I can’t help myself: I tend to root for the underdog. And it just kills me when people with talent – for whatever reason – don’t get their due. So without further adieu or babbling, here they are:
10. Willie Dixon
I’m sure most of you are scratching your heads and saying, “who?” Well, this brilliant songwriter, producer, and double bass player wrote many of the classic blues songs done by many of the biggest blues artists – which, were then re-done by many rock-n-roll artists that you’ve definitely heard of. Just to prove my point, here’s a list:
“300 Pounds Of Joy” – Howlin’ Wolf
“Back Door Man” – Howlin’ Wolf, The Doors, Grateful Dead, Shadows of Knight, Bob Weir
“Big Boss Man” – Jimmy Reed, Elvis Presley, Grateful Dead
“Bring It on Home” – Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller), Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison
“Built for Comfort” – Howlin’ Wolf, Canned Heat, UFO
“Crazy For My Baby”– Little Walter, Charlie Musselwhite
“Close to You” – Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Doors, Sam Lay, Rock Bottom
“Dead Presidents”– Little Walter, J. Geils Band
“Diddy Wah Diddy”– Bo Diddley, Captain Beefheart
“Do Me Right”– Lowell Fulson
“Do the Do” – Howlin’ Wolf
“Don’t Tell Me Nothin´” – Willie Dixon – used in the movie “The Color of Money”
“Evil”– Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Canned Heat, Captain Beefheart, Monster Magnet, Derek and the Dominos, Gary Moore, Cactus, The Faces, Steve Miller
“Hidden Charms” – Howlin’ Wolf
“Hoochie Coochie Man”– Muddy Waters, Shadows of Knight, The Nashville Teens, Dion, The Allman Brothers Band, Alexis Korner, Steppenwolf, Motörhead, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix
“I Ain’t Superstitious”– Howlin’ Wolf, The Yardbirds, Grateful Dead, Megadeth, Jeff Beck
“I Can’t Quit You Baby”– Little Milton, Otis Rush, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Led Zeppelin, Gary Moore
“If the Sea Was Whiskey”– Chris Thile
“I Got What It Takes”– Koko Taylor
“I Just Want To Make Love To You”– Muddy Waters, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, Shadows of Knight, Mungo Jerry, Grateful Dead, Foghat, The Rolling Stones, Etta James, Van Morrison, Paul Rodgers
“Gone Daddy Gone”– the Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano incorporated elements of “I Just Want To Make Love To You” into his track; the former was later covered by Gnarls Barkley
“I’m Ready”– Muddy Waters, Humble Pie, Buddy Guy, Aerosmith, Long John Baldry
“Insane Asylum”– Koko Taylor, Kathy McDonald & Sly Stone, Diamanda Galás, Asylum Street Spankers, The Detroit Cobras
“It Don’t Make Sense (You Can’t Make Peace)” – Styx
“I Want To Be Loved” – Muddy Waters, The Rolling Stones, Sean Costello
“Let Me Love You Baby” – Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck, Muddy Waters
“Little Red Rooster”– Howlin’ Wolf, Sam Cooke, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Grateful Dead, The Doors, Luther Allison, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Big Mama Thornton
“Mellow Down Easy”– Little Walter & His Jukes, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Black Crowes, Carey Bell, ZZ Top
“Million Dollar Baby” – Dizzy Gillespie
“My Babe”– Little Walter, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Spencer Davis Group, John P. Hammond, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Othar Turner & The Rising Star Fire and Drum Band
“My Mind is Ramblin” – Rock Bottom
“Nervous” – Willie Dixon
“Pain In My Heart” – Willie Dixon
“Pretty Thing”– Bo Diddley, Pretty Things, Canned Heat
“Seventh Son”– Willie Mabon, Mose Allison, Bill Haley, Johnny Rivers, Sting, Climax Blues Band, Long John Baldry
“Sin And City” – Buddy Guy
“Shake For Me” – Stevie Ray Vaughn
“Spoonful”– Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Shadows of Knight, Dion, Paul Butterfield, Cream, Canned Heat, Grateful Dead, Ten Years After, Willie King & the Liberators, The Who
“The Same Thing”– Muddy Waters, George Thorogood, The Allman Brothers Band, Sue Foley
“Third Degree” – Eddie Boyd, Eric Clapton, Leslie West
“Tollin’ Bells”– Lowell Fulson, Savoy Brown Blues Band
“Too Late” – Little Milton
“Too Many Cooks” – Buddy Guy, Robert Cray
“Violent Love”– The Big Three, Oingo Boingo, Dr. Feelgood
“Walkin’ The Blues” – Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, John Kay
“Wang Dang Doodle”– Koko Taylor, Howlin’ Wolf, Grateful Dead, Savoy Brown, PJ Harvey, Rufus Thomas, The Pointer Sisters
“Weak Brain, Narrow Mind” – Willie Dixon
“When The Lights Go Out”– Jimmy Witherspoon, Kim Wilson
“You Can’t Judge A Book By Looking At Its Cover”– Bo Diddley, Shadows of Knight, Cactus, The Yardbirds, Beat Farmers, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Tim Hardin, The Merseybeats, Elliott Murphy, Long John Baldry, The Monkees, Eric Clapton, Roy Buchanan
“You Know My Love” – Otis Rush
“You’ll Be Mine” – Howlin’ Wolf, Stevie Ray Vaughan
“You Need Love” – Muddy Waters
“Whole Lotta Love” – Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” was appropriated, without credit, from Dixon’s “You Need Love”. Dixon and his music publisher received credit and royalties, after a 1985 lawsuit was settled out of court.
“You Need Loving” recorded by The Small Faces in 1965, is another uncredited loose version of the song
“You Shook Me” – Muddy Waters, Jeff Beck Group, Led Zeppelin
“Young Fashioned Ways” – Muddy Waters
9. Fleetwood Mac
O.k., before I get started, I must say there was nothing more luscious than Stevie Nicks back in the day. The fact we share a birthday isn’t lost on me either, but – heavy sigh – I never went through my wild haired, fabulous-gypsy girl-tramp phase. Seeing concert footage of her from the 70s coked up-in-all-her-spinning-glory heyday makes me wish I had.
Anyhoo, I know to some putting them on this list is questionable because they had their time in the spotlight with their multiplatinum Rumours album. But as time has worn on, what seems to stick from that record in all the rock documentaries I see is their soap opera bedhopping rather than the music itself. Plus, while they’ve never duplicated the beyond-the-stratosphere success of Rumours, they have still been making virtually drama-free music that rocks ever since.
A little caveat though – I got to see the Mac in concert twice: once in the early 80s at the Sunrise Musical Theater in South Florida, and the next time in 2000 at the Concord Pavilion in the East Bay of Northern California. Needless to say what I remember most about the first show was Stevie in all her twirling dervish, witchy woman glory and me developing my first real girl-crush. What I recall about the second show was a sound and a voice as razor sharp as it was twenty years ago, but alas my favorite Coke Queen was not only not spinning, but she needed help from her bodyguards to hold her in place while she leaned down to shake hands in the front row. And she did this punching thing in the air during a lot of the song’s crescendos which I still don’t get. But I love them nonetheless and they deserve a lot more credit in the rock cannon in my opinion.
Confession time: I really don’t like rap. I know that makes me look like the typical white chick, but so be it, because most of it just ain’t my thing. I have a few exceptions, with one of them being Eric B & Rakim. I heard from those in the know that it’s Rakim that was considered the real talent behind the duo, having the reputation in the rap world be the most gifted MC ever to put his lips behind a mic. The vast majority of the mainstream, however, have never even heard of him. This is a real shame, because he is perhaps the most influential rapper of all time. His work with the Eric B. remains essential listening for any young artist, and became legendary mostly because of Rakim’s skills on the mic. Rakim was the man who introduced many of the complex rhymes and lyrics that would come to dominate hip-hop in his wake, departing from the simple lyrics of his predecessors. It’s easy to see how he became underrated as a solo artist: He’s only released three albums on his own, with the last being released this past March 4th. Since that time, he’s been blowing up the concert scene and adding memorable track after track as a guest artist and soundtrack contributor. He may have started in a duo, but the success and acclaim of his earlier work was mainly due to him, and he certainly deserves to be more than a footnote in the minds of modern-day rap fans.
7. Frank Zappa
O.k., yeah he’s eccentric, to say the least. He looks like a ragged doll, hippy version of Groucho Marx, but once you hear his music you’ll get that he was a musical genius. My favorite track? Definitely a tie between Inca Road and Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy. And BTW, you’ve gotta like a guy whose musical compositions take symphonic orchestras across the country twice as long in rehearsal time to learn than any of their other rock-n-roll tribute concerts (and these guys play Beethoven and Dvorak on a regular basis). Plus, he had Pamela DeBarres – the original rock groupie and inspiration behind Kate Hudson’s character in Almost Famous – as his kids’ nanny. How funny is that??
6. The Kinks
Many years after its release in 1969, Arthur was my introduction to The Kinks, and it remains my favorite Kinks album. I think what amazed me first about Arthur was the extraordinary number of tones and moods the album moves through, with the lyrics and melodies sure, but with Davies’ singing and the band’s playing as well. There’s the giddy fuck-it-all, let’s-have-some-fun laziness of “Drivin'”, the mock comfort turned quiet rage of “Shangri-La”, the rumble-tumble, morale-boosting “Mr. Churchill Says” and the seemingly straightforward costs-of-War lamentation of “Some Mother’s Son”. I say seemingly because, truthfully, nothing is straightforward about this album; it happens to be one of the most emotionally complex albums I’ve ever come across, with subtle variations taking place not just from track to track, but usually several times within each song. It gets to the point where one must rightfully conclude that Davies’ songwriting on Arthur, especially for sardonic wit and uneasy insight, is unparalled by all but Bob Dylan. All of that and there’s a decidedly English narrative told in perfectly sparse storytelling to pay attention to. Gooseberry tarts anyone?
Other notables for the rock-n-roll cannons should include Young And Innocent Days, which deserves its own chapter on yearning. This is succinct, universally evocative songwriting of the highest caliber.
The fact of the matter is it’s all there in Ray Davies’ voice. Not to take anything away from the band, who are spot-on throughout, but the power of The Kinks rests to a large extent on the unique expressiveness of Davies’ singing. And that’s just something I never hear music historians talk about. Which annoys me.
5. Janis Joplin
My God, her talent. And her heart-breaking story. In fact, her narrative and her larger-than-life persona overrode a style, a voice, and an expressiveness not really seen in the songbirds of her day. While Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez were being worshipped and hailed for their ethereal falsettos and waify hippy girl images, here comes Janis barreling down the pike – with Jack Daniels in one hand and a mike in the other. For me, she represents the real grit of the 60s – a period often caricatured as the “Summer of Love” when it was more often like a bad brown acid trip. And while, yes, her story added to her depth and desperation as an artist, it was also an image she herself got trapped under – living hard and fast in order to keep up with her own mouth. An image so out of control that they even based a movie on it (Bette Midler’s “The Rose”). Being an image is lonely business – enough to want to shoot a shitload of heroin in your veins. But see? Her life was much more than her habits and her death, but even I get sidetracked from what was her brilliance was…her music – which brought the soul and pulse and blood back to an anemic musical landscape that was the 60s before Janis and the rest of the boys got our attention. Women in rock-n-roll in general don’t get enough props, but Janis is especially underappreciated in my opinion.
4. Sonic Youth
I know in music circles, it’s fairly common to name Sonic Youth as underappreciated, but you know why that is? Because it’s true – especially Kim Gordon, SY’s bass player. Some call the band – in particular, Gordon – “the godparents of grunge” – which I frankly think is beyond idiotic because such banal praise demotes one of the most articulate and intelligent rock performers of all times. Rock critics and historians would have done well to check out her essay in the 1995 anthology of women’s rock criticism, Rock She Wrote: Women Write About Rock, Pop, and Rap, in which she explains, ”Before picking up a bass I was just another girl with a fantasy. What would it be like to be right under the pinnacle of energy, beneath two guys crossing their guitars, two thunderfoxes in the throes of self-love and male bonding? How sick, but what desire could be more ordinary?” How cool is she? And frankly, it takes such intelligence and insight to be one of the most irreverent and inventive acts in alternative music. I love them. Go buy all their records now.
Yeah, that’s right, I said it. Journey is underrated. Largely written off in the early 90’s as the worst kind of overblown American radio arena rock that the emerging grunge bands weren’t, Journey’s career went into a slump that has only just recently recovered. Formed in the early 70’s by ex-Santana band members as a prog rock project, Journey morphed into huge stadium rockers almost by accident. The first three Journey albums are about a million miles away from the band they would become. Mixing guitars and keys to form some serious epics, the first three Journey albums were all but forgotten when singer Steve Perry joined the band in 1978. Neal Schon (guitarist and de-facto band leader) decided that Journey needed a stronger singer, and Steve Perry was hired. His voice didn’t really suit the prog rock noodlings of early Journey so they changed their sound slightly (Infinity, the first album with Perry, sits in that difficult middle ground somewhere between prog and mainstream, and is a seriously underrated album in it’s own right) and a legendary band was born. The rest, as they say, is history. Mainstream rock beckoned, as did the stadiums, but it was the almost constant play on rock radio in the USA that catapulted Journey into the big time. Ok, so a band that gets played on the radio and becomes that popular can’t be any good, right? Wrong.
Neal Schon is a seriously overlooked guitarist with riffs and solo’s aplenty, and Steve Perry has a voice that most rock singers can only dream about. Gregg Rolie’s keyboards add extra melody and they are ably backed by a solid rhythm section in Ross Valory (bass) and Steve Smith (drums). They may have a mainstream sound, and a mainstream appeal, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some strong riffs and serious talent behind Journey’s music, because there is, and that’s all that should matter. Journey are still going with Neal Schon and Ross Valory the only two surviving original members. They have some Filipino guy they found on You Tube and now that ‘classic rock’ (if ever there was a genre label to make me roll my eyes it’s that one) is popular again, Journey look set to take the stadiums by storm all over again. Perhaps now their musical artistry will catch up with their notoriety.
An aside: I hear the new guy is amazing, but call me a purist, but Journey will never really be without Steve Perry. So there.
2. Rory Gallagher
How do I even begin to describe Rory Gallagher? Hmmm, how about like Gary Moore x 10. Yeah, that’ll do.
Rory Gallagher plays the most sublime bluesy rock you’ve ever heard, and as a guitarist is probably number 1 in the top 10 of most influential guitarists you’ve never heard of. Slash has cited Rory as a major influence on his playing, and so have many other guitarists who’s cocks get e-sucked on this forum… anyway, ranting aside, Rory plays kickass blues rock, and that’s all you should need to know to go and look him up and get downloading some of his stuff. Oh yeah, he also played in, and formed, a band called Taste in the mid 60’s, that played some serious rock music. Check out his solo album “Top Priority” from 1979, it’s awesome.
1. George Harrison
Is it George, or is it Jesus???
In the aftermath of the Beatles, John Lennon had classic albums like Imagine and Plastic Ono Band, Paul McCartney had Wings and Band On The Run and Ringo had . . . well, Ringo had Barbara Bach. The silent Beatle’s solo career, like his stint in the most famously analyzed and studied of bands, was dwarfed by the attention paid to Lennon & McCartney. However, that is not to say that George does not deserve mention with his more acclaimed band mates. Harrison’s first true solo effort is unquestionably his most triumphant. The three album set showcases the musical chops that weren’t able to fully flourish with the Beatles. The record’s success comes from its combination of White Album era songs like All Things Must Pass, fresher material like What Is Life and Wah Wah, Dylan covers and collaborations like I’d Have You Anytime and If Not For You and My Sweet Lord’s inadvertently borrowed melody. It is the third album of the set though that is the icing on this cake. Foreshadowing the jamband scene by a good decade or two, the album’s finale had in tow George and the band, which consisted of Eric Clapton and Dave Mason on guitar, Billy Preston and Bobby Whitlock on keyboards and Ringo on drums, working out puzzlingly named extended grooves like I Remember Jeep and Thanks For The Pepperoni. Perhaps he’s not the most underrated musician of all time, but he’s certainly the most underrated Beatle.