These musical artists have their own pages on this site. They are all bands or solo artists that I consider worth getting to know; they all have multiple strong albums that I enjoy.
The Band started as The Hawks, backing blues belter Ronnie Hawkins, before supporting Dylan on his controversial 1966 electric tour. After the tour, the Band went to earth with Dylan and recorded the Basement Tapes, where they developed their unique melding of rock with traditional folk, country and blues forms.
As a casual music listener it’s easy to hear The Beach Boys’ sun-drenched hits, and conclude that the Beach Boys were all beaches, girls and cars, and no substance. But the group was led by Brian Wilson, one of the most talented musicians from his era, with an ear for sophisticated chord progressions, studio arrangements, and vocal harmonies.
From very early in their career and probably until the demise of Western civilization, Liverpool’s The Beatles will stand unchallenged as the world’s greatest rock and roll band.
Formed around former Box Tops lead singer Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, Big Star existed for a brief period of time in the early 1970s and were spectacularly unsuccessful during their lifetime due to poor promotion and distribution. But their influence has spread far and wide – the group have earned a deserved cult profile .
Born David Jones, and changing his name to avoid confusion with Davy Jones of The Monkees, Bowie pottered around as a solo artist in London with unsuccessful material like ‘The Laughing Gnome’. He eventually gained some attention with his 1969 single ‘Space Oddity’ and with 1972’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, became a superstar.
It’s not an overstatement that Jeff Buckley was one of the most singularly talented musicians of his generation; blessed with a beautiful and athletic voice, a more than adequate guitar technique and an ability to write songs that escaped from predictable verse/chorus patterns while remaining accessible.
Kate Bush was discovered by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour as a teenager, and placed into a training scheme by her record label EMI, where she was taken out of school and studied dance, mime and music. Bush quickly blossomed into an outstanding performer; her 1978 debut album, The Kick Inside, released at the age of 19 during the height of punk, was improbably accomplished and successful.
The Byrds started as a folk band, but their single ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ crystallised their distinctive sound, with Roger McGuinn’s ringing twelve string guitar and the group’s gorgeous harmonies. The combination of an ornate yet organic sound, coupled with Dylan’s intricate lyrics, proved highly influential and launched the genre of folk rock.
While his former Velvet Underground bandmate Lou Reed has enjoyed a far higher public profile, John Cale has always been like an invisible hand guiding the alternative music scene. He started his career in the early 1960s in the contemporary classical scene – he worked alongside composers like John Cage, Aaron Copland, and LaMonte Young.
Perhaps the most celebrated band to emerge from the 1970’s punk movement, The Clash started as a straight-out punk band. But their music soon expanded, incorporating the reggae and dub they were hearing on London’s streets, as well as venturing into rock and hip hop.
Detroit’s Marshall Crenshaw doesn’t belong in a conversation of most important musicians of his generation, but he’s a talented craftsman, whose deft guitar pop is likeable and accessible. He’s often compared with Buddy Holly, and his 1982 debut album certainly feels like Holly updated for new wave.
David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash all started their careers in other notable sixties bands; Crosby left The Byrds after disagreements over counter-cultural songs like ‘Triad’ and ‘Mind Gardens’, Stills’ Buffalo Springfield broke up after tensions with bandmate Neil Young, while Nash left The Hollies after their decision to record a Dylan covers album.
Breaking up Split Enz after feeling too much pressure to fill his older brother’s shoes, Neil Finn retained drummer Paul Hester from the final Enz lineup and created a more streamlined band. They recruited Australian bass player Nick Seymour (brother of Hunters and Collector’s lead singer Mark), and secured an American record deal.
The band most likely to win a Scrabble tournament, The Decemberists hail from Portland, Oregon, and are notable for flaunting their extensive vocabulary in song. Despite their American heritage, they’re staunch Anglophiles; many of their early songs are set in Victorian England, while leader Colin Meloy is a fan of English folkies like Shirley Collins and…
A gentle sounding English folk-singer, Nick Drake hardly caused a ripple during his short life-time; he was too shy to play live, and barely sold a record. Posthumously, his small catalogue has earned plenty of attention; his delicate and measured approach produced some of the most timeless music of his generation.
Brian Eno started his musical career as a member of Roxy Music, where he used his synthesiser to treat Phil Manzanera’s guitar and Andy Mackay’s saxophone and oboe. After leaving Roxy Music he built up an impressive catologue as a producer, with significant albums for David Bowie, Talking Heads, Devo, and U2.
Fairport Convention are the focal point for British folk rock of their generation. While they started their career as a sixties folk-rock band, like a London equivalent to Jefferson Airplane, they started reaching through the archives of British folk songs and electrifying them.
Fleetwood Mac started life as a blues band in 1967, when Peter Green recruited Mick Fleetwood and John McVie as his rhythm section. The band went through a large turnover of guitarists and vocalists as they transitioned from a blues band to a pop band, and relocated from the UK to California.
After leaving Genesis after six albums at the age of 25, Peter Gabriel’s solo career initially felt like an attempt to distance himself from his former band. It took him a couple of albums to find his feet, but his third self-titled album, known as Melt, established him as a innovative solo artist.
In the mid 1980s, Genesis and its spin-off projects – Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, and Mike and the Mechanics – were enjoying hit singles galore. But before their mid 1980s chart dominance Genesis produced some great music in the 1970s, with their very English blend of progressive rock, 12 string guitar folk, and densely humorous lyrics
It’s difficult to explain the appeal of The Go-Betweens; Robert Forster and Grant McLennan are neither strikingly talented guitarists nor vocalists. But despite their limitations, they made some great albums during the 1980s, eloquent, literate, melodic, and honest.
The Hold Steady were formed in New York, but vocalist and lyricist Craig Finn was raised in Minneapolis, which a lot of his songs reference. Finn and guitarist Tab Kubler were part of a synth based band Lifter Puller, but The Hold Steady are derived from classic rock.
Hüsker Dü started as a hardcore punk in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 1979, with Bob Mould on guitar and vocals, Grant Hart on drums and vocals, and Greg Norton on bass and occasional vocals. Over their first few albums, they opened out their sound from super fast hardcore punk to more melodic popcraft, but still kept their punk aggression and edge.
Jason Isbell joined Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley as a guitarist and vocalist in acclaimed Southern Rock band, The Drive-By Truckers, in 2002. He immediately impressed with songs like ‘Outfit’, which details his father’s advice to him upon joining the band (“Don’t worry about losing your accent, a southern man tells better jokes.”).
San Francisco’s Jellyfish were under appreciated at the time, but have since gained a devoted following. Their power pop is notable for their ornate arrangements, especially on 1993’s Spilt Milk, where their harmonies are reminiscent of The Beach Boys or Queen.
Freedy Johnston seems destined to be remembered as a one hit wonder for 1994’s ‘Bad Reputation’, a critically acclaimed but commercially marginal figure. He’s a skilled craftsman dealing in minimalist, engaging songs.
Joy Division were one of several prominent bands who were inspired by the Sex Pistols’ famous 1976 gig in Manchester. They started as a punk band, but producer Martin Hannett was instrumental in shaping them, drenching them in reverb.
San Francisco quartet the Red House Painters (named after Tennesseean painting crew, The International League Of Revolutionary House Painters) made their debut with 1992’s Down Colorful Hill on the 4AD label. The band fitted into the recently coined slowcore genre, with their stately arrangements and introspective lyrics.
Led Zeppelin were hastily formed by Yardbirds’ guitarist Jimmy Page in order to tour to fulfill contractual obligations. Given these circumstances, it’s surprising that Led Zeppelin have become one of the most enduring bands in the classic rock canon.
Joni Mitchell isn’t always given the respect she deserves. It’s easy to see her in terms of her famous boyfriends or as a simple folk singer. But in the 1970s, she released a string of great albums that should place her as among the most important musicians of the rock era
Van Morrison Album Reviews Van Morrison began his career as the vocalist for the garage band Them, scoring hits with ‘Gloria’ and ‘Here Comes The Night’. After Them disbanded, his career stalled with a stint on Bang records, where artistic frustration caused him to produce his infamous contractual obligation sessions, featuring tossed off songs like…
Gram Parsons, or as 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die describes him, “Keith Richards’ citrus-heir drug-buddy”, is remembered as a country-rock pioneer. It’s not country-rock as sanitised bands like the Eagles have produced, but is much more rooted in traditional country.
The lineup for Pavement’s 1992 debut included a middle-aged alcoholic drummer, who owned the studio where Pavement recorded their first EP. Gary Young only lasted another year before he was replaced; the group needed a second drummer to keep him in time, while his nefarious ways included handstands on stage and greeting the audience personally…
Pearl Jam grew from the remnants of Mother Love Bone, whose singer Andrew Wood overdosed. Rhythm guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament started a new band with Mike McCready on lead guitar and recruited Eddie Vedder as vocalist.
New Zealand is a lovely country, with lots of sheep and mountains, and it’s a good idea to come and visit us if you ever have the chance. Charles Thompson, however, made the right decision in 1986, when he opted out of taking a trip down under to view Halley’s comet, and instead formed a band.
Formed around the songwriting talents of Durham’s Paddy McAloon, Prefab Sprout enjoyed some commercial success in the 1980s and early 1990s, but have been relegated to the status of cult band ever since. It’s a shame, as McAloon is a very talented songwriter; he’s able to integrate complex chord structures into catchy pop songs.
After bassist and vocalist Tim Staffel quit trio Smile, he recommended his flatmate Freddie Bulsara as his replacement to join Brian May and Roger Taylor. After a lengthy audition process, electronics student John Deacon was hired on bass, forming the Queen lineup that would endure until 1991.
Named after a Talking Heads song, Radiohead are the most critically acclaimed band to emerge in the 1990s. Frontman Thom Yorke infuses his gorgeous voice with his neuroses, while the band’s main weapon is guitarist Johnny Greenwood whose unpredictable style gives the band a vitality and edge.
R.E.M. emerged in the wake of punk, and started their career as an insular Indie band, with cryptic albums that enjoyed a cult following. But gradually they beefed up their sound, experienced airplay, signed up to a major label, and became one of the most successful bands in the world.
Yet another great musical act to come out of the state of Minnesota (see also Bob Dylan, Prince, Hüsker Dü, and The Hold Steady), The Impediments changed their name to The Replacements after they were banned from the majority of Minneapolis’s bars. The group was led by guitarist and songwriter Paul Westerberg.
Nebraskan born singer-songwriter Josh Rouse grew up inspired by British bands like The Smiths and The Cure, and his music reflects both the homespun feeling of the American Midwest and the introverted yet poppy sound of the bands that influenced him.
Roxy Music were formed in 1971 by vocalist and keyboardist Bryan Ferry who, along with several of his band-mates, came from the same English art school background as The Who and The Rolling Stones. Accordingly, Roxy Music always felt conceptual – they were purposefully experimental, decadent, and futuristic, and there was always a deliberate visual element to their image as well.
Todd Rundgren is a skilled musician on multiple instruments, a strong vocalist with a hint of blue eyed soul, a gifted studio technician who’s produced landmark albums from The New York Dolls, Patti Smith, The Psychedelic Furs, Meat Loaf, and XTC, and a capable composer and arranger.
New Zealand’s Bic Runga has only released four albums of original material, starting with her 1997 debut Drive, but despite her limited output, she reigns supreme as the queen of New Zealand pop music.
Simon and Garfunkel met as teenagers in a school play, where Simon played the White Rabbit and Garfunkel the Cheshire Cat. The pair tried to break into the music industry as Tom and Jerry, playing Everly Brothers inspired teeny pop, then made their first LP in the midst of the sixties folk revival.
It wasn’t surprising that Paul Simon launched a successful solo career after leaving Simon and Garfunkel, given that he wrote all of the group’s original material. There’s definitely a school of thought that enjoys Simon and Garfunkel but dislikes Simon’s solo career, a mindset that I don’t share.
The unlikely pairing of socially awkward Steven Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr, extroverted and four years Morrissey’s junior, formed the nucleus of The Smiths, whose witty and stripped down music was an influential force throughout their brief existence.
Formed by a group of Auckland students in 1972, Split Enz are an iconic New Zealand band. With a distinctive visual image – percussionist Noel Crombie designed their costumes and album covers – their career had two distinct phases.
Based on his radio hits I once classed Bruce Springsteen as a lame rocker, responsible for lowest common denominator anthems. But there’s a reason why he’s so respected, and 1984’s huge selling Born In The USA album was simply the commercial culmination of an excellent body of recorded work stretching back more than a decade.
One of the most consistently fascinating musicians to emerge in the 21st century, Sufjan Stevens is nominally an alt-folk singer, with his hushed and vulnerable vocals and use of acoustic instruments. But that’s underselling his talents – he’s also a talented and sophisticated arranger.
Conventional wisdom is that Gordon Sumner surrendered his credibility when he left The Police, letting his pretentiousness overcome him as he dabbled in jazz and saved the rain-forests. As a singles’ artist he couldn’t match the brilliant individual songs like ‘Message In A Bottle’ he wrote for The Police.
While there’s a natural progression between each of Talk Talk’s five studio albums, the distance between their 1982 synth-pop debut and 1991’s jazz and ambient influenced Laughing Stock represents one of the most stunning transformations in popular music.
New York art-rockers Talking Heads began their career in legendary New York club CBGB, effectively the focal point for American New Wave; The Ramones, Television, Patti Smith Group, and Blondie also launched their careers there. While these groups all came from the same place and time, they’re a diverse bunch, and Talking Heads have their own niche as an arty and endearingly dorky band.
The pivotal part of Television’s sound is the guitar interplay of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd – both players are top drawer with their interlocking riffs and impressive solos.
The early 21st century saw a proliferation of reggae influenced bands with Polynesian origins. Trinity Roots, a Wellington based trio, fuse dub and soul into arty, spacey songs while infusing a distinctly New Zealand atmosphere.
From a high profile Texan oil family, Townes Van Zandt was groomed as Texas governor, but inspired by singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan, he dropped out of college in the 1960s to pursue a musical career. Of MENSA level intelligence, and diagnosed as a manic-depressive in his early twenties, Van Zandt rejected wealth and comfort, seeming to consciously fill his life with pain and instability to fuel his art.
The Velvet Underground have been cited as an influence by a legion of followers. Even if the ground rules of the rock album as an art form had been largely written by the time the Velvets’ debut arrived in 1967, there is still a strong argument for their status as the first rock band to exist as an alternative and underground act.
It’s tempting to write Ween off as a novelty band – their biggest hit single, ‘Push th’ Little Daisies’, is gimmicky and stoned. But lurking beneath all the silliness is an ace duo who are students of popular music, with the imagination and songwriting skills to affectionately pay homage to or parody everything from Jimmy Buffett to Prince.
His work in the 1980s with the beloved Replacements left Paul Westerberg with colossal expectations to meet with his solo career. Despite some valiant attempts, Westerberg’s never managed to meet the artistic levels of The Replacements trio of Let It Be, Tim, and Pleased To Meet Me.
Jeff Tweedy was always the junior partner in the pioneering alt-country band Uncle Tupelo, and when the group split into two factions, all indications were that Jay Farrar’s Son Volt would be the more consequential band.
It’s very difficult to discuss this enduring 1970’s acoustic soul singer without referencing one of my favourite jokes, so let’s get it out of the way first, shall we?
Stevie Wonder is one of the most outrageously talented figures to emerge from the popular music era. His first song to hit number one was recorded when he was 12 years old, and he continued to have hits through the 1960s as a teenager, as part of Motown.
Formed in Swindon around songwriters Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding, XTC started their career as an abrasive new wave band with their 1978 albums. Once keyboardist Barry Andrews was replaced by guitarist Dave Gregory, XTC became a more conventional, guitar based band and built their reputation with strong albums like Black Sea and English Settlement.
With their dazzling instrumental chops, lengthy songs, and lush harmonies, London’s Yes perhaps defined 1970’s progressive rock better than any other band. At their peak, Jon Anderson’s high pitched vocals delivered unintelligible pseudo-religious lyrics, while Chris Squire’s rumbling bass and harmony vocals anchored the band.
Neil Young was born in Canada in 1945, where his father was a famous sports broadcaster. Before fame, he played in the Mynah Birds, with a young Rick James, before relocating to Rick James where he joined Stephen Stills in Buffalo Springfield.
This page collects album reviews for artists who don’t quite qualify for their own page. The following 1960s artists have their own dedicated page: The Band The Beach Boys The Beatles The Byrds Fairport Convention Simon and Garfunkel The Velvet Underground
This page collects album reviews for artists who don’t don’t have enough good records for their own page, or who I think are worth covering but don’t want to devote a whole page to. The following 1970’s artists already have their own dedicated page: Big Star David Bowie John Cale Crosby, Stills & Nash Nick Drake…
These bands all started their careers between the second half of the 1970s and the early 1980s, and to at least some extent fit in with a back to basics aesthetic: The Clash The Go-Betweens Hüsker Dü Joy Division The Replacements Talking Heads Television XTC
This page collects album reviews for artists who don’t quite qualify for their own page. The following 1980’s artists have their own dedicated page: Kate Bush Marshall Crenshaw Peter Gabriel Pixies Prefab Sprout R.E.M. The Smiths Sting Talk Talk
This page collects album reviews for artists who don’t quite qualify for their own page. The following 1990’s artists have their own dedicated page: Jeff Buckley Crowded House Jellyfish Freedy Johnston Pavement Pearl Jam Radiohead Red House Painters (on the Mark Kozelek page) Ween Paul Westerberg Wilco Because I was a teenager through the 1990s, my…
This page collects album reviews for artists who don’t quite qualify for their own page. The following 2000’s artists have their own dedicated page: The Decemberists The Hold Steady Jason Isbell Radiohead (I have them filed under the 1990s in the menu, but their 2000’s output is also very significant). Josh Rouse Bic Runga Sufjan…