As an indie-music person who periodically blogs about things other than baseball (I used to be an entertainment critic before I went to Law School and started writing for Game Of Inches and The Hardball Times, after all), I thought it might be interesting to write about my ten favorite bands of all time. This list is not intented to capture the ten best (objectively speaking) or even the ten more talented bands in the history of music. That sort of list would be entirely too long and hard to craft, too controversial to accurately rank. Rather, I present herein the ten bands I listen to most, have the most respect for, and more inspire me. Anyone who knows me knows I have a diverse taste in music that encompasses everything under the sun short of most country music, gospel, and "gansta rap" (though I particularly love that 80's sound). I have a penchant for many bands not on this list, ranging from Talking Heads, Queen, T. Rex, and The Rolling Stones to Black Sabbath, The Smiths, and Depeche Mode to Friendly Fires, MGMT, Daft Pink, Vampire Weekend, The Decemberists, and VHS or Beta (just to name a very select few). A band's omission from this list does not mean that I do not like them or that I find no inspiration from them. Rather, it just means there are some other bands that, for whatever subjective reason, better capture my fancy. I've intentionally omitted The Beatles because, as one of my friends once said, "The Beatles are everyone favorite band, and if you deny that, you either have never listened to them or you are a liar. However, if you say that The Beatles are you favorite band, you are a tool."
#10. Bruce Springsteen (1972-Present)
Bruce Springsteen can be summed up in one chant: "Bruuuuuuuce." He's the boss, the king of the proletariat, the champion of blue-collar rock and roll in the United States. Pick up any of the Boss's classic album from Born In The USA to The River to Nebraska to Born To Run or check out modern singles like The Wrestler, Radio Nowhere, and The Rising, and you will understand why Bruce does is not just one of American rock and roll's most popular figures, but also why he's one of, if not the, greatest musicians in American history. Bruce's lyrics dig deep into American culture, touching on that which touches us all, while the music itself touches the heart and ears of listeners, belting out great beats and strong riffs that, despite the murky undertones, keep you upbeat. In the style of Billy Joel meets Bob Dylan meets U2, most of Bruce's catalog is "classic." Bruce Springsteen pioneered the arena rock sound that the 80's lived-and-died by, but though the 80's largely dead, Bruce, as his recent Superbowl appearance can attest, is still alive and doing that same ol' thing he's always been great at doing. Bruce recently released a record of previously unreleased songs from the Darkness On The Edge of Town sessions called The Promise, and I highly recommend giving it a listen when you get the chance.
Major hits: Born In The USA, Dancing In The Dark, Glory Days, Born To Run, Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, Hungry Heart, The River, Human Touch, Radio Nowhere, Blinded By The Light, The Wrestler
#9. Arcade Fire (2003-Present)
#8. Led Zeppelin (1968-1980)
#7. Cut Copy (2002-Present)
Cut Copy is best described as what New Order would sound like if they existed today and exclusively made dance songs, rather than dabble in Synth Rock and Dance Punk from time to time. Cut Copy does not just make great music, however, they also make great remixes. Their latest album, Zonoscope, is a testament to the entirely underrated retro 80's sound that is coming out of Austrialia/New Zealand (think a modern INXS and Men At Work meets OMD and the electro-house genre) along with contemporaries Empire Of The Sun, Ladyhawke, Van She, Midnight Juggernauts, and The Presets. As great as Zonoscope is in it's own right, however, it does not come near close to one of the best albums of the 2000's decade -- Cut Copy's 2008 album In Ghost Colours. In Ghost Colours is a rare album with a few great radio-friendly singles (Hearts On Fire, Lights & Music, Feel The Love) that are surrounded by strong complementing songs that, like Monty Python's Holy Grail or a fine wine, get better and better, dancier and dancier, with every listen. I saw Cut Copy play the same show twice in two days last summer at both Lollapalooza and the Lollapalooza aftershow, and though the music was the same, the party was cumulatively ridiculous. I do not think I've ever seen as many people having as much fun singing and dancing in one place as I did at the Cut Copy's Lollapalooza set in 2010. Maybe at Girl Talk's New Years Eve show, but even then I doubt it.
Major hits: Hearts On Fire, Lights & Music, Feel The Love, Saturdays, Far Away, Out The On The Ice, Need You Now, Take Me Over, The Twilight, Where I'm Going, Pharaohs & Pyramids, Time Stands Still, So Haunted, Midnight Juggernaught's "45 And Rising" (Cut Copy Remix), Van She's "Kelly" (Cut Copy remix), Cansei De Ser Sexy's "Move" (Cut Copy Remix), The Juan Maclean's "Happy House" (Cut Copy Remix)
If you must own one album: In Ghost Colours
#6. Of Montreal (1996-Present)
In the early/mid-1990's, Athens, Georgia was the hub of the emerging indie pop/rock scene. With a love for the Beach Boys and similar sounds of the 1960s psych-pop, the Elephant 6 movement, named after the independent record label that produced most of the emerging Athens talent, featured such indie staples as The Apples In Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Olivia Tremor Control. Of Montreal emerged out of the second wave of the Elephant 6 movement, and has been flourishing as one of indie pop's most "mainstream" and extravagant acts ever since. Of Montreal is too eclectic a band to distill beyond an "indie" genre label. They are a unique blend of cross-dressing glam pop and rock, funk, psychedelia, and even afropop. Think David Bowie meets the Beatles meets Prince, all while doing acid. That's really the only way to describe Of Montreal and its lead musical force, it's primary songwriter and frontman, Kevin Barnes. For better or worse, no two Of Monteal albums are alike. Their early work is very psych-pop, which I am not personally partial too (though there are some great early singles like Of Montreal's cover of Yoko Ono titled I Felt Like Smashing My Face Through A Clear Glass Window or Old People In The Cemetery), but it is their later work that truly shines as utterly, undeniably, and indispensably brilliant. Starting with Satanic Panic In The Attic in 2004, Of Montreal's past five albums have been nothing short of a sexy party for your ears and feet. Even Of Montreal's relatively disappointing Skeletal Lamping, their follow up to the "unfollowupable" Hissing Fauna Are You The Destroyer?, was a strong listen riddled with great singles. Of Montreal recently returned to form with False Priest in 2010, featuring "up and coming" Janelle Monae on one brilliant track. If for no other reason than Hissing Fauna, one of the greatest beginning-to-end concept albums of all time and probably the best album of the 2000's decade, Of Montreal deserves recognition as band with immensely underrated talent. As great as of Of Montreal's modern albums are, however, they are not best known for their studio work. To the contrary, they are known for routinely staging some of the weirdest, most decadent, and dancey live shows of any modern act. From bizarre costumes and makeup, to sex wars, to people in animal suits pretending having sex, to Kevin Barnes getting nude or cross dressing, Of Montreal's shows are nothing short of a unique vaudeville experience. I highly suggest seeing Of Montreal live, even if you do not know their music (that's how I got into them), because Kevin Barnes and crew (and their psych-80's style) are guaranteed to have you dancing on the dance floor.
Major hits: Disconnect The Dots, Requiem For O.M.M.2, So Begins Our Alabee, A Sentence Of Sorts In Kongsvinger, An Eludarian Instance, Suffer For Fashion, She's A Rejector, Gronlandic Edit, Wraith Pinned To The Mist And Other Games, Rapture Rapes The Muses, Coquet Coquette, Enemy Gene, I Fell Ya' Strutter, Forecast Fascist Future
If you must own one album: Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
#5. The Killers (2002-Present)
The Killers were on of the bands that lead the retro-postpunk/new wave/synth rock movement of the early 2000s. Taking their band name from the fictional backing band from the music video to the song Crystal by New Order, The Killers are the perfect bands to inherent the sound that New Order pioneered throughout the 80’s. The Killers have evolved from being a new wave/synth rock band with their release of Hot Fuss in 2004 to a space rock outfit doing their best Bruce Springsteen impression with their latest release Day & Age. Brandon Flower’s talk-song crooning eerily emulates and echoes Bernard Sumner (with a hint of Lou Reed/Dire Straits influence), and while some think he and the Killers are too derivative (particularly Pitchfork), I happen to find them one of the more refreshing and all around entertaining modern-era bands to listen to on a regular basis. I saw them live at Lollapalooza a few years ago and can’t wait to see them again.
Major hits: Somebody Told Me, Mr. Bright Side, Somebody Told me, All These Things That I've Done, Romero & Juliet (cover), When You Were Young, Read My Mind, Shadowplay (cover), For Reasons Unknown, Sam's Town, Spaceman, Human, Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town (cover)
If you must own one album: Hot Fuss
#4. Pink Floyd (1965-1996)
Pink Floyd The Wall is probably my favorite album of all time. It is the best and perfect example of lyrical brilliance backed by great vocals and artistic, yet appealing musical compositions. The Wall, a disillusioning, bleak, and dystopian tale of isolation, not fitting in, and misunderstanding, is the brainchild and masterpiece of Roger Waters, the lead songwriter, co-frontman, and “bassist” (David Gilmore, the band’s Guitarist, did all the hard bass work) of Pink Floyd. If you are not a casual Pink Floyd fan, you probably best know the album for the songs Brick In The Wall Part 2 and Uncomfortably Numb.
Beyond The Wall, the band is also and probably best-known for Darkside Of The Moon. Even if you’ve never heard the album (which you should), you undoubtedly recognize it’s infamous cover, know it apparently syncs up to The Wizard Of Oz (never tried it), and associate it with filthy hippies. Regardless of its pop-culture status and associates, the album is brilliant and composed largely from beginning to end as one song. In fact, most of Pink Floyd’s albums are similarly composed concept albums, best though of one long song broken into digestible chunks. Wish You Were Here is another great and favorite Pink Floyd album of mine, and it probably features their second-best known song, the eponymous Wish You Were Here.
The rest of Pink Floyd’s catalogue is not as well known, but I nonetheless hold everyone of their albums, including their two post-Roger Waters albums, in the highest esteem. If you like Pink Floyd, I also highly suggest you check out Rogers Waters’ solo albums. In particular, Radio K.A.O.S. and The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking are brilliant masterpieces that sound like lost Pink Floyd albums. Call them overrated if you want, but Pink Floyd, like the Beatles, earned their reputation.
Major hits: Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2), Wish You Were Here, Comfortably Numb, Money, Run Like Hell, Young Lust, Us And Them, One Of These Days, Time, Keep Talking, Learning To Fly, What Do You Want From Me, Sheep
If you must own one album: The Wall (alternatively, there is Dark Side Of The Moon)
#3. Guns N’ Roses (1985-Present)
In 1987, the year I was born, Guns N’ Roses unleashed Appetite For Destruction on the world. With vile, violent, and vocally talented Axl Rose at the helm and guitar god Slash shredding out some of rock and roll’s best riffs of all time, Guns N’ Roses blew away the glam rock scene that dominated the late 80’s with a revival of the hard rock tunes that birthed the rock genre. Slash’s guitar, Axl voice, and Izzy Stradlin’s pen gave music some of the best hard rock songs of all time: Welcome To The Jungle, Paradise City, Sweet Child O' Mine, Mr. Brownstone, Nightrain, Mr. Brownstone, It’s So Easy, My Michelle, Anything Goes, and Rocket Queen. And that was just Appetite For Destruction. After Appetite for Destruction, Guns N’ Roses would release three more albums in four years, featuring such original hits as Patience, Don't Cry, Shotgun Blues, and Use Your Illusions ballads November Rain, Estranged, Civil War and Yesterdays. Guns N’ Roses also released some of rocks best cover songs in Live And Let Die (Paul McCartney), Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan), Sympathy For The Devil (Rolling Stones), and Buick Mackane (T. Rex).
Axl's potassium-in-water personality finally drove a deep riff in the band in 1994, resulting in the band's hiatus and a fifteen-year gap between albums with new material. Axl and Slash developed irreconcilable differences, resulting in his departure, while Axl’s me-me-me ego alienated the rest of the band. Between 1994 and 2008, when Guns N’ Roses released its sixth studio album, Chinese Democracy, Axl rotated through a plethora of temporary band members, essentially converting Guns N’ Roses into his own solo project. 2008’s Chinese Democracy was not well-received by fans or critics, and many were disappointed by the quality of the material in light of Guns N’ Roses older and vintage material. Nonetheless I, and many others, loved the new album on its own merits. Chinese Democracy had a few weak moments like I.R.S, but the album’s flurry of other great songs like Riad N' the Bedouins, Sorry, Shackler's Revenge, Better, and the eponymous Chinese Democracy more than made up for those weaker moments.
Though Guns N’ Roses is no longer the band it once was, and though Axl Rose may be the biggest jerk in rock and roll, GNR’s older tunes are still, hands down, some of rock music’s heaviest and best of all time.
Major hits: Welcome To The Jungle, Paradise City, Sweet Child O' Mine, Mr. Brownstone, Nightrain, Mr. Brownstone, Patience, November Rain, Estranged, Civil War, Yesterdays, Live And Let Die, Sympathy For The Devil, Riad N' the Bedouins, Sorry, Shackler's Revenge, Better
If you must own one album: Appetite For Destruction
#2. David Bowie (1964-Present)
If anyone invented the word “versatility,” it was the ever-evolving persona and music of David Bowie. Bowie began his career in the mid-60’s as a folksy cover artist before turning to proggy space rock/pop with Space Oddity a few years later (belting out his first-fan favorite, Space Oddity). Then the 1970's rolled around and Bowie began pioneering the glam scene. He started off relatively mellow with the Man Who Sold The World (the first “Bowie” sounding album) and Hunky Dory (Bowie’s first of many great albums), but in 1972, with the help of rock guitarist Mick Ronson and women’s clothing, Bowie created one of the greatest rock albums of all time: The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust. Ziggy Stardust, a concept album that details the decadent adventure of a space alien rockstar sent to inspire hope upon the earth in its last five years of existence, is one of those rare albums that is great from beginning to end, where you can’t put it down until it’s done, and when it is done, you want more. I’d be inclined to put Bowie on my list top/favorite artists of all time on the strength of Ziggy Stardust alone, but there’s plenty of other reasons he deserves a spot at the top, as he belted out hit record after hit record after Ziggy Stardust: some of his best albums include Aladdin Sane, Young Americans, Station To Station, Low, "Heroes", Lodger, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), Let's Dance. Though Bowie’s later records are not as “all around” great as his early and mid-career masterpieces, they are still riddled with strong singles such as I’m Afraid Of Americans, New Killer Star, Little Wonder, and Hallo Spaceboy. Bowie has successfully dabbled in many genres, from Folk to Glam Rock to Avante Garde and Rock to Industrial, and if it’s one thing we know other than he’s drop dead sexy, it’s that he’s a musical force to be reckoned with. Oh, and he was also in the super cheesy/awesome 80’s quasi-musical muppetfest that was Labyrinth. Bonus points for that.
Major hits: Ziggy Stardust, Rebel Rebel, The Man Who Sold The World, Changes, Life On Mars, Queen Bitch, Star Man, Five Years, Rock & Roll Suicide, Suffragette City, Soul Love, Drive-In Saturday, The Jean Genie, Heroes, The Secret Life Of Arabia, Fahion, Let's Dance, China Girl, Underground, Magic Dance, New Killer Star
If you must own one album: The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
#1. New Order (1980-1993, 1998-2007)
You probably know them for Blue Monday or Bizarre Love Triangle, but I’ll forever know New Order as the band that melted my heart with their appearance on the soundtrack of Trainspotting (specifically the song Temptation). From early era new wave punk songs like Ceremony and Age of Consent to their dancier music like Sub-Culture and Bizarre Love Triangle to their more modern, “space rock” oriented songs like Crystal (the music video from which The Killers took their band name), New Order is a versatile band with many different sounds, all work. New Order previously existed as a protopunk/new wave band Joy Division (another great band) until lead singer Ian Curtis killed himself in 1980. Bernard Sumner, Joy Division’s guitarist, reluctantly took over as lead singer/songwriter and the band hasn’t looked back since, though they have since broken up. The combination of Bernard Sumner’s proletariat lyrics and Peter Hook’s catchy bass hooks form the perfect combination of music that entices your ears and feet to form my favorite band of all time. New Order currently exists as Bad Lieutenant, with Alex James (of Blur fame) replacing Peter Hook. Bad Lieutenant is still solid (check out their single Sink or Swim), but they come nothing close to vintage New Order. Fans of New Order should also check out the band Electronic, a collaboration between Bernard Sumner, Johnny Marr (the guitarist of the Smiths and current guitarist of Modest Mouse), and the Pet Shop Boys (with a splash of Kraftwerk on one album).
Major hits: Bizarre Love Triangle, Ceremony, Blue Monday ’88, Age of Consent, Temptation, Regret, Love Vigilantes, True Faith, 1963
If you must own one album: Substance 1987
On a side note, I just want to say a few words about The Talking Heads, the band that inspired this post earlier today. The Talking Heads are one of those bands that, when people mention them, you say “who?” but you go “oh, them!” when you hear one of their songs. Though their music, outside a handful of singles, is hardly “casual listening,” the band is all around musically entertaining and one of they are one of the more talented outfits in semi-modern pop/rock and art rock music. Their major hits include Psycho Killer, Burning Down The House, And She Was, Love → Building On Fire, Wild Wild Life, I Zimbra, Stay Hungry, Stay Up Late. If you must own one album, buy their live album The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads.
Also, just because I wanted to also get it out of my system, here are my 10 favorite albums of all time:
10. Alive 2007 (Daft Punk, 2007): Daft Punk's already sick beats are remixed and intertwined to show the power of synergy.
9. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Phoenix, 2009): Phoenix makes the leap from Strokes-wannabe to Of Montreal knock off to great effect.
8. Led Zeppelin IV (Led Zeppelin, 1971): One of first and best modern hard rock albums of all times, features most of Zeppelin's staple tunes.
7. In Ghost Colours (Cut Copy, 2008): Cut Copy's brilliant album of 80's inspired dance tunes is reminisce of late 80's New Order.
6. Bring On The Comets (VHS or Beta, 2007): VHS or Beta pioneered the retro dance punk/new wave/synth/space rock sound that The Killers have become famous for, but this album particularly shines as modern era's most glorious dance punk album to date.
5. Appetite For Destruction (Guns N' Roses, 1987): Before Nirvana killed the genre of 80's metal, there was Guns N' Roses and their first album, cover-to-cover, is unquestionably one of, if not the, greatest hard rock albums of all time.
4. The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (David Bowie, 1972): Bowie's essential brainchild is the rock-and-roll bombshell that pioneered the glam rock sound of the 70's.
3. Substance 1987 (New Order, 1987): Honestly, each of New Order's various albums are riddled with great songs, but this compilation album features some of the best, and most of the essential, singles and remixes from New Order's 80's catalog (though there are plenty of great post-Substance songs as well!).
2. Hissing Fauna Are You The Destroyer? (Of Montreal, 2007): I'm a sucker for concept albums and Kevin Barnes' "ultimate break up album" is the zenith of Of Montreal's pop/rock/psych sound.
1. The Wall (Pink Floyd, 1979): The Wall is the Roger Waters' baby; the perfect blend of artistic integrity, deep lyrics, and brilliant music. Two words describe this album best: magnum opus.
Just Missed The Top 10 (in no particular order): Born In The USA (Bruce Springsteen, 1984), Oracular Spectacular (MGMT, 2007), Hatful Of Hollow (The Smiths, 1984), Day & Age (The Killers, 2008), The Suburbs (Arcade Fire, 2010)
Leave the love/hate in the comments.