Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Top 10 Artists in Rock Who Are Cited As Influences but Really Aren’t

[editor’s note: the whole crew was out of town for the weekend. Family stuff. Couldn’t drag anybody out to see any of those wonderful cover bands who play sports bars throughout the heartland. In the meantime, here’s some more snarkiness to keep the front page fresh]

 

 

Ever see the Rutles movie? Remember that priceless scene where the interviewer asks Paul Simon what the Rutles’ greatest achievement was, and Simon replies by saying that they had none, they never really influenced anybody? To follow up our recent post on the 20 most influential bands of the rock era, here are 10 acts who, perhaps not in the spirit of the Rutles, are vastly overrated, at least as far as their individual spheres of influence are concerned:

 

 

10. Robert Johnson. Fast, fingerpicked acoustic guitar, an eerie falsetto and lyrics written in almost instantly dated mid-30s Mississippi delta ebonics. Oh yeah, a BIG influence on all those British guitarists from the 60s, Clapton ad infinitum. Not.

 

 

9. Bob Dylan. Passionate advocate of democracy, bullshit detector set to stun except when he was singing. Except for a few ludicrous soundalikes from the 60s, nobody sounds like him (maybe that’s a good thing) and nobody’s ever been able to write like him, although a few have tried. But just a few. Sometimes it’s best to quit while you’re ahead.

 

 

8. Jimi Hendrix. A lefty, he played guitar righthanded, i.e. upside down. He used the tremolo bar on his Strat so much, he was constantly going out of tune, and played the way he did to compensate for that. That’s how he invented noise-rock. Until the end of the 80s, when lead guitar playing fell out of fashion, he was often imitated, never replicated: he had a touch nobody else has ever been able to master.

 

 

7. Aretha Franklin. Nobody sounds like the Queen of Soul. NOBODY. Every raspy-voiced white chick who ever fronted her boyfriend’s metal band for a couple of songs claims to love her, but the connection is impossible to make. And none of the endless Beyonce types since Beyonce became a type sounds like anything but Beyonce.

 

 

6. The Dead Kennedys. The greatest of the original punk bands had very funny, very socially aware lyrics set to eerie surf/garage melodies.  Every punk band on the planet since 1980 pays homage to the DKs but hardly anyone sounds like them, or, sadly, emulates their scorchingly amusing, relevant lyrical sensibility.

 

 

5. Nirvana. Remember, most of their songs were fast. Unlike the vast majority of grunge bands, they had energy. It’s de rigeur for every grungeboy to worship at the altar of Cobain, but the reality is that most grunge bands are Pearl Jam ripoffs. Besides, whatever you think of Cobain’s voice, it’s impossible to duplicate. And for what it’s worth, you can sometimes understand his lyrics.

 

 

4. James Brown. The Godfather of Soul kept things TIGHT. My god, if you were in his band, he’d fire you if you missed a note. But there weren’t a whole lot of them to play: he made every one of them count. Too bad those legions of fonkeh, fonkeh wot bos never really listened to JB or the JB’s because if they did, they wouldn’t be fonkeh: they’d really be funky.

 

 

3. Hank Williams. A defiantly retro traditionalist, especially for a young guy, he insisted on acoustic instrumentation – just simple acoustic guitar, fiddle and standup bass – in an era where most country musicians were discovering a new, electric sound. Like Elvis, he knew his gospel and his blues too. Easy to namedrop but very foolish to imitate, and musicians know this.

 

 

2. The Ramones. Even though – or maybe because – they basically played the same song over and over and over again with different lyrics, they haven’t been imitated very much. Listen closely to the Ramones and you’ll hear doo-wop, 50s music. It’s corny, perhaps deliberately so: it sure worked with the critics. And it’s an OLD sound, not something kids generally listen to.

 

 

1. The Beatles. Sure, when they first hit, a bunch of British and American kids took up guitars and started playing jangly rock. But these guys used jazz chords, sang spot-on four-part harmonies LIVE, and were adept at not only their own remarkably complex pop songs but also blues, country and rockabilly. By the time they were done, they’d either invented or played pretty much every style of rock ever: janglerock, psychedelia, heavy metal, country rock, art-rock, punk, funk-rock and of course Beatlesque pop. But if you subtract the psychedelic movement (which only lasted for about five years before it diverged into art-rock and metal), there simply aren’t a whole lot of bands who sound like the Beatles. Which on one hand is too bad, but on the other is not.

May 27, 2008 - Posted by | Music

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