Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Top 10 popular music artists countdown: 6-10

I just came across a fascinating feature on the Rolling Stone website called "The Top 100 Artists of All Time." The cool thing is that they have other musicians do the write-ups. Today and tomorrow I'll present excerpts from the Top 10. Let us know in the comments if you agree/disagree and what these icons have meant to you.
10. Ray Charles
"His sound was stunning — it was the blues, it was R&B, it was gospel, it was swing — it was all the stuff I was listening to before that but rolled into one amazing, soulful thing. As a singer, Ray Charles didn't phrase like anyone else. He didn't put the time where you thought it was gonna be, but it was always perfect, always right. He knew how to play with time, like any great jazzman. But there was more to him than that voice — he was also writing these incredible songs. He was a great musician, a great record maker, a great producer and a wonderful arranger."—Van Morrison
Charles's  great affinity for country music is evident when he sings with The Man in Black on Johnny Cash: The Greatest—Duets.  
 9. Aretha
"As a producer, I almost always addressed phrasing and enunciation with the singer, but in Aretha's case, there was nothing I could tell her. I would only be getting in her way. Nowadays, singers who want to be extra soulful overdo melisma. Aretha only used it a touch and used it gloriously because her taste was impeccable. She never went to the wrong place."—Jerry Wexler
Can I get an "amen" for the melisma critique? Aretha can be seen in a vintage performance in this history of the Montreux Jazz Festival on DVD
8. Little Richard
"You've got to remember, I was already known back in 1951. I was recording for RCA-Victor — if you were black, it was called Camden Records — before Elvis. Then I recorded for Peacock in Houston. Then Specialty Records bought me from Peacock — I think they paid $500 for me — and my first Specialty record was a hit in 1956: 'Tutti Frutti.' It was a hit worldwide. I felt I had arrived, you know? We started touring everywhere immediately. We traveled in cars. Back in that time, the racism was so heavy, you couldn't go in the hotels, so most times you slept in your car. You ate in your car. You got to the date, and you dressed in your car. I had a Cadillac. That's what the star rode in….
Most dates I didn't get paid. And I've never gotten money from most of those records. And I made those records: In the studio, they'd just give me a bunch of words, I'd make up a song! The rhythm and everything. 'Good Golly Miss Molly'! And I didn't get a dime for it. Michael Jackson owned the Specialty stuff. He offered me a job with his publishing company once, for the rest of my life, as a writer. At the time, I didn't take it. I wish I had now.
I wish a lot of things had been different. I don't think I ever got what I really deserved.
I appreciate being picked one of the top 100 performers, but who is number one and who is number two doesn't matter to me anymore. Because it won't be who I think it should be. The Rolling Stones started with me, but they're going to always be in front of me. The Beatles started with me — at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, before they ever made an album — but they're going to always be in front of me. James Brown, Jimi Hendrix — these people started with me. I fed them, I talked to them, and they're going to always be in front of me.
But it's a joy just to still be here. I think that when people want joy and fun and happiness, they want to hear the old-time rock & roll. And I'm just glad I was a part of that."—Little Richard
 7.  James Brown
"James Brown is his own genre. He was a great editor — as a songwriter, producer and bandleader. He kept things sparse. He knew that was important. And he had the best players, the funkiest of all bands.... And the music always came from the groove, whereas for so many R&B and Motown artists at the time it was more about conventional songs. James Brown's songs are not conventional. 'I Got You,' 'Out of Sight'— they are ultimately vehicles for unique, even bizarre grooves….
I remember going to Minneapolis to visit Prince years ago, sitting in an office waiting for him — and there was an endless loop of James Brown's performance in the 1964 concert film The T.A.M.I. Show running. That may be the single greatest rock & roll performance ever captured on film. You have the Rolling Stones on the same stage, all of the important rock acts of the day — and James Brown comes out and destroys them. It's unbelievable how much he outclasses everyone else in the film."
—Rick Rubin
I could watch that clip forever! Brown does three or four more numbers too. Read more about the Godfather of Soul in The Hardest Working Man: How James Brown Saved the Soul of America. Above: Brown shows Carson how to bust some moves.
6. Jimi Hendrix
"He is the common denominator of every style of popular music. Was he a bluesman? Listen to 'Voodoo Chile' and you'll hear some of the eeriest blues you can find. Was he a rock musician? He used volume as a device. That's rock. Was he a sensitive singer-songwriter? In 'Bold As Love,' he sings, 'My yellow in this case is not so mellow/In fact I'm trying to say it's frightened like me'" — that is a man who knows the shape of his heart. So often, he's portrayed as a loud, psychedelic rock star lighting his guitar on fire. But when I think of Hendrix, I think of some of the most placid, lovely guitar sounds on songs like 'One Rainy Wish,' 'Little Wing' and 'Drifting.' 'Little Wing'" is painfully short and painfully beautiful. It's like your grandfather coming back from the dead and hanging out with you for a couple of minutes and then going away. It's perfect, then it's gone. I think the reason musicians love Hendrix's playing so much is that the language of it was so native to his head and heart. He had a secret relationship with playing the guitar, and though it was incredibly technical and based in theory, it was his theory. All you heard was the color. The math is what's been applied ever since."—John Mayer
Hendrix was also named the greatest guitar player in history by Rolling Stone, in a list compiled by a panel of music experts and top guitar players. The two-CD set Jimi Hendrix: People, Hell & Angels collects the eclectic material he was working on when he died, while his iconic performance at Woodstock is preserved in the DVD set Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music—Ultimate Collector's Edition.

TOMORROW: The Top 5.


  1. Who hasn't gone through a pretty heavy Hendrix phase?

    I would listen to Jimi Hendrix during my night job stocking shoe boxes, and I would listen during my summer job mowing lawns. I would listen when I washed cars. I would force everyone to listen when we had a family BBQ.

    I agree with almost everything John Mayer has to say about Mr. Hendrix.

    My only real connection to Little Richard is through Sesame Street.

    1. It pains me to say this, but I haven't gone through a Hendrix phase (I'm not saying it'll never happen, but at 50, things are lookin' pretty bleak).

      The guitar is one of my favorite instruments, and I adore many of the greats from Jimi's era, but he continues to leave me cold. I listen to his stuff and all I can think is, "Are you DONE YET????"

      I like some of his songs, though--done by other people. Yeah, I know. I suck.

      I did, however, read an article not long ago about the real story behind "Tutti Frutti." That was an eye-opener.

    2. Chacun a son gout. Imagine being heart-and-soul committed to a music now being used as pest spray by mall managers everywhere.

      Why does classical music act on most people like dawn upon Dracula?

    3. ...a music now being used as pest spray by mall managers everywhere.

      This is just an outstanding description. Wonderful.

  2. Jimi Hendrix was pure liquid. Blues, rock, proto metal and guitar histrionics... magical. "Machine Gun" is perhaps the coolest guitar sound ever committed to tape. Picking through my dad's dusty attic LP's in the 7th grade, I first heard his 3 classic albums on vinyl. Thick headphones, trailing off in Electric Ladyland...

    1. I love that story from your past Mr. Fink.

      Classic kid finds vinyls in attic story.

      That is what America is all about!

    2. Too bad we were so hard on our records & wore them out. At least they'd be worth something. I have about 5 boxes I still can't bear to get rid of.

  3. I have yet to go through a Hendrix phase, that being said it needs to happen soon. I will start with "Machine Gun" thanks Fink!!!

  4. You can absolutely get an "amen" from me on the melisma issue. The difference between Aretha and these jokers we have now is like what Capote said about Kerouac.