Rock 92 is counting down the Best 50 Bands/Artists Of All Time! Every Monday, we will dedicate a special Put Up or Shut game to the band or artist from 50 all the way to Number 1!
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31. Neil Young
Demm's take on Neil Young: "Have always, always been a huge fan of Neil Young.
And I think I like him even more because Neil's a guy who's simply done his music...his way. No concessions to record labels, no chasing whatever trend happens to be current at the time. Not many others can say that.
No one will ever accuse Neil of being a classically-trained vocalist, but to me his voice comes from the soul. You get the feeling he means everything he says. (That's always been my definition of soul singing, anyway)
If you've seen Neil in concert, you've seen a man who seems literally possessed by spirit of music. He wrestles every single note he can out of his guitar, with endless solos, all jagged edges and angles.
Neil's rock songs ROCK, and his quiet songs are beautiful and intense. Even his 'missteps' are interesting, and that's a hell of a tribute.
Essential listening: "Decade" is perhaps the greatest greatest hits album ever; and for one of the best 'dark' albums of all time, there's "Tonight's The Night." "Rust Never Sleeps" is a perfect record, too."
Demm's take on Eric Clapton: "Respect Mr. Clapton, but I can't say I'm a huge fan. While his talents with the guitar, and as a songwriter, and as a collaborator are remarkable, I've never felt motivated to seek out his music.
There are, of course, plenty of Clapton songs that I do like, but when someone puts on "Wonderful Tonight," I just roll my eyes. To me, even Clapton himself sounds bored as hell on that one.
If you're a blues purist, the guy has done more to advance the cause of true blues music more than almost anyone on the planet. And good for him for doing it, too.
But, I'm not, so while I appreciate his utter mastery of his guitar, it doesn't move me.
Some might argue that Clapton is never better than when he's playing with someone with real talent. For example, Derek & The Dominos, when Clapton and the late Duane Allman rewrote the rules for blues-based rock and slide guitar. Some stunning stuff.
If you're into guitar heroes, he's got to be one of your guys. He's just not mine.
Essential listening: I'll take the easy way out here, and recommend "Crossroads," Clapton's 1988 box set. It's got what you need. Oh, and "Layla" album is a bona fide classic, too. "
Demm's take on The Kinks: "Of all the British Invasion bands, the Kinks were the most British. And I was a huge fan. They went through several phases, as groups do, and made some very smart, tuneful stuff almost every time out.
While the Beatles and the Stones were criss-crossing America in the mid-1960s, The Kinks were banned from the US..because they used to get into fights with one another on stage. That terrified the 'powers that be.'
So, Ray Davies remained in England. And he wrote some of the best power-chord rock ever; (like "All Day And All Of The Night" and "You Really Got Me") and also some of the most beautiful rock songs, too. (Like "Tired of Waiting" and "Waterloo Sunset")
Ray was also one of the rare English singers who SOUNDED English...intentionally not "Americanizing" his accent on record.
They caught a huge second wind from 1979 til about 1983, too...riding the MTV wave for a while.
I still have an untorn Kinks concert ticket for a show at the Hampton Coliseum in Virginia. My buddy and I were going to drive to see the show, but our parents wouldn't let us travel from Richmond to Hampton in a driving snowstorm.
We were about 18 or 19 at the time, and it still breaks my heart thinking about it."
Essential listening: Where to start?? The Kinks' career spans nearly 50 years. But I'd go with a greatest-hits album for the early stuff, like "Kinks Kronikles."
Two masterpiece albums in their own right, "The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society," and "Muswell Hillbillies," are musts.
Demm's take on Kiss: "For me, Kiss was a band I SAW before I heard them. And that made all the difference. I was 13, watching "The Midnight Special" on late-night TV, I saw Kiss perform for a wild live audience, and I'm pretty sure I just sat there stunned.
Those costumes, the makeup, the fire, the explosions, the levitating drum kit, even their logo...no one had ever looked like this before. The visuals simply blew my mind.
Had I only heard their records, sight unseen, there's no doubt I'd have thought, "well, these songs are OK." But seeing them changed all that.
And in a pre-music video world, Kiss was remarkably good at getting the total package in front of the world's eyes. (No surprise: Gene and Paul were marketing geniuses)
Honestly, after their second live album, and then the album, "Love Gun," I was pretty much done with Kiss. It was 1977. But for 2 solid years, they were the coolest things I'd ever seen.
Essential listening: "Alive" is the one to own. It's the one album that does the best job of capturing the band at its full strength."
Demm's take on David Bowie: "I think I like the IDEA of David Bowie more than I actually like the music of David Bowie.
Don't get me wrong, I think the guy's made some great music, and written and sung some truly amazing songs. But I think his true impact is through the manipulation of his image, which he's done more skillfully than anyone else in music. We now live in a post-MTV age, but before the advent of music videos, one always had something to say about Bowie's music AND his visual style. The two were always interconnected.
Each new album seemingly presented Bowie as a new character. He could be anyone from an alien rock star from Mars, a coked-out nihilist from Berlin, or an international jet-setter.
When Bowie was good, he was VERY good; and when he was a bit too drugged out...he was still capable of terrific songwriting and singing.
Essential listening: I love the power and weirdness of "The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars," and the pop sheen of "Let's Dance." Also, "Young Americans" is pretty darn soulful. Honestly, a greatest hits package is the way to go here.
Demm's take on Elton John: "When I think of Elton John, I don't think of the 1970s glory days, or the comeback, or the accolades, or the gold records, or the outrageous costumes, or the massive drug habit....
I think of this: my first pangs of adolescence.
It's either late 1974 or early 1975...my first boy/girl party. Someone puts Elton's "Goodby Yellow Brick Road" on the record player. (disc 2, side 2) Somehow I get the nerve to ask the cutest girl at the party, whose initials were T. B., to dance. The song "Harmony" is playing. She says yes. The rest of the world simply disappears for 2 and a half glorious minutes. It was the closest feeling to perfection I'd ever experienced. (Or would experience...at least until well into my 30s)
So thanks, Elton John, for being there. You really did make some amazing music. And you helped create one perfect moment in a basement in Richmond, Virginia, and will forever be linked in my mind to the world's most awkward and amazing slow dance.
"Harmony" is still my favorite Elton track, by the way."
Demm's take on Black Sabbath: "To call Black Sabbath’s history a ‘soap opera’ is to do a disservice to “General Hospital,” “All My Children” and “Knot’s Landing.” There is not be another band in history who can duplicate Sabbath’s hirings, firings, reunions, drug use, alcohol consumption and ultimate influence. (There may never be...)
First things first: what this band did in their first years is still causing ripples across the musical universe today. They are the ‘Big Bang’ of heavy metal. There was a void before Sabbath. These 4 working class kids, from a steel-producing town in England created a sound unrivaled in music. It was heavy, it was loud, it was DARK. It was supposed to scare your parents.
And oh, how it did. The young record-buying public of the early 1970s bought everything Sabbath recorded as soon as it was released. And parents, the music press of the time (especially Rolling Stone Magazine), and even rock radio ignored them. Hated them, actually.
Black Sabbath became the ultimate outsider band. “Society” shunned them, while teenagers who thought they were misunderstood, or who were bored, or who were suffering through whatever pain they were feeling, real or imagined..had refuge in this angry, heavy sound. A place where the pain of the outside world disappeared, just for a little while. Sabbath is the reason your teenagers wear black t-shirts. Those shirts are a signal to others who might be on the ‘outside,’ that someone else understands them.
(And, to me, that is the essence of the appeal of metal music)
Essential listening: first two albums say it all. “Black Sabbath” and “Paranoid.” That’s all you need."
Demm's take on The Doors: Full disclosure: I am not a huge Doors fan. I respect them, and I do believe that the four members of the band together achieved something significant and original.
The Doors were capable of fusing rock, blues and poetry..and some of their live shows were a combination of sexy and dangerous.
And yet, for my taste, they missed the mark too often. Some of Jim Morrison's lyrics were a little too self-indulgent, and the band's playing was a little too boring and unexceptional.
To their credit, the band seemed to realize it, and their final album together was actually quite good. Sadly, however, Jim Morrison was destined to die young, in France.
Essential listening: I really like their first and their last albums. "Break On Through" on the debut is probably my favorite track from The Doors, and "Riders On The Storm" is pretty awesome on "Morrison Hotel."
Demm's take on Lou Reed: "Lou Reed is an acquired taste. Like brussel sprouts, or single-malt whiskey. And I truly believe that's OK with Lou.
When Lou was a member of The Velvet Underground in the late 1960s, they couldn't give away their albums. No one bought them. (Not at the time, that is) The old joke used to be that only a couple hundred people bought Velvet Underground albums, but every single one of them started a band, too. Which is why many rock writers call them THE most influential band of all time.
At his best, Lou is a street-tough, nothing-fancy singer of the dark, dark side of American life.
While west coast bands of the time talked about 'peace & love,' Lou was writing about heroin, death, junkies, prostitutes and more.
Lou's solo career is highlighted by perhaps the strangest single to ever make the Top 40: "Walk On The Wild Side." (which featured most of those topics...and all based on real people)
Honestly, I don't listen to a lot of Lou. (Lou's probably OK with that, too)
Essential listening: love the album "The Rock & Roll Animal," one of the great live rock records of all time.
Demm's take on The Police " Remember the first time I heard the song, "Roxanne" on the radio. It was during my senior year of high school, and a friend had told me about this new band, called The Police, who had a 'new' sound. It took me about 5 minutes to drive to school, and by the end of that drive, I was a Police fan.
Still am, actually.
Love almost everything about them: lyrics, melody, musicianship, humor.
For my money, they never made a 'bad' album. (Never a masterpiece, either, though...there were always one or two tracks per album that held them back. And I'm looking at you, Andy Summers)
They were a pretty amazing live act, back in the day, even though we now know they really didn't like one another all that much. (Their reunion tour of a few years back sounded good, but one got the impression they were just kinda going through the motions)
Essential listening: Can't go wrong with any of their stuff. There are five-star songs on all 5 Police studio albums...but my least favorite as a whole is "Ghost In The Machine." The three principal members got a little buried in the mix, as they say, on that one."
Demm's take on Fleetwood Mac: "If you're my age, then Fleetwood Mac was simply put, the soundtrack to your adolescence.
Yes, they originated as a blues-based band in the 1960s, but to most fans, the mid-70s lineup will always be "Fleetwood Mac."
And, let's be honest. Those five musicians put the bar pretty damn high with two incredible records. "Fleetwood Mac," the 1975 debut of Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham has some of the best sounding pop ever. And "Rumours," from 1977, is even better.
Both are filled with astonishing melodies (from Lindsay, Stevie, Christine, John and Mick), sultry vocals (Stevie), searing guitar (Lindsay), soulful singing (Christine) and one of the more creative rhythm sections around (Fleetwood and Mac).
To me, they never ascended to those heights again, despite continued chart success. They were too good to simply churn out unlistenable music, but the magic is in the mid-70s grooves.
Essential listening: "Fleetwood Mac" & "Rumours." Stone classics.
I also love "Hypnotized," "Oh, Well," "Black Magic Woman," and "Sara" may be my favorite Mac track of all time."
Demm's Take on Genesis: "I think I have Phil Collins to thank for learning the meaning of the word, "ubiquitous."
Because there was a time, the early to mid-1980s, when you simply could not avoid the music of Phil Collins and Genesis. They were everywhere. The radio, the TV (on beer commercials and videos), even movies. No escape.
Which kind of turned a lot of people off, honestly, myself included. Which is not (entirely) the band's fault. Genesis was a truly interesting band.
While not a huge fan of the Peter Gabriel-era albums, I thought they evolved into a dependable album rock band.
And then......the ubiquity set in.
Essential listening: I do like the "Duke" and "Abacab" albums; and, of course, "Follow You Follow Me" will always have a place in my heart..because of a jukebox in the south of France, summer of 1979. "
Demm's take on The Allman Brothers: "You could make a very, very strong case that the Allman Brothers Band is America's best rock band. Ever.
Especially with the early lineup, these guys were able to fuse incendiary live, jamming music with actual pop sensibility. That's why they were able to produce radio-friendly hit records like "Ramblin' Man," and play concerts until the sun came up the next day.
Most band would be unable to withstand all that the Allmans have; the deaths of two founding brothers, substance abuse, clashing egos. It seems, however, that time has simply pushed the remaining members even closer together. And they've become a touring machine. The road really does seem to go on forever for these guys.
Essential listening: Almost all their of their first 5 records are terrific, "Live At The Fillmore East" and "Beginnings" are bona fide classics. "
Demm's take on Yes "When I think about Yes, I think of two almost completely different bands. Phase one: textbook 'progressive art-rock.' Phase two: 80s style, 'modern' techno-pop.
When I first heard Yes, they were the quintessential album rock band. FM radio played their tracks like "Roundabout" and "I've Seen All Good People" which were a LOT longer than the 2 minute-50 second pop songs I was used to. Yes made 'albums,' not 'singles,' intended to be listened to in their entirety, preferably with headphones. When they were good, I thought they were very good. The guys could play, and I've always enjoyed vocalist Jon Anderson.
But, and this is a big 'but,' they could get long-winded. Lord, could they be long-winded! Songs the entire length of album sides; meandering solos, quasi-classical ambitions...
It got to be too much.
So they went through one of the biggest metamorphoses in pop music.
A few lineup changes, a new producer and vision, and voila, "Owner Of A Lonely Heart." Great single, and a perfectly timed video in 1983, which captitalized on MTV's explosive growth at the time. It sounded techno, with blaring horn samples, and, of course, Jon Anderson's vocals.
They rode that sound for another 6-7 years, with some success.
Not had much interest in them since the days of "Big Generator," which was in 1987, or so.
Essential listening: the album "Fragile;" "90125."
Oh, and their version of Paul Simon's "America" is one of my favorites."
Demm's take on Boston: "Like about 30 million other Americans, I got Boston's debut album for Christmas of 1976. And, like about 30 million other Americans, I don't think that album left my turntable for the next year. I didn't just memorize the lyrics on that record, I memorized every SOUND. Every guitar solo, every drum beat, every cymbal crash...I had it down!
To me, Boston is a band that could never follow up their original album. There were decent songs on the next two albums, but I suspect not many of them would have made the cut for that debut disc.
By the time "Amanda" hit the charts, ten years after their career began, I think I was over them.
Very glad I got to see them on their 1978 tour, because the late Brad Delp's voice was a true gift. That guy had pipes! It's an absolute shame he's gone.
Essential listening: the whole first album; also, "Don't Look Back," "Feelin' Satisfied" and "A Man I'll Never Be."
Demm's take on Tom Petty: What can you say about Tom Petty? Even his detractors would have to grudgingly admit that the guy has simply made his music, his way. If you like it, fine. If not, that's OK, too.
The guy never followed trends, and as his career progressed, I think he evolved into one of America's true originals.
I owned vinyl copies of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers first three albums, which are still my favorites, back in high school. Two of my buddies borrowed them to make cassette copies, but left them in a car in the middle of summer. When I finally got them back, they were so warped by the heat, that my turntable needle actually jumped off the records! (thankfully, my buddies chipped in and bought me new copies, but not until after a lot of arguing and fighting)
Was lucky enough to see the "Full Moon Fever" tour, twice, and Tom put on a terrific, rocking show. If you ever hear Rock 92 playing the live version of "Free Falling," I'm one of the people screaming in the audience. (It was recorded at the Dean Dome!)
Essential listening: "Damn The Torpedos" "Full Moon Fever," "Southern Accents" are great, great albums. Favorite tracks include "I Need To Know," "Listen To Her Heart," "A Woman In Love," and "Runaway Trains."
Demm's Take on Talking Heads: I saw Talking Heads during the tour that became the movie "Stop Making Sense." (It's the one where David Byrne wore that giant suit!) To this day, it's still one of the most fun shows I've ever attended. Everyone in the arena was dancing that night..the music was that infectious. (perhaps there was a little TOO much adrenaline pumping that night...I got a speeding ticket going home)
By 1983, the original four members of the band had been joined by what seemed to be 20-25 other musician, singers and dancers. It was a sight to behold. To me, it was the band at the peak of their powers, too. All of their lyrical, visual and musical styles came together on that stage in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Over the years, Talking Heads' music had evolved from spare, punky music like "Psycho Killer," to the African-inspired "Once In A Lifetime," to their biggest hit, "Burning Down The House." And I had enjoyed the journey.
The dreaded "creative differences" tore the band apart...permanently, it appears...but for an 11-year span, these guys sounded like no one else. They were different, and proud to be different.
Essential listening: "More Songs About Buildings And Food," and "Remain In Light" are classics. "Speaking in Tongues" has great songs, too.
Oh, and their concert movie, "Stop Making Sense" is awesome. "
Demm's take on The Band: The first time I heard The Band, it was a song called "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" on my parents' car radio. When one grows up in Richmond, Virginia, the capitol of the Confederacy, (like I did) a song like that embeds itself into your memory.
Popular songs of the time just didn't talk about topics like Robert E. Lee, Yankees, and dead Civil War soldiers. This was like a sad history lesson! A lesson I remember oh, so well.
And then in high school, opposing teams' bands would play "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," too...over and over again..just to get in our heads! (our school's teams were the Rebels, of course)
When I think of The Band now, I think of some of the most accomplished musicianship ever recorded. These guys were so good, during live performances, it wouldn't be out of place for the drummer to swap instruments with the keyboard player, or the bass player, or whatever. Amazing skills.
They didn't record for a long time, but I do find myself listening to their music a good bit. And for me, The Band's documentary/live concert finale, "The Last Waltz" always dazzles me. Part of that is the guest list (Neil Young, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters), and part is the passion in the playing. It's an extraordinary document of a band saying goodbye with a bang.
Essential listening: their entire 2nd album, entitled, "The Band;" plus "I Shall Be Released," "Stage Fright" and "Don't Do It." "The Weight" is a full-on masterpiece.
Oh, and watch "The Last Waltz," too.
Demm's take on R.E.M.: "I remember exactly where I was when I heard R.E.M. for the first time. It was late summer, 1982, and I was sitting in my un-air conditioned bedroom listening to the college radio station from the University of Richmond. The DJ said she was going to play 3 songs from 3 bands from Athens, Georgia. Since I knew the B-52s were from Athens, (and I loved them) I put a blank cassette into my boombox and pressed 'record.'
When I first heard "Carnival Of Sorts," I was hooked. R.E.M. became my favorite band in the world...for the next 10 years.
From that first EP, through their first 4 full-length LPs, I loved the sound of R.E.M.'s guitars, their melodies, and their (intentionally) obscure and indecipherable lyrics. The band seemed to have zero interest in making into the musical 'mainstream,' and that appealed to this 20-something, self-admitted, former music snob.
They would eventually sell millions and millions of records, but were still capable of recording excellent folky, rock-y songs til the end."
Essential listening: "Chronic Town," "Murmur," and "Reckoning" are similar, and all excellent.
"Out of Time" is a nearly-perfect record, too.
Underrated gem: "World Leader Pretend."
Demm's take on Dire Straits: "Not quite country, not quite blues, not quite rock, and not quite Dylan.
Sounds almost like an insult, but it's not meant to be. Dire Straits formed in the late '70s, and became known for clever, well-written tunes that were generally a good bit longer than your average pop song.
And Mark Knopfler's guitar sound was like nothing that had ever been on the radio before. Quick, expressive, and often playing counterpoint to his own vocals.
Dire Straits had the great fortune to make a memorable video for the song "Money For Nothing," in 1985, that made fun of both rock stars and MTV. And MTV coulnd't play it enough. "
Essential listening: "Dire Straits," the debut album, the albums "Making Movies" and "Brothers In Arms," and the EP "Love Over Gold" and the lost classic: "Twisting By The Pool."