Some musical careers revolve around doing one thing expertly – Billie Holiday sang, Burt Bacharach wrote songs. Other musical careers showcase a smorgasbord of talents – here are ten musicians with impressively wide skill-sets:
Mr Postmodern music is a skilled multi-instrumentalist. These are his credits for 1996’s excellent Odelay. Beck Hansen: vocals (all tracks), electric guitar (tracks 1–4, 6–12), slide guitar (track 2), acoustic guitar (tracks 3, 7, 13), bass guitar (tracks 1–4, 6–12), organ (tracks 1, 4–6, 8, 10), clavinet (tracks 2, 4), electric piano (tracks 6–8), moog synthesizer (tracks 2, 5, 6, 9, 12), harmonica (tracks 1, 2, 6, 7), drums (track 5), percussion (tracks 5, 10, 12), thumb piano (track 5), rhumba box (track 5), xylophone (track 7), turntables (track 9), echoplex (track 12)
Adrian Belew appeared in the late 1970s, contributing his creative guitar work to acts like David Bowie and Talking Heads, before signing up as lead vocalist for King Crimson. But his solo career showcases a skilled multi-instrumentalist, playing albums like 1994’s Here completely solo.
Prefab Sprout‘s most recent album, 2013’s Crimson/Red, was a solo recording from front-man Paddy McAloon, who played all the instruments in his home studio. McAloon records alone due to his eyesight and hearing problems, but he’s a proficient multi-instrumentalist – I love his bass playing on this tune:
As well as his sophisticated chord progressions and inventive bass lines, McCartney is proficient on a wide range of instruments. His drumming is featured on some tracks of The Beatles‘ White Album, and his 1970 solo debut is performed almost exclusively by McCartney, with the exception of his wife’s backing vocals.
It may seem like an unusual choice to feature Monáe, when she’s not noted as an instrumentalist, but she does everything else. As well as singing, rapping, writing, and producing, she runs an independent record label (Wondaland Arts Society) and she may be better known as an actor than as a recording artist.
Prince emerged as an 18 year old with his debut album For You; all tracks were produced, arranged, composed, and performed by Prince. He was a strong vocalist, a virtuoso guitarist, and could play a ton of instruments proficiently – here he is on piano:
Most of the other artists on this list have recorded albums completely solo, but Rundgren took matters a step further by recording an entire album only using his voice (1985’s A Cappella). 1978’s excellent Hermit of Mink Hollow is impressively slick and professional for a one man album. Rundgren has also produced a wide range of successful albums, including XTC‘s Skylarking and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell.
White anchored the commercially and critically successful Earth, Wind, and Fire for years. He shaped the band’s unique visual image and musical style, wrote and produced their material, sang lead vocals, and played keyboards and marimba.
Winwood’s best known for his soulful voice and his keyboard work in bands like Traffic and Blind Faith. But he also performed the entirety of 1980’s solo breakthrough Arc Of A Diver: Steve Winwood – acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, bass, drums, percussion, drum machines, pianos, synthesizers, organ, lead and backing vocals, production, engineering, mixing.
It’s always amazed me how the blind Wonder became such a proficient drummer. He’s mostly known for his skills on keyboards and harmonica, and for his rich, soulful voice, but Wonder recorded most of the tracks for his classic 1970s albums himself, playing most of the bass lines on keyboard.
Did I leave out any of your favourite one person bands? Disagree with any choices? Write in and let me know.
More from Aphoristic Album Reviews
Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
Read about the discographies of musical acts from the 1960s to the present day. Browse this site's review archives or enjoy these random selections:
I add new blog posts to this website every week. Browse the archives or enjoy these random selections: