to the 1970s, since the version I love -- with Nicks and Buckingham -- really started in the mid-70s. And I guess I could almost say the same thing about Pink Floyd, as for me, they're really a different band from Meddle onwards.) I'm almost surprised that the number is the same for the 1990s and for the 1980s. Notice there are only two bands for the first decade of the new century, and none for the second.

(I was wondering if I were to add some bands who began in the current decade, who would be the most likely candidates? The three I came up with are The Mowgli's, Foster the People and Passion Pit, but none are really ready to crack that Top 25 yet.)

Country or Origin:

US - 14
UK - 9
Can - 1
Ire - 1

Considering I'm American, the list is pretty Brit-centric, and that's especially so at the top, where five of my top six are bands of British origin. I've treated Joni Mitchell and Larry Kirwan of Black 47 as though they were Americans, even though they were born in Canada and Ireland, respectively. This is because each lived in the U.S. for pretty much their whole music careers.


I'm not going to try to break down specific numbers here, just some general trends. There's a preponderance of progressive rock and new wave bands here, with a decent number of some kind of version or other of alternative rock, pop rock, psychedelic rock,  folk and hard rock. What you don't see: a whole lot of pure pop, R&B, blues, country, metal, jazz or hip-hop. (And while I occasionally enjoy certain types of classical, in terms of my favorite artists, Yes is about as close as I come to that.)

If you look really carefully at these artists, what really stands out to me is that I like a lot of bands that make heavy use of keyboards and synthesizers, and artists that make use of acoustic guitars. I don't exactly hate electric guitars, but I need more to make music interesting to me. The only really hard rocking bands in the bunch are The Who, The Good Rats, Rush and Nirvana (and to a certain extent, Bruce Springsteen, Bayside and early Paramore). And none of those first four bands I mentioned are typical guitar-centric bands.

The other thing that stands out is melody. I like melodic songs with crisp hooks. I don't have a lot of tolerance for dissonance.

Gender of Vocalist:

It seems to break down fairly equally, with roughly 14 bands that rely on mostly male vocals, and 11 that rely on female. However, given that probably about 80% of bands in general (I'm guessing) have male lead vocalists, you can see that I actually somewhat favor female vocalists, especially in later years. (In the 1960s and 1970s, there weren't a whole lot of female lead rock vocalists.) I'm a huge fan of interesting female voices. Although it's not immediately obvious from this list, I also love bands that do are good at vocal harmony.

Other Factors:

1. Of course, this is only my opinion, but one thing I think that most of these artists have in common is strong songwriting.

2. A lot of the bands, especially the ones from the 1960s and 1970s, have a largely male fanbase, and several (such as The Who, The Good Rats and Rush) are almost what I'd call "ugly guy" bands. (There aren't a lot of matinee idol looks here). And also, see point number 3 as another reason for the largely male fan base.

3. The themes of the songs for these artists tend to go far beyond typical love and/or sex songs. Many, if not most, of these artists are writing about things like the meaning of life, spirituality, madness, etc. Few of them are famous for "I love you, you love me" kind of songs.

So anyway, this breakdown should start to give you an idea of why these artists, in particular, made my Top 25.

The next post (that isn't an album review) will start to talk specifically about each of these 25 artists. It will be about Jethro Tull.